“Devshirme” in Turkish means “collecting” and in Ottoman times, children were “collected” from around the empire and brought into the capital to be taught and trained to serve in various positions in the empire. Students who showed military inclinations were trained to become Janissaries – the Emperor’s closest army. Those who showed intellectual capabilities were trained to become public officials, viziers, or climb the ladder to reach the position of the Grand Vizier (the position closest to the Sultan). In the Devshirme system, which existed from the first half of the 15th Century up until the end of the 17th Century, the Ottoman Sultans created a class of civilians who would be loyal to them and were educated within the principles of the Islamic religion and Turkish culture.
When I visited the Topkapi Palace, on our trip to Istanbul last year, and learned more about the Devshirme, what struck me was not the conspiracies and negativity that surrounded this historic act, but the wisdom this system imparts to us educators today. Let me be clear that I’m not for taking children away from families- the fact that I homeschool speaks to this. What I like about the Devshirme system was the deep and careful understanding that the teachers had about each of their students’ abilities. It was through this astute insight that teachers would filter them and let them flourish in the area that is best suited for the student. According to Imam Ghazaali, it is “imperative for a teacher to know the temperaments of each of his students.” Do we know the temperaments of each of ours? Do we know our own? Do we know how the two interact? As educators we are all compelled to “teach every student” and “leave no child behind”, but do we really do what’s best for the child? Are we envisioning their future and keeping their aptitudes in mind?
Temperaments or mejaz, is an Islamic concept, not a new age hippie trend that people seem to associate it with and dismiss. The Prophetic medicine (Tibb an Nabiyyi), talks about balancing our temperaments. Shouldn’t we learn about this and use it for our benefit and for the benefit of our children?
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