Rabu, 27 Juni 2007

Orientation to information

One of the questions I have is how are the children and teachers orienting themselves towards information? Clearly the information is the Qur'an is privileged; but how? How do the teachers and the students send a message to each other that the really important information is contained in the written word, or in the spoken version? What is the role of questioning and reasoning in the organization of information? What is the role of teacherly authority in the distribution and uptake of this information? Language varieties?
One of the reasons why the organization of information is so problematic in the context of ngaji 'night school' sessions is that there are so many people speaking at once and determining the organization of the information conveyed is deeply problematic in a physical, signal-processing sense. There is massive acoustic input, and trying to figure out what to attend to is extremely difficult.
Clearly the santris are not supposed to attend to one another when they are up in front of the room facing the teacher. They are supposed to be speaking out loud and listening simultaneously for any corrections that the teacher might have for them. The simultaneity is justified on the grounds of efficiency: "if we didn't have them do it at the same time," one ustada told me, "it would take a really long time to listen to them. But since we have already memorized the Qur'an, we can easily tell if they make a mistake."
There may also be a performative and ritual aspect to these events in addition to its alleged efficiency. Precisely because the signified is less important, the signifier is privileged and put on display. Thus freed of the signified, its acoustic properties are privileged and become the focus of attention, allowing the teacher to focus purely on the sounds. Once focused on the sounds alone, it is possible to discriminate the different voices more easily. The pragmatic form of the communicative event provides a kind of meta-semiotic model of responsibility to the voice of Allah. The students are individually responsible to the exact reproduction of the text, and the teacher is there to guide and enforce that responsibility.

In the Krapyak Pondok Pesantren Ali Maksum, in a room covered with straw and plastic raffia mats, girls sitting cross legged on the floor in their full length jilbabs prepared for their recitations by kissing the hand of the nyai '(female) teacher'. They then began by singing some verses of the Qur'an in unison. Then two at a time they came forward on their knees, placed their Qur'ans on the low desk in front of the nyai and began to recite, each from a different part of the Qur'an. The cacophany - to my ears anyway - was impressive. But since she had memorized the entire Qur'an, she seemed to know how they should be pronouncing and singing the verses in question. On occasion she raised her hand to indicate whether the vowel should be pronounced long, and lowered it when she wanted to remind the santri 'student' that the vowel was short.

Yogyakarta and orientation to information

I'm in Yogyakarta, the home of the sultanate in central Java that opposed the Dutch in the 40's. There is a lively Muslim community here and I've been visiting Islamic boarding schools. I'm staying in a former Dutch residence from the 20s that has been converted into an 8 room hotel with wireless internet. While a bit dark and a little moldy, it's reasonably comfortable and convenient (close to one of the top universities in Indonesia - UGM) as a base for research.

I've been visiting different Islamic boarding schools and trying to understand how they install the principles of verbal piety in their students. Key to this is the teaching of the use of Arabic. But two of the main techniques for pedagogical interaction - sorokan and pandongan - for teaching Arabic in these schools have never been carefully described.

I saw and recorded some interesting examples of sorokan yesterday with my assistant, Asykuri Chamim. I guess one way of glossing the term sorokan might be 'recitation.' In this mode of interaction, students come forward when called by the teacher, called ustad kiss the hand of the teacher using the sniff kiss, and then start out reciting the qur'an together but then individually recite the verses they are most familiar with. The impression from an outsiders' perspective is one of auditory chaos: there are several people speaking all at once so how can they possibly make sense of all this?