I admit I approached my education in a very strange way. I decided to go to college (community college) before going to university.

I went two years to Seneca college and studied, of all things, biology and chemistry. Eventually graduating as a biological chemical technician, not even a technologist, for goodness sakes.

I wonder if it wasn’t because I needed to get the science and maths out of my system.

Growing up, my father was partial to high marks in sciences and maths. If I got an A in English or Art, it was always, “”That’s nice, behti.”

But if I got an A in Science or Math it was “Shabash!!!!”

And I liked math and science. I thought they were intelligent no-nonsense subjects, not open to interpretation. An answer was either right or wrong. Artist endeavours like writing depended too much on subjectivity. Even if I liked something, I had absolutely no confidence in the fact that anyone else would.

Being an immigrant I never saw much value in extra-curricular activities. Oh I played a few sports, weird ones you’ve probably never heard of like deck tennis. It’s like volleyball only played with a ring. But I never got very good at it, our team never won any championships.

We poured the bulk of our energy into maths and sciences. I had a very intimidating teacher in grade nine named Mr. Begin. He was a tiny fellow and he never smiled and yet everyday he wore the strangest belt buckle, a happy face. It made his grim expression look all the more incongruous. 

I learned how to solve mathematical theorems in his class. We had to prove the pythagorean theorem, and things like if a line intersects two parallel lines then the angles produced are equivalent, stuff like that.

It was a fascinating use of logic. I think it grounded me in logic, in fact.

 I enjoyed math, I loved biology, physics was a struggle, and chemistry was fascinating. Back then there were thirteen grades and you could graduate grade thirteen without completing grade twelve by taking six grade thirteen credits. I ended up finishing five years of high school (grade nine-thirteen) in four years instead, by taking the prerequisites and then doing the six grade thirteen subjects, three maths: algebra, relations and functions and calculus; and three sciences: chemistry, biology and physics.

I really thought I’d be a scientist mainly because, being a non-white, I didn’t think I could be an author.

If I’d actually made a good living as a scientist I probably wouldn’t be an author today.

But what surprised me was the attitude of my high school and college professors.

So many of them repeatedly asked me why, with my marks, I hadn’t just gone straight to university. Instead I was doing it part time after I’d finished and gotten a job in a chemical lab.

It’s like they looked down on college students.

I can’t completely remember my reasoning at the time. I think I thought of university as too expensive. I’d do it gradually, one credit at a time, while college gave me a practical job. But I do think that if I had gone straight to university something would have been lost in the process.

I might indeed have become a teacher and it might have ruined me for writing.

I think university can indoctrinate students. I’ve heard too many stories about professors of English and the Arts rewarding students who only wrote papers that agreed with their pet philosophies.

That’s only logical with subjects like sciences and maths, but you would think that other interpretations, what we call ‘thinking outside the box’ would be encouraged in the artistic fields.

I looked at art analysis and history a bit like those mathematical theorems. If you *proved* your case, substantiated your opinion enough with references and logic, why wouldn’t a professor accept it, even if he disagreed personally with your conclusions?

Maybe that’s what a thesis is for. I really don’t know much about education. 

I just think reading Austen and Bronte in some English lit course would have killed them for me.

I read Austen and Bronte on my own terms. I analysed them, perhaps, every bit as deeply as I would have under the tutelage of an English professor, but I drew my own independent conclusions.

The reason why I read them was because I’d heard of them enough to think that they were books I should read.

They are referred to in normal intellectual discourse on writing and literature, so I thought it behooved me to read the works so that when they were being discussed I might have something intelligent to add to the conversation, or at least know what they were all talking about.

I never expected I’d enjoy Austen and Bronte as much as I did.

And in the process I started reading all the ‘classics’ until I realized that not all of them were created equal.

I have no use for Thomas Hardy. Daniel Defoe’s okay. I actually enjoyed Robinson Crusoe, especially the religious conversations he had with Friday, until I found out that Defoe had never left England.

I love Shakespeare’s  tragedies, his comedies less so. I actually don’t find it that hard to understand. I grew up hearing a lot of pseudo-old English through the translation of the Quran that my father would read to us. It was by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who fancied himself an Englishman I guess and wanted the Quran to read ‘like scripture’ so he echoed the thees and thous of the King James Version of the Bible.

It made Shakespeare quite palatable.

I only ended up working as a biological chemical technician for a year and a quarter. Enough to basically pay for my education. It was about then that I got pregnant with my first child.

For most people they do things in order: education, university degree, career, money, find a spouse, get married, have children.

My path has been quite the opposite.

Grade eleven, get married, education, college diploma, make a little money, have children, university part time: geology, biology, chemistry, calculus, change your major, then drop university, study on my own, writing workshops, years of writing workshops, rejection, get published.

I had my first child when I was twenty-two and my last child when I was thirty-two.

And now that I’m going to be turning forty-eight I have four grown children, soon to be three grandchildren Insha Allah (God willing), eleven books published, the career I’ve always wanted and I get to travel the world.

When my own kids shunned university, who was I to cajole them into staying?

Right now they’re focused on religious learning and they’re focused on motherhood. I think all three of my daughters are working on memorizing the entire Quran in Arabic, a feat I’ve never accomplished.

Today I was presenting at the middle school all my children attended. The teachers asked about my daughters and when I told them they’d only completed a diploma in community college, they got that apprehensive look in their eyes. They didn’t ask me why, with their marks, they didn’t finish university, but I could see that perhaps they wanted to.

And maybe they were surprised that I was so accepting of  their choices.

The way I see it, my daughters can always pursue more education and career later on. The door to education is always open, the door to motherhood is more limited.

But even if they never amount to anything more than they’ve achieved so far, that’s just fine with me. They are fine upstanding women and I’m happy to say that I’m proud of them.

What more can you ask?