Education as an arena for social justice
Ahmed Amin (BA '08, history and sociology of law, criminology, and deviance) has come full circle. He is currently the principal of Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis, where his formal education once began. The teachers he once had are now his colleagues. Before finding himself back at Sanford, Amin worked for Heartland Democracy, a local nonprofit dedicated to supporting kids in identifying their values and engaging in their communities.
At Heartland Democracy, Amin specialized in working with youths who immigrated to the United States, a personal connection he had with them. “For the kids we worked with who were immigrants, there’s this sense of living in two worlds. As somebody who has to navigate multiple worlds as an immigrant and an American, it’s different,” says Amin.
His work at Heartland wasn't easy, but it was rewarding. Amin often found himself considering new questions that translated to his work as a teacher and principal. “What are the educational spaces in our communities that should be leading work on [identity]?” asks Amin.
Amin’s previous experiences shape his focus as principal at Sanford. Immediately after graduating from college, Amin found a teaching position in Chicago where his values were challenged. Though the experience was not what he expected, Amin walked away knowing he could do things differently. “It made me realize what my ‘why’ was for going into the schools,” he says.
"Our focus [at Sanford] is not depositing knowledge. It’s really about changing [the kids’] orientation and how they think about knowledge,” Amin explains. “Asking questions like what is knowledge in the arts? What is knowledge in math? What is knowledge in the sciences? And what are the connections between these different knowledge systems?”
Amin found his passion for teaching during his time at U of M’s College of Liberal Arts. The professors who made a profound impact on him, the resources made readily available to him, and the wide range of people and discussions led Amin to discover what he felt he was meant to do. “What is the purpose of education? I didn’t go to college so that I could get a job. I was in search of something—a purpose or a better understanding of myself or the world. And I feel that I got that,” says Amin.
Amin shows that oftentimes, the most meaningful experiences are the ones that we least expect or the ones that challenge us the most. “Don’t look to always be safe and comfortable,” he says. “Anything worthwhile takes a leap of faith.”
This story was adapted from the College of Liberal Arts.