Barbecue

I’m about to confess a rather controversial opinion. No, it doesn’t concern hijab, but something almost as beloved as a solution-to-all-problems-ever:

Homeschooling.

I do not think, homeschooling is a viable, or indeed the most beneficial option for Muslim families.

1) Most families do not have the resources or the ability to homeschool their children and they never will.  Economic realities mean both parents are increasingly having to work to support their families. Also, and I think it shows how little we value teachers that I have to state this, but not everyone can teach. It’s more then just going through textbooks.

This means that homeschooling remains an Utopian ideal, something to sigh and say “if only” over, rather then work towards something tangible and achievable, things like Islamic schools, better Islamic afterschool clubs/madrassas and social events.

2)”But mainstream education will indoctrinate my child with anti-Islamic values!”

Well, we do live as a religious minority. You cannot isolate your child from society for ever and I think by doing so with the concept that non-Muslims are “bad” and to be kept away from, you are causing your child more harm then good, because they are going to have to mix with non-Muslims

…Unless you make hijrah and move to one of those magical Muslim lands where you can hear the athan five times a day so everyone is very, very good. I don’t actually know of a single Muslim country that is actually like this though.

Most Muslim children will attend a mainstream school. Instead of having hypothetical arguments about homeschooling, why don’t we discuss strategies of ensuring our children get the maximum out of their education. We could actually talk to our children and young people and get their opinions, if that’s not too radical.

3) We need to raise our children with the desire to benefit society, not to live apart from it. Islam is meant to be a shining light to all humanity. How can a cloistered generation reach out to people when they have no experience of  the society they live in?

4)Another argument for homeschooling is that it enables learning to be tailored to the needs of the child. Again, I argue that this is poor preparation for life, because in the grown up world it’s not about you and ensuring that you are always stimulated. In working and academic life, you have to fit around other people’s routines. In one of the the best known Islamic universities, if you are more then five minutes late for a class, you are denied entry.

5)There is a fear that children who are schooled in the mainstream system will “lose” their Islam. I’ve used quote marks because I believe that if you have Islam in your heart, you will never truly lose it. Maybe people make mistakes, aren’t always so practicing, but if you truly know and love the deen, insha Allah you will return to it.

There is lots of Chicken Little style doom and gloom about the future of Islam in the West, despite the fact that all the evidence shows that it is becoming more popular and not just through conversions, but people from culturally Muslim families are choosing to become more practicing. Possibly this is because if you know what non-Muslim society has to offer and you also learn what life has a Muslim involves, then to choose Islam is a choice made with knowledge and sincerity.

Just because I don’t feel homeschooling is practical for most Muslims, does not mean that I feel parents cannot teach their children anything at all. On the contrary, I think parents should be both teachers and exemplers for their children in terms of an Islamic lifestyle. To me, this is a large enough task without adding the burden of being solely responsible for a child’s secular education too.

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30 Responses

  1. Asalamu alaikum Sis,
    What a small world Blogosphere is! I agree with many of the points you make. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t actively encourage anyone to home-school. However, having seen how negative state schooling can be for some children, I feel that it’s wrong to deny parents the option of home-schooling, as long as they can demonstrate that they are academically capable of doing so. This latter proviso should ensure that we won’t see home-schooling en masse.

    Regarding your point #2, that’s precisely the argument people use against faith schools. The parents I know who have in the past, or who are currently home-schooling, made that choice for the sole reason that they couldn’t get their kids into an Islamic school. Ensuring that all Muslim kids have access to an Islamic school is certainly something we should work towards, but not much help to kids of school age now.

    As for point # 5, and I speak as a parent who definitely listens to her kids currently going through mainstream school, it isn’t so much the fear that they will “lose their Islam” (which can happen to anyone, really) it’s more the fear that going though school as a “non-conformer” for want of a better word, is just not very pleasant or good for the child. What I mean by that is that they constantly have to say no to things that their classmates are doing, in and out of school. I’ve always encouraged my kids to socialise with non-Muslims, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult as they get older.

    It’s probably clear from what I’ve written, that I’m not actually wishing I could home-school my kids, I’m just wishing they could go to an Islamic school. All the same, I don’t think it’s a hypothetical discussion, seeing as home-schooling is taking place and the parents and children could probably use some support. Perhaps some home-schoolers will contribute to the discussion. All the best, wasalaam.

  2. Salaam Alaikum,

    Thank you for such a detailed comment.

    It’s not so much homeschooling I have a problem with as the way it is uncritically held up “The Best Thing” for Muslim families, that we should all be aiming for, without detailing the pluses and minuses.

    Islamic schooling has the potential to be a good thing, although that depends very much on how they are run. I’ve certainly heard good and bad things about them. Most faith schools in the U.K (unless they are private schools) have to take a small number of pupils from other faiths, which I think helps avoid isolationism.

    In terms of helping kids now, I agree. After school or weekend clubs/madrassas are easier to set up then full time schools and can provide a valuable service.

    However, I think we need to move away from the traditional concept of the madrassa (learning how to read Qur’an, without understanding what it says, while under the threat of a beating), into something more holistic.

    I heard about a brilliant Islamic kids club, where they used things like Fair Trade fortnight to teach the children about the Prophet Shu’ayb (peace be upon him) and the importance Islam places on trading fairly and being honest. This links Islamic teaching to everyday life, rather then relegating it to something that you listen to in the mosque and then go home and forget about.

    As for point 5. I agree. Again, here is where I think there needs to be more discussion and work to establish halal social activities for our children and young people.

    Best Regards and wasalaam to you too.

  3. I want to homeschool my boys because I’ve seen too many public high-school graduates who can not spell, read or write the simplest English. I would send my kids to public school before I sent them to an Islamic school though, because I have seen the low quality of teachers, especially the aqlaq that some of them demonstrate. Islamically it would be harder for the kids to differentiate between what is truth and what is not if it is presented to them, incorrectly, as Islam. We can teach them Islam at home. Homeschooling does not have to mean that the children will never learn how to live in society. They can join sports teams, and go to story hour at the public libraries…there are a thousand ways that homeschooling could be at least as efficient as public school, if not more so.

  4. I dont think homeschooling is a good idea. I have seldom met anyone who has the level of education and experience across a wide range of subjects to do the job properly.

    It makes it very hard to get a well adjusted and socialised child in such a situation. No matter how much you try a homeschooled child is not going to be around the wide array of people that they will in real life.

    The whole culture and religion argument bugs me. These children are growing up as minorities in non Islamic countries. They must learn how to deal with that. For those Muslims who think Western society is SO bad that they must remove their children from it, they need to rethink WHY they are living in such a society in the first place.

    If it is so bad that you cannot allow your children to be a part of it, then you shouldnt be living in it either. These people need to pick up and move back to whatever country they came from originally, and if they are converts, they can try moving to an “Islamic” country, but 99% of them will wish they were back where they started in no time soon. The West is light years ahead of any Muslim country when it comes to education and especially in the humain way they treat their students.

    The real key is to find a decent school to send your kids to. Stay on top of what they are being taught and tutor them yourself or hire a tutor to address any areas in which they might be lacking. Be a part of your child’s life so it wont be a surprise when and if they have any social issues that you can help them address.

    Hiding them from all of the ills of the world (real or imagined) wont help them make it when they no longer have mommy and daddy to shelter them.

  5. Salaam Alaikum,

    Hajar – I can definitely share your concern about the low standard of some schools. I also feel the parents should shoulder some of the blame, by looking at their child’s schoolwork, problems can be identified quickly.

    However, I feel the socialisation process is difficult to replicate outside of a school setting. One hour of social activities (which are usually very closely monitored by adults) doesn’t compare to the development that takes place within school, when nobody is there to hold the child’s hand and they have to problem solve on their own terms. I would also add that this sort of socialisation is especially vital for twins as it helps them develop apart from each other, so they can have an individual identity, other then “The Twins”.

    Abu Sinan – I totally agree. Masha Allah, that’s really good advice.

  6. Most of your comments have already been answered by christian homeschoolers. You make a few assumptions, one is that homeschooled children are cloistered. I say it really depends on the child. Just because they learn at home doesn’t mean they never leave it. As far as tailoring lessons, to me that means my kids don’t have to waste time ‘learning’ something in a group they already know. Like my 3yr old being taught abc’s, when he could already read. They can go ahead, or learn math and reading on different levels. As far as socialization, how did people do it before schooling became mainstream? And what happened to the oft heard refrain of teachers, ‘You’re not here to socialize.’

  7. Salaam Alaikum,

    Asiya’s Mom – Surely it should be up to the parents to ensured their child is adequately socialised?

    As for socialisation prior to mainstream schooling becoming compulsory, for the upper classes, they were schooled by a governess (and usually did lead extremely cloistered lives). As for the majority of children, they usually had to work either outside the home or on family farms. In fact, the whole concept of childhood as a special time of development is a Victorian idea, prior to that children were viewed and treated as mini adults.

  8. Assalaamualaikum-
    Here’s my long comment:
    What a great post! The main point is that homeschooling is not for everyone!

    Much of this is about economics. All public schools are not a like-for many of the African-American Muslims I know we attended public schools with little money being pumped in-thus we acquired a disdain for public school. It wasn’t until I attended college and my first graduate program that I met people who were in the top high schools in the Northeast. There experience was completely different from mine.

    I teach and attend graduate school at a public university. I have also attended a private university. These experiences have taught me a lot about diversity and I feel like I know how to handle myself in different situations. Because I am in the educational field a lot of what I see among people is lazy home schooling.

    For instance, kids teaching them selves and not in the good way. No schedule or boundaries between home life and instruction time. Simplistic views on “secular” knowledge and Islamic knowledge. No real plan of action or methodology that allows one to see if the child or children or at level or progressing. No teaching of the sciences or access to labs for higher sciences. No investment in co-teaching with other homeschoolers. Not taking seriously that the homeschooling parent should attend workshops or have proper educational training. I’m not even going to get into the gender issues around this pseudo home schooling.

    I do believe in homeschooling for those who are really willing to take it seriously and not use it as an excuse to isolate children out of fear. I think most parents need to spend more time invested in the education of their children. For some of us this might mean-even with busy schedules-setting aside time for real study time. One of the most rewarding experiences I had growing up-before I entered school and after-was my dad teaching me both Qur’an, reading and social sciences in our daily lessons. Because he worked in the evening he was able to spend the morning doing this with us kids. Even a working parent can be an at home instructor.

  9. That was exactly my point, the majority of children were actually able to grow up and lead ‘normal’ lives without institutional schooling.

  10. Salaam Alaikum,

    Samira – Thank you for your long comment! I especially agree with your last point, parents can and should be involved with their children’s education, it’s not a homeschool or nothing situation.

    Asiya’s Mom – As I pointed out, the majority of children were socialised (through work) outside of the home. Therefore, they still had that wider social interaction, which homeschooled children generally do not get.

  11. This is great. I emphatically agree – especially with point #3 – we are muslims in a non-muslim world – let’s prepare our kids for that reality!

  12. What a great post. Most homeschoolers I know, who are truly successful, put more energy and time into teaching their children than they would if they were paid teachers in the public school system. I am a teacher and I have a hard time teaching my own children; I think this is the nature of parent-child relationships. I think that as Muslim parents, if we must put our children in the public school system, we need a back-up plan for enrichment and the “extras” they will not receive in public school. I have seen too many parents who are not native Arabic speakers, for instance, try to teach their kids Arabic. It just does not work. Learning languages successfully requires socialization.

    In Jordan, the public schools are in dire need of reform. Just about everyone I know has her child enrolled in a private school. In the US, only the richest families enrolled their kids in private schools. I do know how it is in the UK. I was just saying yesterday that if we really wanted to sock it to the gov’t here, we’d take our kids out of private schools (which are businesses, really), and put them in the public ones. It would be catastrophic.

    Anyway, I think homeschooling has its merits, but successfully homeschooled kids have some really, truly incredible parents behind them.

  13. I wish I would have seen this post sooner. Homeschooling is a big issue amongst Muslim families here, as is Islamic schooling. I wanted to homeschool my daughter way back when….but had a change of heart based on several factors. I then opted for the Islamic school, but that turned out to be a bad choice too. You cannot place trust in an Islamic school which is run by people (albeit, well meaning people) who really don’t even know the first thing about educating children. Islamic schools are only going to thrive and be competive in this country when they put as much effort and forethought into their “secular” subjects as well as the Islamic ones. Finally, my husband and I did our homework and positioned ourselves to be able to send our daughter to one of the best public schools in the area. I cannot begin to describe the many ways in which has flourished since she started her new school. The difference is literally night and day.

    I agree with the commentors above, about being a part of this society and aiming to change it for the better….not hiding out in cloistered communites.

    Most of these families with whom we are sending our kids to public school with are just like us and are trying to raise good, upstanding, moral kids in todays’ society. Muslims can be of great benefit to this cause…..but not if we are standing aloof. I am a highly visible presence at my daughters’ school and I volunteer every chance that I get. It has taught me a lot about public education and I no longer see it as a “boogey man”.

    Great post.

  14. Salaam Alaikum,

    It’s great to hear about your experiences ladies.

    I have to say, I was expecting a bit of a pitchforking over this post. I’m pleasantly surprised that most comments are in agreement with what I’ve written.

  15. You make many assumptions. One that homeschool kids rarely see people outside of the home. I’m confident I probably know more homeschooling families than you (from being one and seeking them out) and I can say that is an incorrect assumption. Also, in the past, the children were socialized through working mostly on FAMILY farms. Not in classrooms where everyone was the same age. That is the most unnatural and false division I can think of. There are other problems with schools, but I’m sure most people know them just from attending or sending their children.

    I’m pretty confident, both from the way I see my own homeschooled kids interact, both with kids and adults, and from the homeschooled kids I know who are now adults that socialization is possible and even improved outside of schools. If one believes they need a classroom to insure their kids will be able to deal with others, more power to them, but I have personally seen otherwise.

  16. Sorry, meant to write I do NOT know how it is in the UK. Are private schools mainly reserved for the upper echelons? Are public schools typically good?

  17. Wow, what a great post. I haven’t been by in a few weeks, been offline more lately with Baby and all. Anyways, co-sign with everything you say here.

  18. Assalaamu aleikum
    Very interesting post and replies. FWIW, I am not a fan of one-size-fits-all solutions. Homeschooling can be great for those who are able to do it, but it takes certain characteristics and family dynamics that are not always present. Islamic schools also too often fall short of the ideal, although there are some wonderful and dedicated people working in them. I have seen kids failed by the Islamic schools who have gone on to thrive either as homeschoolers or in the public system. I have also seen parents choose to send their children to public schools with the express purpose of integrating them into society, and the children have turned out to be far stricter in their adherence to Islam than the parents! Every family is different, every child is different, and we should avoid judging others for their choices and support one another as a community.

  19. Umm Farouq,

    In the UK, “Public schools” are what private schools are here in the USA. Like the USA, “Public Schools” (private in USA) are reserved for those who can pay for them. See link below for explaination of the difference in terms “public school” in the US and UK. In the UK it is seen as a sign of affluence to attend a public school.

    Other schools in the UK are just like here in the USA, a lot depends on where the school is located and the income strata in that area. For example, a regular school in a location like Belgravia or St Johns Wood is going to be pretty different than a school in Bridgeton, Glasgow.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_school

  20. As someone who eschewed institutionalized primary education ( I unschoolded my teen years) before I was Muslim, I fall into the category of the truly committed homeschoolers. I completely fit the profile of one of those successful homeschoolers and my kid’s assessment tests prove it. I have only just recently (say the last couple of weeks) come to accept that not everymuslim can homeschool, unfortunately.
    Asiyasmom-I agree completely, for myself, about the socializing issues, but I have come to see that some homeschoolers do hide their kids away and give them very little life skills. They are homeschooling out of the wrong kind of fear and with misdirected energy. I am really weary to do any kind of co-op homeschooling because it is not the methodology my family prefers, but I see where some parents really need the support.
    I loath this idea that our minority children must become accustomed to their position in this society at such a tender age. You are saying that four, five and six year olds, who are only just beginning to learn their deen, must do so in a hostile environment. And it is a hostile environment; don’t doubt that, there are plenty of your parent-peers as well as academic case studies
    who can detail for you the scope of the bigoted encounters their children had from educators. If anything, I would prefer to see Muslim children stay home a couple extra years so they may be firmer in their identity before they go off to school. This is assuming that the parents are fostering that identity. But many Muslim parents are so worried about their children surviving in this environment, they put them into completely unnecessary preschool—unnecessary if one parent really could stay home, but they are more concerned with keeping up with the Khans. It really is not that difficult to teach reading and beginning mathematics to five-eight year olds. Most teachers will admit that their difficulties arise from management issues–training the children to behave as the institution desires—and having so many different learning styles and levels to address. School appropriate behavior is not so difficult for a newly registered 8,9 or 10 year old to learn, but then again my kids are now that age and have no interest in sitting at desks all day 😉
    So, if parents must use public schools, I agree, they need to choose the schools very wisely, with higher rates of Muslim students already attending. Charlotte Mason explains thoroughly the way that institutionalized learning has shifted children’s values from being family-based to peer-based. If your child is going to spend most of their waking hours being more concerned about their peers than their parents, you best place them amongst some good peers—and that is from the sunnah.
    “A person is upon the Deen of his khaleel – close friend, so look to whom you befriend.” [Abu Dawood and At-Tirmidhee].
    Love and Peace,
    ~Brooke

  21. Huda-ditto!

  22. Salaam Alaikum,

    Asiya’s Mom – “Also, in the past, the children were socialized through working mostly on FAMILY farms. Not in classrooms where everyone was the same age. Not in classrooms where everyone was the same age. That is the most unnatural and false division I can think of. ”

    I’m intrigued by this argument, because I’ve heard other homeschoolers mention it. However, from my recollection of my school days, children had plenty of chance to socialise with other age groups during break and lunch times. Plus of course, attending school doesn’t stop you from socialising with your family and most Muslim communities are very good at socialising within extended families.

    Umm Farouq – See Abu Sinan’s very helpful comment. The education system does vary here and a lot of it has do with the social circumstances of the pupils who attend the school.

    Luckyfatima – Hope everything is ok with your two gorgeous girls, insha Allah. Thanks for stopping by.

    Huda – Yes. The main point of this post wasn’t to criticise homeschooling (really), but the way it is held up as the most Islamic thing to do and parents are given very little help and advice about guiding their children through mainstream education, despite the fact that most Muslim children will attend mainstream schools.

    Brooke aka Ummbadier – Thank you for your lengthy comment.
    Re: the hostile environment. That depends hugely on the area where your child lives. In the U.K, the Muslim community tends to be highly concentrated. Due to catchment areas, mainstream schools that are 90%+ Muslim are not uncommon and that is from primary to high school age. Such schools usually have a governing board which is made up of Muslim parents, which all aids the school being a Muslim-friendly environment.

    Also, if environments are hostile, don’t we have a duty to fight against it and change that? We aren’t the only minorities on the block, others have faced similar situations and fought to change them.

    Something I didn’t mention in my post, but will clarify now is, I do think it is important to try and being your child up either within or with access to the Muslim community. Yes, our communities have their problems, but it does make things very difficult for children, if they are the ‘only Muslim in the village’.

    Another difference with the U.K and U.S is that here, compulsory education begins at 4.5-5years old. As for preschool, I think it depends on the nature of the child. Some children absolutely love it and thrive in that environment, others prefer to still be at home.

  23. Walaikum Asalam Sis,
    We are on the same page–support is needed all around, regardless of what choices parents make. Yes, the worst experiences amongst my friends with kids in PS are in smaller communities are with kids who are isolated from other Muslims while in school. Still, the case studies I have read used schools with higher concentrations of Muslim students. The one out of the UK detailed how girls of South Asian ethnicity (though UK born) were targeted by teachers with a “savior complex” trying to save the girls from there backwards, antiquated, misogynist religion. If this report focused on overt hostile environments, what about the subversive stuff that children are even more likely to encounter?
    So, I absolutely agree that parents should be proactive and not put their children into positions where they are the only Muslim in their class. But will an ignorant parent think of these things? Will they take “well-meaning” advice from their Muslim siblings that have been there, done that? The worst situations of people I know, keep their children even isolated from the community (who do not live up to their standards) and it is excruciatingly frustrating to watch my young siblings’ lives play out.
    Safiya-4.5-5 year olds love candy, candy, candy too 😉 It cannot be about the child’s preference, it has to be about their long-term well-being and fostering their identity. I would really encourage you to read some works of John Holt (Better Late than Early) and Charlotte Mason. Some of their works are available online and also explained on various websites if you google them. If you don’t agree with them–what’s that quote–an intelligent mind is marked by the ability to hold two converse thoughts simultaneously? Something like that. They thouroughly explain healthy homeschooling socialization.
    Sister Lazeena has some excellent points from a position of been there, done that, wished they coulda, shoulda:
    http://istherefoodonmyniqaab.blogspot.com/2008/12/muslims-and-holiday-season.html
    Also, I suggest to look around you at the young generation of Muslim adults–who do you respect? How did their parents do it? Find out, quick!
    Love and Peace,
    ~Brooke

  24. Salaam Alaikum,

    Thanks for the link and your further comments. Just one point I would like to clarify:

    “Safiya-4.5-5 year olds love candy, candy, candy too 😉 It cannot be about the child’s preference, it has to be about their long-term well-being and fostering their identity.”

    I agree, and my point about different learning environments were not so much about the child’s preference, as to where the child actually learns most, two very different concepts.

  25. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    Abu Sinan: public schools in the UK are not just all private schools, but a subset of elite private schools such as Eton (the best known), Repton, Harrow, Marlborough, Rugby and a handful of others, and places like Roedean and Benenden for girls (Marlborough is mixed). We also have other private schools, some of them catering for middle-class parents who want a premium education which supposedly the local state schools don’t provide or for people working abroad, and some for special educational philosophies (e.g. Waldorf/Steiner schools), religion or for children’s special needs (there are fewer of these now as local authorities are less willing to send children there).

  26. Walaikum Asalam-I am (poorly) trying to differentiate that WHAT the child learns most IS most important at those tender ages. That is why, I believe, they should stay home and go to school as late as possible so that their character is developed as opposed to their “reading readiness.” There have been studies in the US regarding children who learn to read as young as possible as opposed to children who learn more naturally at an older age. By the time the children are 10 or 11, educators can not differentiate if the child learned to read at 4 or at 8. Learning at younger ages does not mean learning more. If that were the case Americans would be getting smarter as we have had a few generations going to school younger and younger, alas we are getting dumber as a nation. Going to school sooner means being better institutionalized. I know my opinions seem very radical, but alhumdiallah I am not alone. I’m also not trying to be all “last wordy”–I am just very passionate about this topic and could type your eyes off–doesn’t that sound way worse than “talk your ears off”-lol!
    Love and Peace

  27. Salaam Alaikum,

    Brooke – Bah, get your own blog lady! 🙂

    Seriously, I’d love to read your opinions on this in more detail.

  28. Thanks for that link, Abu Sinan! I had no idea. The only thing I knew about ‘state schools’ in the UK are that they’ve been serving turkey twizzlers to school children, along with other horrifyingly processed mystery meats, and that Chef Jamie Oliver has been running a school dinner reform program to get the kids who’ve never tasted a strawberry or a tomato to do so. 🙂

    This has been a fascinating thread and I thank you, wise and educated friends.

  29. Salaam Alaikum,

    Umm Farouq – Jamie Oliver is famous in Jordan, wow! The world is indeed getting smaller.

    As for the poor nutrition aspect, this is a countrywide problem both in home and school. I have some real horror stories about the effect poor nutrition can have on children. In some cases it is a form of child abuse.

  30. Assalamu alaikum, I know it’s already been touched on but it seems that some people continue to believe that home educated children are isolated from society. I am a home educator, for a variety of reasons, and my children meet up with lots of other children from all kinds of backgrounds on a regular basis. I am aware of lots of quite strict (can I mention the ‘S’ word?) home educating Muslim families who mix very well with non-Muslim home educators for all kinds of outings and activities. Most – no, actually make that ALL home educating Muslim families that I know regard themselves as part of the wider home-educating community as well as the Muslim community.
    Also, can I just say that I have NEVER known children in the playground to mix with other age groups – a year 5 child can get called names or even beaten up for fraternising with younger kids! Thank you sister for a wonderful blog, but I must disagree with you on this issue. Home Education Rocks!

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