By: Tahira Ansari
Muslims are making great strides in homeschooling and even taking leadership roles in this rapidly growing movement that has been taking place all across America. Home schoolers today are a diverse group of families that come from every imaginable type of economic, philosophical, religious and spiritual background. But one thing they all agree on and are motivated by is that they are convinced that schools in America today are not providing quality education in a safe environment for their children. In the 1960’s there was the beginning of a grass roots resurgence of home schooling that surfaced for the same reasons. The movement gained momentum in the 1980’s and since that time has become has become an integral part of the face of the American educational system today. In each era, parents were clear that they wanted to educate their children in a way that would be not only spiritually and morally based and academically sound, but would also teach the practical skills needed for their everyday lives. Each step of the way they found themselves swimming upstream against what had become a highly established and regulated educational system that was firmly in place at that time. Their task would not be easy. But once Americans find a better way to do something it’s not easy to hold them back.
Let’s take a look at the history of home schooling in America. It certainly is not a new phenomenon and has roots that go back to early times. It was actually the foundation of education when America was primarily an agricultural society and people lived in family centered communities. Children’s education at that time was relevant to the situation they were living in. Learning how to grow crops, take care of livestock and weave cloth were all basic necessities in those days. Parents and the older siblings were the primary teachers who instructed the youngest children the basics of making life work on the edge of the frontier. Occasionally there were some teachers who went from house to house instructing their students in the basics of reading, writing and mathematics but there were no formal standards or guidelines. Students learned just enough of academic subjects needed for their day-to-day lives. Interestingly enough out of this informal system some rather outstanding students were produced including Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Dickens just to mention a few.
But life started to change. America began the shift from a primarily agrarian society to an industrialized one. In response to this, the educational needs changed and so did the school system. The one room school houses that had begun to sprout up all over the states began growing into full-sized schools with primarily academic curriculums. New programs were designed and rapidly put into place to meet the growing industrial society’s needs. As attitudes towards children and their education changed, child labor laws came into existence and in 1852 the first state compulsory school attendance law was enacted.
Change in the society came about quickly and the materialistic life in America developed at an amazingly rapid rate. As the industrial complex grew, the moral, spiritual and social life declined and those changes were reflected and even taught in the classrooms. This continuing downhill process lead to the current situation where schools, as mirrors of the society, have become like war zones plagued by gangs, drugs, violence, shooters, and even teachers who initiate inappropriate relationships with their students. With all this going on, it’s a miracle that anyone sends their children to school.
So, how did all this affect the Muslims in America and what were they doing about it? Whether immigrants or converts to Islam, the rapidly growing Muslim population became acutely aware of the failure of the public school to reflect the viewpoints and values of their faith. In response to this dilemma the Muslims have become amazingly creative and very active in the forefront of the home schooling movement. Although they were numerically a minority in the early days it is currently estimated that they are the largest single group out of over two million families that home school nationwide. One estimates states that there are over 60,000 Muslims who educate their children at home.
Muslim parents face many of the same challenges as all other groups who choose home based education for their children. One mother said that she decided to educate her children at home because the public schools just could not accommodate her family’s primary needs. Her biggest concerns were related to praying on time during the day, fasting in Ramadan and of course the interaction between boys and girls on a routine basis. Most parents say their biggest challenge of all was adjusting to their new roles as teachers. One woman
said that she had no idea how to begin. But she found other women who were homeschooling in her area and met with them to discuss both secular and religious curriculums, lesson planning, and of course effective teaching methods. She also felt it was a nice way of interacting with people of different backgrounds and religions and sharing ideas and values. She hoped that it might help others to see Muslims in a more positive light. She said that the first year was a big challenge but it wasn’t long before she felt confident not only in her own abilities as a teacher but in the quality of education she could see happening before her very eyes. She said that she loves feeling like she has such an active role in her children’s lives – more so than if they went off to school and spent the majority of their day away from home.
In most cases, mothers are the primary teachers but fathers are also taking more active roles in their children’s education. Because of the flexibility of the home schedule, they often help with lessons in Qur’an or by teaching a part of the secular curriculum in the evenings or on weekends. They can also take part in field trips or sporting events on the weekends. It’s not unusual to see them at local gatherings of homeschoolers or even at national workshops and conventions.
Every system has its challenges and home based education is no exception. Some of the concerns that needed to be addressed were issues that arose from having to interface with the society at large. They have had to deal with the fact that most, but not all colleges accept home schooled students in the same way they do those who graduate from the public schools. In response to this, many parents choose to educate their children at home in elementary and middle school and once they are firmly rooted in Islamic values send their children to public high schools. They remain active in helping their children to master the skills they need to live in the world around them while keeping their identities as Muslims. As one mother said “It’s not that we don’t want our children to know and live in the world, we just want to be sure that we have instilled the right values in them before they have to go out and deal with the society at large on a daily basis. To help their children bridge the gap gradually, they often start the process early on by interfacing with the public schools by having their children take part in school based extra-curricular activities such as community projects and athletic programs.
And who can forget the most important people involved in home schooling – the children, the students themselves. Although kids can always think of something to complain about when it comes to school, informal feedback from them seems to be mostly favorable. As one student who started his education in public school and then changed to home schooling said, “I hated public school. There’s too many ways to get in trouble and your friends are always pushing you in the wrong direction. There was always too much going on and the teacher never had enough time to give me the help I needed”. One high school student currently attending public school gave home based education the highest rating possible when she said that she would definitely home school her own children one day.
With the whole family involved in homeschooling, Muslim parents say that they enjoy a closer relationship with their children than when they send them off to a large impersonal school every day. They seem to like the flexibility of their daily schedules where even watching a movie together and discussing it can become part of the learning process. Perhaps one of the outstanding hallmarks of home based educational systems is that the primary focus is on the children and how they can be raised and educated in a more natural way and most importantly within the safe boundaries of Islam. As one father said, ‘We are all actively involved in this process together. It is wonderful to see my children being raised with Islamic view of the world they live in. They can’t get that anywhere else except at home”
(c) Islam Times