Home Schooling

A Muslim Alternative To Classroom Education

The headline told much of the story "Test Scores Dismay School Committee." I read on, knowing that hours before I had committed myself to ending my children's public school education. "Math computation, such as addition and subtraction, was the weakest area for the sixth graders. They scored in the 32 percentile, meaning that 68% of the students who took the test nationally did better than Attleboro (Massachusetts) students." The 50th percentile is average.

There were the predictable spins the school board issued trying to downplay the results of the test. My favorite s were "Attleboro students tend to do well in higher learning skills that involve complex thinking, but not as well in lower skills, or basics such as spelling, computation and vocabulary." And, "testing for spelling and vocabulary does not measure whether a student writes well." One is tempted to ask who could possibly read what a child writes if the child can neither spell nor has a base in phonics? And even if one could, is it worth the effort?

My children did not take any pride in the work that they produced, even when we displayed it. The normal "I don't want to go to school," escalated into an "I don't want to have anything to do with learning." Ideas contrary to our religious values were also weaving their way into the fabric of our children's thought processes, unchallenged and unquestioned. We were able to catch a few and discuss them, but we began to have other questions. How many other such ideas were there? Were there any we had not caught?

The children were being passed from one grade to the next without knowing basic concepts. When I asked the school to hold one of them back, I was told it would damage her self-esteem. I wondered then how her self-esteem was being damaged by not being able to do the work that her cousins could do, or even the inability to write a clearly understandable letter. I already knew my soon-to-be second grader's self esteem was shaken when he could not read a page from a pre-primer for his grandmother. A pre-primer I had read from in Kindergarten. It was this inability of a child more than ready intellectually and in desire that started me thinking about alternative methods of schooling.

Our family has had problems with Whole Language based approaches before, and I had asked the school administration when we moved to Attleboro if the system was Whole Language. We were told "No," only to find out "yes" later. But what is Whole Language? Whole Language is part of a concept called Child Centered Education. It functions under the idea that a person does not learn in bits and chunks, but as a whole integration. While this system may work beautifully in a classroom size of 5 children to 1 teacher, the reality of the American Public School System is that classroom size is often greater than 20 students to 1 teacher. In a large classroom it lacks the support and repetition of basics concepts. If a child is away from the classroom or home sick that day he/she will miss some basic rule.

Many parents report that school administrators have told them that they consider the fast child abuse. As parents know, when a teacher or school administrator levels a charge of child abuse, action is often taken very quickly.

Since there is no repetition the concept may never come up again. A child is further handicapped if he is an unmotivated learner or has been turned in to an unmotivated learner. The system incorporates the idea that a "child will not learn a subject/topic until he/she is ready and wants to learn it." To an unmotivated learner it may be a struggle just to get the book open. When the child is ready to learn a concept, it may not be accessible. In many cases this system also does not support any discipline on the part of the student, taking instead the approach "if they don't learn it now, they will learn it later." This lack of teaching personal discipline can translate itself into other areas of life as well.

Another disturbing trend in American schools is called Outcome Based Education (OBE). In this system students are taught in-groups and are "graded" on their performance as a group. If most of the group does not study, or do any work on the project while a few do all the work, all will be given the good grade based on the work of a few. Poorer students may do nothing more than add their names to the assignments, and since the poorer student lives off the work of the good student there is no compulsion for the poorer student to study. The good student, who did all the work and must share the fruits of his/her labour with those who did nothing, becomes disheartened and loses interest.

What can concerned parents do? Most parents know of only three options available to them regarding the education of their children. They can leave them in public school and tutor them after school. They might choose a private school, but this course may prove to be costly. The third option, available to some Muslim parents, is to return to the country of origin. However, this option may be economically impossible. But there is a fourth option that many do not know is available -- Home Schooling, legal in all fifty states and in Canada. Parents can remove their children at anytime from public and private schools and begin home schooling. Two states, Alabama and Tennessee, have some restrictions. It is a good idea to always check the schools your children attend thoroughly, including the textbooks, and not to believe the administrators. Also be wary of the propaganda school administrators and teachers give to "manage" parents. If there is a cause for concern a parent has the right to straight answers.

Many parents choose to teach their children at home:

1. Public and/or private education not as thorough as a parent wishes. No Muslim day schools close to home.

2. The wish to remove children from an environment of drugs, alcohol, sexual experimentation, gangs and peer pressure, and to put them back in a healthy, safe, and secure environment. Thus, adding the benefit of directing them to healthy associations.

3. Removing children from an environment unfriendly to difference. In these environments teachers and administrators actually work against the parents' authority, shifting it instead to themselves. Other children can and do pick up the hostilities and mirror the hostilities back to Muslim children.

Some schools are so unfriendly to difference that hostilities to the way one dresses, different ethnic background, coming from another country, and skin color are still very high in some states. Girls receive the most abuse, especially if they wear Hijab. Children experiencing this dual message often become confused and rebellious.

4. A desire to set a school schedule more friendly to the demands of Islamic life. When home schooling a parent need not worry about conflict arising from a desire to have children attend Jummah prayer, or going to Hajj, or even traveling during the cool months to other parts of the world. A home schooling family sets its own schedule. Classes can be held on Saturday and Sunday, over Christian holidays, while being light during Ramadan and stop for a day or two (or more) during Eid.

Attendance at Jummah has become doubly important for Muslim children in this country to reinforce Islam and the Muslim identity. This can often be a source of trouble between parents and school administrators who see attendance at Friday prayer as a truancy issue. Participating in Ramadan can be fraught with problem too. Many parents report that school administrators have told them they consider the fast as child abuse. As parents know, when a teacher or administrator levels a charge of child abuse, action is often taken very quickly. Muslim parents, knowing this, hold their breath during Ramadan. This charge of the fast being child abuse is not confined to a geographic location, it has been reported by many parents throughout the country. As the number of Muslim home schoolers grow, problems with school administrators can be expected to grow as well. Why?

The perception of child abuse, as already discussed, is one of the reasons. Add to that the idea that we as Muslims produce sons to be terrorists and daughters to be punching bags (add the perception that Islam makes mandatory the act of clitoridectomy) and school teachers and officials often see themselves as the salvation or protectors of our children. If we remove our children from their control they can no longer "protect" our children from "us."

The idea of assimilation is a factor too. If we home school we are not assimilating into this society. Schools see themselves as the only avenue of socialization of children. Masjids would do well to create social programs for girls and boys who are home schooled. In some states a parent taking a child out of the public school is directly taking money away from the school (states give money to schools based on a per child enrolled basis). When a parents remove his children from school, he can also be saying that they are doing a poor job. Many Christian parents who home school have problems with school administrators. A school administrator who objected to home schooling told a Christian parent who did home school, "If you educate your children at home you will give them your values." If school administrators object to Christian parents giving their children Christian values, one can imagine how much they object to Muslim parents giving their children Islamic values.

If a parent does choose home schooling it is important for him/her to find out about the laws of the state where he/she resides. This can be done without contacting the state itself, but by contacting Home School Legal Defence Association (HSLDA). This organization also provides full legal representation in regards to the homeschooling of its members, at the low cost of $100.00 annually. If the family requesting home schooling belongs to a member discount support group that cost can be even lower. So it is important to ask.

Though a Christian organization, HSLDA represents home schooler’s of every religion. They believe that a threat to one home schooler is a threat to all home schooler’s. School administrators have been known to bully home schooler’s into giving up their rights. Some home schooling support groups recommend that you do not talk to any state, city or town official about home schooling before getting in contact and/or becoming a member of HSLDA.

Most parents can home school, for parents know their children better than anyone. Parents do not have to know everything. In some cases the parents learn right along with their children. Some states have a minimum requirement for the amount of hours spent per day on home schools. The average seems to be four hours. States also have a minimum number of days a child must be schooled. Parents can also choose books and textbooks that fit their own ideas about education or there are prepackaged curriculums with textbooks and workbooks already chosen and reviewed.

While there are many Christian home schooling support groups, there are only a few for Muslims. The oldest Muslim home schooling organization is IHSANA. The youngest, MHSNR, is in the process of setting up support groups accessible via computer networks. IQRA is also working on an integrated Muslim curriculum for grades K through 12. The Muslim Home School Network and Resource (MHSNR) has written to a few Muslim days schools exploring the possibility of developing correspondence courses. The MHSNR is also about to set up a text book review panel for home schooling textbooks. The approved texts will become part of a curriculum set for all grades, to create as many resources for Muslim home schooling families as possible.

Written by C. R. Sulaiman

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