Sometimes energy levels are low, kids are sick for weeks, and you are feeling like all your great ideas and awesome plans are too Utopian to ever become reality. It helps then to actively search for some kind of inspiration somewhere.
A few weeks ago I attended the Toronto Muslim homeschoolers conference. The Muslim homeschooling community is young and small right now but one that is active and really ambitious. Many inspiring ideas were shared at the conference.
I would recommend any education related talks by a homeschooling father and teacher by the name of Michael Reist. He has a website here.
Another topic which seemed to be one of great significance to most families was "Why we homeschool".
My reasons for homeschooling were more lack of choices for special needs education and my lack of financial resources to send K to a private direct instruction school. However it was interesting to see that many families, with no learning disabilities or other apparent barriers (financial or otherwise) were still debating the subject. I never considered homeschooling from a typical parent’s point of view.
Everyone’s journey is different. People find challenges in their particular situations, that seem easy breezy to us raising kids with special needs. It doesn’t mean however that their struggles are any less challenging to them, as ours are to us. It is all a matter of perspective.
In the homeschooler's meeting following the conference, this was the topic up for discussion. I was encouraged to hear about the challenges of other families (none of whom have special needs children, we are the only ones in this community homeschooling that I know of yet). At times it made me feel very fortunate that I have a real grasp on what is really important, as a result of the challenges and difficulties I face in teaching my son. A lot of people are not in touch with that kind of reality and that kind of “bigger picture” attitude. I was grateful how having an older child with autism has made me so easy going, perceptive and sensitive to the needs of my second child. There were also times when I realised there are some challenges we will never face with K, that some of these parents are currently facing in raising and teaching their typical children.
Most of the time the environment, people’s experiences and their children are a constant reminder of our disability, the things we will never get to do, and joys we will never experience with our son. So it was kind of refreshing to feel that in some aspects we are in fact ahead of the game.
The sisters discussed many wonderful reasons why they homeschool and I am going to list a few here.
Preserving the children’s Fitrah and providing an Islamic education
This was of course the number one reason for everyone in the group. As Muslims we believe that all human beings, are created with an innate nature or Fitrah. It is an encoding within human nature that makes them capable of knowing God, believing in a divine power and accepting religion.
This is mentioned in the Quran in various places. It is a fact supported by studies of human behaviour and psychology. It is not a new or alien concept. What you do with this innate nature is another story. Allah says in the Quran:
[And mention when your Lord took from the children of Adam- from their loins- their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying unto them]: Am I not your Lord? They said: Yes, we have testified. This lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, Indeed were of this unaware] Quran 7:172
So pretty much the fact that humans know there is a God is that it is within our very own souls and denying it is denying human nature. That is what Muslims believe.
Many parents (not just Muslim) are concerned about the lack of God in schools. It is also our Islamic duty to nurture this Fitrah or nature, and to protect our families from the punishment of the Fire, which is also a command of God. So many believe that protecting their children’s nature to believe in God is their divine duty.
Questioning the existence of God, Denying it, considering that it is OK not to believe in God, and other ideas are a threat to this and corrupt the true purpose of mankind's existence, which is to believe and therefore worship and obey God. Secular public schools have no room for this kind of attitude in their curriculum. Rather they foster an atmosphere of tolerance to any and all beliefs. Concern and respect for all humans is essential, but clear distinctions between right and wrong and the obligation to convey this message to others is also an Islamic duty.
The condition of Islamic schools
Many parents were not happy with the way Islamic schools are run and the values they are teaching. There were sisters who mentioned that they had withdrawn their children from Islamic schools due to the teachers’ ignorance about Islamic ways of teaching, disciplining and Islamic manner.
A vital point that one mom made during this discussion was that when homeschooling, the parent educator needs to constantly evaluate his or her own behaviour for negative habits that they may be passing on to children. You may be protecting your children from the negative in schools and Islamic schools, but to pay attention to protecting children also from wrong cultural practises mistaken for true Islamic teaching and your own failings as a human being. I thought this was an excellent point. Just because you are a parent does not mean you are perfect. If you have taken the responsibility to educate this child, then ask if you have really received an education in Islam yourself?
Bullying and anxiety
This was also a common thread. Many families had withdrawn their children from schools and had not sent the younger siblings to school at all, because of the bad experiences of their older children. The bullying and pressure to conform had taken its toll on some children’s physical and mental health.
Effective use of time, preserving individuality and teaching social conduct rather than "socialisation" (aka being like everyone else)
This was also an excellent reason many stated for homeschooling. As children we were once curious and individuals. Over the years we were schooled out of this important human trait. The one method for everyone, one curriculum for everyone and one time for everyone to learn system has put many people off institutionalised schooling.
The prison model of “time served” in each grade/credit was also mentioned. Homeschooled children are learning faster, making better use of time and resources in the community, have better social opportunities and so on. Instead of being lumped together with everyone of the same age in a coup mentality similar to that of a prison, the homeschooled kids learn to socialise with peers and also with people of various ages. They are self motivated learners not driven by envy, competition with others, but are taught to compete with their personal bests.
You can find various articles and books on this subject, I don’t want to go in to this in too much detail or the post will never end.
Attachment parenting and the guide apprentice relationship
This was my favourite. Homeschooling for many is a revival of the parent’s role as a the main guide in a child’s life. You are not a pick and drop service, the enemy, the dummy who doesn’t understand your kid and so on. It is a means of empowerment for the parent and a way to re-establish this ancient, God given responsibility to prepare a child for adulthood.
Many moms also talked about how they loved having their children at home. They stressed the importance of always being in a dialogue with their kids about what they wanted from their education and giving them the choice of school. Homeschooling mothers of older children said how their kids do not want to go to schools and when they had been sent for personal reasons ( new baby, travelling etc) they had begged to come back.
Older children who chose to attend high school for ease of college entry, after being homeschooled all their lives, are grateful to their parents for not sending them to school and recognise their education as a real privilege when they were around their high school peers.
So these were some reasons the mothers in the Muslim community are homeschooling. There is a Christian homeschooling conference coming up that I intend to attend. The Christian homeschoolers are decades old here and I would love to benefit from their experience and knowledge.I will post about that conference later inshaAllah.
For more information on the Toronto Muslim Homeschoolers click on this link.