My head was throbbing whilst looking forward to another sleepless night when my toddler was recovering from a cold that she had passed on to her baby brother. Yet, I needed to submit an article to a magazine, and I was relentlessly trying to come up with an idea. One of my editors was on-line and her “status” read, “Homeschooling.”
An idea sprang out of my weary mind, so I left a message through the Yahoo Messenger asking if she would like to be interviewed for a homeschooling article. I watched in awe as she began typing out her homeschooling story, and though I was falling sick, I extended my bedtime to two in the morning.
Three interviews, seven e-mails, and one article submission later, I took my daughter out of her cold-infested preschool, and we began homeschooling.
Nearly two years, an additional baby was crawling around the house and over 50 websites and blogs later; we have no regrets and our journey presses on.
What changed? I had been a stalwart preschool junkie, believing that institutionalized schooling was the only way for my children to succeed in life.
However, after speaking to three Muslim mothers, with 10 children between them and being passionately homeschooled under their belt, I always remind myself that it was through their interviews that I found the homeschooler in me. Here are some of their responses, which keep me going:
You wouldn’t give your car to a perfect stranger for eight hours a day, five days a week, 40 weeks a year, even if you knew what was happening to your car during that time. What more with your own children, gifts that you are unable to put a price on?
This was the first blow to my conscience. I could not necessarily know what my children were up to; no matter, how I wished to monitor them, and Yes, they are more important than my car.
The Hazards of Schooling
Having them around me now means I know what they know. I do not have to worry that they were being left behind in class. I know if they can add from two to five using their fingers. I know if they are able to recite alif-baa’-taa’ (Arabic alphabet) in a correct sequence. I know of the words they can read and the ones they love to spell. I know that they know the seven colors of the rainbow.
I live in a society, where not getting an A in a subject is considered a failure. Speak to any mother, and their ultimate worry is that their child did not receive an A for one or more subjects in school. Technically speaking, they are worried because they do not know what their child does not know.
Through homeschooling, not only do I fill in that void of my children’s education and development, I am also able to appreciate them for their positive developments, strengths, and interests rather than to dwell over what they are lacking in. I also do not have to worry about the A’s, as I am not bound by standards set by a one-size-fits-all educational system, which measures students’ progress through a year-end exam and compares the results with a graph. My children’s developments are completely unique, fully appreciated from a holistic angle, and most of it cannot be simply quantified by a grade.
Not sending my children to school has also helped curb unwanted influences. Children learn a lot more than just from books, even in school, and not all of the extracurricular may be positive. Foul language, for example, would be curbed at best at home — and this was another reason why I took my three-year-old out of preschool, after she called her brother an illegitimate child in the coarsest sense.
It was true; I would not hand my car over to another person five days a week. Thus, leaving my absorbent sponges with teachers who I do not know personally, and who were not going to get to know my children personally — no further than the grade they were going to achieve at the end of the year — is no longer an option. I realize that educating my children is the most precious gift I have received besides my children themselves.
Who says homeschoolers do not socialize? Who says you have to socialize with people of the same age group? Forcing a child into a peer group just signals one message: conform or be rejected.
Everyone knows about peer pressure. Peer pressure kills the individual spirit. The need to be cool, to have the latest gadgets, to hang out at the latest haunts, to have watched the latest movie, to know all the latest mean expressions to describe parents and siblings, etc. The culture of school itself causes children to become uniformed, nurtures the need to become accepted, and creates labels for children even before they are allowed to venture out into the real world.
The Real Child
In homeschooling, children live in the real world. They socialize beyond their peer group, without having to sit in rows and rows of tables and chairs for a fixed amount of time and have a recess for a certain number of minutes.
They are not bound by a structure that may not suit them; they are able to express their thoughts and opinions about dinosaurs, China, Prophet Job, or The Cat in the Hat, without being judged by an answer scheme that does not accept answers beyond what is given.
Peer pressure compounds uniformity and reinforces the need to be spoon-fed academically, not only killing the joy of learning but removing the celebration of differences and diversity.
I know if I resort to institutionalized schooling, my daughter’s loudly opinionated, boisterously friendly, temperament of a drama queen personality would be squashed and my son, as a mysteriously intrinsic, self-directed, and thoughtful person with a high locus of control would be lost in the sea of empty vessels floating around the classroom.
Not only would a teacher who has to handle 20 to 40 different students be unable to cater for discrepancies in learning style, they would be unable to gauge the differences in their students’ personalities. Children who are often neglected or feel underappreciated due to the lack of attention that needs to be tailored-individually tend to act out, causing disruptions. And in a schooling system, disruption is a sign of a bad student — one that should be subjected to further discipline, and one who is unable to conform to the environment, whether academically or socially.
Allah gave me my children, and at the end of the day, I will return them to Him. In what condition do I want to return them to Him? How far different will they be as compared with the day they were born?
I am often reminded of the days my children were born, without a blemish of wrong. Each day that passes by leaves them susceptible to picking up dirt and grime, and whether I homeschool them or not, the responsibility lies heavily on me as their mother.
The Natural Teacher
So, when we sit down to read a book, look at a map, or draw an animal, I include everything Islamically-possible in our conversation. I answer every question they have, even if it means running to the computer for a quick Google. We sit down and discuss qualms they have about different topics. I do not have to charge to complete a curriculum, or be held back by slower learners or rush them because they cannot keep up.
I do not have to tell them “that doesn’t matter, it is not important for the exam,” but I acknowledge their curiosity fullheartedly. Rather than telling them to be quiet and have them looking for information in the wrong places, we look them up together, and when the time is right, they will be able to decide where they should look for answers themselves.
The disadvantage of living in a Muslim community is that parents tend to let their guard down. They are falsely led to believe that because everyone is Muslim — even in school — there are no “foreign” influences, but this is sorely untrue. Even in the most rural and “protected” areas in the country, we hear of teenage pregnancy and gang hooliganism.
I feel it is not worth the risk taking, if one day my child comes home with fluorescent hair and tongue studs, there is no amount of insurance premium that can cover a “spoilt” good. In fact, there is no replacement for it. Mothers whose children have absorbed values that do not live with their own families end up trying to correct their behavior, and parenting becomes burdensome and stressful, especially if the children have already reached adolescence. With homeschooling, instead of churning out my energy trying to correct what has already gone wrong, we are taking learning and development one day at a time, with care and sensitivity to inculcate values that we believe in as a family — but that is the journey that presses on.
With homeschooling, instead of churning out my energy trying to correct what has already gone wrong, we are taking learning and development one day at a time, with care and sensitivity to inculcate values that we believe in as a family — but that is the journey that presses on.
After sending the article off for publication, I was left alone to take an untampered route in my area. It has been wonderful but challenging. The most difficult part for me is looking for support locally; very few families in the vicinity homeschool and even fewer understand what it entails. After asking around, I received answers ranging from, “I homeschool when they come back from school,”” to “I am homeschooling them now until they are of school-going age,” to “We should set up a school for homeschoolers.”
Finding a network has been literally virtual for me (i.e., I network with homeschoolers through the internet), and at times it was because of the lack of support that I did not feel comfortable to pursue this goal. Yet, the same sisters, who I interviewed, cheer me on, reminding me of why I am educating my children at home, and I believe these baby steps I am taking are opening doors for homeschooling to grow by leaps and bounds.