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From Home School to “Real” School…

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6_clip_image001.jpgNine kids, one to join in September. One “from” Turkey (new friend, Mariam, “she always sticks with me!”), 2 Pakistanis, 2 African-Americans, 1 Egyptian and 3 others that I forget (but Reem remembered). All the kids were actually born and raised in America (so very much “Americans”), but the perception of the kids’ “origins” is a nuance that I best leave for another post. [Note: The image on the left is a “generic” one, not of Reem’s friends]

Tuesday, 9/4/07, was an exciting day for my family… especially for my 10 year old daughter Reem. After being home-schooled for the last several years, it was the beginning of the “trial” period at an Islamic school in the area. So, we sat down to talk about her first day, and I was able to commit to memory at least some details, esp. her new “best” friend’s name who “always” sticks to her.

On Monday, there was a buzz in the house about getting Reem’s school supplies, the “rush” that my wife and I had never faced in all of our parental lives. Why did we finally decide to send Reem to “real” school, (I placed the quotation marks because home-school is no less than real in my mind and the minds of many home-schoolers)? Well, first let me tell you the “not-reasons”:

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It wasn’t because we felt that home-schooling was hypocritical, as some desi aunties may feel. It wasn’t because Reem was behind in secular studies… after all she joined the 5th grade, just right for her age. It wasn’t because Umm Reem was tired of teaching Reem… in fact, I was more insistent on sending her to school than her mother even though she was the one expending all the effort. It wasn’t because Reem was “anti-social” or had any problems dealing with people– both Muslims or otherwise; rather, she is over-friendly and on many occasions needs to be reminded to not get “too free” (as desis love to say). It wasn’t because Reem hadn’t learned “enough” of “education”; rather she has accomplished mashallah what many parents would dream of (all credit to her mom seriously). It wasn’t because Reem wasn’t able to be creative and do interesting stuff such as this (new version here).

No, it wasn’t because any of this. In fact, what home-schooling afforded her is the ability not only to be up to speed with secular studies (on a part-time schedule), but also to have the time to memorize the Quran and learn Arabic. So, all props to the home-schoolers and their parents for doing an incredibly hard job, usually with incredibly great results.

So, what was it? For many reasons…

Partly because my son, Abdullah, 7 is in his own ramp-up stage of memorizing the Quran, and needs more attention from his mother. My little one Jana, 2, is getting into her terrible-twos. And Umm Reem is in the final year of her studies at AOU.

Or perhaps it was due to my own biases of wanting to seek “normalcy”, of seeking “familiar grounds” in terms of schooling. Because I went to school, I wanted my kids to experience some of that magic as well. There is no doubt that human beings find comfort in whatever they are familiar with. It gives them that soothing sense of “been there, done that”. I wanted Reem to be in the company of a “steady friends”, those that she sees everyday, not on special occasions. I wanted her to learn the art of team-work, of group-projects, of listening and following teachers’ instructions, of feeling the sense and responsibility of homework, and all the other little life lessons that come in a brick and mortar school.

Perhaps it was because I felt that Reem had too much intellectual and creative energy that she was not able to expend at home, and which was making her both irritable and irritating (sorry Reemo). The fact that she wanted to have “accomplishments” that she could share and be proud of in front of, and with other students.

Possibly and likely it was a little of everything that I have described above. Regardless, I could find as many reasons for home-schooling in the West as for sending kids to ISLAMIC SCHOOLS (public schools is an altogether different issue). I do believe that kids can accomplish a lot more with the attention of the parents at home than what can be gathered in a school environment with all its distractions. So, there are pros that Reem will now miss out. But, then there are other pros of the brick and mortar schools that I want her to start catching now. Perhaps, a good mix is what Reem went through– 5 years of home-schooling, memorizing Quran, learning Arabic and part-time secular studies. And then the remaining through possibly high-school in an Islamic school. In some ways, it would be similar to constructing a grand building atop a solid foundation. Then again, I mentioned that this is a “trial” period… I will report back in an year!

Whatever it is, it matters little… I look forward to learning all of Reem’s classmates’ names and helping out with Math (her real weakness, which drives me nuts considering my own training as an engineer!). Oh, one more thing… I am just tickled pink about my first PTA (parents-teachers meeting)!
—————

Consider this an open-thread for all you home-schoolers, home-schooled-already, home-school-parents, Islamic schoolers, Islamic-schooler-parents, home-school or Islamic-schooler despisers, etc. etc… Spill your guts and feel free to critique what I said, or what you have to say that has nothing to do with what I said :)

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. hema

    September 5, 2007 at 9:44 AM

    i taught two home schooled children last year, and they were both above average in terms of their concentration levels, maturity, social interaction and communication skills. they also got the highest grades in the class and had firm religious beliefs that they believed helped them to succeed.
    i don’t like to think what that says about our education system…
    they were both jewish as well, if that makes a difference.

  2. AnonyMouse

    September 5, 2007 at 12:05 PM

    *Waves*
    Heeeeeere I am! I’m one of the homeschoolers… I’ve been doing it since grade 6, before which I was in public school for every grade except for 2 (done at a Muslim school) and 3 (the first test run of homeschooling, which failed miserabely but I managed to pass anyway, al-Hamdulillah!).

    Masha’Allah for Reem! Insha’Allah she’ll have an excellent and successful year at “real school” (I agree with the term “real school” also, not because h.s. doesn’t give you a real education, but because the environment is so different).

    All three of my younger brothers have had previous homeschooling experience, but after we moved last year and everything changed for my parents, they made the decision to send them to public school. The two older ones had been in public school before – kindergarten to grade 2 – but the youngest had never been in a “real school” before. My parents were a bit worried about how they’d “fit in”, but masha’Allah they’ve done admirably… and without compromising anything, either!
    For example, the teachers understand that they aren’t allowed to sit next to girls, that every Friday my dad picks them up to take them for salaatul Jumu’ah, that there are certain subjects/ activities that they won’t participate in (music, dance, etc.).
    The only reason they’re not in a Muslim school is because there isn’t one in our city! It’s too small, and there are far too few Muslims… hence our tiny little after-school Islamic school (the Madrasah).

    As for me, I was given the choice of whether to go to public school or not, but I’m so comfortable with my own little system of learning and the room it gives me for taking time out to do other things (like blogging! :D), that I’m sticking with it right ’till graduation, insha’Allah.

  3. iMuslim

    September 5, 2007 at 2:41 PM

    “Interesting” “entry” but what’s with all the “quotation marks”??

    I’m really keeping my eyes and ears open these days wrt different forms of education. Cannot contribute anything, but look forward to seeing what other’s have to say, inshallah. :)

  4. Umm Layth

    September 5, 2007 at 5:58 PM

    This is quite interesting brother Amad.May Allah protect her and your family. Aameen

    I’ve had some eye opening things happen to me about the ideas I’ve held of Islamic schools and homeschooling. Insha’Allah I’ll share soon.

  5. Moiez

    September 5, 2007 at 6:18 PM

    Reem is going to be fine inshallah, problem is not the child, you know as well as I do thats its the funds for the teachers and the supplies, al hamd is doing well and is rolling into the toddler to child stage after passing the infancy stage (thanks to Imam Siraj Wahaj) when you go to the PTA meeting make sure you bring in your experience and expertice they need it.

  6. brnaeem

    September 6, 2007 at 1:56 AM

    AA- Amad,

    Very nice to hear about your daughter’s transition. I’m wondering about the ‘quality’ of education at your local Islamic school. How big is the school? How long has it been running for? How are the graduates doing?

    I ask these questions because I’m putting together my ideas on the worth/value of Islamic schools. I’m starting to question their value in our communities. Are all the resources and efforts going into these schools really giving us a proper ROI?

    Sorry if these questions are off-topic, but its really crazy how your posts often parallel many of my posts-in-progress… :-)

  7. Ummaziza

    September 6, 2007 at 2:25 PM

    I am happy that Reem will have increased “interactions with guidance”. Which is one of the advantages of sending your child to a truly Islamic school.

    Brace yourself…you will have many moments when you’ll think the trial should end prematurely. Hang in there and give it at least a year (or as long as she is doing well and thriving)…you’ll always know that you gave it a try.

    ——————
    In my personal opinion, I think we put our children at a great disadvantage when we do not allow them to attend Muslim schools to befriend and influence other children from various backgrounds, eman levels and socio-economic classes. In this environment, where we are surrounded by disbelievers and often feel isolated from the larger society we need not isolate them from other believers – and it is too exhausting to try to imitate that level of interaction while homeschooling.

    Frankly, our children need more than just Mom and Dad’s perspectives on life, which is what they often get when they do not attend school. The occasional visit from friends and Grandma isn’t enough to round out their experiences. It takes the community to raise a child and our current (often suburban) lifestyles do not afford our children with enough opportunities to benefit from other people besides ourselves.

    Just my two cents while we are on the topic.

  8. anonymous

    September 6, 2007 at 8:03 PM

    Are the teachers at the Islamic school certified?

  9. Umm Layth

    September 6, 2007 at 9:14 PM

    Umm Aziza, I believe that parents, especially in our times, should be very cautious of the first few years of a child’s life and raise them themselves. Of course, if there is an amazing school whose focus is Islam, I would do it if I could, but most likely I would do that once my kid is a bit older.

    Studies have shown that a child’s personality for life is usually set during the first few year’s of life. When kids are in school nowadays, their role models tend to be more the students than the teachers. We see a lot of students disrespecting teachers, and that is why I believe that parents need to keep them, so that when they do go to school, the children will already have many of their fundamental manners for life set. We don’t need children learning how to be people from other children, especially when we aren’t fully aware of how those other children are.

    I hope that makes sense as I am in a hurry.

  10. Amad

    September 6, 2007 at 9:46 PM

    ASA Br. Naeem… actually, we are sending Reem to this school only because it is exceptionally quality-schooling. Otherwise, home-schooling would probably be better. For privacy and safety reasons I do not want to mention the school’s name, but it is almost like an magnet school, with qualified, degreed teachers. If you wish, you can email me and I can get you more pertinent info.

    However, more of my experience in terms of “knowing” about Islamic schools has been with Iman Academy in Houston. Most students leaving there do exceptionally well in high-school.

    Regardless of the secular “ROI”, I think the Islamic “ROI” is the bigger issue at hand. I am strongly in the camp of sending your kids to Islamic schools, even if they are not up to par with the other schools (and home-schooling is not an option), because only with community support will they eventually get better. Moreover, I believe that with strong parental involvement, you can make up at home for the educational quality deficiency. On the other hand, if you sacrifice environment for better schooling, especiall at a “regular” public school (with definite exceptions), there is no making up for the environment. I can’t stress enough the difference in Islamic etiquettes and practice I have seen between the Islamically schooled kids and the public schooled kids. Again, exceptions all around.

  11. Asiya

    September 6, 2007 at 10:34 PM

    First of all, good luck to Reem, I’m sure she’ll enjoy herself at real school, I know of two homeschoolers who made the switch and and they love it!

    Now I have 3 questions:

    1. What educational background in the subject areas does your wife have as a teacher? I’m curious to know if she taught all areas or if your daughter learned through online courses.

    2. This is more directed towards one of the comments… Anonymous, your brother sounds quite young, if you don’t mine me asking, what is wrong with a little boy sitting next to a little girl? Surely you don’t think anything will happen between them? Isn’t it when we start to sexualize children and seperate them that we begin to have problems?

    3. Amad, are you planning to send your daughter to college or university one day? I’m just curious about your thoughts on that.

  12. Nirgaz Abdullah

    September 6, 2007 at 10:56 PM

    My children attend magnet schools in our area and I would have to disagree that if the parents provide a strong Muslim identity at home, I think that attending such schools is also a viable option.

    My two oldest attended our local Islamic school, one for 3 years, the other for a year. Then I couldn’t afford it anymore and they would not make accomodations to me so I tried to homeschool at first, then I found about our local magnet schools and enrolled them there. The school informed me that my oldest was at a kindergarten reading level and was in the 2nd grade. Mash’Allah he worked hard that year and with the schools help he was able to rise up to the appropriate level. But no one at the Islamic school had ever mentioned to me that they had an inkling he was not at grade level for reading or suggested I do anything to help him, etc.

    Now this is my bad experience, I happen to know there are some Excellent Islamic schools. It just happens that after some soul searching I have found that the Islamic school in our area will not be an option I will consider very soon again.

    I also think that being an American, growing up here and knowing my culture, I am not as scared of what is to come as my kids enter middle and highschool. I see great opportunities for them to be dawah carriers Insh’Allah in their schools.

    That’s my long two cents…
    Salam

  13. brnaeem

    September 6, 2007 at 11:36 PM

    AA- Nirgaz,

    “I also think that being an American, growing up here and knowing my culture, I am not as scared of what is to come as my kids enter middle and highschool. I see great opportunities for them to be dawah carriers Insh’Allah in their schools.”

    This is an excellent point. One of my ‘theories’ is that Islamic schools were originally established by immigrants who were truly unaware of the dangers lurking in the public school landscape. So their solution was isolation and insulation.

    That worked for them (ie. my parents), but I feel that many of us second-gen parents are intimately aware of what is out there, thus we are better prepared to address and confront these dangers.

  14. brnaeem

    September 6, 2007 at 11:43 PM

    AA- Amad,

    I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear on my usage of ROI. I wasn’t referring to the quality of education.

    My ROI reference was for the entire community. Is the community getting its proper return on investment with the Islamic schools? So much of our scant resources are going into running these schools – what do we have to show for it?

    These schools are addressing such a small percentage of our youth (I’d guess around 10-15% in the Baltimore community) while neglecting the other 90%. Are these schools really worth all that effort?

    You mention the Islamic etiquettes and practices in the Islamic school attendees, but is that more a reflection of the home environment or of the school environment? I say its the former.

  15. SrAnonymous

    September 6, 2007 at 11:51 PM

    May Reem do well in all halls of education! As somebody once said, actually all parents homeschool – to a varying extent.

    A word of warning, when I “released” my first homeschooled child into the wilderness of institutionalized education, I was never satisfied. That was simply because a homeschooler can have very high standards and highly customized expectations. And she knows everything her child is doing at home, so not knowing what ‘s been happening in school can be kind of hard in the beginning.

    But home cannot replicate school nor vice versa and each has its drawbacks and advantages for a child’s education.

    My kids had home based learning until grade 2 and then grade 5, right now my 4 year old is enjoying her homeschooling.

  16. Pingback: First Day of School « “Just a Mom”

  17. Bubaker

    September 11, 2007 at 6:27 PM

    [sorry ’bout that, text copy got clipped – here’s the entire post]

    As Salaamu `aleykum Amad,

    Masha Allah – fascinating account; I felt like I was reading my journal.

    I’m a father of 10- and 8-year olds who are entering full-time “Islamic” school after years of homeschool (with one previous somewhat difficult Muslim schooling experience). My wife did most of the yeoman’s work of educating – we used to live in Maryland, which has a large # of homeschooling families, and had ways of gathering/sharing there.

    Now, with a one-year old and anticipating moving overseas, we’ve decided this is the time to enroll them in an institutional school. Homeschooling overseas with a mind to post-2ndary education is not really an option, and an institutional bridge makes applying to good schools overseas much easier.

    Also, we decided some time ago, that a Muslim community school (“Islamic” would really mean mad-rassah) is the only way to approximate the “village raising a child”. It would be great to find similar ways in America to carry this idea of community over into young adulthood, middle age, and the golden years.

    That being said, one issue I struggle with is this: most Muslim schools are heavily subsidized as sadaqah projects, when in fact most of the schooling families are primarily immigrant and middle-class who are not used to paying full price for anything, much less the $8-10K/year it takes to pay for pre-collegiate education.

    In other words, how to support Muslim community education (which by and large is secular in mission but Islamic in sensibility) and at the same time engender virtues of sacrifice, independence, and non-entitlement.

    Many times, Muslim schools are started from the get go as “charity projects” with no capital or intention of paying the actual costs. Awqaf (Islamic foundations) are supposed to start with a seed of capital that funds whatever charitable project the founders envision. Nevertheless, I continue to give and support – I’m anxious, but not rebellious. It’s just that we need a different institutional vision.

    I realize that there are families who truly cannot afford the cost, and sure, $8K tuitions will never fly. But therein lies the end of our own communal ambitions. This is another way in which I can do justice to the belief that our Rizq is already written – spend on what is [if it is] good. Period.

    Please forgive me for any mistakes or condescension. May Allah(SWT) Bless us all this and every Ramadhan. Ameen.

  18. Reem

    September 14, 2007 at 11:52 PM

    THANK YOU FOR ALL THE ATTENTION (just joking, actually… seriously, thanks.. so many comments i can’t even read all of them)

    sorry I came late, i have not have one sec free time since I started going to school (that does not mean I regret going inshAllah)!!

    it’s friday night (the nights i don’t like, tomorrow no school YAAAAAY) soo I don’t have to wake up at 6:00 tomorrow (which i do not mind) so i just came on the computer, we came back from Taraweeh right now, …

    And about my school: it’s very fun, everyone is my class or very nice, my best friend is Lamees but the others are very good friends too, um, I do not regret going to school and I have been to school for 2 weeks, does anyone wanna know my schedule? here it is: I wake up at 6:00 every morning and get ready by 6:40 (unless i’m fasting then at 5:00, its my choice if I wanna go to sleep after sahoor or not [which i dont want] ) then my dad takes me to this sisters house drops me there and I go with her to school, (somtimes I do my homework in the car or review Quran), then I get there at 8:00 and study somthing then somthing then somthing then we have 15 min snack break then we study somthing, somthing, somthing and then have lunch break (kids who are fasting sit in the confrence room and they have board games for them) then we have the noon prayer then we study somthing somthing somthing, then we finish at 3:15 and another sister picks me and he children from school and by the time we get to her house my dad or somtimes my mom are there then I go home, do my homework then I eat if i’m hungry, study Quran, and if i have more homework do it then go to sleep, but when I have lot of home work I go to sleep at 10:00 it takes me like 2 hours or more to do it, my reg bed time is 8:30

    ~Reem~

  19. Amad

    September 15, 2007 at 12:06 AM

    salam
    Sr. Asiya sorry for the belated replies:

    1. What educational background in the subject areas does your wife have as a teacher? I’m curious to know if she taught all areas or if your daughter learned through online courses.

    *Enough of a background to teach elementary education. In any case, Reem was working with K12.com, an internet-based homeschooling system. You can ask Umm Reem more about this at ummreem.wordpress.com

    3. Amad, are you planning to send your daughter to college or university one day? I’m just curious about your thoughts on that.

    *Inshallah we have similar plans for our daughters and son… the goal is Islamic scholarship, so which form of education and what sort of institution that takes them, wallahualam.

    Br. Naeem, you asked:

    You mention the Islamic etiquettes and practices in the Islamic school attendees, but is that more a reflection of the home environment or of the school environment? I say its the former.

    *I would say both. However, the fact that the child spends MORE of awake time at school than at home… the fact that there is tremendous peer pressure at school… the fact that the child is exposed to haraam consistently and constantly…. I am inclined to believe that the general rule is that the school will have a bigger affect than the home, but the exceptions would be the opposite.

    Bubaker:

    I realize that there are families who truly cannot afford the cost, and sure, $8K tuitions will never fly. But therein lies the end of our own communal ambitions. This is another way in which I can do justice to the belief that our Rizq is already written – spend on what is [if it is] good. Period. Please forgive me for any mistakes or condescension.

    *First of all, there was no condascending remarks whatsoever in your comments. Its awesome to hear from someone in such a similar situation. Secondly, the challenge of financing Islamic institutions is a huge challenge, from the recreation center to the Masjid to the Islamic Schools. Until we have a geniune effort to build a waqf foundations (probably from the bigger organizations such as ICNA/ISNA), we’ll continue to struggle. But then the politics of “who to support” might creep in. So, you almost need like one foundation for each methodology :) Alhamdulilah, despite all the challenges, IT IS INDEED HAPPENING. All over the country. Once a school is established, then usually parents patronize it above other institutions and it can only strengthen. We are seeing this happen with the Iman Academies in Houston, Dar-us-Salam in Maryland and for those down-under, the school in Australia where Yahya Ibrahim is in the Admin.

    Let’s make dua’ this Ramadan that Allah provide his Help and Mercy to all the Islamic schools in the West. Ameen.

  20. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » Homeschooling: On NY Times’s Stereotyping

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