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MuslimKidsMatter | Stereotypes About Homeschooling: The Kids’ Response

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By Nur Kose and Zaynub Siddiqui

The school year will be beginning for many kids around the world.  Many kids are wondering what this year will be like.  Will they go to a public school or a private school?  Will they begin the adventure of homeschooling?

People are often curious about families who homeschool.  As homeschoolers, we have encountered many questions including numerous misconceptions about the way our school works.  Some kids think we’re totally lucky, while others pity us.  Many have mixed feelings about us, wondering if it’s okay to befriend us or thinking that we’re weird because we study at home.

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There are many articles and books out there about the homeschooling experience from the parents’ perspective.  What’s missing is how the kids, the homeschoolers themselves, view their way of schooling.  Two homeschoolers in two different states, we have decided to collaborate and write a bit about how we feel about homeschooling.  We want to chase away some stereotypes and common misconceptions that so many people we have met have about us.

Stereotype #1: Homeschoolers Sleep All Day and Play All Night

Many people think that just because we’re at home all day, we don’t seriously study.  Perhaps they believe that receiving a proper education requires neat rows of desks and chairs in classrooms as is the norm in schools throughout the world.  Many may believe that staying at home isn’t conducive to learning while in fact one’s home is the best place to learn and grow as a family.  As homeschoolers, we are able to use this to our benefit, learning practical life applications and school studies at the same time.  And yes, many homeschoolers actually wake up and sleep at an appointed time and follow a certain study schedule throughout the day.

Stereotype #2: Homeschoolers are Not Smart

One slightly frustrating misconception that people often have about homeschoolers is that we’re not very smart or are not capable of learning well and that’s why we pulled out of school.  Even when people think they understand homeschooling, they are often surprised when they find out I get A’s and have won nationwide academic competitions during my years homeschooling.  What people don’t understand is that the world of homeschooling is very broad.  Just as all sorts of kids make up a public or private school, the same can be said for homeschoolers.  Students even vary within one family.  One of my brothers, for example, is great at memorizing facts and this helps him get good grades on exams.  My other brother, however, often has trouble remembering many important facts.  Unlike my first brother, though, he shines with creativity, always ready to make something with some paper and glue or experiment with various supplies in the kitchen.  “Smartness” can’t be easily determined by a set standard.  Everyone learns differently and excels in something different.

Stereotype #3: Homeschoolers are Geniuses

Then there’s the other group of people who assume that homeschoolers are natural geniuses and can zip through grades without much effort.  Sure, there are lots of homeschoolers around the world who have demonstrated superior skills and homeschoolers are often the ones to win major competitions.  It’s also true that many homeschoolers are a grade or two ahead.  With the flexibility of homeschooling, they have been able to finish studying the material for a grade more quickly than others have.  However, this doesn’t mean that simply being a homeschooler will make you a genius or that homeschooling requires little work to achieve high results.

To make an assumption about the academic capabilities of homeschoolers based on a few homeschoolers you know is neither fair nor accurate.

Stereotype #4: Homeschooling is So Boring

Many think that, as said before, we sit around all day. This is, in fact, very untrue.  Homeschooling comes with so many opportunities and lessons that normally any student in school would not be able to participate in. We meet amazing people and have the chances to go and explore places.  Oftentimes, parents make a homeschooling essay or lesson out of all sorts of experiences. For example, I once went on a week-long trip to Dallas,Texas. Distracted by the wonders of the trip, I had not gotten a chance to study during the week.  During the plane ride home, my mom whispered to me, “I expect an essay about our Dallas trip in two days.”  Some homeschoolers do complain that homeschooling is boring, but these are often the ones who have not been to public or private school before and are not able to really compare the two.  And of course, kids without many siblings to homeschool with would probably not have much fun.

Stereotype #5: Homeschooling is All Fun

Sometimes kids who attend public or private school are jealous that homeschoolers get to go to Chucky Cheese’s in the daytime or go traveling for long periods of time during the school year.  Many often think that homeschooling is always fun, picturing us studying in pajamas, munching on cookies while studying algebra.  And it definitely is true that much of the time, homeschooling is lots of fun.  We do get to go places other kids can’t when they’re in school and we get to tell kids who go to school stuff about what happened at daytime get-togethers. Usually my mom doesn’t go out during the daytime, deciding to focus on our studies instead.  Sometimes, however, when we were younger and she was invited to a mothers’ gathering, she would take the bunch of us with our bags of schoolbooks. The host would set aside a room for us to study in.  It was often weird to be the only kids there, except for the little toddlers and babies running around making a ruckus and sometimes grabbing our pencils.  We’d often feel special to be the only kids able to witness these get-togethers among the other kids in our community.  Other times, just like any public or private school, homeschooling isn’t so much fun.  We also worry about our grades, get frustrated by exams, and refer to subjects we don’t like as boring.

Stereotype #6: All Homeschoolers Homeschool Alike

Homeschoolers all have different ways of teaching and planning. Some join groups in which multiple parents teach all their kids together.  Some study alone at home with just the parents and the kids.  Some study through online courses and communicate with their own teachers through the Internet or phone.  Others don’t work on their regular studies much and do the minimum amount of homeschooling because they might be doing a professional sport or memorizing the Qur’an. Some homeschoolers are more structured with set hours each day to study while others are more flexible and study at random times throughout the week. Teaching isn’t restricted to the way of public schooling and neither is learning. You can learn through anything if want to.  In many homeschools, parents teach important skills through hands-on learning.  One homeschooling family we know learned about raising hens in a year-long project.  The parents incorporated math in the project while the kids carefully measured boards to build the chicken coop.  Caring for the hens taught science and responsibility.  The kids even had English lessons by reporting about the hens and writing articles about their experiences.  Such methods of learning inspired the children more than plain old facts in their textbooks and bland assignments about things they have never experienced.  Such kids are more likely to pursue their studies on their own because of their interest in such projects.

Basically, there are so many ways to homeschool that you can be pretty certain that any two homeschoolers you know study differently.  Don’t make assumptions about all homeschoolers based on what you have seen in someone else.

Stereotype #7: Homeschooling is not “Real School”

When people make comments like “don’t you wish you went to real school?” I always get annoyed, saying that I do go to real school.  Does studying at home mean that I am not getting a real education?  Have the last seven years of my life been unreal??  If so, why did I just beat you by twenty points in that vocabulary bee?  Maybe unreal is better than real.

Stereotype #8 All Homeschoolers are Antisocial and Awkward

Many people will come up to me and ask, “Where do you go to school?” I reply with a small smile, “I homeschool.” Then it gets so quiet that you can hear the crickets.  Everything gets awkward and the girl looks at me with pity and I can tell she is mentally questioning my social life, which really isn’t fair. In fact, before homeschooling, while attending a public school I was so shy to the point that if someone called my name I would feel like hiding under the table in fright. Homeschooling brought me out of my shell and made me communicate with people more.  Just because I don’t talk to kids my age every day does not mean my communication skills are undeveloped.  I regularly attend workshops and Islamic events with my family and when I interact with other community members, they remark that I appear more mature than many others my age.  What we really don’t get is why people assume that a traditional school environment is a better environment for kids to grow up in than a homeschool.  How can kids ever mature and learn real-life lessons if they’re stuck with other immature kids their age forty hours a week?

Stereotype #9: Homeschoolers Don’t Dream About Going to College

When I first encountered the question, “So, do you plan to go to college?” I was momentarily shocked by the implication of the question.  Did people really think that just because I was homeschooled, I wasn’t interested in pursuing higher education?  Did people really think that I just stayed at home for fun and didn’t care about the future?  However, I eventually allowed myself to realize that such a misconception wasn’t entirely the questioner’s fault.  There are, in fact, many homeschoolers who do not plan to attend college due to other studies or family circumstances.

Stereotype #10: Homeschooling is Restrictive

This absolutely must be the most untrue stereotype ever.  Upon separately interviewing a number of homeschoolers (the kids), we discovered that most of them enjoy homeschooling because of the freedom it provides.  One homeschooler remarked that she gets to learn faster than kids in public school because she studies at her own pace.  Another girl stated that she loves being homeschooled because her mom allows her to organize a plan for her daily work on her own.  Being homeschooled, she gets special privileges.  All the homeschoolers we interviewed agreed that the best part of being homeschooled is the freedom it offers.

We have probably had the best experiences as young adults, having so many opportunities. We have entered competitions and attend events normal students would never be able to attend, written books for children, and have talked to people that you don’t meet everyday. Most of all we are able to learn about life the real way, learning how to navigate and search for opportunities rather than worrying about our next period.  We can advance in topics that we excel in and use that to make a difference in the world. As a homeschooler, I’ve read college level books and have written articles for a really cool website :) and excelled in my photography more than I would have ever been able to if I were in school.  Since our parents get to decide on our curriculum, we get to incorporate religious studies with our other subjects.  For example, while learning about Egyptian history, my mom adds Prophet Musa’s story in, allowing me to learn from different perspectives.  With homeschooling, we can learn about the things we want to, such as Islamic art, Islamic history, and Islamic science.  We can include Qur’an reading and memorization in our daily schedules.

People have always commented on how cool I am and how lucky we are because of all the opportunities we have.  One of the best parts about being homeschooled is that our parents realize many things about us that they wouldn’t have been able to discover had we gone to a regular school.

MKM YELLOW

Although you may have heard many stereotypes about homeschooling, try to think of it as a unique experience, not something that’s there for weird people.  Just as public and private schools offer different methods of learning, homeschooling is a special way for kids to bloom as they learn about life with the people they love most.

About the Authors:

Zaynub is thirteen years old and is in ninth grade.  She enjoys debating and is an aspiring photographer.  She also has a special passion for reading, writing, and using social networks.  Zaynub was born in Pennsylvania and raised in California.  She currently lives in Washington D.C., USA with her parents, sister, and brothers.

Nur Kose enjoys reading, writing, and riding her bike.   Having recently turned 16, she is enjoying starting to drive.  Nur is starting 12th grade through Indiana University’s online high school diploma program.  When she is not studying, she is leading the 99 Orphans Team (of which she is president), trying to get articles for MKM (of which she is editor), or managing her room (of which she is boss).  She also blogs at http://nurkose.net/. Nur lives in Delaware, USA with her parents and four younger siblings.

(Attention, writers!  Muslim Kids Matter is a regular feature at Muslim Matters.  New articles for kids are posted every other Sunday.  You’re welcome to send in your entries to muslimkidsmatter@muslimmatters.org.)

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Salman

    August 22, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    It’s hard to believe that these kids have such a solid grasp of the language, and that they’re able to communicate so clearly. Thank you for your efforts in clearing these misconceptions, and may Allah Azzawajal bless you with a bright future. Ameen.

  2. Avatar

    M

    August 23, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    A lovely article, there should be more written from the POV of a homeschooler themselves, absolutely refreshing! Inspiring too for other kids, mashaAllah :)

  3. Pingback: MuslimKidsMatter | Stereotypes About Homeschooling: The Kids’ Response - Ka Waal

  4. Avatar

    shaheen rab

    August 25, 2014 at 10:15 PM

    Mashallah a very thoughtful article which cleared a lot of misconceptions. I am sure this article will be an eye opener for quite a number of parents.It will also be nice to have a statistics and success stories of different home schooling kids both domestic and international.
    Shaheen Rab

  5. Avatar

    Lamya

    September 8, 2014 at 5:05 AM

    Bravo kids! This is really well written.

  6. Avatar

    Diah

    December 4, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    MashaAllah amazing article!
    May I request a follow-up article addressing stereotypes about homeschooling/homeschooled boys!
    I have noticed within our community that homeschooling is somewhat acceptable when its for girls but homeschooling a boy is looked with much more skepticism and pity.

  7. Avatar

    Dia

    December 4, 2014 at 8:31 PM

    MashaAllah great article.
    I would like to request a follow-up or part two, addressing the stereotypes about homeschooled/homeschooling boys. I say this because I feel in our community, muslim community, it is somewhat acceptable to homeschool girls but when it comes to boys, its a completely different ball game!

    Would love to read homeschool experience for boys.

  8. Avatar

    Jamila Alqarnain

    December 12, 2014 at 10:28 PM

    I found this article very refreshing, alhumdulilah. It’s great to see homeschoolers speaking out and dispelling the myths that are floating around. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  9. Avatar

    Just Me

    November 12, 2015 at 10:05 PM

    Oh my God, I really agree with you about the anti-social part. Last year, when I was in 8th grade I had to take a state test in a public school and the guidance counselor couldn’t believe that I was home schooled! She told me I didn’t “look the type”. In my head I was saying, “really, there’s a type? Am I missing the glasses and the awkward hunched-back walk along with zero confidence that would have me running to the hills if I had to speak out loud?” I should’ve just worn a sign that said” Yes I’m home schooled, no I will not have a panic attack if I engage in conversation.”

  10. Avatar

    Areena Memon

    August 9, 2016 at 6:39 AM

    Can you suggest a guideline for someone wanting to homeschool their children + make kids do Qur’an memorization?

  11. Avatar

    imad alrawashdeh

    December 27, 2016 at 11:39 AM

    Hi,

    I am from BBC Arabic and interested in doing a story about homeschooling. My name is Imad Alrawashdeh and my email is imad.rawashdeh@yahoo.com

    How can I talk to any homeschooler to record his experience and what is her or she thinks about this type of education?

    I wish I can do a radio interview with Zaynab. Is this possible?

    Best,

    Imad Alrawashdeh

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#Life

Pursuing Public Policy as a Field of Study: A Few Principles, Tips, and Advice

Ahmad Raza, Guest Contributor

Published

Witnessing people rise up, speak out against injustices, and protest, is a life-changing experience. It definitely was one for me. A decade ago, barely a few months into college, watching the unravelling of the Arab Spring inspired me to change my career goals and embark on a journey to better understand the world of government and public policy. While my journey is still young, I’ve learned a few lessons and principles along the way that may be of benefit to anyone starting theirs.

Consider your options

The first principle in pursuing a path in public policy is to take steps to keep your options open for your source of income. Why? There are a few factors at play. The first is the reality of the job market. Government jobs pay the best in the space, but they can be scarce (and unlike the private sector, there’s no startup ready to disrupt the space).

Government jobs, of course, aren’t the only option (and for many people, it’s not what they want to do). Another route is to work at non-profits, or think tanks. Pay in these areas will greatly vary, depending on the prestige (and donor base) of the organization. As with the public sector, here too jobs can be scarce.

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How do you keep your options open? Investing in skills that can translate (or even aren’t relevant to public policy) is a good place to start. Software programming, communications, or data analytics are some examples of skills that will provide you with options to fall back on. Learning an in-demand language is another option.

While thinking of your income isn’t, and honestly shouldn’t, be the motivation for entering public policy (I always dodged the ‘how will you make a living?’ questions in college), it is a practical consideration that will eventually catch up with you. This can come in various ways, and is unique to each individual’s circumstances. The worst-case scenario is if one starts to consider bending their ethical framework when they find themselves in a financial squeeze. The freedom to be able to walk away from something in order to maintain your ethical code is extremely powerful, and skills that keep your job options open help greatly.

Maintaining your ethical code is of the upmost importance in this space (and remember that you can still influence policy discussions regardless of your job title).

Take on a non-career mindset

Another principle to keep in mind is to avoid thinking of what you’re doing primarily as a career. The idea that you’ll just work your way up and increase your income, job title, or employer benefits has to be dropped before setting out on this journey.

Why is this important? Many major life decisions are made with the idea of a linear career trajectory in mind. People take out mortgages and car loans with the expectation of an increase in purchasing power as their careers progress. This can’t be the expectation in the public realm. While this advice is arguably applicable in other sectors, I believe it is absolutely critical for anyone considering working in public policy before beginning the journey.

Political winds constantly shift, and will be faced with difficult choices. It is important to fit your work to your ethics, and not the other way around. Dropping the mindset of a linear career, combined with investing in skills that give you the option to walk away if needed, are two ways to make that happen.

Avoid insiderness

The world of public policy is complex, and it requires effort, study, and a keen eye to understand the social role that public agencies play. At times, the ideas and concepts become overly technical and inaccessible to a general audience. This can bring with it a sense of ‘insiderness’, and a general feeling of ‘being in the know.’ Knowing the lingo and talking points is important, but it can disconnect you from the people that you have set out to serve (at worst, it can be a way to intimidate those who aren’t ‘in the know’).

Having a sense of humility, of course, is necessary for any aspect of a Muslim’s life. A field in which you’re expected to provide solutions to society’s problems, and to convince others of your solutions, arguably has an inherit conflict with that sense of humility. But that doesn’t have to be the case. The key is to finding a way to engender a countervailing experience against the highs of insiderness. The one that I believe in, and ties in to the point earlier on building skills for optionality, is to learn a language.

Why learn a language? There are several reasons. The most relevant one here has to do with the process of learning a language itself. This brings with it the experience of having to learn to ‘speak’ again. You put yourself in a context where your words, and in some ways your ability to be heard, are taken away from you. This alone can engender a different sense of humility.

Learning a language also grounds you with the experience of not having your voice understood by others. It builds an appreciation for people whose voice might not be heard in the policy process. Simultaneously, your new language will open the door to learning from new voices and perspectives.

Learn from tradition

Public policy is a secularized space, but that doesn’t mean that our tradition can’t inform our mindset stepping into it. One particularly salient area is keeping in mind how to view success. Stepping in with a commitment to your ethics naturally means discarding the idea that success means a specific title or position associated with your name.

How then should you view success? It begins with accepting that you may not live to see the fruits of your labor. Your name may never be known in this world. Success in a worldly sense isn’t why you’ve stepped on this path.

This doesn’t mean not being ambitious. It’s important to have ambition. Just don’t let your ambition override your values in deciding what to do. Learning the stories of historical figures from our tradition who’ve faced similar struggles helps with this. Examples include, just to name a few, Imam Shamil of Dagestan who resisted Russian imperialism, Imam Malik Ibn Anas who refused to change his beliefs when pressured by political authorities, and Nizam al-Din Awliya whose family were made refugees due to the Mongol invasions and had to subsequently build a new life in India.

Another area to learn, as Imam Dawud Walid suggests in Towards Sacred Activism, is studying usul-ul-fiqh and aqeedah, which will help complement your policy studies and further ground your knowledge of the world.

 

Aim high in whatever good you seek to do. Just keep in mind who truly provides success. And then, get ready for the journey you’re about to take.

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#Islam

30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 21: The Strong Believer

Marwa Aly, Guest Contributor

Published

Now that we have learnt about how we come to success, let’s now talk about the strong believer.

Question: Who can tell me who was a strong believer during the time of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)?

Yes! There are so many of them, like Umar, Hamza, Khalid ibn Walid, az-Zubayr ibn Awwaam, Nusaibah, and Ali [may Allah be pleased with them all].

Before Umar ibn al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) became Muslim, the Muslims would not pray publicly in front of the Ka’bah. They would be beaten and hurt if they attempted to do so. But, when Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) became Muslim, he went directly in front of the Ka’bah to pray. When the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded the Muslims to perform the hijrah (migration from Mecca to Medina), many Muslims did so at night so as not to be seen by the Qurayshi tribes that wanted to keep them in Mecca. Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) on the other hand, declared his migration and threatened anyone that attempted to stop him. Abdallah ibn Mas’ud raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: 

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“Umar’s submission to Islam was a conquest, his migration was a victory, his khalifa (period of rule) was a blessing. I have seen when we were unable to pray at the Ka’bah until Umar submitted. When he submitted to Islam, he fought them (the pagans) until they left us alone and we prayed.”

There is a phrase in the Qur’an where Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) commands Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Prophet Yahya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to take the book with determination; فَخُذْهَا بِقُوَّةٍ  (fa khuth-ha bi quwwa) [take it with power] . 

Question: What do you think it means to take the book with determination, or with power?

While the Qur’an is definitely a book that is soothing for our souls, it is also supposed to empower us and strengthen us, so that we can then go forth and empower others by it as well. 

When we practice what is in the Qur’an, it allows us to remain upright, and builds our spiritual muscles as well. Just like you have to train to grow your physical muscles, you have to keep training for spiritual muscles too. 

Question: What are some ways we can train our spiritual muscles?

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 20: Come to Success

Marwa Aly, Guest Contributor

Published

Now that we have learnt about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Mercy encompasses all things, let’s now talk about coming to success.

Whenever we hear the adhan (call to prayer), there is a part where the mu’adhin (person calling the athan) calls out: “حي على الصلاة” hay ‘ala as-salaah (come to prayer). Then he says: “حي على الفلاح”- hay ‘ala al-falaah.” 

Question: Does anyone know what hay ‘ala al-falaah means?

It means ‘come to prayer, come to success.’ Is that how we usually think of success?

Question: What is your definition of success?

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Yes, sometimes we think that having a good job, a nice house, and a loving family are the measurements of our success. There may be some truth to that  for this world, but how does Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) measure our success?

Do you know that there is a surah in the Qur’an called “The Believers” (Al- Mu’minun), and that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) promises that the believers will be successful? He says:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ 

“Indeed, the believers have attained success” [23; 1]

Let’s dig a little deeper into the Arabic word for success: فلاح (falaah). Do you know that a derivative of that word فَلَّاح (fallaah) means a farmer? 

Question: What are some of the things that a farmer needs to do everyday?

Farmers need to fertilize their soil, plant seeds, pull out weeds, protect their plants from predators, and water their crops. Do you think that’s a lot of work? Do you think it’s easy to be a farmer? I want you to imagine a time when farmers couldn’t turn on a hose to water their plants. They completely relied on rain to irrigate their crops. So, they could do all of this hard work, but if there was a drought, their crops wouldn’t be able to survive. To be a farmer requires a deep sense of تَوَكُّل, tawakkul (reliance on Allah)

So, part of success is hard work, and a big part is also knowing that nothing happens without the will of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why when the muadhin tells us to come to salaah (prayer) and to come to success, we respond by saying: 

لَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّٰهِ‎

“There is no power nor strength except by Allah.”

We can only come to prayer and we can only achieve success if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wills it. The only thing in our control is the amount of effort we exert in the process. 

So, let’s be farmers; let us try our best to plant good seeds, water them, nourish them, and pray that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), places baraka (blessings) in all of our efforts! 

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