A few years back, I had a discussion on my facebook page with sister Umm Juwayriyah about homeschooling. We were going back and forth a bit about the pros and cons of homeschooling. At the time I really didn’t receive the message she was trying to relay. I thought about our discussion over the years and as my situation began to change, I started to understand what she was trying to tell me before. Sister Umm Juwayriyah and I are facebook pals so I contacted her so that we could talk more in-depth on the subject of educating our Muslim children. It was a very good conversation and I am pleased to be able to share it with you all. The following is part 1 of our discussion.
Me: Asalamualaikum sis.
Umm Juwayriyah: Walaikum asalam.
Me: Alumdulilah. You know it’s funny how we had that conversation on facebook so long ago and it just kinda stuck in the back of my mind. That was a about 2-3 years ago and now my son is in high school and one of my daughters as well. I never imagined myself putting them in a high school situation, but I have found that I’m just not equipped to teach them high school subjects nor am I able to provide them with all of the resources they need at this time. I started thinking about what you were saying and some of the things that I am seeing and I kinda started to understand where you were coming from. I think I got a little bit defensive because I’m just so used to defending the practice (of homeschooling) that it was hard for me to hear what you were saying. So now I feel like I understand where you were coming from. You were not saying that homeschooling isn’t a good option, but that it’s not the best option for everybody and that probably, in most instances, it’s more beneficial for people to have Islamic schools or at least co-ops so that the children can learn together.
Umm Juwayriyah: Absolutely. I’m a homeschooler as well. I definitely believe in homeschooling. My parents homeschooled us as Muslims growing up in east New York, then in Harlem and then when we moved to Massachusetts. However I feel like it’s shortsighted. I love the co-op idea because it allows Muslim parents to bring all of their resources together and that benefits the children in the long run. At the same time I feel like as we continue on as Muslims in this society we need institutions to educate our children. Why can’t we have schools geared toward science and technology and schools geared towards the arts, you know, something for everyone? And a trade school as well.
Being an educator myself, I’d love to be able to bring my services to the Muslim community and benefit my own children as well. Right now I’m homeschooling my children. They utilizes an online learning format that I assist them with. When they were younger I did strictly my own curriculum. Now that my oldest is in 9th grade I have chosen the online school option for her, that will give her some benefit when she goes toward college, inshalah. But I really feel like there’s so many Muslim educators, with PHDs, and Masters Degrees and licensed teachers in every state across this country, from the east to the west. I don’t understand why we don’t have charter and private schools. There should be lots of options for Muslim children in this country. The need is so great especially, like you said, once they get to high school and it becomes kinda thorny. I’m an English teacher, that’s my profession. I’m fully qualified to teach the lower grades through elementary but for high school I’m qualified to teach English only. I can’t get into chemistry and I can’t get into geometry. It’s difficult for me because I’m not proficient in all those other areas.
Sometimes when you’re in a community where there’s not a lot of other homeschoolers your isolated. It’s difficult to find co-ops that fit our needs Islamically. Most of them around New England are either Christian or Jewish based. Their mostly fundamental Christians, so we don’t fit into that atmosphere. But they’re the serious homeschoolers. They’re the ones who want their kids to go to the ivy league schools and they‘re doing all these great programs for them, but they have this religious component that kind of keeps us outside of their community.
Me: Some of them are not very accepting of us.
Umm Juwayriyah: No, not when you’re fully covered and, you know, looking the way that I look and my daughter looks, it’s a little off putting to them. And I understand that, I’m not knocking them. That’s their deen (religion), that’s their way of life, and I get that. I understand that you wouldn’t necessarily want a whole group of Muslims to come into your club and try to make changes to the deen that you’re preaching to your children. You’re trying to keep them on your way, same as I’m trying to keep my daughter connected to Islam, Allah and the sunnah. So I understand. We haven’t tried to impose. Once I figured it out, that this is what they’re about, then I said OK, that’s not the place for us to be. But that kinda leaves me searching and feeling like I’m not doing the best for my daughters, in getting them into other co-ops where they can learn and be exposed to other things that are needing for their high school career. I also have a daughter with special needs and she is in public school because, again, there’s really not a lot of resources for Muslim homeschoolers with special needs.
Me: It seems some folks do have a few options though, I remember watching this one video on youtube. It was an interview of a family that homeschooled, another who used public school, another that used private school and another that used Islamic school. I remember the Islamic school costed about $500 a month or something like that, and the brother who ran the Islamic school saying something like, “If you really want to have your kids in a good Islamic school you will find a way to do it.” And I was thinking to myself, everybody can’t afford that! What is everyone else who simply can’t afford this going to do? And on the other hand I do realize that it does take money to run a school, so what could be an option for families who just don’t have that kind of money? How do we get around the money issue? Because if you have to charge $300 to $500 a month you’re going to be leaving out a whole lot of people who simply can’t afford it.
Umm Juwayriyah: So there’s a very simple option that can be utilized in every state called charter schools, where the state will pay you to start a school, pay the tuition of your teachers and provide you the option to also receive private funding. The charter schools have blown up, everywhere. You can even have religious based charter schools. The only thing you cannot do with a charter school is turn students away. It has to be opened to the public. However, as I’ve seen here in Massachusetts, only certain people are going to go to certain kinds of charter schools. We have a Chinese immersion charter school, where from grade 1 they start teaching the children Chinese. All the teachers must be fully bilingual in Mandarin Chinese as well as english and all of the class instruction is taught in Mandarin Chinese. The only downside of starting a charter school is that big brother is over you, watching what you do. The state has the final authority and they make sure that your meeting certain benchmarks. But in terms of getting around the money situation and having a school that’s open to all Muslim children, it’s a beautiful options. I just don’t understand why more Muslim educators don’t come together and utilize that option, other than the fact that there’s the final say of the state. But the money issues has been cleared for many years now. There are many Islamic charter schools across the states that are doing wonderful. We have here in the New England area, as well as the tri-state, a group of charter schools called the Gullen charter schools and there are 120 of them across the U.S. that’s actually run by Turkish Muslims. The Gullen charter school here in Western Mass is called Hampden Charter School of Science. They bring in teachers from Turkey. They establish charter schools, they receive funding from the government and they do a wonderful job teaching science and technology here in the United States of America.
Me: Cool. I knew charter schools were another option, I just didn’t know how easy it is to start one. I was thinking about starting one when my kids get older.
Umm Juwayriyah: You can! You can open a charter school and you can teach Arabic and you can teach Islamic studies. It just has to be open to anybody who wants to go. There may be some non-muslims who choose to send their children there but that’s dawa. You still can set up your rules and regulations the same way that any other school can. I’ve been researching this for a while now. There was actually a sister that started an Islamic school in California. Unfortunately she got into some financial trouble where they charged her with misusing the states funds and the charter school was closed down. But she was doing well academically. I think she just got too big, too quickly and she started using some of the money to purchase things that were not identified in the actual charter when she set it up, which can lead to a felony. So, you must have a lawyer look over the paper work. But its something that Muslim communities can come together and do if everyone got on board to do it.
I hope you enjoyed reading part one of my conversation with author Umm Juwayriyah. Please click HERE for part two.
Red ant photo courtesy of SweetCrisis at freedigitalphotos.net
Graduation concept photo courtesy of Hywards at freedigitalphotos.net
The Quran photo courtesy of Getideaka at freedigitalphotos.net
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