New York Times: Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling

Karima Tung, 12, one of three girls home-schooled by their mother, Fawzia Mai Tung. An important part of the school day: reading the Koran.  
Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling
Published: March 26, 2008
Across the United States, Muslims who find that a public school education clashes with their religious or cultural traditions have turned to educating their children at home.

See the full article here.

Abu Noor’s comments:

 The article seems a little jumbled to me.  It seems the author believed (based on some kind of statistical analysis in one very small area and I’m not sure what else) that the root of the phenomenon of Muslim home schooling was about Muslims wanting to keep their daughters out of school (and perhaps society in general) especially after they hit puberty.  Even though he felt he had statistics to back this up based on the fact that more girls were homeschooled than boys, he could not really get any Muslim parents who would talk with him to describe their reasoning in this way.  So, he reported some of the other reasons and some of their quotes but he still basically described the phenomenon the way he saw it.

Now, I wouldn’t deny that keeping kids away from the aspects of society and especially the public schools for adolescents that Muslim parents perceive as harmful is part of the drive for both Muslim schools and home schooling.  In many areas Muslim schools are not that plentiful, or parents cannot afford them, or some parents feel they may have some of the same issues the public schools have. 

The article mentions some factors that complicate this, though.  There are many converts who choose to homeschool and largely these are people who are from this country and who themselves grew up in the regular public school system.  These people often of course have the zeal of the convert as well as knowing exactly what goes in the culture.  Of course, other converts may take the attitude that they “turned out alright” or that they want their kids to be comfortable dealing with the whole society.   On the other hand, some recent immigrants may be more fearful of the society (especially for their daughters because there is no doubt that double standard is strong in many Muslim immigrant cultures) while other immigrants came here so that their children will have educational and therfore financial opportunities. 

 There is also a phenomenon represented most famously by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of a deep critique of the American educational system which goes far beyond the normal concerns about being exposed to bad influences of other kids with different moral values.  Shaykh Hamza had a famous lecture several years ago entitled “Lambs to the Slaughter” about the Western educational system and he has promoted home schooling alongside non-Muslim critics of current prevailing educational methods such as John Taylor Gatto.  Of course one perhaps paradoxical thing you will notice about many of Shaykh Hamza’s closest followers and just fans in general is that most of them are people who are either converts or children of immigrants who who have in most cases gone through the mainstream Western educational system and usually done very well in it.   

Of course, because there are at least “two Americas” it also matters if one lives in a place where the public schools are any good or a place where they are a disaster.  Similarly the whole notion of home schooling or attending a Muslim school requires communities that are either wealthy or who are really willing to sacrifice to create an alternative educational pathway for their children.  This is one thing I have to admire about the people I come from, the catholics in America, is that even at a time when most of them were not wealthy and many were immigrants they sacrificed and struggled to establish a massive alternative educational system in this country at a time when in many places the regular public school system was unabashedly a protestant one. 

My own oldest daughter, Noor (obviously!) attended a Muslim school for two years and has now attended a public school for two years since we have moved to a community with an outstanding and diverse school system (diverse racially and socially, but hardly any other Muslims).  She’s still young and we’ve been very happy with her teachers in both the Muslim school and the public school.  So, we’ll see what happens…we’re kinda making it up as we go along.  I am a big supporter of Muslim schools because I think its important that we have such institutions in our community but I must say that even in an area like the Chicago metropolitan area with hundreds of thousands of Muslims and despite all the impressive sacrifices and work of the last generation (May Allaah (swt) reward them for I grow more and more amazed at what they did accomplish as I get older) there is still only enough Muslim school infrastructure to educate a very small fraction of the Muslim children.  And with all the challenges inherent in trying to homeschool, it is clear that barring some major unforeseen change in the community, the vast majority of American Muslim school children will grow up attending the public school system, for good or for ill.

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16 Responses to “New York Times: Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling”

  1. fairuza Says:

    We sent my daughter to an Islamic School for her first 3 years. It was a horrible mistake. We did our research, found out which school was the best in Milwaukee county, and we picked up and moved to that district. Her public school experience has been fantastic and I am so happy I have switched! I can’t believe how well the arts and music program has enhanced her life. People need to find out what works best for them. I would love to homeschool, but I am an artist and would probably have them painting and studying works by O’Keefe all day with a little English Lit thrown in for “balance”. It would be a mess!

  2. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr for your comments.

    Definitely you are correct that people need to find out what works best for them in their situation and with their priorities. I don’t want you to criticize the Muslim school but I was wondering when you say it was a “horrible mistake” do you mean that the academics weren’t as good as you would have liked, that it wasn’t able to offer things like the arts and music program you’ve found at her new school, or something else?

    MaShaAllaah I’m glad to hear that you found a good school for your daughter.

  3. fairuza Says:

    It was a horrible mistake for several reasons. It was hard for me to admit that it was a failure for a while because I had such high hopes for the Muslim school experience, but alas, it was what it was. The first issue that I had was that they hired unqualified teachers. I found out that only every third teacher had a degree and probably only every fifth actually had certification to teach. Then my next issue was cirriculum. There was none. Teachers made there own lesson plans from whatever they determined to be appropriate, on their own and there was no flow from one grade to the next. They taught reading by exposing them to “sight words” (starting in K4) and acted like they never heard of phonics, when I brought up the topic. The worst year was K4 and I should have taken that as a hint and left, but I didn’t. In k4 alone, my daughter had a total of 3 seperate teachers over the course of 1 year and they would send home two worksheets of homework every night (umm, the kid can’t even read yet!). When they should have been playing at a sand table, singing songs and learning how to hold a pair of scissors they were having them write words all day and other ridiculous stuff that wasn’t age appropriate. The arabic classes were great, if you were an arab kid, and anyone left behind by the fast pace, well, that was just too bad for them. Then the arts program wasn’t given any funds, so the poor teacher had to make due (and put up with the “art is haram” crowd everday).
    Music class? Well, you can just imagine that the mere mention of that possibility was haram. And on, and on, and on.

    Like I said, I am sure not all Muslim schools are severely lacking in professionalim like this one, but this one was baaaad.

    When I finally got her into the public school system she had to catch up on her grades and even “catch up” on things like gross motor skills and behavior!!!! It was almost embarassing. That is why I call it horrible. My poor kid has worked her butt off to catch up the the “kaffirs” (as they would deem them, dismissively) and now she is finally up to par. God only knows what would have happened if I continued to allow the Muslim school to stifle and stunt her growth. I am just glad I finally listened to my gut (and my nagging mother in law) after 3 years. Al-Hamdullilah.

    If Muslims are deciding which way to go, public or Islamic (or homeschool), my advice is to DO YOUR RESEARCH AND LISTEN TO YOUR GUT. Plain and simple. Always, always demand the best for your child.

  4. Brendan Says:

    I’m against the concept of home-schooling in general. I can appreciate the concerns of parents whose views are threatened by society, but it is my firm belief that we’re all in this together, and we have to learn how to get along. Splitting ourselves into ideological conclaves isn’t going to work. The planet is just too crowded. The best way to improve society is to learn about other people and their differing points of view, and the best time to learn is when you’re young.

    I would much rather see people who have strong religious leanings seek out programs that augment their kids’ time in public schools, rather than trying to shield them from a pluralistic society altogether. No parents can pretend to have it all figured out, and by preventing their children from being exposed to different ideas, all they are doing is crimping their growth, limiting their potential, and perpetuating fear of others.

  5. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee Says:


    Thanks for sharing your story. In general, Muslim schools are still young and they need to keep growing and getting better. I certainly hope they become professionally competent in educating Muslim children, but I also hope that they grow in ways that makes them different from the public school system, or else what’s the point. Still, I know it poses real dilemmas for all of us as parents when we want to support a developing insitution, but we don’t want to sacrifice the ability of our children to receive a quality education. It is also true in my experience that most Muslim schools are based around a single ethnic community and I think those of us not part of those communities must give massive credit for them being able to establish what we have not. At the same time, I know that this poses issues for Muslim children like ours that may not be part of that ethnicity (it also poses issues for Muslim children who are part of that ethnicity).

  6. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee Says:


    I understand your sentiment and to an extent share it. And as I mentioned, my oldest daughter is in a public school now. I do miss a lot of what she received in her Muslim school, but as you suggested one partial solution to this is to seek out extracurricular ways of supplementing her education (although it shouldn’t be underestimated just how much time school and homework, etc. take of a child’s time and energy.)

    Also, I think many people whose views (religious, political, and otherwise) are basically mainstream or widely held underestimate how powerfully a Public school can be in presenting the mainstream majority culture as being what is “normal” and accepted. The best schools and teachers do attempt to acknowledge and celebrity diversity of certain types but there are still issues. In fact, although I’m pretty confident this is not part of your rationale, this is part of the justification some would have for wanting kids to go to public school (it kinda forces people to learn how to act like everyone else and dilutes what parents are teaching at home)…there’s a thin line between learning in public school that there are other kinds of people out there and learning in public school that “my parents and family are weirdos and I have to learn to pretend that I am “normal” like everyone else to make it in school and then the larger society.

  7. Brendan Says:

    Abu Noor:

    You make a fair point about the real possibility that public schooling can act as a force for homogenization. There’s also no doubt in my mind that specific teachers, particularly strongly Christian ones or jingoistic “patriots,” can give off a preference for one way of seeing things, whether intentionally or not. The only thing I’d say in response is that teachers change, at minimum from year to year, and later in life, from class to class. The dangers associated with one bad teacher, to my mind, are outweighed by the larger problems associated with sheltering the child, for years, from any point of view other than the ones held by the parents.

  8. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee Says:


    I don’t think we disagree that much here although we obviously have slightly different perspectives on the issues involved. Just to fill out the discussion, I feel compelled to note in respond to your last sentence that of course even parents of home schooled (and certainly not parochial school) students are able or want to prevent their childrent from hearing other points of view. The children can be exposed to family, to others in the community, to television and other media and sometimes even the two parents may have a diversity of views on some issues. while one may have certain fantasies before one becomes a parent, you realize pretty soon in the process of actually having children that you while you are a very important influence on your kids, actually “sheltering” them from other influences is more impossible than good or bad.

  9. Joel_Cairo Says:

    Brendan & Abu-

    The whole public schooling debate (and related debates like home-schooling) is about as thorny an issue as exists today. Because, in practice, public schooling has been the major battleground for the famous modernism v. traditionalism “culture wars”, the more theoretical conundrum regarding the normative contours of a society like America has likewise taken up the schooling issue as a kind of proxy to rescue the discussion from pure abstraction. It’s an ambitious thing to wade into, but I’m glad to see the two of you – likely the two most sincere and serious commenters at BHTV – are mulling it over here. If I may, I’d like to add to the discussion.

    Reading through the flow of this comment thread, my very first impulse is to address Brendan. I really think the stance against home schooling in general has some dangerous implications to it. Shouldn’t there be a measure of autonomy available to citizens who, for whatever reason, don’t want to subject themselves to public schools (in a flourish of issue-framing dexterity, many home-school and religious-school advocates have taken to calling public schools by the far more sinister-sounding “state schools”). As Abu said, mainstream types underestimate the degree to which the sort of innocuous, generic “unmarked” public schools really do impose a particular value-system, and it really can seem quite oppressive to people who do not share it. For secular types like you and I, Brendan, we see nothing wrong with it, but for someone like Abu or fairuza, or the Amish or devoutly orthodox Jews, the feelings of persecution when confronted by a state with the right and the power to coerce attendance to public schools is very real.

    I also think, Brendan, that you are mistaken as to the pervasiveness of this homogenizing force. It goes beyond occasional individual zealot teachers “going rogue” and implementing a brain-washing agenda. It’s subtler and more systematic than that. Bear in mind, for example, that it was an all but explicit institutional imperative of the mid-19th century Common School movement to file down the rough edges of diversity and impose a common civic ideology among Americans. Common Schools of Horace Mann and others were rooted in a kind of vague, wishy-washy Protestant value system that was engineered to be compatible with most moderate Christian mores. By uniting all these various sects under one umbrella, Common Schools would be enshrining one value system as a kind of democratically-legitimate norm, and would function to wish-wash away the more radical religious currents that students may bring intact to the schoolhouse, but were unlikely to leave with. For some, that’s just the Social Contract at work, but for others (such as those from cultures that don’t trace back through European Enlightenment social contact theory), it’s cultural genocide (one is reminded of Navajo children forced into far-flung boarding schools where only English was allowed)

    Perfectionist Liberals, who advocate a liberal democratic order’s right to reproduce citizens in its image and are distrustful of those who seek to entrench themselves too far outside the mainstream, hail Common Schools as a triumph of liberalism (and indeed, turn-of-the-century America did have some of the highest literacy rates in the world). In his “Transformative Constitutionalism”, Stephen Macedo writes about how the movement reformed religion “to suit the political project of liberal democracy.” That’s all well and good as far as it goes, and cleaves with the “we’re all in this together” idea, but it’s not all that far off from a statist program of coercive conformacy. In the same article, Macedo has a far more troubling variation on that theme when he challenges the less-transformative, weaker-state Liberalism-as-Tolerance idea and writes “What is the libertarian plan for keeping America’s families happily preoccupied with sober and regime-supporting interests?” I don’t know about you, but I’m not too keen on the sound of that sentence. Macedo, however, seems to write it without any hint of ambivalence.

    So all of this has been a long-winded way of saying that one should be careful not to be blinded by perspective. We’re-all-in-this-together public schools inconvenience cesular liberal like myself not at all, but for self-identifying Islamists or the Amish (for whom the injunction in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans to “be not conformed to this world” is a central religious tenet) , it asks quite a radical measure of sacrifice and identity-surrender. That doesn’t seem fair in a country built on freedom and diversity. I’m someone who is a bit queasy with the notion of citizens being made-to-order according to the state’s specifications, and I think it a triumph of liberalism not that we’re all the same, but rather that we have people like Abu here. I’m inclined more toward the idea that a society should avoid regulating belief systems and make room for the maximum possible degree of diversity. This, too, has some unseemly implications (from my position, it becomes hard to challenge a school-board in the Bible Belt that votes to teach Creationism in science class), but I guess that just goes to show there is no easy answer.

    Phil aka Joel_Cairo

    P.S. Have either of you watched the Reihan Salam/Kerry Howley diavlog recently? They spend some time on this issue and, again, can’t really come to much of a conclusion other than “its complicated” (though Kerry, given her ideological preference for the rights of individual autonomy over the imperative of self-preservation of any society, be it a state, religious community or family unit, seems to come down against home-schooling’s isolating tendency).

  10. abunooralirlandee Says:

    There was a post on MuslimMatters about this story which included a reaction from one of the Muslim parents interviewed for the article. I think it is an important contribution to the discussion and shares the sentiment of my original post that the article seemed distorted to make a particular point that wasn’t really supported by the interviews the reporter did. Everyone should keep in mind, however, that being a reporter is a really hard job (see Ana Marie Cox at, so my purpose is not to attack the reporter but to shed as much light on the real issues involved as possible.

    Ms. Khan-Mukhtar’s letter to the Editor of the New York Times

    Dear Editor,

    I agreed to speak with Mr. MacFarquhar in hopes of getting some “truth” out there about why many Muslims are opting to homeschool. Imagine my dismay to find that, out of our lengthy discussion, he cherry-picked the one quote that was the least indicative of why my family chose to homeschool. To suggest that a decision as important as homeschooling was arrived at only out of a fear that “our kids might like pigs if they go to public school” was an insult not only to me but also to the readers of the NY Times. Mr. MacFarquhar admits that it was difficult to find willing interviewees, and he boldly suggests that the Muslims’ reticence might be out of a fear of being associated with homeschooled Al-Qaeda spokesmen. No, Mr. MacFarquhar, look in the mirror and you’ll see why many Muslims don’t believe the media comes to them in good faith.

    Hina Khan-Mukhtar

    Ms. Khan-Mukhtar’s Letter to Bay Area Muslim Home Schoolers

    Thanks for being a voice of reason at a time when I (in particular) am feeling really disheartened and disillusioned. I’ve already emailed the reporter and he’s not responding (surprise, surprise).

    It’s unnerving how easily the media can “take” what they want even if one sticks to one’s “talking points”. I tried really hard to stay away from religion and talked more about my experience as a public school teacher (where I wished I could have more one on one time with struggling students), my own children’s learning challenges (one son didn’t learn to read till after age 8 and, thanks to hs’ing, his self-esteem is still intact), the hs’ers ability to choose superior
    educational materials (reading classics vs. basal readers in school), the lack of exposure to Islamic history curriculum in the public schools. “If one doesn’t know his history, how can he be proud of it? I grew up thinking the only thing Muslims contributed to civilization was algebra,” I said.

    When the reporter asked me if we were worried about our kids growing up thinking everyone is bad and only they are good, I told him, “No, I don’t worry about that, because we don’t teach our children that only Muslims are the best. We teach them that Muslim values are the best. And Muslim values can be found in anyone anywhere. That’s why we teach our kids about Abraham Lincoln, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin, etc. That’s also why we teach our kids about Salauddin Ayubbi and Shah Jahan and Ibn Battuta. We don’t want our children thinking that Osama Bin Laden is the only one who represents their religion.” I mentioned how our kids have read “Number the Stars” this year (a book about the persecution of Jews in Denmark during WWII and a young Christian girl’s sacrifice for her best friend) and “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” (a book about a Chinese girl’s assimilation into American culture while retaining respect for her family’s back-home ways). We’re teaching our kids that we’re part of humanity and everyone faces the same type of challenges and problems that we as Muslims do.

    He asked me about “socialization” (the most common question) and I mentioned Little League, Boy/Girl Scouts, working with the Contra Costa Food Bank during Ramadan, sending cookies and baskets to our neighbors on Xmas and Hannukah, planning a litter clean-up campaign in the neighborhood, future plans for working in a homeless shelter, etc.

    When he asked me about why we chose homeschooling, I compared raising Muslim children to an eastern martial arts tradition (i.e. Karate, Tae Kwan Do, etc., something people in the West understand and respect). The homeschooling setting is a place where the kids have a teacher whom they look up to and where the teacher should embody the values he/she is trying to impart to the students. I said that there were three parts to raising a Muslim child — teaching about (1) Islamic jurisprudence (the do’s and don’ts of the religion ), (2) Muslim etiquette (how to behave in society), and (3) Muslim culture (poetry, singing, history, appreciating things of beauty in the world around us and reflecting on God’s blessings in everything we see, etc.). Some (not all) of the madrassas we hear about in the news tend to focus on the Islamic jurisprudence and none of the beauty and that’s why we see individuals who have skewed views of the world (this was in response to his question about how we were hoping to avoid creating the types of egotistical Muslims we’ve seen doing damage in the world).

    When asked about civic engagement, I told him that we were trying to raise Muslims who would be a source of pride not only to their fellow Muslims but also their fellow Americans. We’re trying to raise the future leaders of America, not leaders of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. The Muslim way of prosletyzing isn’t to go knocking on doors trying to teach others about their faith but to live a life that is so full of dignity and grace that others are attracted to them on their own. My own opinion is that these values are hard to teach properly when they’re only limited to Sunday School mornings or after 4 pm when the kids return from “real school”. Every moment of the day is a teaching opportunity and hs’ers seize those moments to teach grammar and math along with reflections on what it means to be a proper Muslim and how to behave with peers and adults and those younger than us. I mentioned that we love America, that this is our home and we’re not going anywhere, and we want to produce productive citizens who can represent Americans and Muslims in the best manner possible. I told him about how we all value the ideal that the public school system represents — that every citizen is entitled to a free education. How we support that ideal, yet we are grateful that this wonderful country also gives us the option to educate our children in the manner we choose as best. I told him that there just aren’t enough hours in the day and there’s so much to teach; that’s one of the reasons hs’ing suits our lifestyle, we can pick and choose what we focus on.

    I mentioned to him my own experiences of growing up in the States, going to school here, and how there were many things I wasn’t allowed to do. I told him that I wanted my own children to hear more “yeses” than “no’s” in their educational experience so that they wouldn’t grow up viewing their religion as a reason for being kept from doing “fun things” all the time. I told him that I wanted my kids to recognize that they have a dual identity — an American identity and a Muslim one — and that those two identities can be in harmony with one another and not in conflict. He asked me for an example where I thought there could be a potential for my kids to feel “left out” and I gave him the short “Why I Like Pigs” example from my child’s kindergarten class. I had been debating about homeschooling at the time and when I saw those booklets on each of the student’s desks, all the memories of always being the one who was “different” came flooding back to me, and I took it as a sign that I should be providing an environment (at least in the early years) where my kids felt comfortable and strong in their religion before making them have to explain why they couldn’t do this or that all the time. I shared my hesitation about telling that story, I even emailed him later telling him that I was concerned that that incident would be misrepresented.

    And, lo and behold, I was right. Out of everything I told him, that’s the one part he used, and the impression for readers is that I came to a decision as important as homeschooling only because I was afraid, “Oh no! If my kids go to public school, they might like pigs!” How insulting.

    I told him over and over about my concerns about how Muslims and home schoolers are portrayed in the media, how the only reason I was speaking to him was to get some “truth” out there and to clear up some misconceptions.

    He did send me a list of my quotes that he was planning to use (some that I was actually satisfied with) with the mention that some may be edited due to limited space. When the article came out, all the quotes I was hoping would make it were cut and the one that I didn’t want (the pigs story) stayed in. Gee, wonder why? I am grateful, however, that he accommodated me in one matter. In the original list, he mentioned that I am part of a co-op that teaches Quran and Arabic. I wrote him back and asked him to mention one of the many secular subjects we teach as well — cooking, sewing, carpentry, tae kwan do, art, science, history, etc. He did work with me on that. (In retrospect, I remember him chuckling and asking, “So the girls learn cooking and sewing?” and I responded heartily, “Oh no, boys too! Learning how to stitch has been great for my son’s fine motor skills!”…I had no idea what angle he was coming from, now I do, after reading about his take on the Lodi community.)

    Anyway, I mentioned here some of the things I said not to “defend” myself but to offer some “talking points” to others who are thinking of continuing the dialogue. I’m out (at least for now).


  11. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Phil aka Joel Cairo,

    Thank you so much for your contribution to the discussion. I may have some more thoughts later but I wanted to say that I hope it’s been communicated in everyone’s comments that we are dealing here with very difficult issues. There are many factors which weigh in each direction. Even considering these factors is emotional and stressful for parents because we are dealing with their children and how they will be raised which is of the most personal and important considerations of any parent. At the same time, there are pressures we haven’t discussed much which also weigh heavily including some which are largely financial in nature. Unless one is wealthy, private schools are an enormous financial burden especially if a family has mulitiple children. And even if all families are not forced to attend public schools they are all forced to financially support them largely through property taxes. (I am not saying they shouldn’t be, I’m just saying this is a reality). It can be a sacrifice financially to not have both parents working in order to make home schooling work. While no one wants to be in a position of allowing financial issues to dictate what they do with their children, it is a definite reality which only contributes to the stress level of this decision. And no matter how negative a view one has of the school system, for most of us home schooling and even Muslim schools which are often still young and struggling is a tremendous leap of faith to take and it must at least be considered possible (although by no means sure) that this decision will hurt your child’s academic and career development….you are taking a leap into uncharted territory. (And of course, this is why support networks of homeschoolers are so important and popular)

    I agree strongly with Phil that it is more of a systemic issue than a “rogue teacher” issue, and a convincing case can be made that the issues involved are extremely dramatic and go far beyond just the “culture wars” type issues we have focused on. See John Taylor Gatto, “Dumbing us Down” and “Underground History of American Education.” Still, I must make clear that they are many wonderful individual teachers in every kind of school. I had many in my own education, and my daughter has been blessed to have public school teachers who have went out of their way to make her and her culture and religion even feel valued and important and not at all weird despite the fact that she may have been the only Muslim in the school.

  12. Joel_Cairo Says:

    Even considering these factors is emotional and stressful for parents because we are dealing with their children and how they will be raised which is of the most personal and important considerations of any parent.

    I think this here is key. There’s an enormous “big think” political philosophy question that people grapple with via the public schooling issue, but in the real world, a strong dose of pragmatism is involved, which doesn’t get much play in the abstract realm. I think that many of even the most committed believers within outside-the-mainstream “ethical dissenter” subgroups look at their options, but ultimately decide based more on “where can my child get the highest quality education” than “which of these educations adheres most faithfully to my belief system.”

    A classic example is how lower middle-class kids in urban areas are often in parochial high schools, not because they are personally very devout, but simply because their parents reason that tolerating a crucifix above the chalkboard is a small price to pay for an education far superior to that offered in public schools. Your experience, Abu Noor, as well as the commenter fairuza’s, serve as the flipside of that example: Much as you would have liked to keep your children in religious schools, the poor quality of the education offered at those particular schools was a dealbreaker, so you didn’t hesitate to move your children to a secular institution.

    I find this pragmatism very heartening, as it reminds us all that regardless of our often drastically divergent belief systems, there still is a universally understood metric of what a “quality education” is and isn’t, and at the end of the day, that is universally what people most want for their children.

  13. Brendan Says:


    Regarding your first comment: a good essay, powerfully argued. I would say, however, that you exaggerate the danger of a uniform point of view supplied by “state schools.” I grant that things were worse a century or two ago, but unless things have really changed since I went to school, the absolute last thing anyone has to worry about is not hearing different points of view from public school teachers.

    There are some subjects where uniformity is more in evidence, I grant: the sciences. I would say that this is an unqualified good thing. I don’t claim that every homeschooled kid is being brought up to believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, but I’d be willing to bet there’s a significant bias here.

    Perhaps I’m just too enamored of the secular point of view, but it seems to me that public schools only have the kids for half a year, about eight hours a day, five days a week. There is plenty of time left over for parents and other people close to the family to teach their own values.

    Abu Noor:

    Somewhere up above you said something about a homeschooled child being able to be exposed to different ideas due to other people besides the parents having an impact on the kid. A fair point, but I would argue that the range of diversity in these views is likely to be quite narrow. We are, after all, tribal by nature. The “village” that raises a kid is likely to be quite uniform in its outlook.

    Regarding the article about, and letter from, Hina Khan-Mukhtar: One point jumped out at me. She sounded like she had a legitimate gripe about the reporter and the bad job he did, but she went on to say, “No, Mr. MacFarquhar, look in the mirror and you’ll see why many Muslims don’t believe the media comes to them in good faith.”

    This made me sad. It reminded me of a complaint my mother had. My mother was a pretty devout Catholic, and spent the last fifteen or so years of her life putting a lot of energy into a group called “Interfaith.” She used to talk about it all the time, and one time I teased her about it, asking, “Got anybody besides Catholics, Protestants, and Reformed Jews in the group yet?”

    She admitted no, and I asked her, seriously, how hard her group was reaching out to Muslims. (There were a decent number of Muslims in her neighborhood.) She swore up and down that efforts had been extensive and were still ongoing, but so far, they had met with blanket refusal. Not one Muslim would accept an invitation to even one meeting.

    At risk of stating the obvious, I’ll note that this was years before 9/11.

    My point is, insularity can be a big problem. It’s certainly understandable to me why Muslims might be reluctant to engage with people outside their faith, especially in this day and age. But understanding is not the same as approving. I know it asks a lot to ask a persecuted group to be better than their persecutors, but that’s what I ask — get out there and show everyone else you’re not some scary monster, that you’re just like they are in uncountable ways.

    Which, obviously, is the same attitude I have about people who homeschool their kids.

  14. Ron aka graz Says:

    I am really pleased to have ventured to your site. In applying the three perspectives offered by Brendan, Phil and yourself to my own son’s educational process, I can only add that it is impossible to say definitively which approach is ideal.

    I second Phil’s sense that the coercive effect of the “public” school, is not so benign. Brendan’s point about the desirability of getting them to integrate while they are young, can lead to indoctrination if taken to extremes. But a case can be made that this is the effect of educational systems in general. Not everyone escapes there education as a free thinker.
    When my son’s were in a charter school (due to geography – not choice) I found myself having to essentially homeschool them because of the inadequacies of the program. I found out quickly the burden and effect that modeling and curriculum choice can have. This does not even consider the lessons in moral values that are intrinsic to religious schools. And it has been my experience that Muslim schooling imparts a greater adherence to the principles and doctrines, as it engages with the world outside of the community. As opposed to Phil’s point about the acceptance of uniforms or a crucifix being the price of admission for a superior education.

    Two examples help illustrate my dilemma:
    When I was a camp counsellor of 15 ten year olds, one kid continually created difficulty for himself by filtering his interactions with the others as a Jehovah’s Witness. If a kid praised himself for hitting a home run in softball, he would criticize him for the self praise by explaining that according to the principles of Jehovah, boasting is sinful. Isolated example, but fitting. This kid was ostracized not embraced, despite my attempts to influence the consensus to accept the contrasting opinion. Lets say I failed over the course of six weeks to get the group to accept this kid fully.

    When I was a restaurant manager, I had a Muslim schooled cashier. When customers would ask her about the carnitas, she would scowl and proclaim that she would not eat any swine. I suggested that she consider the question objectively, from the customers perspective only. Sure, seems OK from a managers perch, but I am not sure if that is was fair or realistic.
    Now you might argue that if she were truly devout, she would not work at the this restaurant. But in the society that Brendan alludes to, we tend to commingle even if we worship separately.

    My sons are now in an affluent, integrated school. As a parent I am grateful for this. But, I can’t honestly say that I can’t fairly judge which of the varied school experiences that they have had has left the greatest mark. And although I have avoided any religious training, the moral values imparted and exemplified by their behavior is obvious to all.
    What I can say, is that as difficult as this issue is to conclude definitively, one size will not fit all. And power to all those who can afford to choose. And, I do not live in fear that allowing these choices will somehow undermine the fabric of a unified society. We can all live in peace, even if we choose to live apart by degrees.

  15. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Ron aka Graz,

    I am so glad you ventured to the site as well and I really appreciate your excellent contribution to the discussion! (I may respond to some of your specific points later)

    I think it is safe to say that all of us who have commented here agree that the issues involved are complicated. I think we would all agree that there should be an excellent public school system which offers an education for anyone and everyone as much as possible. I think we also agree that parents should have the right to educate their children in a private school or to educate them at home if they think that is best.

    Where we may disagree is in whether the society in general should encourage or discourage parents to exercise that right to not participate in the public school system. I think it is fair to say that the current system although it honors the rights of parents not to send their children to public schools, it generally makes it more difficult thus creating an incentive for children for parents to put their children in public schools. Mostly this is true on the financial level, as parents are forced to pay for public schools even if they do not send their children to them.

    So what do people think about vouchers to try and even up the incentives a little bit? And I don’t think I’ve heard much about how something like vouchers could be applied to homeschoolers…could the parents get some kind of stipend to apply to educating their child(ren) in their own home.

  16. You Know Me! Says:


    Since my son was born I was puzzled about his school. I preferred home schooling at that time. But now that he is four, I have decided to send him to school. Not because I can’t home school but because I want him to go out see the world, communicate with good and bad people. If he see wrong than he will know it’s wrong.
    Well I pray to Allah for all the parents out there – It’s a very tough decision.

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