بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
It has been very long since I blogged about and provided an update on our homeschooling journey.
The third addition to our family was a huge blessing in disguise, because the lull it introduced into our till-then, by-and-large structured, curriculum-based, and parent-driven model of homeschooling, paved the way for a smooth transition into a more laid-back model of mostly unsupervised and creative way of learning for our children.
More on that below, insha’Allah.
First, I must admit, with more than a little surprise, that I never intended for our family to become a ‘celebrity’ of sorts, given my love of solitude and more than a generous penchant for personal space and privacy.
It seems, however, that with the passage of time, we are becoming a homeschooling ‘sample’ or ‘model’ of sorts in the city, as the presence and activities of the local group of homeschooling families creates more hype and awareness amongst onlookers with time, masha’Allah.
Until recently, I was naively, benignly and completely ignorant of (ignorance really is bliss) the effect that the presence of the five of us had on any particular gathering, situation or scenario, until some oft-recurring incidents shook me into consciousness and opened my eyes to reality.
Let’s not get into the details, heh? Suffice to say, that people notice us a lot where ever we go. In particular, I receive a lot of positive comments about my children, مَاشَاءَ اللهُ لَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّابِالله. And when the appreciative people find out that our children are largely homeschooled, out comes a barrage of questions.
This post is about addressing those questions, which I will call FAQ. Please note that most of the observations that I’ll be sharing in it, will be related to children in the age range of 0-12, not teenagers or older children.
The first point I want to make is that, I have slowly begun to realize that it is very important for parents to guard their children from influences, of any kind, that can detriment their tarbiyah in any way; parental lifestyles and careers being no exception.
Now it is beginning to dawn upon us that our homeschooling will have to include measures that will ensure that our children do not grow up under their parents’ ‘shadow’, ironic and contradictory though that might sound, even though they are – by conscious choice – mostly going to be spending time with their parents until adulthood.
This means that, we will have to be conscious of not letting our personalities and career choices, and the ensuing public relations repercussions that they produce, affect our children adversely in any way.
Parents of Little Children: Facilitators and Protectors, Not Wardens and Dictators
Perhaps I can illustrate the point about parental influence better with an example: supposing a child is born to a father who is a successful businessman, and a mother who is a practicing physician.
Now, if these parents were to homeschool this child, it could happen that the child begins to undermine their own personal talents, interests and aspirations and — if the parents are not careful about it — be led to presume that they will also be expected to become either a businessperson or a doctor when they grow up.
This happens in more families than we admit or acknowledge. Parents just presume that their offspring (or at least one of them) will follow in their professional footsteps.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this, as long as the said profession is halal (permissible) and noble in the light of Islam. However, if the child is being unknowingly coerced and forced to adopt this profession, it is not right or fair.
Parents must be careful that their own personal choices regarding how to live life (in all mubah matters – the things that are permissible) are not forced upon their children. Yet, it is also incumbent upon these parents to impart a very strong (rock-solid, in fact) Islamic tarbiyah (upbringing) to their children from birth.
In this scenario, a critical balance has to be maintained, and this is only possible if the parents are extremely and proactively conscious, first of Allah and their eventual and sure accountability before Him regarding how they fulfilled their duties as parents, and then of their child’s likes, dislikes, natural interests, strengths and weaknesses.
A parent who fears Allah regarding his or her children will never consciously coerce or force their personal choices upon the latter, unless it is about something truly beneficial for their Akhirah, or something that is obligatory in the Deen (viz. obligations and prohibitions enforced by Allah and His Messenger ﷺ).
As simple examples: a 6-year-old boy refuses to wear long-johns, pajamas or long shorts, ever, even to bed at night. He wants to sleep in his everyday-wear denim jeans. An 8-year-old girl loves to leave her shoulder-length hair untied inside the home and style it the way she likes. She doesn’t want to tie it up.
Now these 2 are mubah matters about which the Deen is totally silent, and gives each of us considerable leeway in personal choice.
Allah has allowed a boy to wear whatever garment he feels comfortable in when he goes to sleep (as long as it fulfills the requirements of covering his awrah), and a minor girl to style her hair any way she likes while she is inside her home, as long as hygiene, health and cleanliness is not compromised.
Now if this boy’s and girl’s parents force their son to wear long-johns to bed and their daughter to always tie up her hair in one particular style while at home, because of their own personal preferences (e.g. because of how they were brought up), resulting in daily tugs-of-war, verbal battles, lost tempers and tears of frustration – experiences that make the child repeatedly fearful and sad,– then this is frankly very unfair!
As long as the choices that the parents are forcing upon their children have nothing to do with the benefit of the health and Akhirah/Deen of the latter, they should back off and give more space, in order to cultivate a friendly, open, and non-suffocating environment in the home.
On the same token, if an adult son or daughter wants to pursue a beneficial profession that is totally halal in the light of Islam, the parents should allow them to, and not coerce or force them to join their own profession unless it will truly benefit them much, much more in the Akhirah.
Desi’s ❤ Doctors
As an aside, I want to pinpoint here, how us desi’s love to force our children to become doctors.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it is one of the most forced-upon-children professions in Pakistan!
It is often forced upon our girls, because making them doctors results in a higher chance of getting ‘good’ marriage proposals for them (did I mention that we also love marrying our sons to doctors? Forget about how promptly doctor bahu’s [daughters-in-law] are forbidden from stepping outside the house after marriage, even to teach or work at a clinic part-time!).
And medicine is forced upon our sons because, well, this one is simple: in pursuit of the prestige and the $$money$$ factor.
Where ever a qualified Pakistani doctor might be in the world, if he succeeds in getting his local license/certificate (whatever it is called), he always brings in more money than others his age who are in other professions, even if it means that he works like a ______ and sacrifices a lot of time that he can spend with his family in order to earn that extra dough.
I know of a few doctors who switched professions after they graduated — willingly. Many “lady doctors” I know readily became housewives after marrying their classmates or other ‘doctor husbands’. (Housewives, please do not fire me for saying this – I wholeheartedly respect their choice.)
As for the Pakistani doctors who went to Canada, they probably had no choice when they gave up their medical profession. *Sigh*. May Allah make ease for us all.
My whole point being, even if parents succeed at forcing their choices regarding mubah matters upon their children, exploiting the weak position and acquiescent subordination of the latter, once their child becomes an independent adult, s/he will probably readily relinquish the choices that their parents forced upon them, and do what they really want to do instead.
That being said, even if homeschooling parents who bring up their children while constantly fearing Allah and seeking forgiveness for their parenting mistakes, and who avoid forcing their child to do something that the latter is not interested in or naturally inclined towards, the influence of their company, presence and personality upon their offspring cannot be denied or even undermined.
The homeschooling approach is based upon striving to strike the critical balance between letting your child grow and blossom naturally, and facilitating their progress from a safe distance, without becoming a hovering, suffocating ‘helicopter’ parent.
To the outsiders looking in, the word “homeschooling” is a bit misleading, because it gives the impression that parents are forcing their children to sit at home all day, not make any friends, and study/learn only what they want them to.
What is actually happening behind the scenes, however, is quite the opposite: parents are refusing to allow the society at large to dictate what their child learns, and are keeping outside influences at bay as they gently nurture their child to do what he or she really wants to do.The parent is doing what they were prescribed to do in the first place: protect their child from invasive negative influences, and allow him or her to become independent learners and creative innovators and inventors, at their own pace, in a secure, fear-free and stress-free environment that the child feels totally comfortable in.
The innocent child is thus taking the lead in directing what he or she wants to learn, and the parent is observing them keenly, picking up on subtle hints of progress, and providing them with appropriate materials (crafts, brick-sets, books, art tools, paper, pencils, online tutorials, classes etc.) to aid their learning.
This scenario surely does not spell “jail” for the child.
On the contrary, it spells “freedom”.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How is your homeschooling going?
It is going pretty good, alhamdulillah.
We went through a period of self-doubt following a couple of confrontations bordering on angry outbursts by well-meaning people regarding our 6-year-old son, but Allah managed to pull us through without swerving off our homeschooling decision.
You see, now that our son is the only male child in the house, and he is ‘growing’ up, some people we know who are already skeptical about homeschooling, and who subscribe heavily to ‘cultural’ gender stereotypes and roles, quite strongly opine in front of us (as we sit there, silently listening to them out of ‘respect’, just because they are older and/or have raised sons) that raising a boy to become “a man” means that he should spend a lot of time outside the home, around other, older boys in order to not turn into a sissy or effeminate coward.
Yes, even at the age of 6, apparently it is more important for a boy to be around boys and men, than at home with mom.
And what does “being a manly boy” entail, if you hail from Pakistan? Below is a list of my personal observations about the whole concept of raising a boy that is prevalent in our local culture (FYI: when I say “boy” below, I mean an older male homo sapian in the age range of 13-23):
- It means that he loiters around outside the home when he is free, hanging out with other boys to kill time, even if it makes him an Eve-teaser, but that’s okay, because…
- Boys are naturally wired to lust after, stare at, and chase girls. It is perfectly normal. Especially when they hang out on street corners, marketplaces and parking lots, in groups, killing free time. Plus, it’s all the fault of those inappropriately-clad females who roam outside their houses, who provoke them to act/behave in such a way.
- Boys watch a lot of television, films, and sports matches. They listen to a lot of music – loudly. And they smoke. Again, this is ‘normal’ for a growing boy.
- Manly boys ‘stand up’ to other boys. Meaning? They have the “courage” to spew out abusive language, and engage in physical wrangles at the drop of a hat, if someone dares to challenge them. The more “manly” the boy, in Pakistani culture, the more physically aggressive and verbally abusive he is. And the more he lusts after girls.
- Manly boys don’t help their womenfolk at home in domestic chores. So a “manly” boy will never pick up after himself, fix himself a meal, iron his clothes, or wash the dishes in the sink. The females of the house are supposed to do that for him. Heck, it is perfectly alright for him to order his sisters to even get his fork for him if it is missing at the table.
- The more “manly” a boy, the more he stays out late at night, driving around in a car or on his motorbike, hanging out with other boys. And chasing other people’s sisters and daughters, passing indecent comments about their body parts in front of his friends, right after he stares them down from head to toe. He is a “man”, after all, not a pansy, sissy or fag. “Real” men do that, because they like attractive women. A lot.
- As this “boy” grows up, his father allows him further privileges that his sisters will never have, e.g. he buys him his favorite (sports) car, and turns a blind eye/deaf ear as his son progresses from street flirtations to dance parties and clandestine flings with “fast girls”. You see, manly Pakistani “boys” (who have the very culturally distorted version of honor or “ghairat“) clearly bifurcate women into two distinct categories: decent women (their own sisters, mothers and eventually, wives), and ‘fast’ women. The latter are fair game, at any time and place; they are the ones these “manly” boys flirt/hang out with socially, and have love affairs with, but whom they never, ever marry. Marriage for “real” Pakistani men, is always with a woman from category one- viz. a much younger, shy, and beautiful girl, who has never stepped outside her home uncovered or unchaperoned, never attended a coeducational institution, and never had any kind of friendship with any boy.
- “Manly” boys (over)eat a lot, especially red meat. They eat like there’s no tomorrow, in fact, and they eat only freshly made food. And when they sit down to (over)eat, their women (mothers, sisters, wives) are supposed to serve them non-stop until they are done, which they announce by belching loudly. (Their women should never forget to say “masha’Allah” a few times when they mention how much their son/brother/husband (over)eats. Kahein nazar na lag jaye khaatay peetay shehzaday ko!)
- Manly boys like to play outdoor sports, such as cricket, football, squash, and basketball etc. Girl don’t. As they grow up, the latter should be directed towards the delicate knitting/crochet needles, crafts, sewing machines, cooking utensils, stoves and ovens.
With the exception of the last point above, I do not subscribe to any of the above cultural beliefs regarding how a so-called “manly” boy should be raised, even though I hail from the same society, and have witnessed the general attitude and parenting style that most elders around me have used to raise their sons.
This is because Islam is the supreme way of life, superseding any man-made set of social values, and all of the points that I’ve mentioned above, excepting perhaps the last one, clearly contradict the lifestyle, actions and habits of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), who is supposed to be our role model, and his companions.
Our Prophet was the most “manly” man (←is that even correct grammar?) who ever lived, in my opinion, yet he never did any of the things I’ve listed above.
As a young bachelor, he avoided debauchery and womanizing. He also abstained from drinking, gambling, corrupt and lewd behavior, and all other social vices that were common in his society at that time. He was not a misogynist even before he became Allah’s Prophet.
Even after his marriage to a noble older woman, he spent his thirties in social isolation, in close communion with Allah in a cave. After becoming a Prophet of Allah at the age of 40, hitting his prime as a man, he ate less than 3 meals a day, and frowned in general upon overeating when men did it in his presence.
As for sports, my apologies to cricket and football aficionados, but the only sports Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) recommended for our male and female children were: archery, swimming and horseback riding — each of which is relevant to this day.
Our Prophet never played sports on a regular basis, nor did he get distracted by athletics to the extent that it fully engaged his attention, exclusively away from his family while a sports game was in progress.
So, as I end my rant about my disdain for the way most educated and urbanized Pakistani boys are raised, I want to reiterate that, yes our homeschooling is going well, and Allah has helped us successfully overcome the temporary period of self-doubt that we went through, regarding whether or not homeschooling was a viable option for our growing, 6-year-old son who has no male company for most part of the day, at this stage in his life.
I’d also like to take this chance to openly say something to the skeptics and critics of our homeschooling decision: if you do not follow the commands of the Quran, and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) on a superlative and personal level, please do not expect me to weigh your advice about how to raise my children in gold.
Allah is the One in Whose hands lie our affairs. I am confident that, as and when our son needs it, he will easily acquire the company of other righteous brothers in faith, insha’Allah.
Upon Allah we place our trust for fulfilling all of his and our two lovely daughters’ needs related to moral upbringing, knowledge, skills and education, as time passes and they blossom into young adults.
Actually, we are unschooling our children since over 2 years, which is a more specific branch/subsection of homeschooling.
2. What is “unschooling”?
To aptly understand the answer to this question, first ask yourself: what is school?
School entails this:
- Strictly structured timetables and curricula.
- Time-slotted teaching of different (fixed) subjects in the form of classes.
- Students divided into fixed, same-age groups. No transitions allowed.
- Strict rules and discipline, adherence to which is mandatory, else punishment or reprimands are meted out.
- Regular evaluations based on tests, grades and exams.
- Supervised, checked, corrected, logged, recorded and journal-based classwork and homework, mostly done using pens, paper, and books.
- Adult-planned, adult-controlled and adult-judged extracurricular activities, games, projects, and events (such as sports days, art competitions and field trips).
Just take a trip down memory lane to your own childhood and recall your school experiences as a second or third grader. That was ‘school’.
Now, to know what unschooling really is, just do the opposite of everything in the above list.
Shocking, isn’t it? I know.
Unschooling allows a child to be “free”. Yes, totally free!
It means that a child wakes up, sleeps, and goes to the bathroom when he or she wants. He reads, writes, learns, colors, paints, builds, and eats as and when he wants.
He never gives any tests or exams (he doesn’t even know what grades are, alhamdulillah). He always has his mother nearby, to go crying to for a hug and kiss when he wants to (remember: we are talking about children in the age range of 0-10).
He wears whatever he feels comfortable in.
He is never compared to anyone (well, unless his parents compare him to his siblings, cousins or neighbors’ children, but we force ourselves not to).
He can go out late at night with his parents on any day of the week, not just on weekends, without worrying about waking up late the next morning, or being late for school.
He is never “late” for anything, actually, except obligatory salah (if he is 7+), or perhaps the occasional doctor’s appointment (did I mention that an unschooled child never brings home any diseases or infections contracted from others at school?).
He is never forcibly rushed out of the house early in the morning when he is sick, crying, hungry, angry or sleepy – summer or winter.
A small exercise for you:
Recall your childhood, when you were aged between 6-10; try to remember how you felt when school went out for summer vacations every year.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself, having given all of your final exam papers (at the moment, I am not elaborating upon the subject of the absolute terror and morbidity related to exams that a little school-going child feels), and attending the last day of the school year. The final bell rings, signaling time to go home. Remember how you felt at that moment? Try to imagine that moment again, and re-live what you felt in it as it happened.
Well, that joy and ecstasy that you felt at that moment, was perfectly justified. And it forms the basis of unschooling our children. Because, I too, remember it all too well.
Life for an unschooled child is like one, big summer vacation, which never comes to an end!
Life is full of freedom, and sans worries, just as childhood is supposed to be for a child.
3. Are you crazy? How will your children learn anything then?
For the answer to that, stay tuned for Part 2 of this post!