Parenting isn’t easy, whether your child is homeschooled or not, and each educational environment has its advantages and challenges. As parents, we make all sorts of choices that we hope are best for our children and our family – where and how to educate them is just one.
My homeschooled twin daughters have had homeschooled friends and friends who attend public, Islamic and private schools – most friends have been Muslim, but not all. Up until this year (6th Grade in the United States) there were some, but not too many, noticeable differences between the homeschooled kids and those who went to school. The kids that attended schools always had a little bit more ‘toughness’ than my daughters and generally knew about more advanced topics earlier. So, for example, when my girls heard stories from their school friends about being bullied in school, they were horrified and couldn’t imagine being in that kind of atmosphere. At younger ages, they learned about popular musicians, movies or ‘what was cool’ or ‘in’ mainly from their school friends – things that we did not emphasise at home nor did most of their homeschooled friends. But generally, at younger ages even though they had a wide variety of friends with different types of exposures, the fact that they were homeschooled was not so apparent.
Then came the summer of my awakening – camp at a local masjid. If it wasn’t the first day of camp, it was definitely in the first week. I heard from another homeschool mum (and then later from my daughter) that one of the soon-to-be 6th Grade public school girls (aged 11 or 12) asked a question that as I write it, I am still in disbelief. She was looking at one of the young male teachers, likely wearing a kufi and thobe, and asked a group of tween girls, including one of my daughters, “Would you want to have sex with him?”!!! Yes, she was 11 or 12. And yes, those words came out of her mouth. My daughter, then 11, was aware of how babies were made. As she reported to me, though, she didn’t even understand the question. The thought of sizing up a member of the male gender to determine if he were worthy of sex was not even in her imagination.
Are homeschooled kids more innocent than schoolkids? I thought to myself. My unscientific anecdotal evidence told me in general, yes. Homeschoolers tend have more parental time and supervision than their schooled peers. I venture to guess that most Muslim homeschool mums know where their kids are most of the day because they are either teaching them or driving them to some class or activity. While our kids do have their time away from us, it is much less than students who are in school for seven or more hours a day. Indeed, compared to my experience growing up, my kids have very little time away from me. I grew up in a world without cell phones and constant news reports of child abductions or arrests of paedophiles. In the summer, my parents would not know where I was for most of the day. When kids are in school, they necessarily have that time away from their parents, time to negotiate good and difficult situations on their own, time to explore who they are, time out of their parents’ watchful eyes and time to make more independent choices. Schoolchildren tend to be a little more savvy, and correspondingly, less innocent.
Homeschooling kids in a predominantly Muslim environment also have limited exposure to influences that may be more advanced than what their parents otherwise would like, or are in contradiction to their own beliefs. My kids mostly hang out with other Muslim homeschooled kids whose families share similar values. In public schools, there tends to be more diversity in parenting style and beliefs. One of my friends from college (whom I met long before I was Muslim) told me that she wanted her daughter to lose her virginity before college so her daughter wouldn’t want to marry the first man she had sex with. Another college friend told me that she would rather her high-school daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend spend the night (and that is an euphemism) at her house than have sex somewhere else. Clearly, as a practising Muslim I feel very differently about the proper time for my daughters to begin sexual intimacy – and so do the parents of my children’s friends. While it is important for children to understand the secular and diverse society in which they live, and learn to practise Islam in the midst of competing belief systems, many homeschool parents seek to delay when their kids are exposed to such things.
I also think peer pressure is less with homeschooled kids. It’s there, but not to the degree that is found in schools. Many homeschooled kids seem to be doing their own thing and the other kids seem to pretty much accept it. I remember years ago, one of my daughters had a favourite pair of trousers. The taller she grew, the shorter her trousers became. I believe if she had attended a school, she would have been teased a great deal for wearing those trousers. In fact, I believe she would have stopped wearing them as soon as they hit the top of her sneaker. A lack of peer pressure fosters innocence to some degree, especially at the conjunction of child and teen, because it can give kids a safe space to stay younger longer. My daughters have always played with toys and games that I would have never dreamed of doing at their age for fear of being called a ‘baby’. They eventually grow out them, but it seems that it takes a longer time for them to do so.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Homeschooled kids get into their share of unsupervised mischief; they hear and see things that their parents don’t want them to hear and see, and they are affected by peer pressure – but I believe on average it is less so than in a school environment. Does that make homeschool parents better parents? Absolutely not! It just makes our job easier in some respects. Most parents don’t want their kids to grow up too fast or be exposed to things too early or face stressful peer pressure. Homeschool parents actually face the opposite concern – many of us don’t want our kids to be too innocent, fearful that they will be taken advantage of or will put themselves unknowingly in dangerous situations.
Does homeschooling children mean they will grow up to be better Muslims? Again, absolutely not. I know many beautifully practising Muslims who came out of a variety of school environments. In the end, homeschooling may just mean that homeschooled kids stay kids a little bit longer.
Parenting isn’t easy, whether your child is homeschooled or not, and each educational environment has its advantages and challenges. As parents, we make all sorts of choices that we hope are best for our children and our family – where and how to educate them is just one. May Allah I include all of our children among those whom He loves and who love Him through His grace and noble generosity.
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions and The Great Race to Sycamore Street . She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.