Did you know that school is optional? Yes, indeed it is! Although this might sound bizarre to our minds, but only because we have been pre-programmed to think the opposite. As soon as our child has learned to walk and talk, we see sending him off to school as a logical part of his development. Being well-meaning parents aware of the responsibilities conferred upon us by Allah (swt), we look around for that special Alma Mater, to which we feel safe to entrust our offspring. That’s the way our society works nowadays, isn’t it?
Or is it really? Do we really have to feel ‘fine’ about sending that two-and-a-half-year-old child out on a cold winter morning without long pants, just because shorts is the only acceptable uniform at school? And what about the over-crowded classrooms? Incompetent teachers? And skyrocketing school fees? Of course, not always is the scenario so grave, and I do not intend to talk about the badness of the schooling system or undermine the validity of education as such. My aim is to invite you, as parents, to consider the benefits your children and you might reap by opening your minds to a possible alternative – home-based education or, in other words, home-schooling.
In his book “How Children Learn,” John Holt (1927-1985), a leading American educational and social critic, offers meaningful insights into the delicate and unique ways young children acquire knowledge about the surrounding world:
The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him. He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense… School is not a place that gives much time or opportunity, or reward for this kind of thinking and learning.
It is before they get to school that children are likely to do their best learning. (…) I believe, and try to show here, that in most situations our minds work best, when we use them in a certain way, and that young children tend to learn better than grownups (and better than they themselves will when they are older), because they use their minds in a special way. In short, children have a style of learning that fits their condition, and which they use naturally and will until we train them out of it. We like to say that we send children to school to teach them to think. What we do, all too often, is to teach them to think badly, to give up a natural and powerful way of thinking in favour of a method that does not work well for them and that we rarely use ourselves.
If we have felt confident enough about teaching to our child such essential skills as walking and talking, then why do we all of a sudden feel obliged to hand over our offspring to the schooling system for his further education? Aren’t we, as parents, more aware of their abilities and learning styles than the class-teacher, who has to attend to the needs of more than a dozen at once?
Every child is special in his own way, and often the schooling system tends to become a melting-pot which strips him of his natural inquisitiveness and love for learning. How? Well, by forcing over-seasoned with fact textbooks prepared by wise grownups down his throat. How can he possibly develop into a socially-responsible individual with a well-rounded personality? Why don’t we, as parents, claim our right to being the most important people in the life of our child?
Allah (swt) has ordained us to seek knowledge throughout our lives but has not put on us any restrictions regarding the ways and means it should be done (with the exception of getting involved in Haram, of course). However, Islam does single out parents, especially the mother, as the one responsible for good upbringing of the child.
Home-based education and caring family involvement give the child numerous benefits. Parents have the opportunity to create a unique curriculum for their child, focusing on the areas of his interests and emphasizing the Islamic aspect of every subject. Lessons can easily be adapted to the learning speed of the child, slowing down or speeding up, when necessary. No classroom stress, no bullying, no peer-pressure. If the child ‘calls in sick’ some morning, the day can quickly turn into a crafts project or any other activity your child particularly enjoys.
The time children spend with us, parents, is very short, if we compare it to the years they will spend on their own in the world of grownups. This short time is our opportunity to give them our best for enabling them to make the right choices to further their lives.
It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn Umar (rta) that the Prophet (sa) said: “Beware, every one of you is a shepherd and every one is answerable with regard to his flock. (…) A man is a guardian over the members of his family and shall be questioned about them (as to how he looked after their physical and moral well-being). A woman is a guardian over the household of her husband and his children and shall be questioned about them (as to how she managed the household and brought up the children). (…) Beware, every one of you is a guardian and every one of you shall be questioned with regard to his trust.” (Muslim)
“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” (George Bernard Shaw)