The perils of home schooling for American Muslims
Commentary by Jeffrey T. Kuhner
Increasing numbers of Muslims living in the U.S. are opting for home schooling. This is a bad idea for one simple reason: They are segregating themselves from mainstream American society.
A recent March 26, 2008 piece in The New York Times, “Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling,” on the struggles faced by Pakistani-American girls in Lodi, California, highlights the problems caused by home schooling. Although many Muslim, as well as Christian, Jewish and secular parents view home schooling as a necessary alternative to the social ills plaguing public schools—such as drugs, violence, promiscuity, and the celebration of the hip-hop/celebrity culture (to name just a few)—the adverse consequences on their children are profound and usually last a lifetime. The biggest problem is that home schooling by traditionalist religious communities perpetuates the creation of social ghettoes, whereby students are often alienated and disconnected from the larger American culture. It fosters a kind of balkanization that, ultimately, is not good for America or for the students.
Take the case of the Pakistani-American girls profiled in The Times article. Coming from traditional Islamic families, many of the girls were forced to leave public school and study at home. This is because their parents wanted them to cook and clean for their male relatives and siblings. It was also done to prevent the girls from being exposed to liberating female cultural mores, such as wearing Western clothes and spending free time after school with friends.
“Some men don’t like it when you wear American clothes — they don’t think it is a good thing for girls,” said Hajra Bibi, a 17-year-old who is now studying at the 12th-grade level. “You have to be respectable.”
Moreover, many of the parents insist the girls remain isolated so that they can intermarry with relatives or close friends from the same villages in Pakistan. The goal is to reinforce their ethnic and religious identity. This serves only to act as a bulwark against assimilation into American culture.
“Their families want them to retain their culture and not become Americanized,” said Roberta Wall, the principal of the district-run Independent School, which supervises home schooling in Lodi and where home-schooled students attend weekly hour-long tutorials.
These girls are therefore being denied the opportunity to participate fully in American life. They are also the victims of a deep-seated misogyny, which seeks to reinforce the traditional Pakistani male-dominated culture. In this culture, it is the girls rather than the boys who are forced into home schooling. Of the more than 90 Pakistani or other Southeast Asian girls of high school age who are enrolled in the Lodi district, 38 are being home-schooled. By contrast, only 7 of the 107 boys are being home-schooled—often due to academic-learning issues. Once the girls finish high school they are expected to get married whereas many of the boys, however, proceed to university.
1) The perils of home schooling for American Muslims
2) Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling