Our Choice: Public School

There is a fascinating thread on the GrowMama discussion board about the benefits of public schools versus alternative schooling. This piece was written before that discussion was underway and is not a response. We hope readers will share their thoughts on this topic in both the comment section of the blog and on the discussion board!

My husband and I are committed to sending our daughter to public school. On a very rudimentary level, we took this for granted since we both went to public schools. But, really, our decision is the natural consequence of a few principles we hold dear:

1. We are American. We do not feel about any other country as we do about America – our birthplace and homeland. American history, the good and bad, is as much our history as is Islamic history, with its good and bad. We assert very strongly that we are American, and that an American identity can encompass many different “races,” “ethnicities,” and ideologies.

2. We were created to participate. My husband and I are involved with the Islamic movement in America, and we strive to live our lives according to the Qur’anic ayah:

Let there arise from amongst you a group of people who call to the good, advocate for what is right and forbid what is wrong. They are the successful ones. (3:104)

For us, this means translating the message of Islam into something that is of benefit to our society. We strive to convey the message of Islam through interpersonal relationships, interfaith work, general “neighborliness,” and hopefully through example. But we are also deeply committed to civic participation. Islam needs to have a voice at the table when America struggles with its institutions and social problems. It is our responsibility to offer the solutions contained within Islam. And, rather more to the point, what is the use of living here – living anywhere – unless we are contributing to some positive change?

3. We are never ONLY parents. When we parent our daughter, we parent as comprehensive humans and Muslims. We don’t separate out our duty to God, society, our child, our parents, ousrelves, etc. We don’t think about Khadijah’s education in a vacuum – that the only thing school is about is, well, education. It is also about social development, communal responsibilities, interpersonal relationships, compromises, challenges… it’s about growing up to be a well-equipped adult.

What does all this mean for school choices? When we think about Khadijah’s school choice, we think about the choice in the context of what we feel is our responsibility as Americans and Muslims, as well as parents. The public school system is an American institution, one that serves the vast majority of American children. If we care about the future of these children (and our country), we must be involved in the system and contribute to its positive development. We must engage.

We also think it is important for our daughter to be exposed, early on, to the types of situations that she’ll be dealing with her whole life (assuming that she – like us – will be engaged in civic matters and have a diverse group of friends of all faiths). School is also a nice way to do it because the challenges and their seriousness tend to mature gradually as she matures. In Kingergarten it is, “Why don’t we celebrate Christmas?” In middle school it is, “Why don’t I go to school dances.” In high school, it is, “Why are those two boys in a romantic relationship?”

We also have the hope (no pressure!) that she can be source of learning about Islam for her peers and teachers. It is a responsibility every Muslim has, and a proud, engaged, sensitive person can more effectively convey Islam to someone than any number of books, websites, or news shows.

Don’t get me wrong – we do have natural concerns. But our strategy has been, and inshaAllah will be, communication and participation. Regular communication with our daughter will help us understand what is going on in school and what challenges she is facing. It will help our daughter understand that her parents are always on her side – no matter what. Participation in her school will help us understand the environment she is learning in, and will help her school understand her and her family better. I think this also helps prevent the school-home dual personality issue.

There are pros and cons to every schooling choice, but we are committed to public school for our daughter’s sake, and for the sake of the adult she will become and the responsibilities she has been given by Allah (swt).

Bhawana Kamil

Bhawana Kamil lives in Santa Clara, CA with her husband and daughter. She teaches Ethics at San Jose State University, and is the president of the Bay Area chapter of the Muslim American Society – but only on the side. Her real job is watching (and hopefully helping) her little girl grow up!

  • Khadeejah

    I’m happy that public schoolers as well as homeschoolers and Islamic schoolers find a voice on Growmama :-)
    My wish list for growmama is that families who have grown kids who have gone through various systems and have either survived with their Islamic identity, or not, to please share your wisdom. all of us know of horror stories from Muslim families who have lost kids to drugs, abuse, worse, in they public system, and some Islamic systems. I’d love to hear first hand stories of such struggles.

  • blessed

    Great idea.

  • Maha

    I thought this was a great summary of all the different positives of putting kids in public school. It is nice to find all of these thoughts together.

  • Kariman

    this was very clear and an enjoyable read. jak B! I agree with you on all points and for me i think i need to have a little more confidence in the decision we’ve made. i keep praying istikhara and asking dh what do we do if dd doesn’t get into the school of our choice and he keeps reassuring me that we have to try it out first. my biggest concern with the public system is the “traditional” way of teaching and # of hours spent in a classroom/at a desk/doing homework.

  • http://growmama ummazin


  • http://growmama ummazin

    Please forgive me if I have already responded however, I did not see my post.

    I, too am American. Born and raised here in a family with no memories outside of the U.S. So, I was a little taken aback by the comment that the choice to send your child to public schools was first because you are American. As a child, my non-Muslim family was adamant that we never saw the inside of a public school. It was on a day before I was born that that my mom witnessed my older being beat up and brother cursed on the school yard at 6. They left public education that day and never turned back. And many years later, as a parent of three small children, the only thing that has changed is that I am now Muslim, raising three small Muslims in a more scary time than in the one I was raised.

    I should say that despite their best efforts, my family had to succumb to public eduation in my last two years of high school. So, I know a lot more than I care to or would ever write in this blog about what we expose our children to in these institutions. I know as parents, particularly Muslim moms that this is very personal and sometimes difficult to hear, but I think Muslims are often in denial about what we are really exposing our children to.

    In your comments you said that most American send their children to public schools. This is true. However, a very recent article (See Democracy Forums.com “Where Public School Teachers Send Their Kids” February 21, 2011) qoutes the number of public school teachers who send their children to privarte schools is significant. While 12% of Americans send their kids to private schools, 25% of public school teachers send their kids to private school. And in states with strong voucher programs, the number is nearly 40%. If there were no others reasons than this, isn’t this something to ponder? If the professinals who are teaching our children opt out of their own product, what does that then say about the product.

    And before you dismiss my comments about public schools as reflective of my neighborhood or socio-economic reasons, let me say that ours is a safe, clean, fairly affluent, family friendly community that looks like a Norman Rockell drawing. Alhumdullilah, my children can ride their bikes, play, visit the library and enjoy nature right here where we live. We pass highly regarded public schools within blocks of our home each day. These highly regarded public schools now teach among other things, that same sex marriage and the families that they create are just another thread in the fabric that is America. Sure, our kids will oneday know about these things and will know of children from unwed households and blended families and divorce and parents with other issues. But not today, not now. Perhaps when they are older. For now, though, we stand at the gate as best we can to keep concepts that are the norm at public schools, away from our children. At this young and tender age, I want for my children and all Muslim kids to become strengthened in the knowledge and practice of Islam, so that as young adults they CAN be the example to non-Mulsims. I want them to see and be surrounded by what we know to be the ideal family life and values. At this young age, our children cannot and should not be asked to be the light among a sea of non-Muslims. My greatest fear is that young Muslims in public schools become desensitized and lower their standards for the sake of getting along in these environments and what we are left with is a Muslim community that is complacent on social issues.

    Our family drives by our neighborhood public school each day on our way to our private Islamic school. Yes, it is a challenge. Yes, it can be expensive. And, no there is no lunch provided. We pay for everything. We pull together as a community and volunteer for everything we want. But it is a choice we make and confirm each day. Upon arrival, I say Alhumdullilah. I cry without provocation several times a week when I think about the school choice we made. Taking Shahada, choosing my husband and my children’s school choice are the best decisions of my life. Alhumdullilah!

    I liken my revert experience to being pulled from a burning building and watching the aftermath from a distance. It always brings me to tears. The thought of sending my child into that burning building makes me quiver.

    I have no doubt that Muslim children will find at public schools the education they need to advance to colleges and universities. But at what cost?



  • farah

    Do the public school allow our children to pray their salah, for instance zohar in their lunch brake or our children prefer to pray qada prayer at home .

  • Bhawana Kamil

    Responding to Ummazin:

    First a clarification – The fact that we are American is not the most important reason we want to send our child to public school, it is simply one of them.

    Secondly, I am also someone who accepted Islam after college, having been raised in a family of another faith. But perhaps our perspectives are a testimony to how personal and individual these school decisions are.

    I was raised in a very open environment, exposed to a lot of ideas and lifestyles. However, I was also taught to think critically of the behavior around me and make decisions that were congruent with my values. It’s not that I didn’t make mistakes – who doesn’t? But I learned from them and came back to “who I really am,” and in the end that open-ness combined with critical inquiry led me to Islam.

    I am under no delusions of what children are exposed to in public school. My husband is a child welfare worker for the county, and I know more than I’d like to (but should) about what goes on in public schools. Plus, my husband and I attended public school K – 12.

    But I simply don’t think of my daughter as some defenseless creation that I must protect at all costs from evil influences. My job as a parent, Allahu ‘alam, is to prepare her to be a successful (in all meanings of that term) adult, and to be able to withstand these evil influences. She may get some battlescars, but I pray that the make her a better soldier, so to speak. :)

    In our case, it may even be a moot point since we can’t afford anything other than public school! ;)

  • Shariffa

    A response to UMMAZIN

    May Allah make it all easy for us all. I fully agree with u Ummazin, muslims should sort ourselves out at least educate our kids Islamically what ever the cost Inshaallah, and Allah do help those who try and He THE MOST GREAT KNOWS BEST.

  • http://www.onbeingamom.com/ Ummi

    I 100% agree with UMMAZIN. Especially when she stated ‘At this young age, our children cannot and should not be asked to be the light among a sea of non-Muslims’. That is too much to expect out of a young child. May Allah make it all easy for us and guide us in the right path and make us all better muslims inshallah, Ameen.