"Ugh! I can't get it to look right," my daughter says to no one in particular. Always a lover of drawing, the eight-year-old attempts to draw a cat on her computer screen through code. Her twin sets up a new game of Monopoly on the coffee table in front of me. "You're playing, right Mama? I'm the banker this time so it'll go fast." He knows I don't have the patience for the long game and his ability to add and subtract two- and three-digit numbers quickly makes it slightly more appealing. I take a sip of chai and lean back. School is back in session!
Our decision to home school our children came gradually. When friends started to send their children off on big yellow buses, I simply thought, "We're not done here." There was still so much I wanted to do with them, so much that I wanted to share. All children need roots and wings, and in these early years, I was more focused on giving them wings. I wanted them to enjoy learning, and to see all that they were capable of being.
They were happy, and I was happy to be home with them. A former public school teacher, I wasn't in a rush to get back to the 9-to-5 lifestyle just yet. In the back of my mind, I thought about school systems abroad that begin at the age of seven and thought that we'd simply delay the inevitable. This would give them more time to play, the best form of learning for children that often gets relegated to the sidelines of a typical school day.
In time, our reasons for homeschooling began to evolve. We began paying more attention to how our children learned and what they wanted to learn about. We gradually slipped into an unschooling style of learning, one in which learning takes place more organically and children pursue their own areas of interest.
Ironically, I believe strongly in public education. Though I respect others' reasons to send their children to full-time faith based schools, I look at public education as an opportunity to create an equitable learning environment for all our children. Increasingly, though, education policy is being decided by people with no background in education. I wanted more for my children than schools, which spend considerable amounts of time preparing for high stakes tests, are able to give them.
While many homeschoolers might cite faith to be one of most compelling reasons to homeschool, it wasn't an initial factor in our decision not to send our children to public school. In fact, the implication that homeschoolers choose to keep their children in a bubble became something we rallied against! We simply wanted to make sure our children had the best opportunities to learn, and in a system increasing marred by politics, privatization, and high stakes testing, even the best teachers' hands were being tied. The word bubble became akin to a curse word; if anything, we wanted our children more submersed in the community than the limits of public schooling allowed.
Then came Trump, and the nuance of providing shelter for our Muslim kids changed. Suddenly, the much dreaded bubble concept evolved and took on the needed task of providing safety for our children.
The impact that the Trump phenomena has had on the classroom cannot be overstated. Though more research is needed on the subject, CAIR's California Chapter issued a report entitled "Growing In Faith" in which they cited that almost half of all Muslims in public school experience some form of bullying. Studies show that words matter and that repeated discussions in the media of Muslims in a negative light coupled with inflammatory words by leaders all contribute to an increase in Islamophobia, particularly inside the classroom.
Though faith was not an initial factor in our decision to alternatively educate our children, it has become a consideration now. Wings were simply not enough, they needed roots. Times are changing and in addition to providing my children with strong academic skills, I'm more aware of the need to give them the social and emotional tools they need to stand up in a world where there are some who are intent on bringing them down. And while the goal now is still not to remove them from society and its possible harm, I do see homeschooling as a safe space to give them the tools to navigate a more antagonistic society.
If I want my children to stand tall, they need roots that run deep. National and state curricula distort, erase, or reduce the role of, not just Muslims, but many marginalized groups in history, both within the United States, and globally. I'm suddenly more aware of the need to push my children's education beyond what is found in the classroom, to help them learn more of their own history, so that they have the strength and ability to withstand the pressure against American Muslims today.
The decision to homeschool is one we continuously make each year. Our reasons for reaffirming this choice may change, but ultimately it's about providing something for our children that cannot or is not available in the classroom. Our faith permeates this choice in the same way it permeates our life—we cannot distinguish one from the other. For all American Muslim families raising the next generation, regardless of where our children are educated, we must find a way to instill in them roots and wings.