Absolutely normal home schoolers

Years ago, I wrote a Scripps Howard News Service column about a pagan mother and some of the parenting choices that she was making during an age in which pop-culture was becoming increasingly fascinated with its own glitzy few of witchcraft and wizardry. It was a Mother's Day column. In addition to deciding not to read the Harry Potter books to her children, she was also actively considering becoming a home-school mom. Her reasons, I discovered, were typical of others who have made that choice, including her conviction that public schools in American really could not afford to take religion very seriously, especially the beliefs of religious minorities. She wanted to be able to pass her beliefs on to the next generation.

This brings us to a perfectly normal news report in the Washington Post about homeschooling. Actually, that is not quite right. This story treats home schoolers with complete and total respect, which is not always the case in the mainstream press.

The news hook, of course, is the fact that the story centers on the choices made by Muslim families -- here in the United States. Here is the top of the story by Tara Bahrampour:

On a chilly afternoon in western Loudoun County, a group of children used tweezers to extract rodent bones from a regurgitated owl pellet. A boy built a Lego projectile launcher. A girl practiced her penmanship. On the wall, placards read, "I fast in Ramadan," "I pay zakat" and "I will go on hajj."

Welcome to Priscilla Martinez's home -- and her children's school, where Martinez is teacher, principal and guidance counselor, and where the credo "Allah created everything" is taught alongside math, grammar and science. Martinez and her six children, ages 2 to 12, are part of a growing number of Muslims who home-school. In the Washington area, Martinez says, she has seen the number of home-schoolers explode in the past five years.

Although three-quarters of the nation's estimated 2 million home-schoolers identify themselves as Christian, the number of Muslims is expanding "relatively quickly," compared with other groups, said Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute. ... Parents say it is an attractive alternative to public schools, with whose traditions and values they are not always comfortable, and Islamic schools, which might be too far away, cost too much or lack academic rigor.

Read on. One of the most interesting elements of the story is that many Muslims, at first, shy away from home schooling because -- like many immigrants before them -- they are determined to succeed in America on its own terms. They want to show that they can take advantage of what mainstream American culture has to offer, including educational opportunities.

What makes them change their minds?

Maqsood and Zakia Khan of Sterling, who emigrated from Pakistan two decades ago, say home schooling has allowed them to enhance and internationalize their children's curriculum. Now, in addition to the standard subjects, their children, ages 15, 14 and 9, study the Koran for a half an hour a day, one-on-one, with a woman who teaches them online from Pakistan. ...

The Khans decided to home-school four years ago after a kindergarten teacher, unaware of the religious issues, told their son that he could not refuse school food in favor of the Islamic-sanctioned food he had brought from home. The food incident was small, but it highlighted the issues many Muslims say their children face every day as minorities who don't celebrate Christmas, Halloween or birthday parties, who don't eat pork and who fast during Ramadan.

As a convert to her faith, Martinez makes another point that will sound familiar to other parents in religious minorities in this nation. Yes, when I say that I would include the minority of Americans who are very, very dedicated evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, etc. The key word is "worldview."

There are also religious reasons. "We definitely do learn from a different worldview," she said. "Everything has God as its center. We don't just study the bee, but we study what the Koran says about the bee and the many blessings and the honey. ... We get religious studies out of it, we get biology out of it and chemistry."

Read it all. If anything, this story leans too far in the direction of avoiding critical voices. This probably was not necessary, since home-school families are used to those kinds of debates.

Most of all, I was impressed that the Post allowed these parents to state their beliefs, without pinning shallow labels on them. Dare I say that this is an approach that might work well with other parents, in other faiths, that make the same decisions for the same reasons?

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