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Public School or Islamic School?

Public School or Islamic School?Kids spend seven to eight hours of their day in school, most of the time in the classroom learning, not socializing. They will see, and may even copycat the behaviors of their peers, most commonly in the elementary grades, but if parents are teaching the right stuff in regards to Akhlaq, or manners, at home, there is usually not a problem.

Public School or Islamic School?There is an ongoing discussion about what type of schooling is best for Muslim children: the public school setting, the plenty of Islamic schools available, and, of course, the option of homeschooling. As parents, and even parents-to-be in the future, this is something we need to sit down and think about from all directions. Although it is a very tough decision to make, having the right conversation with someone who may have experienced each type may just give you the information you need.

The infamous public school – where kids go “bad” – is not as awful as we think. I personally went to public school, from kindergarten all the way until 12th grade, and I turned out okay, I think. Of course, there are bad influences, and kids will question your daughter’s Hijab or why your kids can’t eat the chili-cheese hot dogs for lunch. But the argument for public school says that the strengthening of faith, the proper way to communicate our beliefs to others, and even the confidence in being a Muslim all come from home.

Kids spend seven to eight hours of their day in school, most of the time in the classroom learning, not socializing. They will see, and may even copycat the behaviors of their peers, most commonly in the elementary grades, but if parents are teaching the right stuff in regards to Akhlaq, or manners, at home, there is usually not a problem. Public school also provides well-balanced preparation for the real world when your kids will be adults and surrounded by people of all faiths and races. Secondly, the education standards are tested over and over, and usually this enforces good teaching.

However, just because things will be okay does not mean we can ignore the negative side to public schools. Sometimes that bad social influence, even with good discipline at home, can get to the best of our kids. And of course, there is peer pressure. Peer pressure exists in every grade, but the more dangerous kind is when your child will hit the teenage years and above. That is something to also be aware of

Islamic school is definitely a blessing for many families. Your child will get all the same education that public school is giving, plus the added bonus, in most cases, of learning to read the Holy Qur’an, learning the Arabic language, basic Islamic values, and teachers you can trust even more. And how can we forget, 100 percent hot-Halal lunches!

Fizah Naqvi, when asked about what she liked the most about Islamic school, after having attended from fifth through 12th grade, said, “The good thing about it was that I was able to keep good friends with Islamic values. The biggest problem in most public schools is that people make bad friends, and are just surrounded with bad people. Islamic school has a lot more control over that.” And that is very true, since Islamic schools is full of other kids whose parents also want their child to be surrounded by people of the same values, morals, and beliefs.

But even though it may seem as the solution to all of schooling problems, Islamic school do have their low points. Today we find a lot of Islamic schools built along with an Islamic center or mosque. This usually entails not-so-stringent conditions on who will be able to teach. Sometimes it just the “Aunty” who doesn’t have a job, isn’t certified, and only has experience teaching small madressa classes. Consequently, the education that another kid is getting in a public school just might be better and more up to standards that are set for that state, city, etc.

Naqvi also pointed out something she was not too fond of growing up in an Islamic school environment. She said that most students who stay in Islamic school all of their life, or most of, usually do not gain or learn the proper socializing habits that their peers may have, and when they go out into the real world, like college or the workforce, it is usually always an entrance in those worlds with a whole lot of fear of unknown. Islamic schools just may be putting too little emphasis on how to work with others, even if they are the opposite gender. Another problem that is common in Islamic schools is desperate parents putting their troubled or poorly-behaving child in Islamic school in the hopes that it will “save” him or her, which obviously has negative repercussions for other students in the school.

If you decide public school, be an involved parent and be ready to compromise when it comes to your kids having friends who are non-Muslim. Know them, and know who they are, but don’t say no due to the fear of unknown. If you decide Islamic school, that is great, but make sure the research is done, because the education may not be the same as public school. Know the rules, the teachers, and the background of the school in order to know their quality and their structure.

Whatever the opinions are, that is all they are – opinions. As for parents making a decision, they should always explore all options. Bad influences are everywhere. You cannot hide your kids from the real world. As long as you are raising a child with strong Islamic beliefs and values and with sincere intentions, they will be prepared to say no to whatever it is, no matter where they are.

About Madiha Zaidi

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  • masooma

    Some places still do not have Islamic schools, or if they do, they may be Sunni schools. This may be just fine, but I have heard experiences from some families where it ended up being worse than public school because the students were harassed endlessly and pressured greatly over being Shia, even to the point of being prevented from praying properly, being bullied, being abused by teachers, etc.

    Public schools often really do have good teachers that will try hard to be accommodating to students of different beliefs and backgrounds, but there really is a need for the home to be strong because the negative pressures will be there. A student who successfully gets through public school will be prepared for real life in terms of dealing with the non-Muslim work environment, etc. But if the child is not succeeding in spiritual development or other important matters, steps need to be taken early rather than just letting him/her fail.

    In the end, academic achievement is important but spiritual achievement even more so.

    Even as a teacher, I would much rather see a student who is hard-working with good akhlaq but maybe has lower grades than one who is a genius but of low character.

  • Shia Engineer

    Another point I would think about is that many Islamic schools lack a lot of funding and are often very limited in terms of cirriculum choices. Inevitably, sectarian and cultural differences play in, and as an Iranian and a Shia, there are sometimes issues dealing with South Asian and Arab communities, especially ones that are mostly Sunni. It all really depends on where you live and who is around you, but it this is not possible and one must go to a public school, there is nothing stopping someone from doing just as well if not better. It is what the individual makes of it.

  • ..

    Charter schools can be another viable option, and if parents do decide on an Islamic School, they would have to pay a few thousand dollars a year. The government won’t pay for religious schools. Home schooling is an option, but the rigor of certain programs isn’t up to par.

    It’s a balancing act and not only Muslims have to decide between charter, public, or home schooling. It’s a headache for all parents :P.

  • masooma

    Charter schools, as with any, should be scrutinized carefully for quality. Some of them are far worse than regular public schools in just about every way you can count. Good charter schools tend to offer a more insulated environment and a decent education, but with a trade-off in being unable to serve special needs students, or not having resources for labs and extracurriculars, or high turnover in staff due to very low pay and poor working conditions. Always always always visit a school and spend some time in it and ask lots of questions when making such decisions. If the school is not open to unannounced drop-in visits from potential clientele, that should send up big warning signals to you.

  • hjawad

    I agree to a certain extent with Sis Masooma, but even the worst of charter schools has a purpose: it brings competition. Many public schools start selling rubbish to students because there may not be many alternatives for parents and students. If a new institution opens in the area, the public school will have to COMPETE to get students, thus improving efficiency.

    I also feel that charter schools get a bad rap from teachers unions, the pay isn’t the same, however, they do offer many things public schools do not. Such as: smaller class sizes, innovation, and a governing board that serves and protects both students and teachers. More so, I think public schools are only as good as the city they are in. Jonathon Kozol in his 2005 piece “Still Separate, Still Unequal” really painted a pretty ugly picture of the public school system. Cuban and Berber have also given us a reality check about public schools.

    As for many Muslims in the Detroit area, instead of sending their children to Detroit public schools and throwing them in buildings will falling roofs and unqualified teachers, they decided to send them to charter schools and for many it has helped their children on many fronts.

    Those who advocate public schooling have the GOOD schools and most often aren’t poor either.

  • masooma

    It is interesting, as I said you should scrutinize whatever school you are thinking about, because here in this area the situation is often opposite to what you described in Detroit, in that many of the charters are in substandard facilities and have unqualified teachers. And they do not have governing boards and no protections for teachers at all in most cases. This isn’t a rich area, and the public schools and private schools also are not perfect. But charter school law here has allowed some for-profit fly-by-night organizations to set up shop and unfortunately many of them are failing schools and do not have the best interests of students at heart. That is not all of the charters, mind you, but the majority. A person will have to investigate to find the reality where he/she is and what is right for his/her child.

    But first let’s clarify one thing. Charter schools are public schools.

  • hjawad

    Yep. Charter schools are public schools, and I do worry about the business involvement in charter schools. However, increasingly, public schools have needed to supplement their funds with business money. Examples of this would be “Channel One” or selling McDonald’s in the school cafe.

    I agree about differences in areas and situations, as for the Detroit situation, I think the public schools were so bad, there was no way the charter schools could be worse..lol.

    As always, thanks for your input sis Masooma.

  • kish

    if i had a choice i would put my child in a shia islamic school, no matter how great the other public school options are, keeping in mind the islamic school is up to standards, up to date, provides excellent education, and the kind of environment where a child can grow not only as good social respectful human beings but also good muslims. Shias are waiting and preparing for their Imam. With that in mind, I would not want my child to be influenced in the least way with anything other than what is halal and acceptable.. even if it means not watching the same cartoons/shows as other kids, not knowing how to socialize with a boy, not knowing what the latest trends etc are.. after all that is generally what people refer to as socialization. many kids from my close relatives go to islamic schools and in most cases their parents have also wondered about the socialization with non muslims factor and they always come to the conclusion that their child is far more mature in terms on akhlaq, confidence, etc. than other children their age simply bc they had the islamic upbringing inthe school as well as home

  • kish

    In public schools kids are watching movies/shows (like cartoons that promote the concept of forming boyfirends/girlfriends=cool, falling in love, adults are bad/dumb, why does spongebob squarepants live in bikini bottom?!) there parents might not approve of, their teachers are dressed in a manner that is not acceptable for muslims (for ex. working with little kids, i see teachers are always bending down, getting at the childs level, and immediately all of their body is exposed even if they are wearing something that standing straight would not be exposed), many things that we as muslins would find completely wrong are normalized to the point that when the child goes home and mom n dad or “molana” or Allah or Imam says its not right the child feels like its been attacked, like Islam is no fun and therefore rebels or is confused… this is all considering I myself went to public school and thank Allah that it was probably only because of my family that i didnt turn into a little devil.. 😛

  • PinkMuslimah

    assalamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah
    This will have to remain an individual decision because of the conjunction of the dynamics of location and resources. If one lives in an area where the Islamic school simply wouldn’t provide a quality Islamic or mundane education, then it would not be worth the time and money to enroll one’s children.


    Whatever our decision, we need to active on *both* fronts. Since not everyone in the States is a Muslim, an Islamic school wouldn’t be the natural choice for them. Therefore, it is imperative that the United States have a strong *public* education system. Not this mish-mash of private-public muck with charter schools trying to pass off as public schools, or government handing out money so that parents can bypass the public school system and enroll their children in private schools, but a *public* school system. I have reasons for being so adament about this. They are all political, with my politics being based on strong convictions for social justice. But going into further detail than this would require more time than I have the patience to take right now..

    It is also very important to support our Islamic schools so that, even if they do not provide a quality education now, they will in the future. Give money. Volunteer. Make in-kind donations. And, most importantly, make du`ah.

    Of course, if one is blessed to live in an area where the Islamic school is a quality one – and I have seen some high-quality Shia Islamic schools, so I know that they exist – then it is just as important to maintain connections with the public school system. Donate, volunteer, make du`ah. Without our public education system, Americans could very well fall back into segregation and a classist system that would make our current socio-economic mess look positively shiny.

  • redha

    alhamdulillah, wonderful article and wonderful discussion we have there, thanks all!