Unschooling Muslim-style Among The Stacks

Sitting in the library yesterday I looked up to see my ten year old praying in a corner next to the circulation desk. The library is basically one long rectangle with the big circulation desk at one end, an L-shaped table covered in computers at the other end, rows of long tables with chairs in between, and full bookshelves all along the wall. There is a very small room annexed off this main room which houses reference books and new arrivals, and a lovely garden with cushioned seating off the main room. Little offices and other rooms are tucked away out of sight, but obviously they are there as the building is two-stories plus a basement.

I snickered a bit when I saw him praying there in the corner as he is who we, the family, call “The Oblivious Child.” Now, my little blog entry here could easily be spun into some pro-hijrah propaganda, but truth is- I’ve never seen anyone else pray in this small library in a huge city in a Muslim-majority country. I know there are other Muslims praying in there, there is always a little congestion around the one bathroom during prayer times and the tile floor often reveals the tell-tale puddle of the aftermath of several wudu-makings. When I pray at this library, I borrow a prayer rug from the security guards or the librarian and take myself out to a side of the garden where I am less likely to be distracted by hushed (and not so hushed) conversations and the sensing of people coming and going behind my prostrating-self. My thirteen year old follows my lead and heads over to the same corner when I hand him off the rug. But my ten year old is the only person I have ever seen openly, unabashedly praying in front of dozens of people in the library.

Of course I’m happy for him that he isn’t shy about who he is and what he needs to do, as he shouldn’t be—neither here nor back in the US. But the thing is- I can’t include this as one of the “Blessings of Living in A Muslim Country,” because, like I said, I’m not seeing this as normal behaviour ‘round here. His lack of conforming to social norms has much more to do with him being home-educated than with him being a Muslim, living in a Muslim majority country. I’m pretty sure he would have done the same thing back home in a US library, even though I know few people who do such things. Myself and friends have “hidden” ourselves away praying in the “stacks” at the university library and one student librarian told me about a woman actually be harassed by a lead librarian while the woman was praying in the ‘berry.  Normally when I pray in public places, I try to tuck myself away a bit, mostly due to not liking “to be butt-up in the air” in public, but really I seldom saw anyone praying in public back home and not so much here either. Though theoretically it should be perfectly acceptable for us to pray in the Land of The Free and in the Land of The Muslims, that’s just not the reality for all, everywhere.

As we continue on this home-educating journey, one of the many things I try to objectively-as-possible observe is this interesting thing of when and where my kids conform and don’t conform. I fully admit to having to actively resist forcing trivial norms on them, like telling them to change their clothes or change their childlike legit, yet socially-unacceptable behaviors. I pray they are given the strength and wisdom to remain steadfast to the right things.

Link Love – Itto’s ecole vivante Annual Report

I like our school: there are books, toys and food, and we make
funny things and the teachers are always nice with us.
(Saïda, 7 years)

Lot’s of great news and happenings out of the little valley– they are up to 24 students and received enough help to build their fabulous compost toilets! They have also begun extended education courses for other folks in the area.

Direct from Itto’s Journal:

Salaam aleikoum dear friends and readers,

Over one year passed since the opening of our primary school “école vivante” in September 2010, mashaallah – A lot happened over this year: a lot of work and personal growth, a lot of joy and blessed moments, subhanallah. I would have never been able to imagine how this whole project enriched and in which ways it changed our lives, Allahu akbar. God is the Best of planners and I am deeply grateful and happy to give you some actual updates:

As you might remember, last spring I travelled, together with our daughter and our class teacher, to Switzerland to an advanced training in our partner-school – and as every time, also this meeting was a most helpful and enriching time and the intercultural exchange took again place both ways, alhamdulillah.

In early summer’11 motivated friends from Germanycreated a circle of friends called „Ait Bouguemz e.V.”, that is a registered non profit association with the aim to support our project, inchaallah.

Soon after, we went online with our own multilingual homepage (I still have to translate some parts into English and French, but alhamdulillah, it is already very detailed in German).

In July’11 already the summer holidays began. Our 16 pupils reached the expected aims and a beautiful celebration with all the children, families and friends marked the end of a successful first year and the school got, both locally and internationally, positive feedback and encouraging approval, Alhamdulillah!

Due to generous donations we were able to add new furniture and a classroom and to become larger after Ramadan – more than half of our own house is now for the school.

The team was extended by a new teacher and after the busy time of the new enrolling we have now, since September, 24 pupils, mashaallah.

During the whole last year a continual supportive exchange took place with our Swiss partners and in October two of their lovely teachers came to visit to further develop our trend-setting pedagogy together with the local team. These times are always very inspirational and an important part of this interreligious and intercultural project.

Since November a French language course for the young women of the valley takes place outside the main school hours and other public activities are in planning. We have lots of demands and many new ideas and it is such a blessing to feel accepted by the public, alhamdulillah.

Further donations allowed us recently to finally finish the pupil toilets in the backyard of the school. As you already know, they are so-called compost or humanure toilets and now our school also sets ecologically seen innovative examples.

Read Itto’s whole account here.

And check out the official detailed report for ecole vivante’s social development program here.

Unschooler Update – Algebra

I was recently bemoaning with some of my home-educating friends about the lack of well-seasoned homeschooling and unschooling family blogs. Many of the homeschooling groups that I join or follow or fall upon are full of parents of young children (often preschooled aged) just starting on their journey. I had always thought that “once the kids are big,” this must give us homeschooling parents more time– my time— in which we could do things, such as blogging-right? So then where are the old timers? Are they just so over the years and decades of homeschooling that rehashing it all now is out of the question? Well, my ‘my time’ theory was completely faulty as, you know, this parenting thing never ends and many of us simultaneously have teens or even adults and school-aged or even preschoolers. So, this morning I’m ignoring all my kids and other responsibilities for a few minutes to do this unschool update. You’re welcome in advance.

Recently my 10 and 13 year olds have taken up interests in math. The 10 y.o seems to have simply recognized that he doesn’t wholly “get” all his math facts and has been sorting through the processes and doing lots of lapbook pages. Or maybe his interest was partially sparked by the 13 y.o’s more intent-filled drive. Among other things, the eldest has interests in engineering, chemistry, aerodynamics and space travel. By “interests” I mean he reads (studies) these topics daily. He is a wealth of nod-along-to information. And since he has been looking up information about acquiring certification and degrees for various work related to these subjects, he has learned that he’ll need a lot of math knowledge to do the kind of work that he is interested in.

I fully admit to initially having slightly more than minor feelings of dread about having to relearn all this stuff. As much as I loved Algebra when I was his age, I haven’t used it. I don’t remember much of it, I don’t want to remember– I rather exert that energy elsewhere, following my interests. Greedy mama, eh? No, I know I am not. And I quickly remembered that my personalized style of pedagogy doesn’t require that I do it all. We can find a tutor, but thus far that is completely unnecessary.

Eldest Son not only has a bunch of lapbooks to work with; he also has Youtube, Google, Wikipedia, and Brainpop is still our first go to for how-to. The kids even like to take the Brainpop tests to see if they ‘get it.’ We also found a standardized test online for him to take so that he could identify what areas he needed to learn or improve in; not to my surprise, he got a high B without having had any formal math for at least a year. He sort of questions and discusses things out loud at me a lot, asking me about pi, formulas, processes and whatnot, but not really expecting answers– just thinking, processing out loud before he goes online to search exactly or closer to what it is he really needs to know.

After having read so much theory and other’s accounts of  homeschooling, unschooling and autodidacticism, as well as my own experiences, it’s exciting to actually watch the process unfold.

Further reading: Here’s a really lovely blog from a homeschool graduate. Go peek the other side.