Published 08 May 08
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
Teach Your Children
More and more Muslim Americans, the New York Times reported recently, are home schooling their children – particularly girls. It is an alarming development, and grows more alarming still as it becomes clear that no one plans to do anything to stop it.
Leaving, for the moment, the low quality of these children's education – we'll get back to that – the motivations behind home schooling that Times reporter Neil MacFarquar observed – naively, it seems to me – sound a warning cry I find impossible to ignore. Reporting from Lodi, California, MacFarquar states, "Some 80 percent of the city's 2,500 Muslims are Pakistani, and many are interrelated villagers who try to recreate the conservative social atmosphere back home. A decade ago many girls were simply shipped back to their villages once they reached adolescence."
Slipped gracefully into a report on Islamic home schooling is an indication of horrifying abuse likely taking place in many of these homes. Why has no one noticed? Why has no one paid attention, and why, now that the Times has let this item out, is nothing being done?
Here's some more: "As soon as they finish their schooling," MacFarquar reports, "the girls are married off, often to cousins brought in from their families' old villages."
Forced marriage. Abbreviated educations. Notes the Times, "The girls follow the regular high school curriculum, squeezing in study time among housework, cooking, praying and reading the Koran. The teachers at the weekly tutorials occasionally crack jokes of the 'what, are your brothers' arms broken?' variety, but in general they tread lightly, sensing that their students obey family and tradition because they have no alternative."
Is anyone listening to this?
Living in Europe for the past 20-something years, I have seen this show before. It is precisely why Europe – the Netherlands, where I now live, perhaps most of all – struggles against growing radicalization within its Muslim population and a gaping canyon between its Muslim and non-Muslim communities. It is why honor killings occur at rates we found unimaginable until Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former Dutch parliamentarian, forced the phenomenon into the national spotlight – aided, tragically, by the murder of a young woman named Zarife by her father in the fall of 2003. (In the Hague alone, authorities counted 119 honor-related violent crimes between October, 2004 and March, 2005.)
When Zarife was killed, I suspected that similar situations occurred in the US. Last summer, I met an attorney for an NGO who confirmed it. This last report only confirms it for me yet again.
But that's hardly all. One major source of trouble in the Netherlands is the arrival of so-called "import brides" and "import grooms," people brought into the country not because they have any particular desire to be there, or to adopt Western values and lifestyles, but becomes they've been forced there by a marriage they never even asked for. They are resentful, isolated, and cling to what they find familiar: the ummah, or Muslim community, and their identity within Islam.
They are, in other words, potential radicals in the making, and easy targets for recruiters for jihad.
This, apparently, is what we are now fostering in America: American Muslim children being cut off from mainstream Western culture, often spoon-fed conservative Islamic values, and married off to strangers – conservative, (usually) less-educated, un-Westernized men or women who have neither the ability nor the contacts and means needed to assimilate – if they even wanted to.
And let's talk about that education. While the Times claims that Lodi children follow the standard high school curriculum, others evidently do not. A look at one of the most oft-cited sources for Muslim home schooling materials, http://www.arabesq.com/Academy, reveals a series of web pages that border on illiteracy, citing its "credentials" [sic] and explaining its mission with such precious (and error-filled) items as:
Why Muslim Families Choose to Home School:
- Maintaining the Islamic faith in the children's lives.
- Making sure Muslim children don't become use [sic] to intermingling with the opposite sex.
- Parents choose to build strong families and take primary responsibility.
- The home education environment is linked to high academic achievement.
- Parents and children do well with minimal state regulation.
- Home educated students succeed religion and worldly aspects. [sic]
Some home schooling resources for Muslims offer summaries of their curricula: math, vocabulary, social studies, science, Arabic, Sunnah, Koranic Studies, Islamic Studies. No literature. No religious studies beyond Islam. No poetry. How well can a parent who has never studied physics teach it to her child? Shouldn't these children be given the slightest insight into Christianity and Judaism to prepare them for life in a Judeo-Christian world?
And what theft it is, to rob a child of Homer and Shakespeare and even the beloved American poets like Carl Sandberg and Robert Frost. (I wouldn't begin to expect these kids to read D. H. Lawrence, let alone Portnoy's Complaint.)
This is significant. This matters.
The teacher to whom I now can say I owe the most in my life is a Miss Eleanor Borg, who taught phys-ed at my elementary school and was, we were certain, at least 102 at the time. Miss Borg demanded that we sit up straight and learn things like Tennyson's "Charge Of The Light Brigade" and Wordsworth's "Daffodils" by heart. We hated her. Now, I only wish that she were still alive so I could thank her for gifts that have lasted me a lifetime.
Because as I noted some time ago in an interview with FrontPage.com, "I'm a strong believer in teaching the arts, in encouraging an education in art and literature as a means to bring people to understand the concept of metaphor, of abstraction, so that they can recognize the difference between a literal text and a metaphoric, symbolic, allegorical one."
This, I still believe.
The truth is that ideally, I'd see an end to all home schooling. If that's not possible, then home school programs must be monitored, requiring a core curriculum that includes not just math, but biology and American history and the history of Europe, and study of the literary masters, the great human achievements of civilization. And they must offer children options, not indoctrination; insight, not propaganda.
Or we will lose them.
Please: teach your children well.
— Abigail R. Esman is an award-winning author-journalist who divides her time between New York and The Netherlands. In addition to her column in World Defense Review, her work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Salon.com, Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Town & Country, The Christian Science Monitor, The New Republic and many others. She is currently working on a book about Muslim extremism and democracy in the West to be published by Praeger in 2010.
Visit Esman on the web at abigailesman.com.
© 2008 Abigail R. Esman
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