Sunday, 5 July 2009

Interview with Kinza Academy founder and home school advocate Nabila Hanson

Home school is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. According to the U.S. government census in 2007, 1.5 million children are home schooled in the United States. Other estimates put the number much higher.

What is home schooling and why is it so popular? Nabila Hanson, founder of Kinza Academy, answers these and other questions in an interview with

In Part I, Nabila discusses home schooling in general. In Part II, she answers questions about Kinza Academy and its approach to educating children at home.

1. What is home schooling (or home education)?

Home-schooling and home-education literally mean teaching or having your children taught in the home. In contrast to public and most private schools, home-schooled children are taught individually, and to some degree the education is tailored for each child so the child's natural love of learning is allowed to blossom.

2. How has home schooling evolved over the years?

Home-education has always existed, making a name for itself in this country during the past thirty-plus years. There was a general dissatisfaction with state schooling that culminated with its revised “dumbed-down” curriculum in the 60’s. I think this was the turning point when some parents just said, “Enough! If you aren’t going to educate my child, I’ll do it myself!” And they did.

3. Why do you think it is becoming so popular?

I think it became popular because a few people were brave enough to reclaim the right to educate their children, and in so doing produced educated, self-governed, and moral people that made other parents stop and ask, “What’s going on here?” I think it continues to increase in popularity for different reasons.

Some families are concerned about protecting the family’s religious beliefs and don’t want their children secularized in public school; other families are concerned about the total failure of government schooling to produce educated citizens; and safety is also a huge concern now with children becoming the frequent victims of violent crimes and sexual abuse in public and private schools.

Amongst Muslims, I think the first concern is the child’s deen and the second concern is the quality of education.

4. What are the benefits of home schooling?

From a religious perspective, I don’t have to worry about my children’s self-esteem being damaged or their deen being hurt because they are teased about their religion in school. I don’t have to worry they are being taught things that contradict our religious belief, and I don’t have to worry that I will lose them to peer pressure. The Christian home-school studies have shown three out of four children that graduate from public school will no longer share the same faith or beliefs as their family. This is alarming.

From a mother’s perspective, every day I am amazed by my children. They are creative; they march to their own beat; they are eager to learn and interested in so many things, and they are self-motivated. My son memorized all of the US presidents' first, middle, and last names one day without being asked. My daughter memorized all of the states and capitals one day on her own. I am often times astounded by the things they have taught themselves and teach each other in their free time.

I would add that children need down-time, too. Because children educated at home are taught individually, they learn more quickly, and the school day is much shorter, permitting them time to explore their own interests and take part in family life. There is also no homework!

5. How do children who are educated at home compare academically with children enrolled in school?

Most home-educated children are superior in their academic levels to public schooled children. This has been studied, and it is no secret that top universities in this country, like Harvard and Yale, recruit home-educated children.

6. Is there a downside to home schooling?

Giving your children a home-education requires a lot of support. The Christian home-educators are well-established and have endless groups, conferences, publications, etc., so one feels very much supported as a Christian home-educator.

As Muslims, we are still in the beginning stages of our own movement, and it requires a lot of patience for those of us who don’t have much support. We need to have a vision and understand that we are laying the foundation for future Muslim families to educate their children at home. Someone has to be the one to begin, and each of us home-educating today is that person.

The socialization concern, which is often perceived as a downside to home-education, is a myth. There is more about this on our website

7. Do you have to be a teacher or have a background in education to home school?

This is another area that has been studied, and it is known that the educational level of the parent has little impact on his or her ability to teach her own children. I would say that you have to honestly want to teach your own children, and you have to have an interest in learning. It is that enthusiasm for learning that you must nurture in your child. A good teacher enjoys teaching and passes on the love of the subject.

As a home-educator, there will always be your favorite and least favorite subject to teach, but as long as you sincerely want to teach your children, you should do fine. If there really is a subject you can’t teach, you can swap teaching with a friend or hire a tutor.

8. If someone is interested in learning more about home school, what are the first things he/she should do?

The first thing parents should do is really try to understand why schools are not the best place for their children. I know so many people who don’t want to think about it, and ignoring the problem is a luxury we just can’t afford. Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah said years ago in reference to some home-schooling mothers he knew that teaching the children was a mother’s jihad, and if all parents took this as seriously, we could change the world. I firmly believe this.

The book to begin with is by John Taylor Gatto: Weapons of Mass Instruction. If and when they decide to home-school, then the parents need to consider the best way for their family to establish a home-school.

Our website has a lot of valuable information on education and home-schooling, and we also have anAmazon linked bookstore, with a good selection of books on the subject. Your readers are welcome to visit us at:

In Part I of our interview Nabila Hanson, home school advocate and founder of Kinza Academy, discusses home schooling and why you should consider it. In Part II she answers questions about Kinza Academy and its approach to home education.

. What is Kinza Academy and why did you start it?

After Hamza Yusuf spoke in Canada back in 2000 with John Taylor Gatto, he kept mentioning the need for someone to provide a home-schooling curriculum for Muslim families. Around the same time, I had ordered a preschool curriculum for my daughter, which was designed by educational “experts,” and was disappointed with the content. Those two factors were the catalyst for my determination to organize a program that any parent would love to teach and any child would love to learn from.

My greatest inspiration has come from John Taylor Gatto. He is a courageous man who has dared to expose the real purpose behind compulsory schooling. At a time in life when most people would be relaxing and enjoying themselves, he travels and lectures and has quite a demanding schedule. And he does it for the children.

In one of John’s talks, he calls us to put sand in the gears of the machine (compulsory schooling agenda) wherever we find it—I like to think Kinza Academy is some of that sand.

2. There are many different philosophies on home schooling. Kinza Academy uses the classical approach. Briefly, what is the classical approach and why do you use it?

The best description I know of is written by Dorothy Sayers and is entitled: The Lost Tools of Learning. There is a link to the article on our website. Rather than attempt a brief explanation here, I would prefer people read her paper. It is amusing and not at all dry.

I think the classical approach is the preferred model for Muslims. According to Hamza Yusuf, the Western classical model is the most similar to the Islamic educational model. Imam al-Ghazzali said that each student should learn grammar, logic, and rhetoric, which are the trivium components of the two part classical system.

It’s important to avoid the “public school at home” approach to home-education, where parents use similar or even the same books found in public school.

I was at someone’s house who is signed up with a charter school and she had this reading book for her six year old that was ridiculous. It was about a 400 page book with the most monotonous reading exercises. Learning to read isn’t difficult when the child is ready and doesn’t require 400 pages of instruction.

3. You do not recommend introducing a “formal education” until age seven. Would you explain that a little?

As Muslims, our sunnah advises us to let our children play for the first seven years. Western psychologists agree that postponing formal education until the age of six or seven is preferable, and is even necessary to support a healthy emotional development.

Too frequently, I have people tell me their child is in this class and that class, how they can read long books and do math, and extraordinary things for a young child. But, when I ask how the child’s social skills are, there is always this silence, and then the parent admits it is an area of concern. What does it matter how smart your child grows up to be if he can’t build meaningful relationships and get along in the world? This is what those first seven years are about.

4. How does Kinza Academy work? For instance, do you provide the curriculum, lesson plans, other support, etc.?

Our formal program begins with first grade and goes through the sixth grade. We provide a complete curriculum for each year, a selection of classical literature with each grade, and daily lesson plans. The lesson plans can also be used for record keeping purposes, or if the family needs to submit documents to state officials.

We are available for telephone or email support when needed.

For younger children, unstructured play and being read to are the most important things you can do to prepare them for formal instruction. The Kinza Academy preschool/kindergarten program offers a wonderful selection of mostly classical literature, and some light instructional material that can be used to informally teach your child.

5. How do you choose materials to include in the curriculum?

In general, we look for books that are well written and have substance, do not require unnecessary work from the parent, and are interesting to both teach and to learn from.

Though the curriculum uses a few CDs for stories and spelling, it does not incorporate any computer or DVD learning because of the known dangers to the developing mind of a child. Textbooks are avoided when possible in place of what Charlotte Mason called, “living books.”

6. Currently, Kinza Academy offers curriculum up to sixth grade. Are you planning to expand?

Eventually, we plan to expand our program through high school, in sha Allah. At this point, our focus is in publishing curriculum material for the grades that we do offer.

7. Is Kinza Academy only for Muslims?

The Academy was designed with the Muslim family in mind. With mild modifications, a family of another faith could use the program. Our focus, as I mentioned earlier, is really to serve our own community.

8. Anything else you would like to tell us about Kinza Academy or home schooling?

If you want to home-school, but feel nervous or afraid that it might be too much, just try. It’s almost impossible to get your child behind according to state standards, and you will probably find home-education is much easier than you had imagined.

I find the moms who oftentimes express the most fear about being able to home-school actually end up enjoying it the most.


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