At Abraham Education we are commonly brushed off by schools under a presumption that they do not need to undertake the learning of Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools because they are either already working with local Muslim organizations/religious centers or they have point people as cultural liaisons in their district.
While these efforts are nice and beneficial, unfortunately, this type of rebuff indicates a serious and multifaceted lack of understanding of the full spectrum of dilemmas facing Muslim students and families in relation to public schools; and often it also indicates a tokenized/checklist type approach to servicing Muslim students and families in the field of public education.
But why?!? The reasons are numerous. Firstly, in the multiculturalism and racial equity movements in public education practically every other identifiable minority group with a distinct community has had advanced professional development programs and books developed on servicing students in their community that were put together by highly-qualified teachers and educators who were thoroughly practiced with public education. We can see this with African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, as well as other groups. Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools by Michael Abraham is the first and only such program to give an in-depth treatment as such for Muslim students and families. The leaders of mosques, non-profit organizations, as well as the people who tend to hold cultural liaison positions are rarely, in fact hardly ever, licensed teachers with advanced degrees in education with years of experiencing teaching in public schools. Even less likely is that they spent over a decade researching this topic within the field of education, social sciences, as well as the Muslim community itself, as Michael Abraham has done. They may be Muslim, yes, but that is only a single side of a multifaceted coin in this equation. When schools solely depend on people to shape their pedagogical practice with Muslim youth who have little to no experience in teaching in public schools themselves, it ensures that hindrances that exist in public schools towards the self-actualization of Muslim youth will always remain because schools are depending on incomplete experts for expertise.
This gets to the second point, this tokenized/checklist approach ensures that a power imbalance is always maintained in the way schools relate to Muslim students and families and the Muslin community in general. Not only does it ensure that the schools who engage with the local organizations can always keep themselves positioned as the “experts” in education. But it also maintains the general societal dynamics that exist for Muslim communities regarding stigmatization in their engagement with outside communities and social institutions. What does this mean? Everyone can understand that Islam and a Muslim identity are and have always been highly stigmatized within American society. This effects Muslim communities in the way people from it can relate to outside entities. To maintain a sense of security and to capitulate to the comfort and lack of knowledge of others, a guard always has to be kept up out of concern for how we are being evaluated as Muslims by that outside entity that has more social influence than us, in this case the public schools.
This is a dynamic that exists for any minority community, especially immigrant ones, and ought to be well known and understood. But sadly, when schools brush off the chance to undertake deeper learning about Muslims prior to or alongside their engagement with local organizations (this is what actually empowers local organizations and cultural liaisons), it represents a lack of awareness or shallow understanding of this dynamic as well as a lack of willingness (likely due to the privilege that these educators hold themselves) to do the necessary work and learning that would sprout engagement with the Muslim community that breaks beyond the surface level.
Educators fail to realize that when many Muslim parents come to parent-teacher conferences, for example, they are typically more worried about the teacher and the institution’s evaluation of themselves than they are about discussing student progress etc. This is a complete opposite dynamic than one experiences with parents from the dominant culture. This type of power dynamic causes parents to put their guard up, to acquiesce to what they perceive to be school norms, and to hold back or not even consider self-advocacy. The same dynamic exists when schools only rely on local Muslim organizations and cultural liaisons and brush engaging in the work produced for them over time by advanced Muslim experts in public education.
Schools really have no idea the issues that lie beneath the surface with Muslim families. A read through the testimonials of our trainees indicate just how much of this is brought out by our programming. Consider what Burhan Farah, a parent liaison with Seattle Public Schools of 30 years and immigrant mother, said about seeing her school’s admin take this training:
As a cultural liaison that advocates for families I felt such joy taking this online training with the staff at my school. Finally! A training that clearly communicates and presents everything Muslim parents have wanted their children’s educators to know. I saw this open so many people’s eyes and give them so many positive actions to take. I am grateful for this training and advise all public school educators to take it.
The program Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools is not about telling schools that Muslims pray 5 times a day and that they fast during Ramadan. This is about the psychological dynamics of student-teacher interaction, this is about the religious violations that schools force students to do in the curriculum that necessitate intersectional expertise to even begin to explain, this is about breaking down the learner conditioning that Muslim students undergo in cultural spaces and identifying the clashes that come up with the prevailing pedagogical strategies used in public education (while also showing specific strategies that draw on leaner’s cultural funds as resources). This training is about bringing authentic perspectives and representation in curriculum for Muslim students that sets them up for success, draws on latent background knowledge, and is integrated with the concrete objectives of academic standards (as opposed to the corporatized and patronizing faux “representation” that most schools are doing for Muslim students).
All of this is why Abraham Education is proud to announce its partnership, beginning in the year 2023, with the Islamic Association of North America (IANA) , the LARGEST consortium of mosques in the United States. IANA’s leadership has done the work to dig deep into the learning that Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools and the work of Michael Abraham have to offer. They recognize that this work marks a generational advancement of educating the public schools system about Muslim families.
Public schools need to ask themselves. Why are there so many charter schools across the country that almost 100% populated by Muslim students in states where private schools are harder to access? Why are Islamic private schools so pervasive in states that have voucher programs? Why are Muslim organizations investing in advancing the newly-peaked cause of religious charter schools? Why are there Muslim-led parent backlashes against public schools breaking out all over the country? Even in districts where they thought relations with the local community were in good standing.
This phenomenon is not the result of just one issue. This is a storm that has been brewing as a result of a death by a thousand cuts experience that Muslim students and families have experienced with public schools over the course of generation. All the while experiencing it with a polite smile on their face because capitulating feels like a safer bet than waging the risk that American institutional authority is about to turned against you and your community.
Public schools need to get their act together regarding Muslim students in families. This begins with humbling themselves and giving their defense mechanisms a rest. Then they need to acquire knowledge, stop being patronizing (wittingly or otherwise), and move beyond the comfort that comes along with maintaining status quo and power dynamics that protect them from the burden of self reflection.
Contact Abraham Education (email@example.com) today to learn about training options or register for our self-paced course or get the book by Michael Abraham to start this learning that is not only necessary but long overdue.