Even if the alternative to state schools was that children would go uneducated, "I would rather have illiterate human beings than semi-literate barbarians," says Hamza Yusuf Hanson, who thinks the current system is churning out the latter in droves.
A writer, registered nurse, and Islamic studies teacher, Hanson has promoted the cause of school Separation to audiences in the U.S. and Europe, directing his message especially to fellow Muslims. Tapes of his speeches circulate through Muslim communities as far away as South Africa. In London, after one of his talks, several parents moved to pull their children out of school.
Muslims have a rich heritage of non-state education, and they need to reconnect to it, Hanson believes. He made his own connection in the country of Mauritania, after an educational journey with many turns along the way.
He attended public school in California for eight years, and then a Jesuit preparatory school in Maryland where, "I was shocked to discover that in eight years I hadn't learned anything." Then it was back to California where he attended public and Catholic high schools before entering junior college.
In college Hanson converted to Islam from a "nominal Christian" background, and after three years traveled to the United Arab Emirates to study there. "Again it was a state-run school, and I was disappointed in it. Then I met some Muslims from Africa who got me interested in traditional Islamic education, which is very different from the state schools."
He found what he was looking for at a Muslim school in Mauritania, a country whose isolation, he says, kept it untouched by changes wrought elsewhere by colonialism. There he found students whose love of learning was strong and unquenchable.
"I believe that as part of our nature, we're given a deep desire to know, but state schools -- and modern schools generally -- extinguish that in the first few years. By the time people get to college their only interest is in becoming marketable. There is no longer a love of learning, and it's the result of the way they've been taught. Muslims have been victims of this more than anyone, because their own tradition presents a different model."
Hanson says classical Muslim schools were run by a system of endowments provided by wealthy individuals or groups formed for the purpose. Education was based on training people individually, even when it took place in large groups. "Even though you would have study circles, students didn't all have to move at the same pace, which I think is one of the worst features of modern state schooling."
Hanson returned to the U.S., earned a nursing degree, and got married (he now lives with his wife and two sons in Santa Clara, Cal.). In 1992, Hanson had traveled to Fresno to visit Marshall Fritz's school, Pioneer Christian Academy. They became reacquainted in 1995 at an accidental meeting at an education conference, and Hanson immediately became an early signer of the Separation Proclamation.
For Hanson, the key to saving civilization -- which he sees as rapidly descending into cultural chaos and nihilism -- lies in bringing people back to the traditions that are being obliterated by state schooling and the media.
"From the Muslim perspective, the purpose of education is to produce a human being who is safe to himself and to his society. The end result is a human being who knows his place in the universe and knows his purpose. He knows his rights and his responsibilities, with the emphasis on responsibility.
Note: Hamza Yusuf Hanson's most popular tape is a two-hour speech he gave at Stanford University, "Lambs to the Slaughter: Our Children and Modern Education." It includes much historical information. It may be ordered by calling Alhambra Productions 408-244-1402.
"The models are there. They just need to be reinvigorated."