A Charter for Bahá'í Schools
by Stephen Waite and National Spiritual Assembly of Indiapublished in Bahá'í National Review, 128
Wilmette, IL: American Bahá'í 11, 1990-04
The teachings of the Bahá'í Faith include many principles whose application will offer us new patterns for education. Yet it is premature for us to surmise the directions which may evolve. The following statement is therefore only a brief summary, for our current reference, of some of the essential features to be considered by Bahá'í educators. Fostering these characteristics in our educational efforts will help us to perceive and explore further features as our awareness and capacities increase.
The synthesis of some of the teachings of the Faith represented here in a charter for Bahá'í schools has been influenced by the experience of working to develop the Rabbání School under the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India. Of greatest import during the Rabbání years has been the guidance from the Universal House of Justice relating to the development of the school. Further, this synthesis was enhanced by consultations held during a National Education Conference called for the purpose of consulting on the "distinguishing characteristics of Bahá'í education and Bahá'í schools." The conference was held January 23-26, 1988, at the New Era School in Panchgani, Maharashtra, India. In the four days that were spent, the proposed list of principles of Bahá'í education was discussed in detail and several new ones were added. It was agreed during the conference that the process of adjusting each of our existing school's programs to more fully reflect Bahá'í characteristics can best be assisted by a simple, straightforward statement or definition of the Bahá'í school. A school's governing body and administration can first come to understand the main principles. These can then be shared with the faculty, the students and the parents. Once all concerned persons understand the ultimate goal, the process of change in that direction can begin.
We look forward with anticipation to many discoveries and insights as we put Bahá'í educational principles into practice. In the last century, in Iran, schools such as the Persian Tarbíyat Schools became potent instruments for progress and development of the nation, communities in general, and improvement in the status of women. A similar capacity for the dynamic transformation of society now exists in India. That is, in our schools-through the application of spiritual principles derived from the sacred Writings of the Bahá'í Faith-is now presented a unique opportunity for social advancement. It is hoped that this document will help us accelerate the process.
What is a Bahá'í school? What are its primary and distinguishing characteristics? The answer to these questions is a matter of urgent and fundamental importance to the almost 300 emerging schools in India. The Bahá'í Writings do not detail a system which can simply be adopted and put into practice; rather, a Bahá'í educational system will gradually evolve as a result of the involvement of Bahá'í scholars and educators concentrating on this question. The first step in the process is the identification of the basic principles and teaching ideals which are reflected in the
Bahá'í Writings. Second, a dynamic and creative process of interaction will occur as these principles are implemented in culture; there will even be interaction among the principles themselves. The implementation of broad philosophical principles will engender unique solutions depending upon the persons, culture, circumstances and efforts of each school. From this process gradually will emerge what will be accepted as a Bahá'í system of education.
The function of education
The role that has been given to education in the Bahá'í Writings is a most important one. Education is critical to the development of both the individual and society at large. When speaking of the individual, Bahá'u'lláh states: "Education can, alone, cause it (man) to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."1 In this regard 'Abdu'l-Bahá states: "Education is the indispensable foundation of all human excellence and alloweth man to work his way to the heights of abiding glory." 2
As regards civilization, Bahá'u'lláh says that the greatest means provided for the "exaltation of the Word of God amongst His servants, and likewise, to the advancement of the world of being and the uplift of souls ... is the education of the child." 3 'Abdu'l-Bahá adds that "... learning and the use of the mind" is the "mightiest" of the "pillars" and "unshakable supports of the faith of God."4 In another place 'Abdu'l-Bahá says, "... in this New Cycle, education and training are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary."5 "All must receive training and instruction ... universal education is a universal law."6 "You must attach the greatest importance to the education of children, for this is the foundation of the Law of God, and the bedrock of the edifice of His Faith."7 "This school is one of the vital and essential institutions which indeed support and bulwark the edifice of mankind ..." 8
Responsibility for education
The Bahá'í Writings assign responsibility for the education of children to various groups and individuals in the community. They are, respectively (1) the individual; (2) the mother; (3) the father; (4) the parents; (5) the family as a unit; (6) the community through its elected institutions; (7) the schools; and (8) the teacher. Each has a specific and important role to play as a function of the relationship to the child to be educated.
To the individual, Bahá'u'lláh says: "Strain every nerve to acquire both inner and outer perfections, for the fruit of the human tree hath ever been and will ever be perfections both within and without. It is not desirable that a man be left without knowledge or skills, for he is then but a barren tree. Then, so much as capacity and capability allow, ye needs must deck the tree of being with fruits such as knowledge, wisdom, spiritual perception and eloquent speech."' And 'Abdu'l-Bahá says: "O loving friends! Exert every effort to acquire the various branches of knowledge and true understanding. Strain every nerve to achieve both material and spiritual accomplishments."10
To mothers, 'Abdu'l-Bahá says: "Let the mothers consider that whatever concerneth the education of children is of the first importance. Let them put forth every effort in this regard, for when the bough is green and tender it will grow in whatever way ye train it. Therefore it is incumbent upon mothers to rear their little ones even as a gardener tendeth his young plants. Let them strive by day and by night to establish within their children faith and certitude, the fear of God, love of the Beloved of the worlds, and all good qualities and traits..."11 In another place He states: "The mother is the first teacher of the child. For children, at the beginning of life, are fresh and tender as a young twig, and can be trained in any fashion you desire. If you rear the child to be straight, he will grow straight, in perfect symmetry. It is clear that the mother is the first teacher and that it is she who establisheth the character and conduct of the child." 12
To fathers, Bahá'u'lláh says: "Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet."13
To schools and teachers, 'Abdu'l-Bahá says: "According to the explicit divine Text, teaching the children is indispensable and obligatory. It followeth that teachers are servants of the Lord God, since they have arisen to perform this task, which is the same as worship. You must therefore offer praise with every breath, for you are educating your spiritual children." 14
To the local Spiritual Assembly, the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, writes: "They must promote by every means in their power the material as well as the spiritual enlightenment of youth, the means for the education of children, institute whenever possible Bahá'í educational institutions, organize and supervise their work, and provide the best means for their progress and development." 15 "To assist the children of the poor in the attainment of these accomplishments, and particularly in learning the basic subjects, is incumbent upon members of the Spiritual Assemblies, and is counted as one of the obligations laid upon the conscience of the trustees of God in every land." 16
Further, the Universal House of Justice has confirmed that the Bahá'í schools which are operated by the institutions of the Faith are social and economic development projects, to be developed in accordance with the principles and guidelines it has provided. Accordingly, those schools operating under the jurisdiction of Bahá'í institutions should strive for self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
The Mashriqu'l-Adhkár and the school
Eventually every locality will have its own Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. The Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is not simply a temple for worship, but rather is a concept combining worship and service in a dynamic relationship. Worship is through the central edifice while service is through the dependencies.
The Universal House of Justice, in its letter of October 20, 1983, to the Bahá'ís of the world, states: "The oneness of mankind, which is at once the operating principle and the ultimate goal of His Revelation, implies the achievement of a dynamic coherence between the spiritual and practical requirements of life on earth. The indispensability of this coherence is unmistakably illustrated in His ordination of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, the spiritual centre of every Bahá'í community round which must flourish dependencies dedicated to the social, humanitarian, educational and scientific advancement of mankind."17
Our schools will eventually become one of these dependencies of local or national Mashriqu'l-Adhkárs. The school as a dependency of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is an agency to utilize spiritual forces emanating from the House of Worship. Prior to the actual construction of a local house of worship, our schools must still reflect this basic concept and base themselves in this dynamic relationship linking worship and service. Education and training provide the skills whereby a person can offer service to the community, and worship provides the energy or spiritual power.
Education is understood to be one of the cornerstones upon which the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh is being constructed; it is a key to the regenerative and restorative processes urgently required. Bahá'í schools already have served as effective instruments for such fundamental social change.
An outstanding contribution was made to the development of society in Iran by schools, along with other Bahá'í development efforts. So must our schools in India begin to understand their vital role to help transform society.
The evolution of mature educational institutions able to make a significant contribution to the establishment of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh is a process that will depend on understanding the role which they can play. This role is based upon what the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, calls "certain basic principles" or "teaching ideals." 18 These principles will be identified from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the Guardian. Presented herein are a number of such principles in the form of articles of the charter. Some of these principles have been identified by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in one reference where it is stated: "All schools and colleges should have these three foundations.... First, they should be sincere in the service of training the souls (Article II). Second, training in morality is necessary (Article I). Third, service to the world of humanity should be obligatory (Article V)." 19
The charter structure of this document, it is hoped, will at once set a clear direction in which our schools must begin moving, and will also stimulate, through the isolation of major and distinguishing characteristics of Bahá'í education, the production of appropriate curricula and teacher training materials and methodologies.
Spiritual Development Is the Basis for Human Development
The essential basis of human development is the nurturing of spiritual capacities. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:
"And from amongst all creatures He hath singled out man, to grant him His most wondrous gift, and hath made him to attain the bounties of the Company on high. That most precious of gifts is attainment unto His unfailing guidance, that the inner reality of humankind should become as a niche to hold this lamp; and when the scattering splendors of this light do beat against the bright glass of the heart, the heart's purity maketh the beams to blaze out even stronger than before, and to shine in glory on the minds and souls of men.
"The attainment of the most great guidance is dependent upon knowledge and wisdom, and on being informed as to the mysteries of the Holy Words. Wherefore must the loved ones of God, be they young or old, be they men or women, each one according to his capabilities, strive to acquire the various branches of knowledge, and to increase his understanding of the mysteries of the Holy Books, and his skill in marshaling the divine proofs and evidences." 20
It is evident from the Bahá'í Writings that attainment unto this unfailing guidance is a process that begins from the very moment life begins. In this regard Bahá'u'lláh states:
"That which is of paramount importance for the children, that which must precede all else, is to teach them the oneness of God and the Laws of God."21
"As to the children: We have directed that in the beginning they should be trained in the observances and laws of religion; and there after, in such branches of knowledge as are of benefit, and in commercial pursuits that are distinguishes for integrity, and in deeds that will further the victory of God's Cause or will attract some outcome which will draw the believer closer to his Lord.
"We beg of God to assist th children of His loved ones and adorn them with wisdom, good conduct, integrity and righteousness." 22
`Abdu'l-Bahá states in this regard:
"Instruction in the schools must begin with instruction in religion. Following religious training, and the binding of the child's heart to the love of God, proceed with his education in the other branches of knowledge."23 "These schools for academic studies must at the same time be training centers in behavior and conduct, and they must favor character and conduct above the sciences and arts. Good behavior and moral character must come first, for unless the character be trained, acquiring knowledge will only prove injurious." 24
Further, 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that children must receive such spiritual training directly from their mothers. In this spiritual training lies "the beginning of the process; it is the essential basis of all the rest."
"O thou servant of God! Thou didst ask as to the education of children. Those children who, sheltered by the Blessed Tree, have set foot upon the world, those who are cradled in the Faith and are nurtured at the breast of grace-such must from the beginning receive spiritual training directly from their mothers. That is, the mother must continually call God to mind and make mention of Him and tell of His greatness, and instill the fear of Him in the child, and rear the child gently, in the way of tenderness, and in extreme cleanliness. Thus from the very beginning of life every child will be refreshed by the gentle waftings of the love of God and will tremble with joy at the sweet scent of heavenly guidance. In this lieth the beginnings of the process; it is the essential basis of all the rest." 25
Spiritual training for the child should begin with the education of the prospective mother in terms of her preparation for this most important role. Schools must develop training programs for girls that will prepare them for this very special responsibility. This training should be based upon the elements of the process which 'Abdu'l-Bahá has identified in the above citation.
This process for training the child, begun from the very moment of the beginning of life, should continue in appropriate ways throughout childhood and into adulthood. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states in this regard: "The indispensable basis of all is that he should develop spiritual characteristics and the praiseworthy virtues of humankind." 26 The development of praiseworthy virtues will be accomplished through effective spiritual education combined with a balanced exposure to and training in academics, vocations, arts, crafts, music, and in effective service to the world of humanity. Our goal is to train persons in possession of the requisite skills, eager to attain the highest station to which an individual can attain, namely, service to the world of humanity.
Schools must contribute their rightful share to the spiritual training a child will receive. Curricula need to be developed to accomplish this goal. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that "training in morality" should be one of the three main components of all schools and colleges:
"Training in morality is necessary, so that the pupils' good conduct may remain unchanged and so that they may progress in a most befitting manner, become possessed of lofty ideals, lovers of the world of humanity, and so that they will hold fast to the spiritual perfections and to that which does not displease God." 27
Training in morality should include developing the child's understanding of the law of God regarding reward and punishment, the "Promise and the Threat." Understanding the relationship between reward and punishment will lead the child to respect and to fear God. We must fear God, not "because He is cruel, but we fear Him because He is just, and if we do wrong we deserve to be punished, then in His justice He may see fit to punish us. We must both love God and fear Him." 28
Bahá'u'lláh states: "Schools must first train the children in the principles of religion, so that the Promise and the Threat, recorded in the Books of God, may prevent them from the things forbidden and adorn them with the mantle of the commandments; but this in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry." 29
A Praiseworthy Character. Sincerity Is Essential for Teachers and Schools
Sincerity must distinguish our schools, says 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Sincerity implies being genuine, straight-forward, truthful, honest, and free from deceit or hypocrisy. When this virtue is truly reflected by our institutions and their teachers, then will we be successful in eliminating "ignorance and the lack of knowledge" and witness how "the lights of science and knowledge shine forth from the horizon of the soul and heart." Regarding the role that the teacher and the institution can play in this process, 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:
"First, they should be sincere in the service of training the souls. They should discover the mysteries of nature, and extend the circle of art, commerce, etc., so that ignorance and the lack of knowledge will pass away and the lights of science and knowledge shine forth from the horizon of the soul and heart. In all schools and universities, a general rule for training should be made." 30
One can understand the importance of sincerity when one reflects on the reputation of an institution sincerely dedicated to the service of training people vs. one that is not. There may be many motivations for either a school or a teacher to become involved in education. According to `Abdu'l-Bahá, sincerity must be at the root of any of these.
Institutions are made up of the individuals who comprise the administration and faculty. The embodiment of sincerity must therefore be those same administrators and teaching faculty. Institutions in and of themselves cannot reflect virtues. The power of virtue is expressed through the life of these persons and what they lead the institutions to represent through their policies. It is our deeds, conduct and character which, according to Bahá'u'lláh in the following passages, "can ensure the victory of Him Who is the Eternal Truth."
"Say O people of God! That which can ensure the victory of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, His hosts and helpers on earth, have been set down in the sacred Books and Scriptures, and are as clear and manifest as the sun. These hosts are such righteous deeds, such conduct and character, as are acceptable in His sight. Whoso ariseth, in this Day, to aid Our Cause, and summoneth to his assistance the hosts of a praiseworthy character and upright conduct, the influence flowing from such an action will, most certainly, be diffused throughout the whole world." 31
Trustworthiness is a synonym for sincerity. Bahá'u'lláh refers to it as the greatest portal leading to the tranquility and security of the people.
"Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light." 32
Shoghi Effendi says that the transforming potential of the Faith can only be demonstrated by the lives we lead:
"Not until we live ourselves the life of a true Bahá'í can we hope to demonstrate the creative and transforming potency of the Faith we profess." 33
In exalted language, 'Abdu'l-Bahá gives the teacher his/her charge:
"Wherefore, O loved ones of God! Make ye a mighty effort till you yourselves betoken this advancement and all these confirmations, and become focal centers of God's blessings, day springs of the light of His unity, promoters of the gifts and graces of civilized life. Be ye in that land vanguards of the perfections of humankind; carry forward the various branches of knowledge, be active and progressive in the field of inventions and the arts. Endeavor to rectify the conduct of men, and seek to excel the whole world in moral character. While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantages of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind." 34
Development of an `Unshakable Consciousness of the Oneness of Mankind' Is Fundamental to the Process of Bahá'í Education
Bahá'í schools must help the community at large establish an "unshakable consciousness of the oneness of mankind" 35 in the hearts and minds of all persons.
"Acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind. Universal acceptance of this spiritual principle is essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace. It should therefore be universally proclaimed, taught in schools, and constantly asserted in every nation as preparation for the organic change in the structure of society which it implies." 36
Our Bahá'í schools should teach the love of humanity as a whole, as well as legitimate forms of patriotism which recognize the wholesome value of pride in our own culture, traditions, foods, music, dress, language, etc. Understanding unity in diversity enables the consciousness of the oneness of mankind, and is therefore an essential concept in the child's education. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states in this regard:
"Consider the flowers of a garden; though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when diverse shades of thought, temperament and character are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest. Naught but the celestial potency of the Word of God, which ruleth and transcendeth the realities of all things, is capable of harmonizing the divergent thoughts, sentiments, ideas, and convictions of the children of men." 37
In another place, 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly delineates the role that education must play in terms of the elimination of barriers which separate mankind and preclude the realization of the oneness of mankind:
"Bahá'u'lláh has announced that inasmuch as ignorance and lack of education are barriers of separation among mankind, all must receive training and instruction. Through this provision the lack of mutual understanding will be remedied and the unity of mankind furthered and advanced. Universal education is a universal law." 38
Education Should Provide a Balance of Academic, Spiritual and Vocational Training (Head - Heart - Hand)
Because the potential of each human being is unlimited, and we all have been endowed with a unique, wide set of talents and faculties, Bahá'í education must be structured in a properly balanced way to develop or uncover what we inherently possess.
Bahá'u'lláh states: "The Great Being saith: Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom." 39
'Abdu'l-Bahá adds: "In the school of realities they educate these sons and daughters, according to the teachings from God, and foster them in the bosom of grace, so that they may develop along every line, show forth the excellent gifts and blessings of the Lord, and combine human perfections; that they may advance in all aspects of human endeavor, whether outward or inward, hidden or visible, material or spiritual, until they make of this mortal world a widespread mirror, to reflect that other world which dieth not." 40
"In this new and wondrous Cause, the advancement of all branches of knowledge is a fixed and vital principle, and the friends, one and all, are obligated to make every effort toward this end, so that the Cause of Manifest Light may spread abroad, and that every child, according to his need, will receive his share of the sciences and arts-until not even a single peasant's child will be found who is completely devoid of schooling." 41
"Not all, however, will be able to engage in these advanced studies. Therefore, such children must be sent to industrial schools where they can also acquire technical skills, and once the child becometh proficient in such a skill, then let consideration be given to the child's own preferences and inclinations. If the child hath a liking for commerce, then let him choose commerce; if for industry, then industry; if for higher education, the advancement of knowledge; if for some other of the responsibilities of humankind, then that. Let him be placed in that field for which he hath an inclination, a desire and a talent." 42
It is clear from these references that both for the individual and for humankind as a whole, it is important that each person be enabled to develop whatever talents he/she has been given. For this we must offer children training in a balance of academic, spiritual and vocational skills and knowledge. The sciences, arts, crafts, music and the vocations all should be studied: "Arts, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being and are conducive to its exaltation....The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words." 43
Further, because the amount of knowledge and skill areas continues to expand, there is a need to seek the more profound interrelationships and integrations among the widening content areas that we have to master. One interrelationship is between the theoretical and the practical. Many fields of study are more clearly understood when both the practical and the theoretical are understood. In the following reference from the Office of Social and Economic Development of the Universal House of Justice, an aspect of this is explored:
"The potential of each human being is unlimited. By offering a curriculum of academic subjects and practical experience in trades and crafts, a student will have a better learning opportunity toward finding and cultivating his/her natural talents and inclinations. In developing practical skills as well as learning theoretical knowledge in an environment devoid of prejudice toward any occupation, a person will not be confined by the basic tasks required of him in life but can continue the process of lifetime learning as a motivated and radiant human being." 44 (See Appendix A)
Other integrations occur in Bahá'í education as a result of combining service to the world of humanity, spiritual training, and vocational training. Through vocational training students learn skills that can be used in service to others, which allows them to put into practice praiseworthy virtues.
Our teachers need to be competent in teaching methodologies designed to help uncover the students' talents. Special training should be designed to help them master this orientation and the skills to facilitate this objective.
Service to the World of Humanity Is a Foundation of the School Program
Because service to the world of humanity is the highest station to which a person can aspire, 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that all schools must have as a foundation of their program, service to the world of humanity: "Service to the world of humanity should be obligatory. Every student should know, with perfect certainty, that he is the brother of the people of all religions and nations and that he should be without religious, racial, national, patriotic or political bias, so that he may find the thoughts of universal peace and the love of humankind firmly established in his heart. He should know himself as a servant of human society of all the countries of the world. He should see God as the Heavenly Father and all the servants as His children, counting all of the nations, parties and sects as one family. The mothers in the home, the teachers in the schools, the professors in the universities, and the leaders in the lofty gatherings, must cause these thoughts to be penetrative and effective, as the spirit circulating in the veins and nerves of the children and pupils, so that the world of humanity may be delivered from the calamities of fanaticism, war, battle, hate and obstinacy, and so that the nether world may become the paradise of heaven." 45
In another place, 'Abdu'l-Bahá says: "One of the most important undertakings is the education of children, for success and prosperity depend upon service to and worship of God, the Holy, the All-Glorified." 46
A communication from the Office of Social and Economic Development of the Universal House of Justice explains the specific role that Bahá'í schools are to play as regards development of the function of service, particularly as it relates to spiritual training and the development of the attitudes that 'Abdu'l-Bahá has referred to above. Interesting, also, is the idea that service is linked with the practice of skills that are vocational in nature. (See Appendix A for the full text of this statement)
"In the Bahá'í community and in the Bahá'í school the attitude of service will be taught, its example carried out, its effectiveness demonstrated and its true value nurtured." 47
It is clear that a Bahá'í school must incorporate a service program for children from an early age, as it is through the process of building attitudes of service to others that a child will have the opportunity to put into practice those praiseworthy virtues learned in class; hence, service is the practical expression of spiritual training.
Training in the vocations also helps the child acquire the attitude of service. Vocational skills will provide the child with a means to offer service to others. Further, training in the vocations allows the child to discover the full breadth of his/her God-given talents, such that these talents can be further perfected.
Vocational Education Will Be Integrated into the Curriculum
"The acquisition and exercise of those practical skills often associated with the term vocational education, and heretofore isolated as a separate curriculum, must become fundamental to the process of education and to the development of the whole person and ultimately the local community." 48 The reasons for this are: first, the acquisition and exercise of those practical skills learned through vocational education will become fundamental to the program of service and spiritual training. Second, they are necessary to enable the education of the whole person, where, without prejudice for or against any occupation, the ethic "all work performed in the spirit of service is equal in the sight of God" can be propagated. Third, there is a need to extend theoretical study to both the practical application of theory and the execution of these applications. Such a pragmatic curriculum is felt to be superior to either of the extremes, the purely theoretical or the purely vocational. It is expected that benefits will accrue to the learner as new, more easily understood, and possibly more profound interrelationships are found.
"If a student actually raises a crop, makes a garment, prepares a nutritious meal, or builds a cabinet as part of the educational experience, the student has not only acquired the rudiments of a skill that will allow him/her to begin to function independently, but has also greatly improved the possibility of successfully applying underlying theoretical knowledge in new ways." 49
Bahá'í Schools Must Give Priority to the Education of Girls and Women
Special opportunities and programs for girls and women must be provided by our schools. The emancipation of women and the consequent achievement of full equality between the sexes is critically needed for the future of mankind. Bahá'í schools have a special role and responsibility in this regard.
The priority given to the education of girls and women can express itself in the actual establishment of schools for girls, or in an emphasis on the recruitment of girls, with special support programs for their continuation and completion of school. Special programs need to be designed and implemented to train girls and women for their future role and responsibilities as mothers. Both boys and girls in school might receive training in preparation for marriage, with particular emphasis on the distinctive qualities of the Bahá'í family and the special needs and responsibilities of each family member. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has explained:
"The school for girls taketh precedence over the school for boys, for it is incumbent upon the girls of this glorious era to be fully versed in the various branches of knowledge, in science and the arts and all the wonders of this preeminent time, that they may then educate their children and train them from their earliest days in the ways of perfection." 50
"Devote ye particular attention to the school for girls, for the greatness of this wondrous Age will be manifested as a result of progress in the world of women." 51
That is not to say, however, that boys should not also receive an education, but only that our schools should recognize a special responsibility toward girls.
"The first duty of the beloved of God and the maid-servants of the Merciful is this: They must strive by all possible means to educate both sexes, male and female; girls like boys; there is no difference whatsoever between them. The ignorance of both is blameworthy and negligence in both cases is reprovable. Are they who know and they who do not know equal?
"The command is decisive concerning both. If it is considered through the eye of reality, the training and culture of daughters is more necessary than that of sons for these girls will come to the station of motherhood and will mold the lives of the children. The first trainer of the child is the mother. The babe, like unto a green and tender branch, will grow according to the way it is trained. If the training be right, it will grow right, and if crooked, the growth likewise, and unto the end of life it will conduct itself accordingly." 52
'Abdu'l-Bahá makes a number of curriculum suggestions:
"And further, those present should concern themselves with every means of training the girl children; with teaching the various branches of knowledge, good behavior, a proper way of life, the cultivation of a good character, chastity and constancy, perseverance, strength, determination, firmness of purpose; with household management, the education of children, and whatever especially applieth to the needs of girls-to the end that these girls, reared in the stronghold of all perfections, and with the protection of a goodly character, will, when they themselves become mothers, bring up their children from earliest infancy to have a good character and conduct themselves well.
"Let them also study whatever will nurture the health of the body and its physical soundness, and how to guard their children from disease. When matters are thus arranged, every child will become a peerless plant in the gardens of the Abhá Paradise." 53
A Supportive Affective Environment Should Distinguish the Bahá'í School
The creation of a properly supportive classroom environment is an important part of Bahá'í educational methodology. It is a task that primarily depends upon the skills of the teacher. Providing a child with a positive and loving environment, in which encouragement and praise are the primary pedagogical tools of a teacher, is our aim. A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi explains: "Love and kindness have far greater influence than punishment upon the improvement of human character." 54 And 'Abdu'l-Bahá instructs: "Rear the child gently, in the way of tenderness, and in extreme cleanliness." 55 He describes the teacher as a "loving gardener" who cares for the growth of "young plants."
'Abdu'l-Bahá describes the environment needed to support gentleness, encouragement, love and kindness:
"It followeth that the children's school must be a place of utmost discipline and order, that instruction must be thorough, and provision must be made for the rectification and refinement of character; so that, in his earliest years, within the very essence of the child, the divine foundation will be laid and the structure of holiness raised up.
"Know that this matter of instruction, of character rectification and refinement, of heartening and encouraging the child, is of the utmost importance, for such are basic principles of God." 56
In another place, 'Abdu'l-Bahá defines more extensively the goals of encouragement:
"The children must be carefully trained to be most courteous and well-behaved. They must be constantly encouraged and made eager to gain all the summits of human accomplishment, so that from their earliest years they will be taught to have high aims, to conduct themselves well, to be chaste, pure and undefiled, and will learn to be of powerful resolve and firm of purpose in all things." 57
'Abdu'l-Bahá further explains the importance of encouragement and praise in the following two specific situations:
"The children who are at the head of the class must receive premiums. They must be encouraged and when any one of them shows good advancement, for further development they must be praised and encouraged therein."58
"If a pupil is told that his intelligence is less than his fellow-pupils, it is a very great drawback and handicap to his progress. He must be encouraged to advance." 59
The Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, in two letters written on his behalf, states that, even for more complex children and situations, wise handling, love, patience and encouragement are what is required.
"Very few children are really bad. They do, however, sometimes have complicated personalities and need very wise handling to enable them to grow into normal, moral, happy adults." 60 "He feels that nothing short of your motherly care and love and of the counsels which you and the friends can give her, can effectively remedy this situation." 61
In this regard, 'Abdu'l-Bahá says:
"The child must not be oppressed or censured because it is underdeveloped; it must be patiently trained." 62
'Abdu'l-Bahá speaks to mothers in the following passage, describing a methodology: to praise the child for doing well; to counsel him if a mistake is made; to choose a punishment based on reason, if ever' necessary. These guidelines are equally useful for the teacher.
"Whensoever a mother seeth that the child hath done well, let her praise and applaud him and cheer his heart; and if the slightest undesirable trait should manifest itself, let her counsel the child and punish him, and use means based on reason, even a slight verbal chastisement should this be necessary. It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child's character will be perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse." 63
The Responsive Relationship Between the School and the Community
The local Spiritual Assembly is assigned, in the Bahá'í Writings, the responsibility for responding to the needs of the community and for ensuring the education of its members. The schools should initiate and coordinate programs to respond to these needs according to the recommendations of the local Assembly. The schools thereby become potent environments for social progress. This responsive relationship between the school and the community requires our understanding of several important concepts:
First, the type of education prescribed by Bahá'í principles is one in which education is based partly upon the child's understanding of service. In this context both in "the Bahá'í community and in the Bahá'í school the attitude of service will be taught, its example carried out, its effectiveness demonstrated and its true value nurtured." 64 Service programs and opportunities will be within the real-life situations provided by the community, i.e., through these programs students will take an active role in the affairs of the community as part of their education.
Second, the dynamic coherence between worship and service, between the spiritual and the practical, as prescribed within the concept of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, will require the harmonization of worship with service as a part of the total life of the community, including the school.
Third, the integration of the school into the affairs of real life will help the school maintain the pragmatic character of the curriculum. Education in this sense will be more "relevant" for both students and society. Also, the practical application of theory will provide the student with the "rudiments of a skill that will allow him/her to begin functioning independently." It will also greatly improve "the possibility of successfully applying underlying theoretical knowledge in new ways." 65
In short, the "compulsory" nature of service training, the dynamic coherence between worship and service, and the desirability of a pragmatic "relevant" curriculum all suggest a much closer integration between the school and the community.
Other dimensions, both suggested by the Bahá'í exhortation to the individual to continually investigate truth and to increase one's knowledge, and also by the evolving nature of society, which requires the individual to continually update skills and knowledge, require that education be viewed as a lifelong process that people of all ages will enjoy. This "new" concept of education suggests that new ways will be found to "open up" schools to permit a new relationship with the members of the community. This process should foster a responsive and dynamic relationship between the school and the needs of society.
Excellence Is the Goal, Volition Is the Means
The exhortation to develop our God-given potentialities, our "talents and faculties," to the highest degree of perfection is a clear and persistent requirement of Bahá'u'lláh. It is equally clear that the development of these faculties depends upon the exercise of will or volition by the individual. He states: "Strain every nerve to acquire both inner and outer perfections, for the fruit of the human tree hath ever been and will ever be perfections both within and without." 66 In another place Bahá'u'lláh states:
"Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit there-from." 67 Education is not a passive process, however; it is a process whose final outcome depends upon the exercise of volition by each individual.
"Unto each one hath been prescribed a preordained measure, as decreed in God's mighty and guarded Tablets. All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify to this truth." 68 (emphasis ours)
'Abdu'l-Bahá says that although knowledge of principles is required it is not sufficient; in addition, the exercise of will and volition is required to accomplish anything:
"Mere knowledge of principles is not sufficient. We all know and admit that justice is good but there is need for volition and action to carry out and manifest it. For example, we might think it good to build a church, but simply thinking of it as a good thing will not help its erection. The ways and means must be provided; we must will to build it and then proceed with its construction." 69
The training of the human will through an understanding of the Will of God provides the force needed for the attainment of perfections or treasures which we inherently possess. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:
"Will is the center or focus of human understanding. We must will to know God, just as we must will in order to possess the life He has given us. The human will must be subdued and trained into the Will of God. It is a great power to have strong will, but a greater power to give that will to God. The will is what we do, the understanding is what we know. Will and understanding must be one in the Cause of God. Intention brings attainment." 70
Affirming this relationship between making a mighty effort and the goal of excellence, 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:
"Make ye then a mighty effort, that the purity and sanctity which, above all else, are cherished by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, shall distinguish the people of Bahá; that in every kind of excellence the people of God shall surpass all other human beings; that both outwardly and inwardly they shall prove superior to the rest; that for purity, immaculacy, refinement, and the preservation of health, they shall be leaders in the vanguard of those who know. And that by their freedom from enslavement, their knowledge, their self-control, they shall be first among the pure, the free and the wise." 71
We must, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "constantly encourage" and make children "eager to gain the summits of human accomplishment" so that children will have "high aims," "to conduct themselves well," "to be chaste, pure and undefiled," and most important, to "learn to be of powerful resolve and firm of purpose in all things." Schools have a key role in the process.
"They must be constantly encouraged and made eager to gain all the summits of human accomplishment, so that from their earliest years they will be taught to have high aims, to conduct themselves well, to be chaste, pure and undefiled, and will learn to be of powerful resolve and firm of purpose in all things." 72
Excerpt from a letter from the Universal House of Justice's Office of Social and Economic Development dated December 25, 1987.
Vocational Elements in Education
In its broadest sense the process of education is part of the growth and development of a community. The community's aspirations and activities should be reflected in its schools. Each Manifestation of God has brought new social teachings for the improvement of peoples and a concern for the well-being of societies which become natural channels for translating the principles of faith into action. As the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh continues its emergence from obscurity, more emphasis is being given to the continued application of social teachings through social and economic development of communities.
Academic training is only a part of the educational function, and must be supported by a spiritual and moral training as well. Effective spiritual education combined with training in the sciences, arts and crafts will spontaneously produce the desire to serve the community. And, since service to others is the highest station to which a Bahá'í can aspire, the function of community service will be held in the highest esteem in every Bahá'í community.
One distinctive feature of this view is that in the Bahá'í community and in the Bahá'í school the attitude of service will be taught, its example carried out, its effectiveness demonstrated and its true value nurtured. The acquisition and exercise of those practical skills often associated with the term vocational education, and heretofore isolated as a separate curriculum, will become fundamental to the process of education and the development of the whole person and ultimately the local community. Far from the current practice of according varying degrees of rank and prestige to certain professions over others, the Bahá'í school should inculcate and demonstrate the ethic that all work performed in the spirit of service is equal in the sight of God.
In many countries in the developing world, the spirit and function of service will be realized through teaching those practical skills most needed in the development of rural communities, initially in such broad areas as basic literacy training, agriculture and health-related fields. Community service by Bahá'í students in Bahá'í schools is not considered an appendage of the curriculum, but rather it is a primary focus meeting the current needs of the local community. The following points are offered as examples of the implications that can be drawn from this view of education and its relationship to the community as applied to the specific situations of local communities and their educational requirements.
1. The potential of each human being is unlimited. By offering a curriculum of academic subjects and practical experience in trades and crafts, a student will have a better learning opportunity toward finding and cultivating his/her natural talents and inclinations. In developing practical skills as well as learning theoretical knowledge in an environment devoid of prejudice toward any occupation, a person will not be confined by the basic tasks required of him in life but can continue the process of lifetime learning as a motivated and radiant human being.
2. Theoretical study must be extended to both the practical application of theory and the execution of these applications. If a student actually raises a crop, makes a garment, prepares a nutritious meal, or builds a cabinet as part of the educational experience, the student has not only acquired the rudiments of a skill that will allow him/her to begin to function independently, but has also greatly improved the possibility of successfully applying underlying theoretical knowledge in new ways.
3. A pragmatic curriculum is that which weds theory with practice and is superior to both the purely literary or the purely scientific.
1. Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'lláh (Wilmette, IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 4th ed., 1969), p. 260.
2. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education: A Compilation, Research Department, Universal House of Justice (New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984), p. 48.
3. Bahá'u'lláh, in Bahá'í Education, p. 5.
4. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, trans. by committee at the Bahá'í World Centre and by Marzieh Gail (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978), p. 126.
5. Ibid., pp. 126-127.
6. Ibid., p. 128.
7. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, p. 46.
8. Ibid., p. 60.
9. Bahá'u'lláh in Bahá'í Education, p. 7.
10. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 43-44.
11. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 125.
12. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, p. 82.
13. Bahá'u'lláh in Bahá'í Education, p. 6.
14. 'Abdu'l--Bahá in Bahá'í Education, p. 54.
15. Shoghi Effendi, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 91-92.
16. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 96-97.
17. The Universal House of Justice, "Letter to the Bahá'ís of the World," Haifa, Israel, October 20, 1983.
18. Shoghi Effendi, in Bahá'í Education, p. 108.
19. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in "Star of the West," vol. XVII, p. 161.
20. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 15-16.
21. Bahá'u'lláh in Bahá'í Education, p. 8.
22. Ibid., pp. 12-13.
23. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, p. 58.
24. Ibid., p. 62.
25. Ibid., p. 66.
26. Ibid., p. 70.
27. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in "Star of the West," vol. XVII, p. 161.
28. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 120-21.
29. BahA'u'1lAh, in Bahá'(Education, p. 9.
30. Ibid., p. 161.
31. Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 4th ed., 1969), p. 287.
32. Bahá'u'lláh Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdás, trans. Habíb Taherzadeh with help of a committee at the Bahá'í World Centre (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978), p. 37.
33. Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration (Wilmette, IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 5th rev. ed., 1960), p. 68.
34. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 47-48.
35. The Universal House of Justice, "The Promise of World Peace," p. 13.
36. Ibid., pp. 13-14.
37. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in The Advent of Divine Justice by Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1st rev. ed., 1963), pp. 45-46.
38. Ibid., p. 128.
39. Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings, p. 260.
40. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 46-47.
41. Ibid., p. 64.
42. Ibid., pp. 69-70.
43. Ibid., p. 26.
44. Office of Social and Economic Development of the Universal House of Justice, "Vocational Elements in Education," Haifa, December 25, 1987.
45. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in "Star of the West," vol. XVII, p. 161.
46. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, p. 59.
47. "Vocational Elements in Education."
50. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, p. 74. 51. Ibid., p. 58.
52. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Divine Art of Living, comp. Mabel Hyde Paine (Wilmette, IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1944), p. 63.
53. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, pp. 81-82. 54. Shoghi Effendi, in Bahá'í Education, p. 105. 55. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, p. 66. 56. Ibid., pp. 37-38.
57. Ibid., p. 72.
58. Ibid., p. 123
59. Ibid., p. 126.
60. Shoghi Effendi, in Bahá'í Education, p. 116.
61. Ibid., p. 104.
62. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í Education, p. 128.
63. Ibid., p. 84.
64. "Vocational Elements in Education."
66. Bahá'u'lláh in Bahá'í Education, p. 7.
67. Ibid., p. 5.
68. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 149.
69. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 26.
70. 'Abdu'l-Band, quoted in Julia M. Grundy, Ten Days in the Light of Acca, pp. 30-31.
71. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'1-Bahá p. 150.
72. Ibid., p. 135.