EDUCATION: A NEW FRAMEWORK
The foundation principle of a school is first and foremost moral training, character building and the rectification of conduct.
The main task of education until now has been the transmission of traditions and information to new generations. Education thus has seen its purposes as operating within a relatively static state of information and social possibility. But in today’s world of accelerating intellectual and social upheaval, when knowledge itself grows exponentially, is changed, or is recreated in very short periods of time, education cannot focus simply on transmitting a body of knowledge, on refining and clarifying an established vision. Education today must prepare students for an emotional, intellectual and spiritual climate of change. This requires a new kind of education, one with very different educational goals, learning objectives, and teaching strategies. But to say this is not to deny the very real anxiety that this statement stirs within us.
Many people are anxious about education because they are anxious about their future. Because of the indivisible bonds holding education and society together doubts about, or confidence in, education cannot be divorced from doubts about or confidence in the larger society, and the goals of education cannot be separated from the goals of society. Thus to speak of a new kind of education implies a new kind of society. What is this new society? What does it look like? How do its institutions function? These questions are at the root of the anxiety. This anxiety is understandable, yet the only alternative to creating a new society is to carry on in the existing social arrangements and traditional ways and these are disintegrating at an increasingly rapid pace.
We must ask ourselves: Do we really want our schools to prepare our children for life in societies where everything is in disarray, where human relations have broken down? Schools must move out of the role of social conformers and into the role of social transformers, embryos of a new society. We now need radical reform in education because society’s demands are radically new. Human characteristics are being inculcated which no longer work. To take existing society as the goal of education and to prepare for the future it promises is to prepare for a future that will not exist.
One response to this situation has been to throw open the gates of educational experimentation, experimentation not only with alternative style schools, but also with different curriculums and methods of instruction within traditional schools. However it is apparent by now that experimentation for its own sake is never enough to ensure that new and relevant discoveries are made. Just piling fact upon fact, viewpoint upon viewpoint, will not generate the necessary new modes of thought that will actively seek new solutions to long-standing problems. Simply inundating students with more information is not to educate them, is not to inculcate a new vision of education.
Hence more important than mere information, and going deeper than reorganizing curriculums and trying new teaching strategies, education needs a radically new vision of its purpose. The primary mission of schools today is not academic training but moral training, that is, spiritual development and service to the community. If this is true, then along with and more important than learning, for example, math, science, and language, students must learn the moral values that will stimulate their personal spiritual development, and the moral skills that will harmonise conflicting forces in their community and, through service to others, to learn to build new social relations that reflect a renewed sense of community. Academic knowledge and skills are valuable to the extent that they help to build spiritual societies.
Those deeply involved in establishing a new kind education must start with a vision of the normative ideals that will create moral unity and consensus in society, which will, in short, effect a remoralization of society. A new vision of education rests upon a new vision of society so that education may prepare students for this new society. Such a vision can be found in the teachings of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith. This paper will apply the principles enunciated by Baha’u’llah to create a comprehensive model of educational philosophy and practice. However, if schools are to be agents of social transformation, we must first discuss the idea of social change through moral development.
Universal Values/Global Society
Baha’u’llah saw humanity moving toward unity in all its essential aspects, but that this would be a tumultuous process. Hence Baha’is believe that the disintegrating observeable in various spheres of human activity are but symptoms of this profounder unifying movement. Social transformation must rest upon a unified moral foundation and work through unifying ethical practices or moral rules in order to channel the powerful forces of change and creativity swirling throughout the world.
For Baha’is, foremost among all moral values is the consciousness of the oneness of humanity, the pivot of all Baha’u’llah’s teachings. First among all ethical practices is the creation of unity whenever disunity is found. Other important principles essential to the development and transformation of human society include: the elimination of prejudice on the grounds of religion, race, nation, class or sex; belief in universal human rights and opportunities; the harmony of science and religion; the necessity of an unfettered search after truth by every individual; the need for a universal and compulsory education; the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty; the preservation of the sanctity of marriage and family life, and the need to reestablish a proper relationship with the natual environment.
It is important to note that the vision of the oneness of humanity articulated by Baha’u’llah cannot be realized simply by integrating various perspectives or different cultures. His vision was not built up piece by piece from fragments of lesser visions or cobbled together from the best of the world’s traditions. Like all genuine visions, its essential form unfolds by its own inner logic through its own stages of self-transformation toward its own mature state. It is from its inception a distinct way of viewing the world and interpreting human experience, not an integration of cultures but their integrator. It is both a new vision of human society and a renewal of the vision of the great holy Figures of the past.
Like Theirs, Baha’u’llah’s vision is in essence a deeply religious vision. That is, it views humanity from the perspective of eternity, a perspective which takes in the world not only from beginning to end of the planet, but also from the beginning of time to the end of history. Eternity is the origin of humanity’s enduring values, for what exists in eternity persists in time and culture. The universal values, such as love, peace, justice and respect, that are the basis of the moral visions of all humanity’s great religious Figures have been the foundation of every society. The outstanding characteristic of today is that the universal, that which is always good and true, must become global, or operatively true everywhere, because it alone can form the basis of a single world-embracing social order. A model of this order exists in the global Baha’i community. Global is the complete or matured outer expression and form of the universal. In a global, universal order the outer and the inner worlds of human beings are perfectly connected. Humankind has one consciousness, one society, one way of life, though infinite diversity remains within that unity.
When society is stable morality is like gravity, a subtle, diffuse, invisible but extraordinarily powerful cohesive force holding people within its scope to common purposes and harmonious actions, and which is most conspicuous when it is absent. Morality has to do with all things civil, social, political, and economic, without being any of these. Yet it makes these possible because it holds society’s members to shared purposes and common practices, and gives a great vision of human possibility and action. When morality works best it creates an unspoken trust, affection, love and respect, and an abiding and secure sense of human community. When it doesn’t work human society is an impossibility. When a society is being infused with new moral values it upsets the existing social equilibrium in order to create another.
It is the Baha’i belief that universal moral values are superceding traditional national and cultural ones, and that humanity’s search for moral rules that are appropriate for the age of global universality is the chief cause of the confusion and misunderstanding that marks so much of the interaction between groups and individuals. Social and psychological upheaval will be part of the transition from the present international order to the emerging global one. Baha’u’llah Himself warned that establishing such a new world order “upsets the world’s equilibrium.” This phrase, said Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, implied “an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced.” (WOB:43)
The spiritual transformation of society starts with the individual’s own spiritual transformation. At whatever level it is focused, this spiritual process of social change always follows the same course: “Souls must be transformed, communities thereby consolidated, new models of life thus attained.” (PEBT: 44) The transformed soul creates a new social order founded upon new moral values. Or rather a new social order coalesces around souls living these values.
These reflections have important repercussions for education. For if, as Baha’is believe, a world civilization is forming upon the growing consciousness of humanity’s essential oneness, then to prepare students for the future, schools must attempt to educate students to live in a society which does not yet quite exist but is emerging. Schools must train students to enter into the developing social structures of this new society, to understand its fundamental values, and to use its ethical principles and practices of daily life to advance existing society toward world civilization.
Schools that actively inculcate the principle of the oneness of humanity are nests of social change, because they are the points where two societies, the existing and the emerging, meet, conflict and connect. Students educated to act in ways that will bring about the realization of the oneness of humanity are bound to upset the equilibrium of the society in which they reside, for no present society fully expresses the oneness of humanity, for prejudice and injustice exist everywhere. But education for new moral leadership, of youth who will be shapers of a new social context, is a task that schools must take on. If moral values are the foundation of society, then moral values are, too, the foundation of education.
The Moral Foundation of Education
It is common these days to bemoan the awful moral state humanity is in and to call for more and better moral education to help fix it. But the situation only has gotten worse.
The major reason why exisiting moral training is failing is that it conceives too narrowly both the real nature of the human being and the actual purpose and principles of moral education and instruction.
According to Baha’i teachings, education should equip students to relate in a proper manner to the three worlds that human beings inhabit, the spiritual world of inner development, the social world of interpersonal relations and the world of nature surrounding us.
Of these three kinds of education, spiritual education, that is, the acquiring of self-knowledge, is the indispensable basis of all, for the acquisition of spiritual characteristics and the praiseworthy virtues of humankind is the basis of all healthy cognitive, affective and volitional development. As Baha’u’llah wrote: “Man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.” (TB:34-35)
Spiritual education, then, is founded on the question: What is the human being? Baha’u’llah says the human being is that form of life made in the image and likeness of God, the Creator of the Universe, The purposes of human life are to consciously seek reunion with God and to contribute to building “an ever-advancing civilization.” What, then, is the purpose of education? It is identical with the purposes of human life: reunion with God and contributing to the advance of civilization. Let us explore these purposes.
The individual’s path of reunion with God is grounded in the human being’s relationship with the sacred, transcendent, divine, eternal realm. This relationship is driven by the fundamental urge toward growth that animates the human spirit. It is developed through conscious spiritual development; that is, mobilizing the soul to endless perfecting of the moral virtues within it, or, in short, knowing and loving God. The final purpose of all great spiritual teachings is, according to Baha’u’llah, “to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High.” (GL:157).
True moral education should inculcate the principle that each student should strive to have the entirety of his life constructed out of his relationship with the divine force, for the soul “is the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him” (GL:159). If, as Baha’u’llah wrote, the “beginning of all things is the knowledge of God” (GL:6) and if “the highest and last end of all learning be the recognition of Him Who is the Object of all knowledge,” (GL:199) then, whether a student is studying physics, literature, or physical education, that study should lead him to some aspect of the Creator.
The second purpose of every human being, to contribute to the advance of civilization, derives from the first purpose, that of reunion with God via personal spiritual transformation. Contributing to the advance of civilization is best accomplished by wide-learning and seeking out opportunities of service, and it is in service to others that moral virtues find their highest expression. But the importance of service will be seen only if the social purpose of moral values is understood and appropriate instructional methodologies of moral education are used. Good moral education emphasizes the ethical content and social value of learning. Baha’u’llah linked the two purposes when he stated: “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.” (GL:260)
Moral education is usually thought of as inculcating virtues such as love, justice and tolerance through stories, examples, discussion, modelling games, and the like. These are, and will always remain, an essential part of any curriculum of sound educational practice. But conceived in this manner moral education remains only a part of education, a subject of special study. It is not enough. Why?
All education reflects a governing morality. At every level of education moral principles are never just objects of study, a part of the intellectual content of learning, but from the first suffuse the entire educational environment and structure the whole learning process. In every school morality is the medium within which learning takes place. Many of the important values are mostly unsaid, but they are the silent shapers of interchange. That is, the very design of the school building, the color of its walls, the shape of the rooms and the arrangement of seats embody moral ideas of human relations. The progression of the school curriculum--what it chooses to emphasize and instruct--reflects moral assumptions of what is good to know; indeed, all the factors that go into making and maintaining a school and a system of education are, each and every one, shot through with an organizing morality.
In established educational systems such organizing principles are usually implicit and operate unconsciously on the individual. Problems of legitimacy often arise in this situation. For the moral ideals studied in class, and which students are supposed to want to acquire, and the principles that organize the school environment, which reflect those of the larger society, often clash. This leads to a sense of the unreality of moral education classes; that they don’t square with reality out there, and students are being asked for no apparent good reason to swim against a mighty stream. This clash is part of and adds to the general decline in society being experienced everywhere.
Hence though values are taught and studied in all schools Baha’u’llah saw education has having largely failed to achieve its real goals, saying: “Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess.” (GL:259)
Morality is fundamentally not about relating the individual to his society’s norms for this leads, eventually, to a static moral universe contained by society. And in today’s world it leads to rampant immorality. Too, moral instruction is not about inculcating a slavish, legalistic adherence to the do’s and don’t’s of society. Morality should be a creative force in human relations through learning the principles of individual and collective spiritual and social growth. Moral values are expressions of the inner forces that operate in the spiritual reality of every human being, and education must concern itself with these forces if it is to tap the roots of motivation and produce meaningful and lasting change. Thus ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, explains that the “qualities of the spirit are the basic and divine foundation, and adorn the true essence of man; and knowledge is the cause of human progress.” (SFWAB:137) That is, moral values are themselves dynamic, positive forces of change seeking proper and full expression through the acquisition and application of knowledge.
Moral education in the broadest sense should not only be regulative of human action, but also constructive of positive thoughts and behaviors. It should discipline conduct, but at the same time free the creative powers to move in socially positive directions, enabling people to establish new, more inclusive social arrangements, and relate human beings to their natural environment in a constructive way. It should prepare students to serve the general interests of a global society as an organic whole. This is the drive implicit in the phrase “an ever-advancing civilization.”
If the oneness of humankind is the foundation of all education, then bringing this principle to full realiation organizes and structures the entire learning process. Such moral values as are implied by this principle are not best inculcated merely through the classroom teaching of abstract principles. They must from the first permeate and structure the whole learning environment, acting to integrate the subjects of the curriculum, to coordinate learning activities, and to create educational goals that connect academic learning with attitudes of service to others that alone give proper application to the knowledge gained. The remainder of this paper presents a practical model of how this could be accomplished. We start with the social environment of the school and with what is traditionally called the socialization process.
The Social Environment of School
Good socialization balances in a dynamic and progressive interaction the complementary principles of individuality and community. Community provides the context within which individuality is formed, while individuality is the best means to extend and strengthen social unity. These complementary principles can be harmonized and simultaneously realized only within a truly consultative process. The consultative process achieves many goals in the school by combining the rights of individuals to express their opinions, based on their independent search for truth, and the requirements of the group for stability and ordered progress.
The consultative process is for finding the truth regarding the topic under discussion. Though within consultation the shining spark of truth will often come forth only through the clash of opinions, such free and constructive conflict is contained and directed by the attitude described by Baha’u’llah: “No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.” “Consultation,” wrote Baha’u’llah, “bestoweth greater awareness and transmuteth conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leadeth the way and guideth.” (CON:3#3) As pointed out, the principal force for change is individual creativity. In this regard, educational philosophy must encourage the spirit of independent investigation of truth, allow the free airing of opinion and thought, applaud the development and expression of imaginative ability. A fostering of those mental virtues of flexibility, freedom of thought, and inquisitiveness so essential for independent thinking to arise must be part of the school environment. Yet, the individual’s freedom of expression is beneficial only when it is kept within the bounds of respect for the rights of others. Attention must be given, then, to nurturing individuals into full participation not only in determining their own learning, but in helping the learning of others.
Hence primary among the social virtues needed to foster the expression of opinion is to approach the sayings and writings of others in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy. Such an attitude is essential to the process of consultation, the aim of which is not simply the airing of personal views, but decision-making based on the full range of opinion.
Individuality is not really learned, but rather develops from within in an essentially predetermined way when the appropriate social and intellectual conditions exist. Diversity of thought and feeling, within a context of shared values and purposes, increases the unity of the school community by allowing each individual to find the proper expression of his innate talents and by enabling the entire school body to undertake new activities. Community makes true individuality possible. Hence students should value and nurture their school community as they do themselves, for this community is their larger self. The sense of community as the larger self rests upon positive emotional bonds. For these bonds to be strong the emotional groundwork that motivates a child to cooperate with others and with school norms, and to hold himself and other students accountable, must be laid.
The principle aim of emotional training is to enable students to read their own feelings, and transmute when necessary. They must be trained away from a society that teaches them to be self-centered, anxious, impulsive, mean-spirited, demanding, and disobedient of authority. They should be trained to excel in empathy, cooperation and the ability to build consensus, to resolve conflicts, manage anxiety and anger, to finish tasks and focus on goals, and maintain hope in the face of difficulty. This is a continuous and challenging job. It cannot be avoided for any reason.
Emotional education is, too, the process of helping students to form friendships, to work both independently and cooperatively in diverse learning groups, and to understand and feel committed to the principles of spiritual behavior. In the contexts of school, neighborhood and home, children learn to discriminate among different types of peer relationships. Through building and sustaining different kinds of friendships and acquaintences, and in different social contexts, children acquire self-knowledge, individuality, tolerance, patience, skills of collaboration and partnership, and learn to delight in differences. In short, to build a community of feeling.
One important arena where consultation should take place so that community may be built is the relations between students and staff. If schools are to help build a new society, much time needs to be devoted not only to the social development between students, but also to their interactions with teachers and administrators. A great deal of time and energy should be devoted to developing attitudes of cooperation and mutual help among all three groups. That is, schools are to assist every student to develop his or her full potential. But each student should, reciprocally, see part of his or her purpose as helping the school develop its full potential to educate. Fostering this attitude of mutual responsibility will prepare students to be able to participate in the complex affairs of the larger community to the best of their abilities.
The teacher/student relation, operating through the methodology of consultation, is the matrix of the learning world, and the school administration exists primarily to broaden, deepen, and make secure this relation. To strengthen teacher/student relations will require a classroom situation that facilitates a genuine interaction between students and teachers, which respects the rights of each. Thus, the classroom environment as well as the academic progress of students should be orderly and well-run. This can be enhanced through a clear and consistent system of rewards and punishments. Teachers who have a vision of who they want their students to become, intellectually and socially, and a vision of what they want the community to become, can prepare their students to be valuable members of that emerging global community.
Administrators can reinforce this process by encouraging the holding of frequent staff meetings in which student’s performance is evaluated and in which the student in concert with adults plan and execute changes in his studies. Consultation on all topics, at every stage, and including all relevant groups should be encouraged at all times.
But, too, students should be encouraged to take an active part in not only deciding their courses of instruction, but also in the consultation and decision-making that necessarily must occur in constructing the general school environment. To enable children to make wise choices in life, schools should allow them to play a part in creating their own environment, establishing their academic agenda, setting the rules of conduct for themselves and others by setting up a meeting structure where problems that occur are resolved within and by the community members. The focus should be on cooperation not competition by rewarding collaboration and teamwork. Give students real responsibility. Treat them with respect and dignity and you increase their chances of acting responsibly. Through their participation in a constructive consultative process students self-esteem and self-reliance will grow and they will gradually begin to take charge of their own learning. They will learn how to learn, be collaborators in their own learning rather than passive recipients of others knowledge and understanding.
To implement these suggestions will take patience and time. Time to create new understandings of the methods and purpose of learning, to learn to work together for mutual benefit, and time to adjust to new teacher/student relations. But should the balance of individual freedom and social stability occur then a great efflorescence of creative energy will be released that will benefit the student, his family, the school and finally the entire world. Academic study will progress faster and more efficiently if the social environment which that study is meant to strengthen is functioning in a healthful way.
Ideally, academics and morals go hand in hand, with academic study organized by the chosen morality. However, it has become common to think of curriculum as a kind of manual for getting into society at as high a position as possible, a practicum for acquiring wealth and position. But if the essential nature of human beings is spiritual and his purpose is to know and to love God, then the curriculum should also assist the quest for personal identity and inculcate the means for acquiring those personal and public virtues that are part of settling into an advancing social order. The academic curriculum should provide the intellectual foundation that fosters individual spiritual and mental growth and development. But, again, individual intellectual growth and the pursuit of learning are to serve the common interests of an ever-advancing civilization. ‘Abdu’l-Baha states the result of emphasizing personal intellectual goals over collective spiritual or moral concerns:
Good behavior and high moral character must come first, for unless the character be trained, acquiring knowledge will only prove injurious. Knowledge is praiseworthy when it is coupled with ethical conduct and virtuous character; otherwise it is a deadly poison, a frightful danger. (BE:29#74)
Nevertheless, within a proper educational context moral development itself results from the acquisition of knowledge that is useful for the individual and for humankind, for learning is the chief pillar of development. Indeed, the relationship between moral development and the acquisition of knowledge is so close as to make them nearly the same thing. Baha’u’llah counselled:
Of all the arts and sciences, set the children to studying those which will result in advantage to man, will ensure his progress and elevate his rank. Thus the noisome odours of lawlessness will be dispelled, and thus through the high endeavours of the nation’s leaders, all will live cradled, secure and in peace.” (TB: 168-169)
The moral value of such learning is summed up in the statement that “the acquisition of sciences and the perfection of arts are considered as acts of worship.” (SFWAB:144)
If humanity is moving toward a world unified in all its essential aspects, the school curriculum should show a similar structure and movement. The various branches of study should be integrated; that is, subjects within the curriculum must be composed within a universal perspective: unified with each other, reflective of current social reality, in harmony with past experience, relevant for future opportunities, so that students come away from their formal education understanding something of the universal relations of the world befitting our age of universality.
The principle of the oneness of humanity does not negate the different perspectives the various arts and sciences bring to the study of human beings. But to be ever-advancing, education should integrate fresh discoveries and axioms of thought with established truths. Too often the legitimate differences of approach and method of the various arts and sciences, so necessary for gaining fresh perspectives and insights and which must be guarded, have been allowed to obscure the fundamental truth that humanity is a single evolving form of life and not simply an aggregate of brilliant metaphors and theoretical constructs.
We said that education should equip students with the tools to live within three worlds, the spiritual world of morals and ethics; the human world of social relations; and the world of nature. To do so a comprehensive curriculum must train the three major capacities-- cognitive, emotional, and volitional--of a human being. It must also develop and refine the inner faculties of imagination, thought, comprehension, and memory, and the outer senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. All these are powers of the rational mind, or gift of understanding, that constitutes the essence of human intelligence.
The following outline of a curriculum of education founded upon the oneness of humanity cannot obviously be comprehensive within the constraints of a single paper. The different disciplines addressed are done so within simple conceptual models, mental pictures of the ways that relevant information could be meaningfully organized. They do not present any new theories of pedagogy, nor any detailed teaching strategies, nor state any way to divide what is true from what is false in the various intellectual disciplines. What this models does is use certain moral values as organizing principles to indicate the structural units of learning, the curricula of the curriculum, the central images and values that direct the mind to the center of the subject. These must be connected with each other through a royal metaphor, namely, the oneness of humanity, to give a universal view.
Baha’u’llah wrote that: “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.”(TB:68)
In a complete education the powers of faith, inner vision and intuition can never be neglected. These are nurtured through contemplation and meditation on the dimension of the sacred. This is the realm of religion. Religion’s chief goal is the development of the individual and society through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and moral ideals. It provides the driving power for any effective ethical philosophy.
The founders of the great religions, such as Moses, Krishna, Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, and now Baha’u’llah, are the authors of humanity’s most ennobling visions. The course of history has been, in large part, shaped by humanity’s response to the intermittent appearance of these great religious Founders and divine educators. Their revelations have provided the impetus for human beings to create enduring civilizations. In this regard, it is an established fact that Their teachings underpin all moral and legal systems known to the civilized world. In this regard it is possible to say that “the ethical development of humanity is dependent on religion.” (PUP:403) Civil codes of law trace their origins to these same principles.
If it is now possible to see that moral intuitions are the same in all cultures; that the moral sense is universal; that though different cultures have established different moral rules, this does not mean that their moral values are different; that a virtuous person is recognized everywhere as such, it is because the moral teachings of these spiritual educators show a remarkable similarity. The moral admonitions to love, to show kindness, to be truthful, trustworthy and sincere, to exhibit modesty and humility, to have a sense of justice and fairness, to be patient and to persevere through difficulties, to be self-sacrificing and of service are common to them all. Thus the Baha’i Writings state:
All the Manifestations of God and His Prophets have taught the same truths and given the same spiritual law. They all teach the one code of morality. (PT:142)
Without the transcendental dimension provided by religion ethics is merely self-preservation and self-interest. This leads to anarchy and the destruction of the social bonds that hold human beings together.
Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine. (TB:125)
The Baha’i view states that what gives unity to history is the succession of the Manifestations of God and Their progressively unifying Message. From this perspective the different religions are “different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion.” (WOB:114) But having lost sight of the common foundation of the religions, we do not see these founders as agents of one civilizing process operating through history, or their messages as progressively fuller expressions of the human spirit’s urge toward transcendence. This viewpoint could be inculcated within students if the proper perspective was brought to bear on religious instruction. In this way the fires of religious prejudice and hate will be stamped out.
Education in the Arts
Human beings do not live in a world of simple facts; they live in a world of interpretation, of symbolic functions. They see the world as they construct it. New discoveries result from the perception of significance of relationships and the meaningful pattern of facts or events. These activities are the foundation of the arts. The arts form a central pillar of education, for the arts of civilization bring honour, prosperity, independence and freedom to a government and its people.
Education in the arts means the training of the perceptual faculties. This includes the sharpening and refinement of the imagination and aesthetic perceptions through guided exposure to good literature, to the visual and performing arts, and to music. It is also emotional education, for music and the language arts, especially literature, work to make the emotions as precise and disciplined as sciences do thoughts and ideas.
The importance of genuine imaginative activity was stated by the Bible: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) All genuine imaginative and artistic activity is an expression of man’s concern about himself, about his place in the universe, about his relations with other human beings, with nature and with God. It attempts answers to questions about the ultmate origin and end of things, and with what is of most concern to human existence. Hence it is concerned also with both the inner and social discipline that makes realization possible. True vision is the social not personal imagination at work.
The first and most fundamental service imaginative activity provides society is the development of knowledge. All knowledge begins as an imaginative construct. The Baha’i writings assert that the “power of reflection” is an “ideal mine” which is “the source of the arts and sciences.”
Thus the imagination is not concerned with the environment directly, but with the world we can construct out of that environment. Hence it is closely associated with seeing behind the world, to the reality that structures the world, hence with spiritual perception, or insight. Accordingly, education of the imagination is indispensable to the development of the critical intelligence, which develops through choice and conviction, and a critical mind enables the independent investigation of truth.
The second great service of the imagination to morality and society is in the area of social knowledge and the construction of social reality. Imaginative activity allows individuals to participate in the mental life of others through the use of metaphors, similies, analogies, and the like, the whole toolkit of communication which are also the primary tools of the imagination. Communication through symbols is all those activities we associate with the world culture. Culture may be shared. This differentites it from the purely subjective consciousness of the solitary individual.
But because the arts play such an important role in the organizing of perceptions of reality, their power in this regard however should make us wary of their proper use. Culture as simply aesthetic exploration and experimentation for its own sake is dangerous and leads to artistic debasement. The Baha’i writings warn: “A superficial culture, unsupported by a cultivated morality, is as a confused medley of dreams, and external lustre without inner perfection is like a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreameth to be water.” (SDC:60-61)
The Baha’i Writings assign a high social position to artists and craftsmen, and explain their importance to social development. They say: “The purpose of learning should be the promotion of the welfare of the people, and this can be achieved through crafts....the true worth of artists and craftsmen should be appreciated, for they advance the affairs of mankind....the means of livelihood depend upon those who are engaged in arts and crafts.”
With a proper moral focus it will be seen that the ultimate aim of training in the arts is not an aesthetic or contemplative one for the individual mind, but the ethical one of participating in a vision of the building of community, with the aesthetic development with its sense of structure and proportion enabling better ethical result. The goal of this activity is to inhabit the largest possible imaginatively conceivable world, what the Holy Books call Paradise. But paradise is not a private heaven but a collective one. It is contained in the Holy City of Revelation.
Social Science Education
Humanity is uniting within a new economic and political order. World unity is the spirit of the age. In social development this movement can be perceived in, for example, the consolidation of a universal system of human rights by the United Nations.
To prepare for humanity’s common and united future social science education must now concentrate not upon how cultures, races and societies are different, but upon how they are all expressions of a common human nature. Education must kindle within the minds of the young the imperative necessity of uniting in thought, feeling and conscience with all the world’s people, and provide them with the attitudes that will make this possible. It must demonstrate the need for an abolition of all forms of prejudice--whether based on religion, race, class, gender, or education, For these poisonous influences of prejudice and hate have until now, despite our breathtaking scientific advances, thwarted the expression of humanity’s full potential.
Social science education should teach students to be thoughtful about their lives and the values that will structure their behavior and actions. They must be, at an early age, moral thinkers. They should be encouraged to ask questions and to question answers. They must be enabled to criticize the assumptions of a social environment that is not caring for them, and to analyze the institutions that organize their social interactions. They must be encouraged to develop strategies to improve society, and empowered to carry out necessary reforms. A proper study of the social sciences develops the sense of social justice. Justice is an essential value to acquire. Baha’ullah stated the relation between justice and the twin purposes of human life when He wrote:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes, and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. (HW: Arabic#2)
Essential to Baha’u’llah’s vision of global unity and impacting directly on the principles and goals of education, is His assertion of the equality of men and women. The Baha’i Writings state: “Woman, having formerly been deprived, must now be allowed equal opportunities with man for education and training.”
The role of women in education is clearly shown in the station of motherhood. Young girls will become mothers, and mothers are the first educators of children, who establish virtues in the child’s inner nature. They encourage the child to acquire perfections and goodly manners, warn him against unbecoming qualities, and encourage him to show forth resolve, firmness, and endurance under hardship, and advance on the high road to progress. The training which a child first receives through his mother constitutes the strongest foundation for his future development. Also, investing in the health and education of women is essential to human prosperity on every level. With the addition of educated women to the work force and with the increase in productivity provided by these workers whole populations have been lifted out of poverty.
More broadly, education in the human sciences must equip each individual with the attitudes and skills to live free of the shackles of all prejudice. Baha’u’llah stated: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” This statement carries far-reaching implications for the organization of civil society. It implies the need for system of world law; a universally agreed upon system of weights and measures; a world currency, a world government, and an universal auxiliary language. Socially, the foundation of such a global attitude is the idea of world citizenship; that to serve the interests of humanity is to serve the best interests of the nation. Abdu’l-Baha explained: “Behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze upon otherness.” (SFWAB:24)
A global-minded education in history would recognize the contributions to human civilization made by all the peoples of the world. It would describe how prior social unities of the family, tribe, city-state and nation-state are analogues to building a unified world, and in the light of today’s marvels of communication and transportation the promise of its accomplishment, and it would indicate what was the supreme motive power for the establishment and advance of civilization.
Natural Science Education
The relation between the inner powers of reflection and intuition and the development of the arts and sciences is:
The source of crafts, sciences and arts is the power of reflection. Make ye every effort that out of this ideal mine there may gleam forth such pearls of wisdom as will promote the well-being and harmony of all the kindreds of the earth.(TB:72)
The study of the biological sciences yields knowledge about the organic natural environment. This eco-sphere enwraps human beings in a complex and delicate balance with all living things which must be preserved for life to continue. Through the study of living things students will gain an understanding of the organic laws of growth and development. The biological sciences are also related to the social sciences, because the plant and animal kingdoms serve the desires and needs of human beings, and to the physical sciences of inorganic things which they, in turn, grow out from.
The importance of the physical sciences, whose foundation and language is mathematics, is proven by the fact that they provide the means by which humans understand the inorganic natural world, and were the driving force behind industrial development. The revolutionary alterations in human society experienced in recent centuries were lead by and attained their clearest expression in the explosion of technology. With technology man became undisputed master of the natural environment, but as the wreckage of two world wars and innumerable smaller wars convincingly shows, man is not yet master of himself. Economically, while age-old barriers to peace and prosperity fell when the technical means to produce untold wealth were discovered, the inner barriers of suspicion and distrust remained stubbornly intact, preventing the fair allocation of resources and goods and their proper use.
A proper study of these sciences would connect them, on the one hand, with the moral principle of care for the natural environment which is the common home of all living things, and on the other with the need for humanity to progress. Human beings are the care-takers of this world. For one nation to despoil it in the name of economic progress is to despoil it for all. Yet another principle, that of the innate urge for advancement within human beings, must also be given due allowance.
We must save the earth. But concerns for saving the earth can not be divorced from human social and economic progress. Stated from the opposite side, the urge to progress is intrinsic to the human spirit, yet progress cannot destroy the natural environment in which that development takes place. The challenge of reconciling material progress and protection of the environment creates the new idea of sustainable economic growth; that is, growth that does not degrade the environment or injure the climate, and which preserves the universal relations between all living things. Reconciliation of nature and progress can be accomplished only if progress and protection are linked by universal values and operative principles of conduct. Cooperation, mutual aid and reciprocity are the foundation of both enduring progress and conservation of our natural resources. The nurturing of such values can alone create the moral and psychological climate in which an environmentally sustainable civilization can advance and flourish. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.” (CER:15)
Reestablishing a proper relation between human beings and Nature requires not just a personal and psychological transformation, but a social one as well. Only when the spiritual dimension of human nature is applied to the organization of society can the global crisis of the environment be addressed. Today, the humanity can be transformed only by universal values. These alone empower individuals and peoples to act in accordance with the long-term interests of the planet and humanity as a whole. Such qualities as love, compassion, forbearance, justice, trustworthiness, courage and humility, the perception of the intrinsic value of all forms of life, and an increasingly consciousness awareness of the interdependence of all forms of life, must not only be part of our thought and feeling, but also find social and legal expression.
Technical and Vocational Education
Academic learning should be integrated with both practical experience and vocational training. It is the duty of those who are in charge of the organization of society to give every individual the opportunity of acquiring the necessary talent in some kind of profession, and also the means of utilizing such a talent, both for its own sake and for the sake of earning the means of his livelihood. It is a basic human right that everyone has the right to work.
Education for the work force has become highly proficient, but in many cases it has come to completely dominate the goals of education. There is danger in this domination. If real learning means change, change of self and improvement of society, then the goal of education for the individual can not be merely that of obtaining a ranking place in the work force. And the nation’s reason for educating its charges should not be limited to increasing national economic growth by turning out highly trained technicians in every field.
Specialisation and standardisation as we have known them are obsolete educational goals, because concentration on technical proficiency causes one to lose awareness of self and to concentrate solely on material goals.
The proper link between the knowledge of self, knowledge of society and training for a profession and the real purpose of work must be taught. The Baha’i Writings assert that each student should receive training and instruction in that field for which he has an inclination, a desire and a talent. Each child should be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. But the final purpose of the individual’s work is to serve the common good. If this perspective is taught then technical and vocation training will help to create the unity of humankind.
Lastly, for this short survey anyway, comes physical education, which could also include sensory training. This is necessary not only because a strong body is needed to maintain health and vigor, but also because, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha said, “a sound mind cannot but exist in a sound body.”
In this area students should have learned necesary life skills, been taught principles of healthy nutrition, care for body, and how to cook simple meals. Physical training would naturally include sports, dance, and gymnastics. But, too, there may be instruction given in the proper way to move one’s body, to hold a good posture, and the like. In addition, walks in nature and in cities specifically to observe colors, shapes, sounds, smells, and tastes, directions by sun. This will keep the body strong, and will lend its share to the learning process.
Education for Service
A morally-based education means that the goal of all learning is not found in personal advance or in self-satisfaction, but in service to others; that is, learning is primarily civic not personal. It’s for making a contribution to the larger world, not to one’s own career. A deep sense of commitment to the community rests on the obligation to think first of the common good. Yet attitudes of service toward the community are born from the individual’s desire to advance himself spiritually.
It is a truism that much of the effectiveness of instruction depends upon the students will to learn and be educated. But a strong will to be educated brings advantages to more than the individual, for the cultivation of positive attitudes toward learning is coming to be perceived as a pre-condition for the achievement of most social and economic goals and objectives. A clear sense of one’s identity and purpose in life enables one to set realistic goals and to challenge oneself to capacity. The motivation to strive and excel is further enhanced by the development of a moral attitude toward study and work, an attitude that spiritually empowers an individual to strive for excellence in all things by inculcating a sense of personal dignity and self-respect that settles for nothing less, to release one’s unique capacities and talents in service to others.
The Baha’i writings assert: “True learning is that which is conducive to the well-being of the world.” The greatest factor to instill in students is the necessity of service is a unifying spirit that brings people together to solve their common problems in a constructive manner, for it is only when students learn to become active agents of their own learning, rather than passive listeners, that the desired attitudes toward service are born and develop.
A comprehensive education for service would include opportunities for students to actively develop good qualities in direct interpersonal experience. The student’s attention must be centered upon the improvement of his local community, for the hidden and creative moral emotional and intellectual potentials of children are unlocked chiefly in service to others. The curriculum should be designed to develop the required skills which would relate him to that social environment. Hence in any service-propelled curriculum the problems, goals and aspirations of the community can and should be a large part of the curriculum. How can we help? What transformations need to be made now to advance the vision? These are the questions. Students must learn to address these articulately, with feeling and insight, eloquent speech and persuasive argument.
Ours has been a century of almost continuous ferment, a tumultuous age of experiment. Everywhere standards are changing, society is in transition. Every arena of human endeavor has felt the mind’s determined assault upon established ways and ancient practices. In every sphere traditional tenets of belief and thought were challenged and overthrown. Time-honored assumptions were cast aside and others, as yet immature, set, often violently, in their place. Our discussion shows that in such uncertain times inculcating moral attitudes is the one sure means by which education can help society progress and advance for such attitudes and virtues raise the level of the life and activities, the motives and standards that govern the relationships existing among the entire population. The true wealth of a people is their noble qualities of spirit. Their real poverty is that of the undeveloped mind and heart.
Education should not be only a means for improving individual and national material well-being. First and foremost education should aim at developing within the individual person the full range of his human capacities and awakening within him the desire to work for the enrichment and progress of society. This spiritual process occurs most effectively when it goes hand in hand with the transformation of society. Hence education should also be examined in light of its contribution to bringing about fundamental structural changes in society, changes which are necessary for the creation of a just, peaceful, and harmonious environment. Education today must also act as a powerful instrument for profound social transformation.
Educators have a great responsibility for the care of children and their preparation for the future. What attitudes students develop about themselves, about others, and toward the world and the future are largely shaped by the experience we call education. In the final analysis it is up to all the inhabitants of the world to carefully analyze the current situation both inside and outside of schools and harmonize them. The field is vast and mostly unworked. The challenge is ours. The results depend upon the comprehensiveness of our vision and our will to carry it out. As Baha’u’llah said: “All that which ye potentially possess, can be manifested only as a result of your own volition.” (GL:149)
The time is opportune for a reevaluation of education at its root principles and metaphors of human nature. The Baha’i Writings state:
The people must be set completely free from their old patterns of thought....until the old ways, the old concepts, are gone and forgotten, this world of being will find no peace, nor will it reflect the perfections of the Heavenly Kingdom.(SFWAB:253)
BE--Baha’i Education. Compiled by the Universal House of Justice. London, Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1987.
CER--Conservation of the Earth’s Resources: A Compilation of Extracts from the Baha’i Writings. Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990.
CON--Consultation: A Compilation: Extracts from the Writings of Baha’ullah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Univeral House of Justice. Compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. Thornhill, Ont.: Baha’i Community of Canada, 1980.
GL--Baha’u’llah. Gleanings from the Writing of Baha’u’llah, trans. by Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust 1976 2nd rev. edition
HW--Baha’u’llah. The Hidden Words. Trans. Shoghi Effendi et al. Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing Trust. 197O.
PEBT--Promoting Entry by Troops: A Statement and Compilation prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. (Australia: Baha’i Publications, 1994).
PT--'Abdu'l-Baha. Paris Talks. London. Baha'i Publishing Trust. 1969.
PUP--’Abdu’l-Baha. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Baha during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Comp. Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1982.
SDC--’Abdu’l-Baha. The Secret of Divine Civilization. Trans. Marzieh Gail with Ali-Kuli Khan. 2nd Ed. Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 197O.
SFWAB--’Abdu’l-Baha. Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. trans. by a Committee at the Baha’i World Centre and Marzieh Gail. Haifa: Baha’i World Center.
TB--Baha’u’llah. Tablets of Baha’u’llah Revealed After the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Compiled by the Research Department of the Univeral House of Justice and trans. by Habib Taherzadeh with the assistance of a Committee at the Baha’i World Centre. (Haifa: Baha’i World Centre 1978
WOB--Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Baha’u’llah. Wilmette; Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1955.