28 July 2009

On Behalf of the Village: neighborhood children's classes and the Baha'i child

As more communities begin to focus their attention outwards to the needs of children in their neighborhoods, one concern is repeatedly (and understandably) heard from parents who are also longstanding Baha'is —“what about my children?” The lessons in Ruhi Book 3 seem to focus almost exclusively on universal qualities of the spirit, and contain very little factual information about the Faith itself. While the second set of lessons from Book 3a revolve around the lives of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, few communities are aware of these lessons, and even fewer are implementing them in their classes. The same is said of junior youth groups. On the surface, it would appear our community has turned its collective back on a uniquely Baha'i education.

For the moment, let us set aside the many valuable arguments in defense of the Ruhi curriculum—that our children are immersed more than ever in the study and internalization of the Creative Word, that they are learning the essence of administration by beginning to consult, at the most basic level, on the application of the Writings in their lives, that they are learning to appreciate the spiritual rather than the material reality of the Manifestation of God from a remarkably early age. In fact, let us assume to be true what we so fear, that the children of Baha'is no longer receive the sort of Baha'i education as has been so valuable in past years. What then?

First, an honest look at the Baha'i education of the past. It was extremely effective—for some. These lucky children were enabled by nature, family support, chance, or grace with the inner strength and confidence to stand up to a society that contradicted every lesson taught at Baha'i School. Their knowledge of the principles of the Faith, of its noble history and peerless Administration gave them sufficient hope to carry on as co-constructors of the World Order of Baha'u'llah. What a wonderful accomplishment this was!

But what of the rest? What of those who were too timid, too isolated, too violently thrashed by the gales of materialism to resist their force? Many of these children, now grown into adulthood, were raised lovingly by the most devoted Baha'is, and their absence from among us is a constant source of heartache. As Baha'i individuals, communities, and institutions, we did our best to prepare these children for the world, and we failed.

Why? We did nothing wrong in attempting to educate the youngest members of our community. But it is not enough for us to prepare our children for the world, we must also change the world for our children.

Baha'is are often known to cite the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." But we need to realize that the Baha'i community is not a village. The village is where we live, eat, and work. The village is where our children meet their friends to play. The village is the neighborhood. And while the Baha'i community must work in love and unity for the education of its children, it cannot negate the profound influence of the village on these children's material and spiritual lives. Instead, the current global Plan is intent on the transformation of the village itself, so that this influence might reaffirm rather than destroy the faith of the child, whether or not she ever identifies as a Baha'i.

What might happen to the difficulties Baha'i children face in leading double lives when their classmates at school are the same ones struggling to exemplify moral and spiritual qualities in a neighbor's living room each week? What might come of their struggles with strangeness and isolation when they are regularly engaged in prayer and spiritual exploration with friends from many backgrounds and faiths? Are these not the very problems we had always hoped that a solid Baha'i education would solve?

Certainly, we cannot hope to establish genuinely successful children's classes on a massive scale by focusing too heavily inward, on the needs or our own children alone. But the love we bear them can act as a bridge between us and the love they have for their schoolmates and companions, kindling in us a passion for building a better world for all children, everywhere.

So we must ask ourselves: are we ready to extend our gaze beyond our doors and into the street, to work and strive on behalf of the village surrounding us? Because this is the task ahead of us.

It is only then that we can hope to raise a child.


  1. I'm at a loss for understanding what's supposedly missing from book 3 and 3a children's classes. They assist children in developing the foundational spiritual orientations needed to recognize Baha'u'llah for themselves. And it does that by accustoming them, through use, to the Word of God. That's pretty awesome. I suppose Baha'i parents might regret the lack of information the classes impart about the faith. But all of that can be resolved very quickly if the child at a later age and kindled with the love of Baha'u'llah, takes it upon herself to learn those things.

    One aspect I love of the currrent model of Baha'i education is that it can be practiced by small communities, but it discourages its participants from feeling resigned to minority-status. It provides patterns of study and practice that encourage participants to strive to embody the spirit of the village itself.

  2. Related? Unrelated? As requested, a comment: We are awash in information of all kinds, much of it having some bearing on moral decisions. The vast amount of information demonstrating human suffering in every quarter shows the insufficiency of existing mitigation structures in stark relief.

    The entire problem is, I think, the problem of "striving on behalf of the village" when the village is much vaster than either our emotional or physical resources.

    The Faith's focus on increasing human capital is sometimes frustrating when one is receiving information about present suffering, but in the unsolvable absence of the required emotional and physical resources now, it is the only manuever with any possibility of real effect.

  3. I also think the role of the parents cannot be underestimated. They can, if they wish, teach the child facts about the Faith. But in the end, facts are useless if inspiration isn't there. This outward oriented model of children's classes is designed to nurture inspiration and spirituality, no matter what religion (or lack thereof) the parents are from.

  4. Well thaught out blog entry,reminds us that we cannot be in the village but separate, we must be an integral part.

  5. Hi Kat

    I enjoyed reading your article.

    I have some articles based on my doctorate - a Baha-i-inspired model of education. How do I get an invitation - or is this blog a private party?


  6. Mr. Cat, I'm with you, but neither of us was raised in Baha'i education classes, so we're not emotionally attached. I'm a huge fan of Ruhi, but the fact that people are wary of it still needs to be addressed from a point of unity.

    Rob, it *can* be really frustrating in the meantime, which is why it's an act of faith. When you get a full year into your junior youth group and finally get to the point where not only are the participants not actively recruiting new gang members during meetings or sexually abusing the younger members of the group (yes, true story), but also starting to develop the confidence to read aloud in front of others and even listen to each other in conversation ... well, it starts to feel worth it anyhow. But getting to that point can be emotionally exhausting. Prayer helps. :)

    Roger, I'm sure Jason can send you an invitation if you're interested in contributing.

  7. Roger,

    We would love to have you as a contributer. Just give Kat your email address and she will invite you.

  8. Some people see Baha'i Children's Classes as a place to drop off their children for a couple of hours once a week and expect this to be enough to educate their children in spiritual qualities and mostly in Baha'i History. Their role was not necessarily in being involved in this process... so in some ways you were distancing yourself from that reponsibility.

    When we received the guidance of decentralization of these classes it created a lot of upheaval from some parents because now we were asking them to be actively engaged in educating their children by opening their homes to host them, by inviting their friends' children and by being trained (books 3, 3a) to potentially become the teachers!

    It seems to me that it was easier for the parents that were already engaged in educating their children to embrace this new vision...

    Mr. Semple, former member of the Universal House of Justice, said that every night when it was time to do the dishes, him and his sons would do them and have their lesson at the same time... He was consciously taking time and making an effort to provide this education to his children...