(The second of a two-on education and who is responsible for providing it.)
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. — Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXII
My observation, as a product of the public school system and having raised three kids who are or have been in it at least through part of their education, is that we aren’t teaching two of the things that act as glue in the learning process. If we cannot teach a love of knowledge (literally, philosophy), at least we can teach the importance of knowledge and foster the analytical skills necessary for the student to understand the implications of what they’re being taught. We are failing to teach our children how to connect the dots for themselves.
Parents bear an enormous responsibility in this, because our kids first learn from us. If we don’t read, if we don’t get jazzed by the random piece of useful knowledge and share that joy with our kids, how can we expect them to want to learn? This is one of the reasons that educating girls and women is so important. The mother is most often the child’s first educator, and we know empirically that the better-educated a woman is, the more knowledgable and successful in life her chidden will be (and I’m not talking money, here). So important is the education of women in the Bahá’í community, that Bahá’u’lláh instructed the believers to prioritize their daughters’ education over their sons’ if, for financial reasons, they are forced to make a choice. He also made the education of children a priority of local Bahá’í institutions. If a family cannot afford to educate their children, it falls to the Local Spiritual Assembly to see that it is done.
If our children are taught how the world works by people who don’t really know how it works (and/or don’t really care), we cannot carry forward a vibrant civilization. More and more of us will find ourselves at war with reality.
Right now, this nation is suffering because of the reality gap that some of its citizens are experiencing. I understand why parents want to protect their children (and themselves) from ideas that they believe undermine their religious or ethnic or ideological identity, but the longer they try to hold out against change, the harder it will be to maintain their insular views. It’s like a fault line—the longer it goes without adjusting to accommodate stress, the greater the cataclysm when it shifts.
I’ve probably quoted Bahá’í mathematician William S. Hatcher on this before, but he is too eloquent on this point not to invoke:
Even when presented with clear contradictions in our conceptions we resist change… Thus, we may be led, by our emotions, to act against our own interest. How scientifically did Jesus say, ‘As a man thinketh, so is he,” and how scientifically did Paul say, “The good I would do I do not.” The more we persist in our blind faith the greater the inertia against acceptance of a truer picture of reality, and the greater the pain when the larger conception forces itself upon us, and we can avoid it no longer. — William S. Hatcher, The Science of Religion
This orientation toward science, does not, however come at the expense of faith. It is, rather, in the service of faith and, I believe, essential to it.
Faith is the process of organizing our emotional life around our assumptions, and so the quality of faith is directly proportional to the validity of the assumptions … on which faith is based. We can see, now, why the Bahá’í Faith enjoins a scientific outlook on life as being essential. The scientific approach does not guarantee us absolute knowledge, this being beyond the possibilities of man in any case, but it does guarantee that our concepts will be as functional and as close to reality as possible. (ibid. p 12)
Bahá’u’lláh has said that “The beginning of all things is the knowledge of God.” He has also prayed for humanity “that they may be enabled to ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of the knowledge of their own selves.”
Our search for reality, for knowledge, for wisdom must, Bahá’u’lláh asserts, begin with this critical piece: self knowledge. “Man should know his own self,” He writes in the Tablet of Tarazat, “and know those things that lead to loftiness or to baseness, to shame or to honor, to wealth or to poverty.”
Education is something that I have thought long and hard about and I have found that my sense of how upside-down and backwards we are in our approach to it as a nation was summed up very neatly by science fiction writer and ex-history professor Harry Turtledove, whose award‑winning novels of alternate history have thrilled millions of readers (Ruled Britannia is my favorite). Harry once wrote a short story entitled “Gladly Woulde He Learne” that depicts a United States in which the teacher’s role is regarded somewhat differently than most of us seem to regard it now. In Harry’s alternate US, teachers are more highly paid than administrators for the simple reason that their jobs are the most critical to our civilization. In
Harry’s world, one starts one’s educational career as an administrator and only after intense training, the development of crucial skills, and many hours proving one’s ability, is one allowed to go into the classroom to teach.
A personal aside: This week my son, Alex, is teaching at a Bahá’í summer junior youth camp alongside his wife and sister. His youngest sister is enrolled in the camp as a student. Alex is leading his class in a science experiment aimed at demonstrating the greenhouse effect and its implications for climate change. This winter he will receive his teaching credential and intends to teach high school physics. it is a discipline he loves. He has already spent many hours interning in classrooms, going back even after fulfilling his required hours. I could not be prouder of him. I have faith that “Mr. B” will be an awesome teacher.