Knowledge, Volition and Action: Making Knowledge Sticky

Knowledge, Volition and Action: Making Knowledge Sticky

Maya Bohnhoff
Maya Bohnhoff

(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.

The Cave - PlatoRight 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

Mr. B
Mr. B

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.

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7 thoughts on “Knowledge, Volition and Action: Making Knowledge Sticky

  1. Maya, this reminds me of the Singaporean education system where teachers are paid better and various other reforms that America and the world should be emulated. Singapore usually ranks in the top of the world if not number one in education. Japan and the Four Asian Dragons/Tigers (China aka Taiwan, Hong Kong/Macau, Korea aka South Korea, and Singapore) make up the top five nations in education. By contrast America is usually somewhere between number eleven and twenty four globally.

    Wikipedia has great info on education across the world.

  2. Maya, here are more Wikipedia links involving the best systems in the world. This show the simmilarities between the best systems in the world. I remember hearing on TV Singapore was the best and so looked it up on Wikipedia and found the rest of the countries as well. I have always studied education around the world on Wikipedia before. I personally know South Koreans and how good the education system is there.


    Maya, also info on religion and private schooling is provided above. Which makes me wonder. How much of the years of their education was spent in public education? Why weren’t they in private education all their life? Private education can be divided into religion, non profit, and for profit. Which category are they in now?

    Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Bahaism, and Scientology all have religous private schools.

    What is the role of both faith/religion and reason/science in education? In public education? In public education in states with seperation between church and state? In any school other than a religious school?

    1. The main role of religion in education in the Baha’i Faith is to mandate education. Especially in the arts and sciences. In a way, the Baha’i view of religion and faith mirrors its view of science—spiritual and scientific understanding should not (and I think at this point in our evolution CANNOT) be the province of a “priesthood” that alone understands how the spiritual or material world works.

      The Baha’i Writings say that science is the first emanation of God to man, so it makes sense that all should be educated in the way the physical world works.

      In some cases .what the religious schools teach is how the physical and spiritual worlds intersect and in the case of Baha’i schools, the emphasis is on raising up world-citizens who will dedicate much their efforts to the principle of the oneness of mankind and go out in the field to educate vulnerable populations in ways that will redound to their progress. For example. there is an emphasis among Baha’i work in India on literacy—especially among women and children. We’ve found that this has led to a weakening of the caste system among participants in these programs as women reach across caste boundaries to help each other.

      I think religion, in general, can help teach virtues which do not have particular sectarian focus. Honesty, patience, love, kindness, courage, trustworthiness, etc. have no party or sectarian affiliation. In the US, some Baha’i communities have been able to take non-denominational virtues and conflict resolution training into local high schools where the need is admittedly great. In Australia, where there is no “separation of church and state” (a phrase that does not appear in the constitution of the US, but was used by Thomas Jefferson) the government of New South Wales asked the Baha’is to provide virtues classes to students in their schools.

      The role of religion in education is varied. Of course there are places in the world where public education IS religious education. My personal POV is that whatever a parent wishes their child to know that the local schools do not teach, they will need to teach themselves or avail themselves of ancillary educational sources.


    I was reminded of this topic again because of a new book coming out (School Revolution by Ron Paul) and of an article on Waldorf School Teachers. They need a Bachelor’s degree minimum with a preference for higher degrees. A certificate in Waldorf Education is needed as well. They teach children and adolescents according to interdisciplinary, development orientated, natural, artistic principles. They get paid around $60,000 per year.

    I was just starting to look into alternative education systems, so I’m no expert. While I do say your proposals are good idea to help mitigate the broken education system, they don’t create a better system to replace it.

    1. We came very close to putting our oldest child in a Waldorf school, but ended up putting him in an independent charter. It came down, in the end, to a “chemistry” between him and a teacher as well as the way this charter taught using a holistic, interdisciplinary model.

      As far as “my” proposals go, they were not intended to be a silver bullet or even a detailed proposal for how to fix our broken educational system, but rather principles that we will need to take if we are to create a new paradigm. As it happens, the Baha’i community has educational experts exploring models for education and using them within the Baha’i community and in Baha’i sponsored schools. I am not part of that system except as a contributor to the Association of Baha’i Studies. I do teach the craft of writing and spent 15 years as a developer of computer-based adult training used to teach both technical and non-technical subjects, so I do have some knowledge of factors that aid learning.

      But exploring ways to replace the broken system isn’t my calling. It is, however, the calling of other Baha’is.

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