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Having attended a session with the International Teaching Centre Counselor Stephen Hall, thoughts related to the topic of the spiritual education of children and junior youth (CJY).have been with me.  I will begin with a paragraph from a previous entry that started out on the topic but then veered off on a tangent.

 

At the core of all this, I believe, is a passionate commitment within me to witness change in the Bahai Community where we move away from a quantitative analysis to one with a qualitative emphasis that sows the seeds of development. More specifically, the discourse needs to focus on the quality of experiences that CJY are having as a result of their participation in these programs & activities.  In order to approach the task in a methodical way, I will employ a tri-partite framework that explores:

  • The education of CJY;
  • The role of CJY in the 5 Year Plan;
  • The International teaching Centre's vision regarding what we know and what we really don't know about this field.

The education of CJY has been the focus of several communications from the Supreme Institution.  In a recent letter (get the date) mention is made of the dislocation of the CJY worldwide and their involvement in slavery, pronography, war, victimization, physical, mental, spiritual and sexual abuse, and many more atrocities to which they are increasingly subjected.  This dark reality seems to be the perfect springboard for gaining an understanding of exactly why it is that we have been asked to invoke an outward looking orientation in our activities with this population where all the CJY in our neighborhood are our responsibility.  The only solution to the plight of the children of the world is, unmistakably, the vitality of the Plan in such wise that there is a synergy between this injustice that is addressed by the Plan and the process of growth in which the spiritual education of CJY is the first and most foundational activity.  In this milieu, both the Rulers and the Learned of Baha need to train new human resources to meet the needs of CJY.

A starting point for this initiative may be to conduct a survey to determine the needs of a given community with both imagination and courage.  In this way, we may effectively reach out and overcome older mindsets about the whole matter.  One notion that must be dispelled through this process is the false idea that by reahing out to the children of the wider community, we are somehow watering down classes for our children thereby harming the efficacy of them forming Bahai identities.  What is a true and lasting Bahai identity for our CJY if not that of acting as a "...throbbing artery pulsating in the body of the entire creation, that from the heat generated by this motion there may appear that which will quicken the hearts of those who hesitate?"  This is exactly what happens when our CJY are involved in a grass-roots community building outreach program where they are co-architects of the blueprint for the spiritual education of themselves and of others their own age and older.  We are asking our CJY to move away from being passive receptacles of virtues, religious stories and historical facts to that of heroes and heroins acting as agents of change in the age in which they live where their young lives are reverberating to the frequency of the Zeitgeist.  In fact, who the CJY are and how they see themselves in relation to their peers as Bahais will forever be transformed through tehir participation in this revolutionary process.  Furthermore, no serious attempt on our part at community building can ignore the moral and spiritual education of CJY because it serves as the best means for strengthening the roots of the Faith in the community. 

The Messages from the House and from the ITC are replete with instructions explaining that:

  • CJY cannot be seen and treated as mere adjuncts;
  • CJY must be trained to give speeches with clarity and eloquence;
  • CJY ought to receive a training that empowers them to be devoted to the service of all humankind;
  • CJY must become effective teachers of the Cause because the true source of purpose in this world is diffusing the divine fragrances;
  • CJY play a key and unique role in the advancement of the Plan-one that is vastly different from adults.  We must find the means by which CJY can play their roles in this process.
At the World Centre, a paper was developed recently that identifies the characteristics and operating principles for Bahai Education, which I have termed The Magna Carta of Bahai Education:
  1. The spiritual education of CJY should be open to all within a neighborhood context;
  2. The spiritual education of CJY is an integrity-based portal to Entry by Troops in such wise that it is not a means to the end of converting the masses, but rather an end in itself by responding to the moral and spiritual needs of CJY.  The fact that entire families are attracted to and respond to the call of the Beloved after seeing the positive changes in their children is a natural by-product of the process and is neither controlled nor mediated by us;
  3. The spiritual education of CJY is a sign of the maturation of our collective consciousness of our responsibility for the spiritual education of the children of the world;
  4. The spiritual education of CJY invites mothers and children to move away from the periphery of community life by participating in a dynamic child-development centered community;
  5. The spiritual education of CJY requires that teachers be in a perpetual state of transformation where they become co-learners with the children both spiritually and pedagogically.  One central question that emerges under this heading relates to how well the teachers are supported in this process. The teachers gain rich and significant insights continually and be cognizant of the fact that as educators involved in Bahai education, they stand at the forefront of the education of the world while drawing upon both the material and spiritual lines of knowledge. 
  6. The spiritual education of CJY requires that the curriculum be founded upn the Word of God thereby transcending cultural bonds and ties, with service to humanity replaces knowledge as the foundational axis around which the curriculum revolves.  Knowledge and its acquisition become mere components of an educational system that seeks to change the world.;
  7. The spiritual education of CJY bears, as a natural outcome, the fruit of CJY becoming teachers of the Faith where there is an intimate link between the growth of the Faith and the development of the community at large.
ISSUES AND CHALLENGES

WHAT WE KNOW:

 

  • That there is high receptivity to Baha’u’llah in any community where effective Bahai children’s classes have been conducted on a consistent basis;
  • That our trained children’s class teachers are highly under-utilized;
  • That Bahai children’s classes are being carried out as activities lacking joyfulness and deep meaning;
  • That, as a result of not using supplemental materials along with the Ruhi books, children are being exposed to a repetition of the same materials over and over again;
  • That children themselves aren’t engaged in a process of action and reflection as a capacity building endeavor;
  • That the capacity of Bahai children as teachers of the Cause is under developed;
  • That there is no real on-going development of Bahai class teachers within a process of action/reflection…along these lines, the House has asked that there be what they have termed “encounters” between these teachers where they come together in a climate of learning in order to sharpen their pedagogic and spiritual skills and tool sets.

 

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: 

  •  The number of Book 3A graduates;
  •  Whether those tutoring Books 3 & 3A are themselves practitioner children’s class teachers;
  •  The age ranges of children participating in Bahai classes;
  •  How widely the Bahai lesson plans are being used throughout the community at large;
  •  The extent of supplemental materials being used;
  •  The quality of experiences of the children in these classes;
  •  The level and quality of teacher development;
  •  The proportion of the classes that are actually neighborhood classes;
  •  What percentage of children participating in Bahai children’s classes are actually graduating into the Jr. Youth classes;
  •  The extent to which secular knowledge and methodology in being employed in Bahai children’s classes;
  •  The extent to which early learners are being exposed to creative learning in play environments;
  •  The extent to which children’s parents are being expected to be engaged in and participating in their children’s classes.

  

POINTS FOR CONSIDERATION:

 

  • The fact is, that if we see children as agents of change, then their transformation will naturally impact the lives of their families;
  • Teachers must have the boldness to provide their insights about the spiritual development of these people’s children through the identification and development of strengths;
  • The service project/practical aspect of the neighborhood children’s classes involves the process of implementing the lessons in the upcoming week in their lives;
  • We must move away from a narrow interpretation of what is valuable and must plug people’s passions into the core activities;
  • Finally, each one of us must ask this question:
    • What targets am I setting for myself in my neighborhood and what strategies am I planning to create and follow to accomplish these goals?



 

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