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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Anyone for Joyful Learning?

Dear Friends,
I have been contemplating three topics over the past (nearly) two months.  One is in regards to children's classes and primary school in general.  Do you recall how you felt in a children's class and primary school when you were of tender years?  Did you find it to be a place of joy, discovery, and wonder?  If not, then - why not?

I have heard the use of two words that give me pause about any curriculum that weighs them more heavily than the concept of 'joy'.  Those two words are - 'substantive' and 'rigor'.

Substantive -
What portion of a curriculum is substantive for learning?
Do you suppose that memorizing facts is the substantive portion and all else is useless?
Recall that one of my previous articles mentioned memorization as a powerful technique.  Well, if I didn't make it clear in that article, then let me do so here.  Memorization is not the only technique to be used and should not be used to the exclusion of the creative arts, especially with children.  In fact, using the arts is substantive [read this article] and improves math, reading ability, and reasoning ability, among other intellectual and emotional areas of growth (including memorizing - count the number of lyrics you know).

I mention the creative arts because I have met people who see education through the eyes of the 19th century.  Education to them is substantive only if the classroom is orderly and the students listen attentively to the teacher.  Also, in this view, the teacher is the one speaking and the students merely copy his/her authoritative words.

Even recreational play is useful for both personal and social growth.  [Consider reading the following articles related to the benefits of playtime - (1), (2).]

When play takes on the form of organized play (creative arts), it can be the most effective method of teaching.    

From Abdu'l-Baha, "The art of music is divine and effective.  It is the food of the soul and spirit.  Through the power and charm of music the spirit of man is uplifted.  It has wonderful sway and effect in the hearts of children, for their hearts are pure, and melodies have great influence in them.  The latent talents with which the hearts of these children are endowed will find expression through the medium of music.  Therefore, you must exert yourselves to make them proficient; teach them to sing with excellence and effect.  It is incumbent upon each child to know something of music, for without knowledge of this art the melodies of instrument and voice cannot be rightly enjoyed (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.52)."

Also from Abdu'l-Baha, "The drama is of utmost importance.  It has been a great educational power in the past; it will be so again (Abdu'l-Baha in London, p.93)."

Imagine then a classroom where music and drama, in addition to other forms of artistic expression, are used regularly to form a truly substantive curriculum.

The term rigor has been used in public education quite often and I have been told of two definitions.  I had once heard that it meant a curriculum that included depth of knowledge in various subjects.  Today, it most often implies a curriculum that has the essential elements and facts necessary for a more complete understanding of a subject (i.e. the teacher has covered all of the details in a subject and not left anything important out).  The problem with today's use of the term is that, like most educational concepts, it gets used to justify outdated ways of teaching.  What do I mean by outdated?  All ways of teaching that have been shown to have either a detrimental effect or no effect on improving learning.

Definitions of rigor include:
1. strictness or severity, as in temperment, action, or judgment.
2. a harsh or trying circumstance; hardship.
3. a harsh or cruel act.

Which definition of rigor seems to apply to education?  Here is an article to read concerning rigor and joy by Alfie Kohn - click here

I ask you to look through the Baha'i Scripture and comment on rigor and joy in reference to education.  I'll do the same and look to add to this posting in the near future.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Virtuous Education

Who are you?  Are you good?  Are you bad?  Is what you are something that is unchanging?
Think back to when you were a child and imagine that your conversations were filled with the following words - assertiveness, caring, cleanliness, commitment, compassion, confidence, consideration, cooperation, courage, courtesy, creativity, detachment, determination, diligence, enthusiasm, excellence, flexibility, forgiveness, friendliness, generosity, gentleness, helpfulness, honesty, honor, humility, idealism, integrity, joyfulness, justice, kindness, love, loyalty, moderation, modesty, orderliness, patience, peacefulness, perseverance, purposefulness, reliability, respect, responsibility, self-discipline, service, tact, thankfulness, tolerance, trust, trustworthiness, truthfulness, understanding, and unity.

Now, imagine if those words were always brought up in a loving and positive manner (i.e. not shaming).  Then add this...assume that everyone has those virtues within and our task in life is to develop them.  From the tablet Kalimat-i-Firdawsiyyih (Words of Paradise) reflect on the following...
"Say: Honesty, virtue, wisdom, and a saintly character redound to the exaltation of man, while dishonesty, imposture, ignorance and hipocrisy lead to his abasement.  By My life! Man's distinction lieth not in ornaments or wealth, but rather in virtuous behavior and true understanding." - Baha'u'llah

Then from the Lawh-i-Dunya (Tablet of the World)...
"O people of God! I admonish you to observe courtesy, for above all else it is the prince of virtues.  Well is it with him who is illumined with the light of courtesy and is attired with the vesture of uprightness.  Whoso is endued with courtesy hath indeed attained a sublime station." - Baha'u'llah

When considering the potential within, we most often underestimate its ability to develop and its final influence and power to transform the world.  There are many writings from various faiths that focus on virtues.  I would think that most, if not all, people would find that individually developing the 52 virtues listed above can fundamentally change life as we know it.  Of course, these virtues should be balanced in their expression and a lifetime of virtues development is more realistic than pretending that you add them one by one like stones in a jar.  No one person extols these virtues perfectly, but to recognize them and encourage their development is noble.  Does your school encourage development of virtues?

In schools, virtues development is in the form of character education.  I am only familiar with The Virtues Project (being a recently certified facilitator) and am convinced that The Virtues Project as applied to schools would create an environment that would allow children to flourish academically, emotionally, and socially.  Take a look at Boston University's FAQ on character education here - FAQ.

Personally, I feel that any virtues development program within a school must be threaded throughout the curriculum and made explicit in all classes.  Virtues do not begin and end at the door of one classroom.  I would love to hear from you about any programs that are being used at your community's schools.  What are they?  How are they implemented?  What is their effect?

Lastly, please take a look at the 52 virtues listed above once more and consider how these are exemplified in your workplace, your home, and your daily interactions with others.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Intelligence and Reality

There is much to read on the topic of intelligence as it relates to education.  Individuals are measured by many tests - to derive their IQ, EQ, and many other quotients we deem important for learning.  Is intelligence a pure number?  Is there an algorithm that defines one's inner workings of the mind?  How does intelligence impact reality?  Here is the beginning of a much larger thought...

As I perused my graduate school books on the subject, I found thirteen definitions of intelligence ("Psychological Testing - History, Principles, and Applications (2nd Ed.)" by Robert J. Gregory  p.152-3, 1996).  I know, it is an old edition, but that's what I have.  Before reading the following definitions, write down on a blank sheet of paper your definition of intelligence.  (...done?)

Okay, now take a deep breath and read the definitions
from the aforementioned book and compare them to yours...

"Spearman (1904, 1923): a general ability which involves mainly the education of relations and correlates.

Binet and Simon (1905): the ability to judge well, to understand well, to reason well.

Terman (1916): the capacity to form concepts and to grasp their significance.

Pintner (1921): the ability of the individual to adapt adequately to relatively new situations in life.

Thorndike (1921): the power of good responses from the point of view of truth or fact.

Thurstone (1921): the capacity to inhibit instinctive adjustments, flexibly imagine different responses, and realize modified instinctive adjustments into overt behavior.

Wechsler (1939): the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with the environment.

Humphreys (1971): the entire repertoire of acquired skills, knowledge, learning sets, and generalization tendencies considered intellectual in nature that are available at any one period of time.

Piaget (1972): a generic term to indicate the superior forms of organization or equilibrium of cognitive structuring used for adaptation to the physical and social environment.

Sternberg (1985a, 1986): the mental capacity to automatize information processing and to emit contextually appropriate behavior in response to novelty; intelligence also includes metacomponents, performance components, and knowledge-acquisition components.

Eysenck (1986): error-free transmission of information through the cortex.

Gardner (1986): the ability or skill to solve problems or to fashion products which are valued within one or more cultural settings.

Ceci (1994): multiple innate abilities which serve as a range of possibilities; these abilities develop (or fail to develop, or develop and later atrophy) depending upon motivation and exposure to relevant educational experiences."

These are but a few definitions of intelligence.  The concept of intelligence has been framed using other words as well, such as emotional, social, multiple, and artificial.  My current preferred definition of intelligence is one that includes all aspects of one's ability to comprehend a reality and create new meaning.  'Meaning' itself has multiple definitions - 1, 2, and  3. Take a look at each linked set of definitions of 'meaning'.

An inventor is typically referred to as intelligent.  Inventors comprehend the properties of items in reality - their physical meanings - and combine these various items to create new meaning, new reality.  New properties emerge from combinations that never existed before.  It is astounding to think that we have the ability to transform the physical reality before us into a new reality.  Remove certain items from your current reality - the computer in front of you, the phone (most likely a mobile phone) nearby, the variety of machines that lessens your daily work, indoor plumbing, and even the materials with which the clothes, fabrics, furniture, and walls that surround you and what is your reality without them?  If you had no contact with such items before and you were provided them all at once, then would you be dumbfounded?  Would you be less intelligent for not comprehending them?  Would the world be anew?

Nature does this all of the time on a geologic time scale, but we do also have examples of items transforming with whole new characteristics.  What is an acorn?  What is an oak tree?  Is an acorn not an oak?  What is the difference between them - time? potential?  Add intelligence to this capacity of nature to transform and we have the ability to transform reality itself.

"The power of the Holy Spirit, enlightening man's intelligence, has enabled him to discover means of bending many natural laws to his will.  He flies through the air, floats on the sea, and even moves under the waters.  All this proves how man's intelligence has been enabled to free him from the limitations of nature, and to solve many of her mysteries.  Man, to a certain extent, has broken the chains of matter.  The Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavour to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love." - Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 37-38.

We have the intelligence to break 'the chains of matter' (with the clarification - 'to a certain extent').  We understand quite a lot about the development of an acorn to a mighty oak.  But, what are these 'greater powers than these' that are gained once we 'attune (our) heart(s) to the Divine infinite love'?

"The Heavenly Father gave the priceless gift of intelligence to man so that he might become a spiritual light, piercing the darkness of materiality, and bringing goodness and truth into the world." - Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 113-114.

Intelligence is not merely for material transformations, it should be used to bring 'goodness and truth into the world.'  So, when I write that intelligence "includes all aspects of one's ability to comprehend a reality and create new meaning" - it includes spiritual transformations.

"Progress is the expression of spirit in the world of matter.  The intelligence of man, his reasoning powers, his knowledge, his scientific achievements, all these being manifestations of the spirit, partake of the inevitable law of spiritual progress and are, therefore, of necessity, immortal.  My hope for you is that you will progress in the world of the spirit, as well as in the world of matter; that your intelligence will develop, your knowledge will augment, and your understanding be widened." - Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 90.

Intelligence and its application is a manifestation 'of the spirit' in our reality.  Even by the act of writing, it is "in itself, a sign of the writer's soul and intelligence." (ibid, pp. 91-92).

If we are to use the concept of intelligence to inform educational practices though, we must find a way to measure it, no?  How does one measure intelligence?  Can it be demonstrated by a student that is given a task to devise an answer to a mathematical problem?  Can it be demonstrated by a student when handling a dispute between classmates?  Can it be demonstrated by a student that provides help to others?  Can it be demonstrated by a student who collaborates well and uses creativity and critical thinking to organize information in a new way?  

The data we collect from such demonstrations will be dependent on our creativity in assessment. We collect data that is informative and leave the rest behind.  Therefore, not all data is collected.  So, if intelligence can be demonstrated in so many different ways, then to which data do we give priority?  Being self-aware that there is a limitation in this prioritization, then we must choose wisely.  A multiple choice exam for intelligence provides one data point, a portfolio another, a presentation another, a behavioral rubric another, etc.  But the prioritization will dictate the measures we record and therefore the category of intelligence in which we place the student.  We must be mindful of how that categorization of intelligence changes the ways we interact with a student.  Imagine if you label a student as highly intelligent and another as having low intelligence.  Do you challenge them differently?  If so, how?

Our expectations, as research shows, will be a force in determining the student's intellectual growth.  Educational practices impact our reality and the future reality of humanity - one person at a time.

I wonder...what are those "greater powers than these" mentioned earlier?  Perhaps they are something more than the material reality alone.  Perhaps, they are an illumination based on comprehension of the material world in light of virtuous teachings.  For example, imagine a world in which universal education promotes unity in diversity and oneness of humanity intertwined with the arts and sciences - what new realities would we create?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

ABS Tangents

Dear Friends,
Sorry to be so distant this past month.  I will post a few times this month in order to stir the blogging pot a bit more evenly.  

Tangent 1: Practical Application
I attended the most recent Association of Baha'i Studies meeting here in San Diego this past weekend and it was a good experience.  There were many Baha'is contemplating an assortment of ideas in relation to social cohesion.  Out of all of the talks, I believe that the presentation that spoke most to me about applying religious principles in a practical manner was from the CEO of Idea Connections Systems, Inc., Robert Rosenfeld.  Specifically, the Mosaic Partnerships Program stems from a simple idea (relatively) - foster friendship and trust among people in diverse race/ethnic backgrounds and organizational transformation can occur for the betterment of the organization and society.  You can read more about the program itself here - Mosaic Partnerships.  (I hope that Bob doesn't mind the oversimplification of his program in my blog.)

Tangent 2: Invoking Scripture Academically
Faculty from diverse backgrounds met at the ABS meeting as well.  It seems that there is a challenge to integrate one's faith with one's work.  Are you an academic?  Are you a faculty member, graduate student, undergraduate, etc.?  Would it make sense to invoke scripture when considering how best to conduct biochemistry research?  Or does invoking scripture make sense only in the humanities and arts?

Remember the Lawh-i-Maqsud (Tablet of Maqsud)?  The one that contains the quote "Regard man as a mine..." (see first post, if not).  Well, the last part of it that I quoted was,
"The Great Being saith:  The learned of the day must direct the people to acquire those branches of knowledge which are of use, that both the learned themselves and the generality of mankind may derive benefits therefrom.  Such academic pursuits as begin and end in words alone have never been and will never be of any worth."  So, doe that mean that basic scientific research is pointless?  Can you think of areas of academic pursuit that may fall into the 'never be of any worth' category?

In another passage, Baha'u'llah states in Bisharat (Glad Tidings), "The eleventh Glad Tidings - It is permissible to study sciences and arts, but such sciences as are useful and would redound to the progress and advancement of the people.  Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Ordainer, the All-Wise."

Consider the following example, someone asks you if it is important to study bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria) and how bacteria respond to them.  At first, it may seem to be an unimportant area of study, since bacteriophage infect bacteria one may think of them not having an impact on human health - so why study them?  Well, they have been studied and restriction enzymes were discovered.  The molecular 'scissors' that are used to cut DNA in the research lab for a variety of uses (the least of which is to be used in a forensics lab on CSI).

So, I ask you, as I asked my friends at the ABS meeting - in your area of academic interest (or study) - what counts as service?  Does it include invoking scripture?  Provide ten ways that you can provide service to society through your profession.

Time for me to go workout and contemplate the same.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Memorization and Understanding

How have you come to learn things in your life?  Recall the earliest example of learning at home, at school, etc. in your experience.  To memorize something simply means to "commit something to memory" and memory gives us the beautiful, and if you think about it - somewhat strange, capacity to not forget events, experiences, and bits of information.  What kinds of things enhance your ability to remember?  Your senses are a strong component of memory and, for many of us, visual cues burn information/experiences into our mind to the point that you can visualize it all over again many years later.

How great is your capacity to memorize?  Individuals have memorized the Quran, the Bible, the Hidden Words, among other sacred texts.  The capacity to memorize is amazing, especially among youth.  In the Baha'i writings, we are encouraged to memorize prayers and passages from the Sacred text for a multitude of reasons.  In 'A Compilation on Baha'i Education', it is mentioned that "The method of instruction which ye have established, beginning with proofs of the existence of God and the oneness of God, the mission of the Prophets and Messengers and Their teachings, and the wonders of the universe, is highly suitable.  Keep on with this.  It is certain that the confirmations of God will attend you.  It is also highly praiseworthy to memorize the Tablets, divine verses and sacred traditions.  Ye will surely exert every effort in teaching, and in furthering understanding (emphasis added)."  Not only is it suggested that whole sections of Sacred verse be memorized, in another section it states that "...there is no objection to children who are as yet unable to memorize a whole prayer learning certain sentences only."

Baha'u'allah revealed in a Tablet, "The sanctified souls should ponder and meditate in their hearts regarding the methods of teaching.  From the texts of the wondrous, heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages bearing on various instances, so that in the course of their speech they may recite divine verses whenever the occasion demandeth it, inasmuch as these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman.  So potent is their influence that the hearer will have no cause for vacillation.  I swear by My life!  This Revelation is endowed with such a power that it will act as the lodestone for all nations and kindreds of the earth."  It should be noted that Baha'u'llah is referring to teaching the Baha'i Faith and He is not explicitly making a statement on pedagogy or educational philosophy as it may apply to educational institutions.

However, memorizing the Baha'i writings for the purpose of transforming this world, through action that reflects those writings, provides "the greatest and mightiest talisman."  It is part of the process of attracting ("lodestone") "all nations and kindreds of the earth."  So, perhaps, memorization is important enough to be a part of the educational process in general and the choice of what to memorize is most important.

In relation to the classroom or any educational setting, memorization can be considered a tool to enhance, not replace, understanding.  How many of us have committed to memory something that has been less than meaningful?  How many of us have retained by memory something for an exam (which implies that at least someone else thinks it is meaningful) and then soon forgotten it?

In educational literature you may read the phrase 'rote memorization' or 'rote learning' and it can often be found juxtaposed with 'meaningful learning'.  By adding the word rote, it clarifies that the memorization process to be used is one without contemplation, without connection in one's mind.  Is this the type of memorization that is prescribed in the Baha'i writings?  

In schools, we utilize this strength, especially in primary level education, though we tend to overuse it in the secondary and post-secondary levels.  I recently was involved in a discussion that revealed to me that the other person believed that the act of memorizing anything is good for the development of "learning how to learn".  It reminded me of a long held belief that the mind is much like a muscle and can be improved by repetition.  To those of you who subscribe to using sudoku, crossword puzzles, and the like, I would agree that there is a measure of usefulness to those (other than amusement), but caution anyone who holds the "mind equals muscle" as a central teaching philosophy.

In fact, rote memorization is a common strategy for learning in many schools.  I submit to you this article - "The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching" by Martin Haberman.  The pedagogy of poverty is the general educational practice that has been reinforced in urban schools.  I believe that rote memorization is central to this pedagogy, since it fits with the teacher-centered (dominated) classroom that provides knowledge as opposed to providing opportunities to be empowered by learning.

To close, memorization is powerful and, when used wisely to build a meaningful framework, it can enhance understanding.  However, understanding comes with time, experience, and collaborative environments.  Think of all of your experiences in Baha'i Study Circles (Ruhi courses).  We memorize passages and then go beyond this and understand through collaboration in loving and supportive environments.  It is a joy to be a part of them.  Wouldn't we want our children to experience such joy when learning other things as well?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Language, Learning, and Lodestones

I love language, though I am not a linguistic professional.  I love the arts - especially film and theater, in which I have performed.  Language used by a character reveals much about them - their moral compass, passions, strengths, weaknesses, perception of reality, etc.  Sometimes the language can be crude and downright ugly.  

The strength of language can be understood in this passage, "Beware lest ye shed the blood of any one.  Unsheathe the sword of your tongue from the scabbard of utterance, for therewith ye can conquer the citadels of men's hearts." (Baha'u'llah, 'Epistle to the Son of the Wolf'

So powerful is a word that it is equated with a sword.  This is not the first use of such language.  Take a look at Proverbs 12:18 in the Bible - "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

What kinds of words are 'reckless', when teaching?  Can a wise person use strong language?

When I performed on stage and used certain curses that fit the character, I was not disturbed by the words.  When I watched "Freedom Writers", "25th Hour", and "Goodwill Hunting" (to name a few) for the first time, the strong language fit the characters and didn't shock me.  Do I use this language in my everyday vernacular?  No.  Do I think that it is appropriate to spew such language for effect?  No.  I have watched films and heard everyday people use strong language and, at times, it just doesn't make sense.  But, when a person is deeply in pain (physically or mentally) - a primal scream seems logical.  You may ask - what does this have to do with learning?  Well, a teacher was recently suspended for 18 months for using the book "Freedom Writers' Journal" in class - even after getting 149 approvals out of 150 from parents.  You can read the details here - LINK 

Now, I don't claim to know intimate details of the situation and won't claim who is in the right, but the story is one for us to consider how language can be used to engage students.  I tend, rightly or wrongly, when speaking with someone to begin to blend my accent with theirs.  I believe this is a subconscious way to fit in and empathize.  It doesn't mean that I use the same strong language - but mimicking another (of which I became conscious of it after college) has an effect of opening up the conversation and walls begin to fall (perhaps conquering those citadels?), such that a connection can be made.  Isn't this what some, if not all, teachers do?  They connect (not to be confused with becoming like another student) and are better able to find those 'gems within' or help the student discover those 'gems within' himself/herself.

After reading the link above, you know that the book that the teacher shared with her students was filled with strong language.  It also demonstrates individual transformation and empowerment over the course of the book.  The transformation and empowerment was of individual students in similar life situations as those who were reading it.  The characters in the journal (real students and real journal entries in a class from L.A.) were models of transformation.  

How does the following quote fit with the aforementioned situation?

"A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men.  It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding" - Baha'u'llah, from 'Epistle to the Son of the Wolf'

As Baha'is we are to have seemly conduct.  In the Book of the Covenant, Baha'u'llah states, 
"Verily I say, the tongue is for mentioning what is good, defile it not with unseemly talk.  God hath forgiven what is past.  Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men."  In the same book He states, "We exhort you to fear God, to perform praiseworthy deeds and to do that which is meet and seemly and serveth to exalt your station."

Can strong language, when understood in context, be used to exalt one's station?  Can it be used to transform lives, to connect one's soul to one's true destiny and shake the dust from these shells called 'selves'?  Watch Anis Mojgani (two-time national and recent world slam poetry champion who is also Baha'i) perform his poem 'Shake the Dust'.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film 'Freedom Writers', is one that includes a student reading his journal entry recalling his summer.  He is the boy who begins with "This summer was the worst summer of my short 14 years of life..." - LINK
When watching the film, I thought that this had to be rewritten to increase the drama and make the audience cry.  Well, apparently it was lifted directly from a student's journal (the director stated as such).  These students were transformed and empowered - what more do we want?

I can see many tangents from this topic - the use of language to control, language as a political or power play, language as a divisive tool.  I leave you to take it where it may go in the comments.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Regard Man as a Mine

How many times have you seen the following quote used in relation to education?

Let's look at it in two ways..."as is" and "in context".


Well, I have not only seen it used many times, but use it as a foundational statement for my company.  In regards to my educational philosophy, I make meaning of this statement in light of current constructivist, learner-centered concepts of education.  The first line tells me that an educator shouldn't consider herself as providing gems of knowledge to a student (as if the student is a blank slate), but rather should approach the student as filled with unknown potentials.  These unknown potentials could include knowledge of topics/subjects, understandings of processes, and spiritual qualities such as empathy, humility, and patience (I can expand on these in another blog as critical-thinking qualities as well).
If the educator wishes to improve learning, then she must know as much about these unknown potentials as possible.  Many educators today are investigating and learning about the importance about identifying student's misconceptions/preconceptions.  There is much to be gained in regards to effective teaching when one first learns what the student knows.  But the quote is more meaningful than identifying knowledge.  It helps to remind me that the student before me is not static and has latent transformative (both individual and societal) power within them.  This makes me, as an educator, humble and more collaborative with the student, as opposed to talking down or at him.

The second line in the aforementioned quote, reminds me that this complex process called education is what allows the untapped potential to be identified and then expressed for the benefit of humanity.  What?!  Does that mean that education is NOT a process that creates individuals in a cookie-cutter fashion with knowledge for the sake of a good job or participation in democracy or academic enlightenment?  Well, it surely means to me that the over-arching goal of education is the betterment of humanity - so we cannot use education for mere employment purposes.  How do you interpret the second line?


Click the quote above (or link at the end of this sentence) and you'll be sent to a useful search engine for Baha'i text and an original tablet that contains the quote (Lawh-i-Maqsud, Tablet of Maqsud).  Just prior to the quote is the following...

"Man is the supreme Talisman.  Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess.  Through a word proceeding out of the mouth of God he was called into being; by one word more he was guided to recognize the Source of his education; by yet another word his station and destiny were safeguarded."

The word 'talisman' is defined as 'something that confers on its bearer supernatural powers'.  What might that mean?  Well, the words that follow the quote may help.  Here are the immediate words following the quote and selected sentences, in order, from the rest of the tablet.  (By the way, you may have noticed that the quotes use masculine forms when referring to individuals - he, his.  That is simply due to the translation from the original language to English - in my humble understanding.  I choose to mix and match in my writing, since English has no useful neutral term.)

"If any man were to meditate on that which the Scriptures, sent down from the heaven of God's holy Will, have revealed, he would readily recognize that their purpose is that all men shall be regarded as one soul, so that the seal bearing the words 'The Kingdom shall be God's' may be stamped on every heart, and the light of Divine bounty, of grace, and mercy may envelop all mankind."

Oneness of humanity becomes a primary purpose of education.  This is in the light of scripture, but, if one acknowledges that all knowledge is linked and compartmentalization of knowledge into subjects (such as biology, chemistry, etc.) is a useful, but artificial, separation of Truth, then the primary purpose of all education is oneness of humanity.  What does the phrase 'oneness of humanity' mean to you?

Later (paragraph 6) it is stated...
"The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones!  The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers.  Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.  We cherish the hope that the light of justice may shine upon the world and sanctify it from tyranny."

Unity (not uniformity) and the oneness of humanity are inextricably linked concepts.  Are they the same?  I must consider these for another time, but it is interesting to note that in a tablet that contains the aforementioned quote about education has both.  What does it mean, if anything, for how schools are organized?

In paragraph 13, it is stated...
"The Great Being saith:  Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth."

This reinforces the framework in which education is to be used.  Students should have a grander perspective of their place and function in society.

And most interesting (paragraphs 17 and 18)...
"At the outset of every endeavour, it is incumbent to look to the end of it.  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.

The Great Being saith:  The learned of the day must direct the people to acquire those branches of knowledge which are of use, that both the learned themselves and the generality of mankind may derive benefits therefrom.  Such academic pursuits as begin and end in words alone have never been and will never be of any worth."

So, education is not an end, it is a means to an end.  It is the individual's responsibility to have the greater good in mind when pursuing knowledge and that pursuit should lead to action.  Well, I must go now and tend to my non-virtual world.  I hope to meditate on these words and provide a follow-up that is more of my own thoughts as well.  Take care.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Beginning

Today I am starting an open reflection on how the phrase 'Baha'i Education' transforms my reality and becomes a reality.  This is a test, only a test of one person's view.  It is in no way an official view of Baha'i education and does not claim to be the 'right' view.  It is evolving and to foster that evolution through feedback and simply mirroring my own words, this blog has been created.