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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.


Mark S said...

By the way, is there any other scripture that contains the quote? Since this is a letter written to an individual, it seems that it is more of a compilation of writings. Just wondering.

Cathy H said...

I enjoyed reading your blog after learning about it from a post at Baha'i Thought. You made a statement that "students should have a grander perspective of their place and function in society." Yes, most definitely! Our educational systems should encourage individuals to find their place in the world -- not just to nurture their unique talents and abilities for their own personal fulfillment, but to explore how they can contribute to the greater good.

otownsend said...

I agree. Wouldn't it be cool to have a school that student's would be able to attend for free as long as they come up with their own way to give back to the community. In return it would be subsidized or sponsored by the community somehow.

Phillipe Copeland said...

I've often thought of the metaphor of "mining" as something that educators should reflect on as much as the part about the "gems". Mining is a dangerous thing to do and takes place largely in the dark in the deep places of the earth. It would seem that if education is like mining we are being warned that it is a challenging activity that involves risks and possibly disappointments as discovering the gems is not guaranteed.

Excellent post!