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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Competition Against the Self

When we use competition against another person to improve ourselves, we can make great gains athletically and mentally. Competition against the other is a strong theme in the United States culture. We use references to battles, wars, and fights to spur our development off of the real battlefield. Our school mascots are a variety of warrior symbols and predators. Survival of the fittest in the worst perversion of Darwin's most elegant idea is applied to our children and each other.

We are at the same time improved by this competition and denigrated to our base material selves. By constantly keeping our eyes and mind on what the other is, we are losing our sense of self, our true selves. I am not proposing that we remove competition with others from our culture. However, I am proposing that we recognize its limitations and that it is used too often.

Some will encourage a child to 'be the best you can be', but then follow that be encouraging the child to compare him or herself to another child not only as an exemplar but as a form to become. We don't even recognize that the two concepts are fundamentally in conflict. If I am to be the best that I can be, then I should utilize the exemplar to consider my current station and reflect on my being and compete against the self.

Each day is a chance to learn more about my current station, see inward and challenge myself to improve, a little at a time. If I recognize that within me is great potential, those myriad of gems, then I can take it upon myself to cut them, to polish them and make the best me I can be. So, I encourage students to be reflective at times and challenge themselves to improve against the self and not against the other.  Therefore, how should the home and school encourage such development and actions?  I leave that to you.

"Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty."

"Through the Teachings of this Day Star of Truth every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been endowed."

(Both are from Baha'u'llah, you can read the full text here --> Gleanings )

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning Objectives of Life

From time to time, I contemplate the learning objectives of a lesson or activity.  They tend to be most easily filled with simple concepts that we call facts.  The learning objectives of an entire course of study end up being encyclopedic tomes that, though impressive, can be satisfying to the intellect but a disappointment to the soul.

I have for the last several years been developing a instructional framework that I call the Mining Gems Model.  You can read more about it here --> HERE, but the part I want to mention that is its keystone, if you will, is virtues.  This isn't just my opinion, but teachers and parents who have attended a seminar or workshop of mine have been drawn to that part of the model.  They agree with the profound, yet simple, quote from Abdu'l-Baha that states, "Every child is potentially the light of the world--and at the same time its darkness."  The full context of the quote can be found here ---> HERE. Abdu'l-Baha also stated, "Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning. A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved - even though he be ignorant - is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the science and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light."

And it is with this that I meditate on the question, "What are our life's learning objectives?"  It is to absorb encyclopedic information in order to pass an exam?  Is it to receive high marks, to earn a high income, to own many things?

Well, perhaps here is one quote to start the conversation with...

"All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names. Let others partake of its waters in My name, that the leaders of men in every land may fully recognize the purpose for which the Eternal Truth hath been revealed, and the reason for which they themselves have been created." - Baha'u'llah (emphasis added)

How do we empower students to 'carry forward an ever-advancing civilization'?  I propose that lessons need to have two, intertwined parts.  One part of the lesson contributes to gaining subject knowledge and understanding, while the second part contributes to the growth of the child's virtues.  At times virtues are taught by example, while at other times virtues are the explicit objective of the lesson itself.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Model of Behavior

As a parent I am aware, not all of the time, of my behavior when in the presence of my child.  What I do and what I say will alter her reality, her understanding, and her ability to express virtues in this world.  I fail at times and sometimes I succeed in small measure.  I don't ponder this to a level of immobilization or fear, but I check myself from time to time and many times ask, "Did she just replicate what I do?"  And my response to that question is either "Oh no." or "That's nice."

I wonder however, when parents start having difficulties with a child's behavior do they analyze themselves, their home environment, their words and deeds and ask, "How might these things contribute to reinforcing my child's undesirable behaviors and how they might contribute to reinforcing his/her desirable behaviors?"

If my child acts out inappropriately, then have I displayed that behavior as an adult?  Have I given permission, by deed, that acting out is commendable?  Do I expect respect, when the subtle actions I have with my child deem respecting them as unworthy of my time?

Please don't misunderstand me, I don't agree with the idea that my child is above me and should be treated as a spoiled princess having all things done for her at a moment's notice.  I do think though that she has a noble station and if I can show her respect by acknowledging her interests by commenting on a drawing as she requests, "Daddy, take a look at this" and just giving into the shared moment, then I will do it.  Also, I will respect her by asking her to wait patiently when I cannot be interrupted and then following through with recognizing her use of the virtue of patience when I am ready.

When she was younger, the time period she could wait without being frustrated was short but over time I have reinforced the display of patience from one minute to now many minutes.  This is one example of applying patience and caring.  Do I always excel at this?  No.  But I try to remind myself of my nobel nature and her's and the power of another virtue used so little by ourselves, for ourselves - forgiveness.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Woman's Place - Respect Begins Early

A woman's place is...(you finish the statement).  

Some quotes concerning a woman's place from the Baha'i writings include...

"The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world's population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavor will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge."

"Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God."

You can read a wonderful statement titled, "Advancing the Status of Women" HERE.

In regards to education, it is my contention that the advancement of the status of women begins at home.  Is your home a place of respect for all?  Is it a place that respects women?  Is the power of Baha'i consultation utilized or do traditions and cultural expectations overrule this priceless gift?

I have watched as mother's are disrespected by their children at a very early age, while the father is either treated in a similar manner or is the authoritative figure in the family.  Can you hear the stereotypical phrase, "Well, you wait until your father gets home!" I am not recommending that the mother become an authoritarian and practice 'tough love' or some similar method with their children.  What I am asking is for reflection on the boundaries we provide for children.  Does the leeway I give my child disrespect me?  Does it disrespect them in that it teaches them the wrong lesson of the status of women?

I ask you to consider what actions, small ones even, can build a disrespectful framework for the status of women in the eyes, mind, and heart of a child?  Looking forward to your thoughts.