While we strive to assist our children’s spiritual and character development, we cannot neglect another important area that affects their personal growth and prosperity: education.
Education is an unquestioned necessity for the advancement of our greater society. The importance of creating a culture of learning for our children cannot be overemphasized—which is why the Baha’i teachings call for universal compulsory education for all children:
It is incumbent upon the father and mother to train their children both in good conduct and the study of books; study, that is, to the degree required, so that no child, whether girl or boy, will remain illiterate. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 127.
We need to see education not just as a period of early childhood training, but as a progressive lifetime pursuit that allows children to advance beyond the ability to read and write, so that they can comprehend nuance and conceptual associations within the written word. Such a view sees education as a never-ending process, the goal of which is not be merely to become literate but to become learned.
This is something we can instill in our children by example—by being lifelong learners ourselves, and to demonstrate to our children the joys of learning. To render a good example is the responsibility of both parents; however, the mother is usually the first person the child bonds with, and she therefore has a greater influence over that learning process. The Baha’i teachings make this very clear:
The mother is the first teacher of the child. For children, at the beginning of life, are fresh and tender as a young twig, and can be trained in any fashion you desire. If you rear the child to be straight, he will grow straight, in perfect symmetry. It is clear that the mother is the first teacher and that it is she who establisheth the character and conduct of the child. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet translated from the Persian.
O ye loving mothers, know ye that in God’s sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them in all the perfections of humankind; and no nobler deed than this can be imagined. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 139.
In fact, the Baha’i teachings indicate that in the matter of education, if parents are faced with having to choose between educating their sons or daughters, they are enjoined to educate their daughters first. This is because of the role that these future mothers will eventually play in their own children’s education:
“All former religions,” Abdu’l-Baha said, “gave man a higher station than woman, but Baha’u’llah has declared that they are equal in all conditions and degrees.” – The Baha’i World, Volume 2, p. 233.
For Baha’is, the primary importance of this principle relates to the fact that parents who can afford to educate only one child should give preference to a daughter over a son, because mothers are the first educators:
… the education of woman is more necessary and important than that of man, for woman is the trainer of the child from its infancy. If she be defective and imperfect herself, the child will necessarily be deficient; therefore, imperfection of woman implies a condition of imperfection in all mankind, for it is the mother who rears, nurtures and guides the growth of the child. … If the educator be incompetent, the educated will be correspondingly lacking. This is evident and incontrovertible. Could the student be brilliant and accomplished if the teacher is illiterate and ignorant? The mothers are the first educators of mankind; if they be imperfect, alas for the condition and future of the race. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 133-134.
Thus the Baha’i emphasis on ensuring that women are well educated and prepared to see to all of the requisite components of their children’s proper emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual development. This principle does not contradict the Baha’i teachings that all children regardless of gender should be educated, and that fathers have an equally important role to play in providing for the children’s education; it simply reinforces the high value that is placed on the education of women. In a well-functioning community a family should be able to receive support for their children’s education, for it is in the community’s best interests to ensure that the educational needs of all children are met:
Education and training are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary. That is, it is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 126-127.