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What is the right way to educate a child? Countless educators, teachers, caregivers and parents privately struggle with this crucial question.
We often wonder if we are doing the right thing, sometimes letting our children take the reins, and other times enforcing discipline to such an extent that it leads them to rebel against our rules.
But instead of worrying about those issues, shouldn’t we be asking “What is the purpose of education? Why are children being educated?”
We read in the Baha’i writings that:
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.
… 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 …
The purpose of learning should be the promotion of the welfare of the people … True learning is that which is conducive to the well-being of the world, not to pride and self-conceit, or to tyranny, violence and pillage. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 168-169.
Baha’is believe that the purpose of true learning involves the acquisition of useful branches of knowledge, so we can use our skills to benefit humankind.
But what we see in our society is often so contrary to these beliefs. Children are sent to school to learn various branches of knowledge in order to choose a profession that is in-demand, and their choice of profession itself is often dependent on how much they will earn.
Now, if we step back and look at the big picture, what are we really doing?
We are raising a generation of people who live only for themselves, studying so they can work, working so they can earn, earning so they can spend, on an endless materialistic treadmill. No wonder, despite their success and their material gains, people are not happy.
Do we really want our children to spend the first quarter of their lives studying just so they can live for themselves and contribute nothing toward the welfare of humanity? Or, more importantly, does our society need people who will earn more and more money and keep it to themselves, thus widening the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor?
If not, then we can see that something needs to change—but where do we begin?
We can do many things, but here are two thoughts on how we can raise children who will have a meaningful impact on society, and leave the world a better place than they found it.
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 sciences 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. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 135-136.
How often do we neglect this vitally important character education aspect of our child’s training, only to find in later years that they do not respect us, are unkind to others, and develop qualities such as selfishness and arrogance? It is often too late to change them by then. The most important thing we can do as parents and educators is nurturing a child’s innate virtues and capacity for love, kindness, humility and selfless service to others:
The best way I have found to choose my direction in life has been to reflect on the reasons behind my decisions, and if my motives were pure I knew I would be making the right choice. It is not so important what art, craft or science a child wishes to engage in; what is more important is the why.
Countless noble professions offer people the opportunity to help society and provide some benefit to humanity. It is the simple difference between choosing to be a doctor to earn money or status, or choosing to be a doctor in order to help disadvantaged unwell people struggling with financial burdens. What a profound difference it would make to society if each person chose their calling with this question in mind: how will my profession, how will my studies, assist me to develop the necessary skills to serve humanity?
As parents and educators, it is our duty to instill these values in our children, to nurture them and guide them to become contributing members of society. We know that our educational system will one day reflect these values, and we see that the world is moving towards this vision, but we as parents, caregivers or teachers need to consciously inculcate in our children these spiritual values: a good character, a high sense of purpose, and a selfless desire to be of some good to every person who crosses their path.