The Baha’i teachings revere and honor education—and say that spiritual education, as well as academic learning, can transform us:
Every child is potentially the light of the world—and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance. From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God’s love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 130-131.
In this new era, one of the primary Baha’i principles—universal compulsory education—has begun to spread around the world. It has been adopted as one of the most important goals of the United Nations, and has become extremely important in countries everywhere:
It is for this reason that, in this new cycle, education and training are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary. – Ibid., pp. 126-127.
Baha’is believe that parents have an imperative duty to educate their children. They should care for their growth and development, and make sure their children receive the best possible education. If they neglect that duty they are held responsible in the sight of God:
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. Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord. – Ibid., pp. 126-127.
This parental duty isn’t just restricted to formal schooling, however. The Baha’i teachings say education is of three kinds: material, human, and spiritual. Material education is concerned with the physical health and well-being of the child. Human education is about academic and intellectual learning. But spiritual education is divine education—which confers true knowledge about the human soul and its journey. That early spiritual education, including the inner guidance so necessary for the shaping of a child’s moral character, will have an impact throughout the child’s entire life:
It is the bounden duty of parents to rear their children to be staunch in faith, the reason being that a child who removeth himself from the religion of God will not act in such a way as to win the good pleasure of his parents and his Lord. For every praiseworthy deed is born out of the light of religion, and lacking this supreme bestowal the child will not turn away from any evil, nor will he draw nigh unto any good. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet translated from the Persian.
This kind of spiritual education must begin as early as the stage of infancy, while the child is pure and adaptable:
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. But if not, then from faulty training it will grow bent, and stand awry, and there will be no hope of changing it. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 139.
Beginning at conception, through the entire pregnancy and in the earliest stages of life, the mother is the first educator and companion of the child. The Baha’i teachings urge mothers to nurture their children with God’s love and spirituality, so that he or she becomes the radiant light that illumines the world:
Thus from the very beginning mothers must rear their infants in the cradle of good morals—for it is the mothers who are the first educators—so that, when the child cometh to maturity, he will prove to be endowed with all the virtues and qualities that are worthy of praise.
And further, according to the Divine commandments, every child must learn reading and writing, and acquire such branches of knowledge as are useful and necessary, as well as learning an art or skill. The utmost care must be devoted to these matters; any neglect of them, any failure to act on them, is not permissible. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.
Wherefore, 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.