Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 4

I find the structure of the letters from the Universal House of Justice fascinating. They always seem to begin by telling  us what we have achieved, continue by re-framing what we think we know, and then telling us what we need to do. They also always end with a loving paragraph of great encouragement. Come to think of it, this also defines the structure of the letters from the Guardian.

In this particular one, we move through the introduction, the re-framing, and right into 6 paragraphs about the institute process. This process, or method of learning, is so important that nearly 20% of letter is dedicated to it.

From there, we move into paragraphs 13 through 15, which all deal with classes for the spiritual education of children.

It seems to me, reading into this letter, that there may have been a bit of dichotomy once again showing up in some parts of the world, and the Universal House of Justice, through mercy and wisdom, is guiding us through this into a state of unity.

They point out that there have been two types of classes prevalent in the world. The first is one that has arisen out of an effective type of class that was traditional in Iran. This has been offered to Baha'i children, with a focus on basic Baha'i teachings and history. It was also systematic, from grade to grade, and regular in occurance. The obvious advantage to this has been generations of stalwart believers. The disadvantage has been a traditionally smaller class size.

The second type of class has been more open to the greater community. The advantage has been high numbers. The disadvantage has been irregularity of classes, and a lack of coherent curriculum from grade to grade.

The wonderful development which they are pointing out is an increasing merging of these two types of classes.

I remember one friend of mine was just beginning a children's class in her home, and she was so nervous about mentioning Baha'u'llah or 'Abdu'l-Baha. She thought she might just remove the stories of the Central Figures from the curriculum offered in Ruhi Book 3, or in some other curricula she found.  "Why", I asked, "would you do that?"

"Because people freak out when they hear about religion. I think they'll pull their children if they hear about the Central Figures."

"Would you be concerned if you told stories of Gandhi? Or Martin Luther King, Jr?"

"Oh no, of course not."

"Why not?"

"Well, everyone knows them. They were good, moral people who helped..." And she trailed off.

"Exactly. And so are the Master and the Blessed Beauty. I don't think people will be scared away by hearing stories about Them. I think they'll be scared away by being told that they must become Baha'i. Or worse, that their children must become Baha'i. So just tell the stories to exemplify the point of your class. Leave the rest up to them."

By simply trying it, including Baha'i history and teachings in a direct manner, just like she did with her all-Baha'i class, she found out that the families were far more comfortable than she thought they would  be. To me, this was a perfect example of including the strengths of each of these types of classes: the history and teachings, open to all.

What I have found sad is when I hear of Baha'i parents who had taken their children out of the second type of class because "it didn't have enough Baha'i material". Why not? I mean, why wasn't there Baha'i material in the class in the first place?

Fortunately, this has been corrected in every case I have heard of. Oh sure, it required a lot of consultation between the parents and the teachers, usually with the help of the local institutions, but they did consult. And solutions were found. In almost every case the problem was due to fear on the part of the teacher, and a lack of trust on the part of the concerned parent. Open communication, looking at the spiritual principles, diving into the Writings, and a bit of actual experience solved every single case.

Now we just need to work on regularity.

That has been the challenge with my own classes, the ones in my neighbourhood.

We have the children. Check.

The children are from diverse backgrounds. Check. (Hmm. I'm not sure you could get more diverse, but I won't go into that here.)

They hear about the stories of the Faith. Check.

They pray and memorize quotes. Check.

They meet at least once a week. Check. (Although I do wish they'd be more often.)

They go year round. Hmm. Not check. These classes follow the school year here, from October to June.

In the class I'm thinking of, the children regularly attend nearly every week for nine months. Now, that's fantastic. It really is the odd time that any of them miss a class. In fact, most of them get together a second day each week for a home schooling class, and this one is taught in rotation between all the parents, half of whom are not Baha'i. This is such a wonderful development.

But it wasn't easy. And it still isn't easy. My friend, Svetlana, does a tremendous amount of work putting together the classes for these children (I have to give credit where it's due), and she is awesome at always sending home a letter to the parents explaining what each class covered. She has single-handedly brought together the families involved in this class.

I am reminded of a quote from the Master about children's classes. We always read about how wonderful this service is, and how important it is. But He also gives us a warning and a caution: "If this activity is well organized, rest thou assured that it will yield great results. Firmness and steadfastness, however, are necessary, otherwise it will continue for some time, but later be gradually forgotten. Perseverance is an essential condition. In every project firmness and steadfastness will undoubtedly lead to good results; otherwise it will exist for some days, and then be discontinued."

In other words, it ain't easy. Organizing and teaching children's classes require a great deal of firmeness and steadfastness, patience and perseverence. I'm so glad that there are others in the community to help. I cna't imagine doing it alone.

And this is perhaps why the Universal House of Justice, in this letter, is seeming to ask the International Teaching Centre to "give special consideration to the implementation of Baha'i children's classes."

Perhaps the incredible strides we have made forward in the other areas of the Faith will now be seen in this area, with the concentrated assistance and guidance from the ITC. It is, after all, "a requisite of the community-building process gathering momentum in neighbourhoods and villages." And, as they caution us, it is "a demanding task, one that calls for patience and cooperation on the part of parents and institutions alike." Seems like we've heard that caution from somewhere else.

Oh, and once again we are guided to make it our own, not just to see whatever comes out of the Ruhi curriculum as a script. Although we are given the hope of more course outlines for the different grade of classes, they refer to it as "the core of a programme for the spiritual education of children, around which secondary elements can be organized." In other words, like Anna's presentation, this is not a script to be followed in every class in the world. Every country, town, neighbourhood, and even each child, is unique. Like the teaching work, we need to understand the underlying logic and use it to teach souls.

But until we get those outlines, we just need to do our best. And when we do that, with the guidance and assistance of the World Centre, we will learn even more about how to do it better.

So if there are any members of the International Teaching Centre who are reading this, and want to accompany me, feel free to come on by.


  1. I posted an introduction to the paradigmatic shift in the Baha’i community, the new culture of learning and growth that is at the heart of this paradigm, nearly three years ago. I did this posting at several internet sites and have revised that post in these last three years as developments in the paradigm have come about, as new messages from Bahá'í institutions have been published and as many individuals have commented verbally and in print on this new Baha'i culture. It seemed like a good idea to give readers some specific steps on how to access this now revised article, what is now a book of more than 160,000 words and more than 350 pages and is found at Baha’i Library Online(BLO)--especially with the publication at Ridvan of 2010 of a 13,000 word message from the Universal House of Justice--one of the longest messages of the Formative Age since that charismatic Force was institutionalized in the Guardianship and, in 1963, effloesced in the apex of Baha'i administration

    In the time this book has been on the internet there have been many thousand views of this analysis, this statement on the new paradigm at the few sites where it has been posted. In addition to googling “Baha’i Culture of Learning and Growth” and accessing this article in the process at several internet sites, readers can find this piece of writing at BLO by clicking on the following:

    Readers can also access the latest edition of this article at BLO by taking the following steps: (i) type Baha’i Library Online or Baha’i Academics Resource Library into your search engine; (ii) click on the small box “By author” at the top of the access page at BLO; (iii) type “Price” into the small box that then appears and click on the word “Go;” and then (iv) scroll down to article/document item #47 and (v) click on that item and read to your heart’s content. When your eyes and your mind start to glaze over, stop reading. The article can be downloaded free and you will then have access to this book, this context for all this new paradigmatic terminology that has come into the Baha’i community in the last 15 years with at least a preliminary inetegration of relevant passages from the latest House message.

    My statement, my book, is a personal one, does not assume an adversarial attitude, attempts to give birth of as fine an etiquette of expression as I can muster and, I like to think, possesses both candour and critical thought on the one hand and praise and delight at the many interrelated processes involved in the execution of this paradigm on the other. I invite readers to what I also like to think is “a context on which relevant fundamental questions” regarding this new paradigm may be discussed within the Baha’i community. But, in the end, my writing, my words and all of the quotations I place in contexts to illustrate what I want to illustrate--amount to my initial take on this new Baha'i paradigm. My book possesses no authority. Indeed, such a remark hardly needs saying.

  2. I have appreciated the comments received in the last two weeks(27/4/'10 to 10/5/'10) since posting the above item here at this One Baha'is approach Blog as well as several other internet locations. The House of Justice's 2010 Ridvan message is the longest of that institution's messages since being at the apex of Baha'i administration in the last half century. That Ridvan, April 2010, message is an interesting contrast to the 2009 Ridvan message which was that institution's shortest Ridvan message. The House of Justice's messages in the last 50 years continue the pattern of long and short messages and everything in between that the leader of the Baha'i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, wrote during his thirty-six years in office from 1921 to 1957. Shoghi Effendi was known as 'the Guardian' to the international Baha'i community. -Ron Price, George Town, Tasmania----Australia's oldest town!

  3. I love what you said at the end: 'Every country, town, neighbourhood, and even each child, is unique. Like the teaching work, we need to understand the underlying logic and use it to teach souls.'

    So what is the underlying logic? It seems to me that the class should engage and extend the spiritual, intellectual, social, physical and artistic aspects of the child's being, whilst imparting Baha'i ideals, concepts, history and habits. There is a format to the classes that can be used as a template, with new content inserted. The format is that the following components are included in each class:
    1.A prayer or quotation is recited, explained/discussed and memorized.
    2.A story is told which illustrates a virtue or spiritual principle.
    3. A small art or craft project which relates to the theme of the lesson.
    4. A fun game / physical activity which ideally relates to the theme.
    5. Songs are sung together.
    (6). Some snack or refreshment may be shared.

    In the Ruhi curriculum these elements are all given for grades 1 and 2. In subsequent years the content can get more detailed, the prayers and stories longer, the crafts more skilful, in order to meet the progressing abilities and needs of the children. The games and songs can be repeated from one lesson to the next, and need not be unique every time. The themes for each lesson can follow the children's interests, or that of the teacher. These 5 (or 6) elements are not sacrosanct, and need not go in that particular order, but have been found to be effective in many situations.
    The idea of a regular letter home to parents outlining the content of the lesson is, I feel, essential in building and maintaining trust, interest and support between teachers and parents. Without it, suspicion and misunderstanding or just apathy can easily develop.
    This letter should also include the full name and contact details for the teacher, with an invitation to contact the teacher with any questions, suggestions or offers to help.