Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thoughts on a Children's Class

Children's classes. You know, this all began, way back, with a children's class. Oh, and my cat. It began with a children's class and my cat. Here. You can read it about it by clicking here, in case you missed it. It's the story of this blog.

Well, I was thinking about it again today because we have another children's class going on, and we teachers got together the other day to reflect and consult on it.

In short, we're very happy about the class. Well, I should say "classes", because there are a few different age groups there, and we're very happy about all of them.

Now, there are a few things that we can do better, of course, and we began to look a bit at them. We started by looking at our strengths, for this is what we feel the Universal House of Justice alluded to, back in the Ridvan 163 message, when they said that "the community of the Greatest Name has been guided from strength to strength by the Hand of Providence". They earlier alluded to it back in 1974, again in the Ridvan message, when they said, "We can, however, confidently predict that the Cause of God, impelled by the mighty forces of life within it, must go on from strength to strength..."

"Strength to strength..." You see, we are not moving from a position of weakness to strength, but rather from one strength to another strength. When we recognize this, it helps us focus our consultations.

After identifying a few strengths, and seeing what else we were hoping to accomplish with these classes, we turned to the Writings.

Some of the things that were mentioned were the difficulty in consistency and constancy with the classes, and that if we could somehow ensure that they would occur every week, without skipping some, then we would be much better off. We also talked about how the presence of the parents would be of benefit. With these, and other comments in mind, we looked at two quotes from the Master. And it is because of these two quotes that I was asked to write this article.

"Among the greatest of all services", He writes, "that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abha Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory."

We all know the beginning of this quote from our studies of Ruhi Book 3, but it is the next paragraph that we found even more interesting.

"It is," He goes on, "however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it." We will remember this very clearly. To us, it reminds us that what we are doing will be difficult, filled with many tests and trials, but that is what makes it all the more sweeter. The victory, the spiritual growth and development of our children, and the whole community, will be well worth it. In fact, this is not only for us to recall as teachers, but as parents. We need to recall the tests, the trials, and the victories that are promised.

The second quote we read gave us a few additional clues as to what we were experiencing. "The Sunday school", He wrote, "for the children in which the Tablets and Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh are read, and the Word of God is recited for the children is indeed a blessed thing. Thou must certainly continue this organized activity without cessation, and attach importance to it, so that day by day it may grow and be quickened with the breaths of the Holy Spirit. 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."

When we read that it should occur "without cessation", we took this to mean that we should do it regularly, without interruption. Of course, it may not mean that exactly, but this is what we took it to mean. In other words, no matter how much we may want to say, "Oh, let's cancel the classes this week", we really shouldn't do that. We all recognized that it is just so easy to cancel a class if it's a long weekend, or for some other similar reason, but that we really shouldn't. If we do, it says to the children that this civic holiday is more important than the Baha'i education. Which it isn't.

- - - - -

There is another phrase in that second that really stood out for us, so much so that I am calling attention to it by making a break in the text here, He says, "Attach importance to it".

These classes are so important that we are to attach importance to them.

What does it mean to attach importance to something? How can we show that we are attaching importance to it?

In addition to not cancelling the classes except under extraordinary circumstances, we figured there were other ways to make it clear that these classes are important. But first we made it clear that we are not making judgement on anyone else. For example, one friend of ours has to stop bringing her son to another class that we do in French. On the surface it may seem that she is not placing importance on his Baha'i education, but nothing could be further from the truth. She has a new baby, and her husband just got back in the country after an extended absence. He requires their car for his work, and so she has no feasible way to bring her son. However, we are not letting it be. We place such importance on his being there that we are offering to pick him up at his school and take him with us to the class. It is that important to us, and we are able to offer this service. In her case, we are aware of her particular circumstances and can find a way to assist. This may not always be the case. And so we need to be very careful not to place judgement on others.

What it means is that we have to ask ourselves this question. Each and every parent has to ask themselves this question. Which is more important: Baha'i education, or soccer practice? Baha'i education or going to the grocery store? Is there another time they can have that piano lesson? Is there another opportunity to get the groceries?

What is our priority? How important do we make the classes? How important are they in the Writings? What are some of the messages we inadvertently send to our children about our priorities?

In the Ridvan message of 2000, the Universal House of Justice addressed the parents of children in a few very important paragraphs. They talked about the importance of their interaction with the children, and how "they exercise indispensable influence".

As we discussed this, we came to a few realizations that may or may not be accurate, but reflect where we are in our thinking on this matter. We felt that if we dropped off our children at a class, and then ran off to, say, get groceries, then we would be sending the message to our children that the shopping is more important. (I don't know why I'm fixated on the grocery example. I think it's because that's what I need to do right now.) If, however, there was a program for the adults, and we participated in it, then the message would clearly be that it is so important that I am doing it, too. We gave many examples like this, but it all came down to the idea that we had to have a program available for the parents, so that they, too, could help set the example of the importance of Baha'i education. To this end, we are now going to be including an adult program in with our children's classes. Well, not in the classes, but alongside them. The materials discussed will be decided in consultation with the adults.

Further in our discussions, which I felt were very fruitful, were practical questions about the location. Due to our circumstances, the classes pretty much have to be in one family's home. This places an extra burden on them, so we all offered to help. We could go there early and help clean the house a bit, to get it more beautiful for the children. We could offer to watch their children while they... do their grocery shopping (yeah, I hesitated while typing that again). We could begin with a bit of socializing and a snack so that we could leave sooner after the class, freeing the hosts for other things.

In other words, we are learning to act as a community, in service to each other.

And maybe that is the most important thing that I came out of the consultation with. The importance is not that we all come up to the same level of commitment, but rather that we look at the Writings, derive fresh inspiration from them, and strive to put our actions more in line with the implications that we find in them.

So there we have it. Children's classes. They are a great challenge. We will undoubtedly face tests. But the victories that will arise from these classes is worth every effort. And we must make them a priority. They are very important. And the importance that we place on them, as adults, will make a deep impression upon the children.

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