The family unit is the nucleus of human society. It provides a vital setting for the development of praiseworthy qualities and capacities. Through its harmonious functioning and the development and maintenance of the bonds of love that join together its members, it gives constant expression to the truth that the well-being of the individual is inextricably bound to the progress and well-being of others.
A fundamental role of the family is to raise children who can assume responsibility for both their own spiritual growth and their participation in the advancement of civilization.
Any observer of the Bahá’í community would quickly come to appreciate the emphasis it places on family life and the education of children. It recognizes that the habits and patterns of conduct nurtured within the family are carried into the workplace, into the local community, into the social and political life of the country, and into the arena of international relations.
Bahá’ís strive, therefore, to continually strengthen the spiritual ties that bind together the family. Each member of the Bahá’í community undertakes to contribute to the maintenance of a dynamic of family life that acknowledges the equality of the sexes, cultivates a loving and respectful relationship between parents and children, and promotes the principles of consultation and harmony in decision-making.
If love and agreement are manifest in a single family, that family will advance, become illumined and spiritual…
THE NATURE OF CHILDREN
Children, according to the Bahá’í teachings, are independent beings of great intrinsic value. They do not belong to their parents but to the Creator, their true parent. Children are born in a state of potentiality rather than of either goodness or sin. "The hearts of all children are of the utmost purity," ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states. "They are mirrors upon which no dust has fallen."
The child’s unsullied heart is not a blank slate, however. Possessing both a spiritual and a material nature, the one attuned to God and the other to the material world, the child is born with an individual temperament and with spiritual and intellectual capacities for developing virtues, abilities, and talents. Thus no child is inherently bad or inherently good. Children manifest the natural variation of capacity among human beings: "This difference does not imply good or evil," ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, "but is simply a difference of degree."
The development of the individual child is not simply a matter of fulfilling one’s individual potential. Rather, it is seen in the context of the purpose of all human life: to know and love God, to acquire virtues, and to contribute to the advancement of civilization.
Children exhibit qualities that reflect a mixture of innate, inherited, and acquired traits. Each quality can lead to either negative or positive behaviors: "Every child is potentially the light of the world—and at the same time its darkness," ‘Abdu’l-Bahá observes. Depending on how children are trained and how they use their energies, their individual qualities can be used for good or for evil. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains that "from the beginning of his life you can see in a nursing child the signs of greed, of anger and of temper." One might infer, as a result, that "good and evil are innate" and that "this is contrary to the pure goodness of nature and creation." Such is not the case, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá clarifies: "The answer to this is that greed, which is to ask for something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used suitably. So if a man is greedy to acquire science and knowledge, or to become compassionate, generous and just, it is most praiseworthy . . . but if he does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy."
THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN
‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that the mother and father of a child should “as a duty…strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son”, and Bahá’í parents, who bear the primary responsibility for the upbringing of their children, are to be ever mindful of their duty in this connection. But the education of children is not only the responsibility of the parents. The community also has an important role to play and the Bahá’í community gives considerable attention to the subject. Indeed, classes, open to all, for the spiritual and moral education of children are typically among the first activities to be pursued by Bahá’ís in a locality.
Bahá’ís see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment. In a world where the joy and innocence of childhood can be so easily overwhelmed by the aggressive pursuit of materialistic ends, the moral and spiritual education of children assumes vital importance.
The Bahá’í community at every level is highly sensitised to the need to respond to the spiritual aspirations of the young, and older youth are typically anxious to take responsibility for the development of those around them younger than themselves. Educational activities for children, then, are often among the first to multiply in a community.
The Bahá’í Faith stresses the importance of spiritual and moral education in shaping the character of children. Education is also the best means to secure their future happiness, because "human happiness is founded upon spiritual behavior" and attaining "a lofty level" of virtues. Bahá’u’lláh describes each person as "a mine rich in gems of inestimable value" whose inner "treasures" can be discovered and developed only through education.Therefore, children should be valued for the treasures within them and encouraged to develop these qualities. The education of children is integral to the advancement of humanity.
The teachings of the Bahá’í Faith recognize various kinds of education, including training and development of the physical body; intellectual training; and the education of the human spirit. The importance of all these is stressed; and spiritual education—which includes prayer, learning sacred texts, and reciting them—is emphasized as being primary. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá points out: "Good behaviour and high moral character must come first, for unless the character be trained, acquiring knowledge will only prove injurious. Knowledge is praiseworthy when it is coupled with ethical conduct and virtuous character; otherwise it is a deadly poison, a frightful danger." The combination of spiritual education with other forms of education is ideal.
I give you my advice, and it is this: Train these children with divine exhortations. From their childhood instill in their hearts the love of God so they may manifest in their lives the fear of God and have confidence in the bestowals of God.
Bahá’ís of Botswana
Bahá’í communities are working together with their neighbours and friends to promote and contribute to the well-being and progress of society. In urban centres and rural villages, in homes and schools, citizens of all backgrounds, classes and ages are participating in a dynamic pattern of life, taking part in activities which are, at once, spiritual, social and educational.
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