26. Education for a Garden of Eden.
My grandparent's generation was among the last to be raised with Queen Victoria's advice that "children should be seen and not heard'.
It was therefore a shock and surprise to many of our unprepared parents when we morphed into a generation that loudly demanded to be both seen and heard, and made these opinions known by means of demonstrations, protest songs and marches, sit-ins, love-ins, and mass protests of all kinds.
In a world where men and their activities had always taken priority, society now faced a unique challenge; to upend that ancient 'social pyramid' that placed man at the top, and instead replace it with a new generation where a woman's place would no longer be confined to the home, and the needs of children would increasingly matter.
The social pendulum had swung to the opposite side. Many parents now believed that each child was born innately pure and should be left as unrestrained as possible in order that their natural inclinations might freely develop. This littlest generation was not slow to make their uniformed feelings known, through grand mal temper tantrums and other coercive behaviours.
Fortunately wiser souls arose to advise new parents. Dr. Benjamin Spock's 1946 book "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care" became one of the best-selling books of the twentieth century, translated into 39 languages and thereby restoring some sanity to the wackier parenting trends.
In 1985 Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson wrote a song with children in mind whose proceeds were intended to relieve starvation in Africa. "We are the World, We are the Children" touched the hearts of millions, and called us all to action:
"We're all a part of God's great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need."
In her best selling song "Greatest Love Of All", Whitney Houston sang;
"I believe the children are our future Teach them well and let them lead the way Show them all the beauty they possess inside Give them a sense of pride."
A new spirit had emerged that recognised the needs and capacity of children. In1986 a book of short essays by American minister Robert Fulghum surprised and delighted many with his claim that everything one needed to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, he learned, not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but in his earliest years; in the sandpile, at Sunday School, in kindergarten. In his book entitled "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" he described some of the things he learned:
"Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic and stick together. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation...Take any of those terms and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
Think what a better world it would be if...all governments had a basic policy to always put things away where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, it is best to hold hands and stick together."
Yes, it is still true. In these Covid days it is more important than ever to 'Wash your hands...'. In a collapsing world, environmentalists beg us to 'Share everything' to thereby reduce waste, and to 'Clean up your own mess'. If only we would internalise this advice and apply it to our family life or work or government or our world where - yes - it still 'holds true and clear and firm'.
So how are our children doing? Despite a hopeful groundswell of good will and concern, most children of the twenty-first century have not experienced a 'love leading to a brighter day'. In fact, many view their future with grave doubts and fear. Mental illness is everywhere pervasive.
A century earlier, Abdu'l-Baha simply advised us as follows;
`A child is as a young plant: it will grow in whatever way you train it. If you rear it to be truthful, and kind, and righteous, it will grow straight, it will be fresh and tender, and will flourish. But if not, then from faulty training it will grow bent, and stand awry, and there will be no hope of changing it...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."
Now we are experiencing the repercussions of previous faulty training and failure to rear children to be 'truthful, and kind, and righteous'. There is urgency in this task; 'the question of education [must} be accounted as of primary importance'.
And now that we can see where we went wrong, we can also set a new direction. We can see the need to 'train the trainers' and give all would-be parents a sound grounding in family development.
Education is a process that takes place at every level from cradle to the grave. Today, more than ever, those who seek a better future for humanity must review the quality of that education at family, community and lifelong levels. Certainly the cost of quality education must be considered, but so also must be the cost of its absence as reflected in lack of productivity, social damage etc.
`[A]ll beings are linked together like a chain; and mutual aid, assistance, and interaction are among their intrinsic properties and are the cause of their formation, development, and growth’’ --Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions.
It is on this basis that we are called upon to assist each other to attain true human maturity, a condition eternally linked with ``a universal and all-inclusive conception,’’ a condition linked to operating on the basis of the consciousness of the oneness of humanity.
``Thus, the divine Manifestations of God had a universal and all-inclusive conception. They endeavored for the sake of everyone’s life and engaged in the service of universal education. The area of their aims was not limited—nay, rather, it was wide and all-inclusive.
``Therefore, ye must also be thinking of everyone, so that mankind may be educated, character moderated and this world may turn into a Garden of Eden’’ --‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l‑Baha.