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113. Education for a new Garden of Eden

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

I was raised among the last of many generations who adhered to the 15th century guiding principle that "children (...and most especially females...) should be seen and not heard'.

It was therefore a shock and surprise to many of those unprepared parents when we morphed into a generation that loudly demanded to be both seen and heard, and made our demands known by means of demonstrations, protest songs, sit-ins, love-ins, and mass protests of all kinds.

In a world where men and their activities had always taken priority, society 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 just in the home and where the needs of children would matter in a new way.

As with all major social change, we got a lot right and also a lot wrong.

The social pendulum swung to the opposite side. Many would-be ‘progressive’ parents believed that as each child was born innately pure it should therefore be left as unrestrained as possible in order that its ‘natural inclinations’ might freely develop. This littlest generation was not slow to make their uninformed feelings known, through 'grand mal' temper tantrums and other coercive behaviours.

Fortunately wiser souls arose to illumine new horizons. 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, thereby restoring some sanity to wackier parenting trends.

In 1986 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."

In these Covid days it is more important than ever to 'Wash your hands...'.The threat of global extinction begs us to 'Share everything, 'thereby reducing 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 today where - yes - it still 'holds true and clear and firm'.

So how are our children doing? Despite professed good will and concern, most children of the twenty-first century have not experienced a 'love leading to a brighter day'. In fact, most 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."

Education is a process that takes place at every level from the cradle to the grave. Today more than ever it is timely to review the quality of that education. Whilst its cost must be considered, so too must be the cost of its absence, as reflected in lack of potential productivity, social damage etc. It is also necessary to train the trainers; all would-be parents require a sound grounding in principles regarding the family.

` Abdu’l‑Baha expressed our innate linkage and need for reciprosity;

`[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 in attaining true human maturity, eternally linked with ``a universal and all-inclusive conception,’’ based on 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.

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