As more communities begin to focus their attention outwards to the needs of children in their neighborhoods, one concern is repeatedly (and understandably) heard from parents who are also longstanding Baha'is —“what about my children?” The lessons in Ruhi Book 3 seem to focus almost exclusively on universal qualities of the spirit, and contain very little factual information about the Faith itself. While the second set of lessons from Book 3a revolve around the lives of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, few communities are aware of these lessons, and even fewer are implementing them in their classes. The same is said of junior youth groups. On the surface, it would appear our community has turned its collective back on a uniquely Baha'i education.
For the moment, let us set aside the many valuable arguments in defense of the Ruhi curriculum—that our children are immersed more than ever in the study and internalization of the Creative Word, that they are learning the essence of administration by beginning to consult, at the most basic level, on the application of the Writings in their lives, that they are learning to appreciate the spiritual rather than the material reality of the Manifestation of God from a remarkably early age. In fact, let us assume to be true what we so fear, that the children of Baha'is no longer receive the sort of Baha'i education as has been so valuable in past years. What then?
First, an honest look at the Baha'i education of the past. It was extremely effective—for some. These lucky children were enabled by nature, family support, chance, or grace with the inner strength and confidence to stand up to a society that contradicted every lesson taught at Baha'i School. Their knowledge of the principles of the Faith, of its noble history and peerless Administration gave them sufficient hope to carry on as co-constructors of the World Order of Baha'u'llah. What a wonderful accomplishment this was!
But what of the rest? What of those who were too timid, too isolated, too violently thrashed by the gales of materialism to resist their force? Many of these children, now grown into adulthood, were raised lovingly by the most devoted Baha'is, and their absence from among us is a constant source of heartache. As Baha'i individuals, communities, and institutions, we did our best to prepare these children for the world, and we failed.
Why? We did nothing wrong in attempting to educate the youngest members of our community. But it is not enough for us to prepare our children for the world, we must also change the world for our children.
Baha'is are often known to cite the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." But we need to realize that the Baha'i community is not a village. The village is where we live, eat, and work. The village is where our children meet their friends to play. The village is the neighborhood. And while the Baha'i community must work in love and unity for the education of its children, it cannot negate the profound influence of the village on these children's material and spiritual lives. Instead, the current global Plan is intent on the transformation of the village itself, so that this influence might reaffirm rather than destroy the faith of the child, whether or not she ever identifies as a Baha'i.
What might happen to the difficulties Baha'i children face in leading double lives when their classmates at school are the same ones struggling to exemplify moral and spiritual qualities in a neighbor's living room each week? What might come of their struggles with strangeness and isolation when they are regularly engaged in prayer and spiritual exploration with friends from many backgrounds and faiths? Are these not the very problems we had always hoped that a solid Baha'i education would solve?
Certainly, we cannot hope to establish genuinely successful children's classes on a massive scale by focusing too heavily inward, on the needs or our own children alone. But the love we bear them can act as a bridge between us and the love they have for their schoolmates and companions, kindling in us a passion for building a better world for all children, everywhere.
So we must ask ourselves: are we ready to extend our gaze beyond our doors and into the street, to work and strive on behalf of the village surrounding us? Because this is the task ahead of us.
It is only then that we can hope to raise a child.