"Nothing -- and I mean nothing -- is more important to the families in our state and for the future of Alaska than education. The hopes and dreams we have for our children, grandchildren and our communities begin with a quality education," declared Shirley J. Holloway, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education.
Against a backdrop of global conflict, the power of education was the focus of a statement presented at the United Nations' International Consultative Conference on School Education by the Baha'i International Community in Madrid Nov. 25.
"In the midst of an age convulsed by moral crisis and social disintegration, the need for understanding about who we are as human beings is vital to the achievement of lasting peace and well-being," the statement read.
Education was credited as the shining light at the end of intolerance's dark tunnel, emerging "as an indispensable tool -- a tool of active moral learning." The statement called for a curriculum that weaves exploration of the physical and social world with a study of moral and spiritual empowerment.
As a consequence of the deep connection between individual and social well-being, programs of education need to instill in every child a twofold moral purpose.
The first relates to the process of personal transformation, of intellectual, material and spiritual growth.
The second concerns the complex challenge of transforming society's structures and processes.
To pursue this dual purpose of individual and collective transformation, specific moral capabilities must be developed that encompass the concepts, values, attitudes and skills that enable the individual to make appropriate moral choices and promote creative and cooperative patterns of human interaction.
The framework for such capabilities is a commitment to discover and apply truth in every domain of human endeavor. Since moral behavior is a concrete expression of humanity's spiritual nature, moral education efforts should draw in a systematic way on both the methods of science and the insights of religion.
Eliminating all barriers to the free exploration, acceptance and expression of religious belief is critical to the creation of a universal culture of human rights.
"An integral feature of any education initiative having a moral and spiritual focus must be the notion of the oneness and interdependence of the human race," the statement to the United Nations read.
Education, then, is the key to active moral learning.
To accomplish the complete development of human personality and an awareness of humanity's dignity, and to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial, ethnic or religious groups, education must focus on developing the integration of intellectual, artistic, social, moral and spiritual qualities.
"Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value," Baha'u'llah urges, "Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures and enable mankind to benefit there from."
These "treasures" require conscious development because, even though nobility, goodness and beauty are innate aspects of our nature, human beings are subject to inclinations that corrupt the inner self and quench the light of love.
Believing that the United Nations represents a major effort in the unification of the planet, Baha'is support its work in every possible way. The Baha'i International Community is accredited with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and with the United Nations Children's Fund.
The promotion of tolerance and mutual understanding among the diverse segments of the human family cannot be a passive or rhetorical exercise.
"Let us be assured, and let it be communicated that it is possible to both tread the path of religious faith and to be tolerant. Civilization's future course depends on it," the statement urged in closing.
In the words of Baha'u'llah, "Observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind."
Paul Gray of Soldotna is a Baha'i, serving as the public information officer for Alaska.
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