Coming to terms with educating the Sufi child in the 80's is a challenge for any Sufi parent desirous of following Hazrat Inayat Khan‘s teachings. Each of our States has its own laws, each school district has its own curriculum standards which state in clear language, backed by law, exactly what age a child shall enter school.
At the same time, our Constitution clearly states that all children shall be educated to the degree they are capable. Add to this the needs of the ever-increasing children of single parents, and parents who do not wish to submit to other than family members patterning their children's character and personality in the early years, and one is indeed "up a tree." Few two-parent homes today can meet the economic crunch without both parents working, and many mothers have to return to their jobs when their infants are only six weeks old. A look at the world view may better enable us to understand our own views.
Education in Other Countries
Compulsory education is designed to assure equal opportunity, or at least the opportunity of producing adults who can support themselves and build the economy of their respective nations. In India children usually enter school at six years of age and complete their education at 14. In the U.S.S.R. education begins at seven years of age and is completed by 15-16. In Canada education begins at six years and is completed at 16. In most of South America school is entered at seven years of age and is completed by 14. In France children enter at six and complete required education at 16. In our own country any child that reaches his sixth birthday prior to December 6th of that calendar year is eligible to enter first grade and completes his required education at 18. This has been the cause of many emotionally immature children being held over in "pre-first" grades, awaiting the maturing necessary to begin academic education, or when pushed on by parental insistence, to fall hopelessly short by the end of the second year. This builds-in assurance of fifth grade drop-outs.
Sufi Developmental Views
Hazrat Inayat Khan presents another view: "In the sixth year of age babyhood ends and childhood begin." In the seventh year, providing that normal development has been attained in the physical body, the soul of the child takes a step forward. The seven-year-old child normally turns away from the mother-ideal at this time and looks to the father as the ideal of his world. Education today needs strong father-image figures. The child's curiosity and desire to learn will urge the parents to put him in school when readiness for formal schooling approaches. The first seven years should have been the years free of anxiety and competition to succeed in the peer group, which all too soon overtakes the primary-grade child.
Formal education begins at seven years of age in the Eastern philosophy because "at seven life begins." When the law or circumstances permit, waiting until the child is nine is recommended, providing the mother or guardian is in the home and taking on the responsibility of pre-school education.
When the child's mind is ready to learn, he will urge the parent to teach him what he is hungry to learn. Today our economic stress often demands that the mother return to work early and so children are put into day-care situations where the freedom to play, think, and enjoy the life of a child free of worry and anxiety is not possible.
Development of Ethics
Parents seem to need their freedom to study and work and soon find themselves in the competitive computerized society we live in. In the Inayata Philosophy of education (of Hazrat Inayat Khan), a respectful attitude towards others is dependent upon home education, and when this is not happening ethics do not sprout and grow. Likewise, self-respect and honor of one's parents and guides, dependent upon the ideals imbued within the home, are sadly neglected. Inspiring the spirit of the child and rewarding his positive acts builds character. The God-ideal is insurance covering the trials and tribulations that may come in later life and is the parent's greatest gift to his child. "To sow the seed of knowledge and righteousness in the heart of a child is the greatest and most blessed opportunity that life offers." (HIK)
Parents as Home Teachers
In the Sufi philosophy of education, the home teacher (parent or guardian) is of the greatest import in early childhood training. Exploring nature as a family unit and discovering that plants, trees, insects, and animals are our friends is a sharing experience for each member. Hazrat Inayat Khan felt this wakened the child's interest, developed knowledge, and deepened the feeling for nature, culminating in the awakening of the desire to discover in nature the principles of man's spiritual development. When attained, it brings peace of mind, healing and rejuvenation to every age level.
Each generation must discover its own truth, and one of the best ways is to learn something about the customs and beliefs of other peoples and countries. Discovering one's roots on both sides of the family tree builds inner security, purpose and control of one's own life. This in turn leads to the inner realization that we are all one in the family of God.
Music, dance, movements in space, singing and learning how to relax and play cultivate the very different and special qualities that we see in the spirit of each child. Gymnastics develops the balance of mind and confidence in being able to give a command to the body and, by means of the will, see it happen. Of course the qualities born in the child lead to the purpose of life and are therefore most important to guide and nurture with reverence and respect.
The Work of the Teacher
The Sufi philosophy places the work of the teacher in a very clear and direct light: "to teach qualities that are inherent in the individual child," not a brainwashing guaranteeing conformity of action and agreement with textbooks.
"The education of children should be considered from different points of view: physical, mental, moral, social and spiritual. If one side is developed more than the other, naturally the child will show some lack in his education," Inayat Khan warns us. Balance would be quite simple if each one of these "bodies" developed at the same developmental level, but that is not the way it happens. The transitions at two and one-half, five, seven, nine and at puberty, and often into adult life, do not happen for all children at the same chronological age. The built-in timer in each child determines just when and how readiness and desire to experiment, experience and discover his/her own truths happens.
Nurturing the Soul of the Child
There is a universal truth that rhythm, beauty, harmony, and love are half-veiled memories -- qualities carried over from the angelic spheres, which after the third year begin to fade. This can be revived, nurtured and reinforced in the primary grades.
Each soul has a unique quality which it has received from the Jinn plane and which it is seeking to express. It is the urge to find one's purpose or talent in life. The Sufi mystic, S‘adi, says: "Every soul that comes on earth comes with a light already kindled in him for his work on earth. If he doesn't know it, it is the fault of the worldly life around him, not the fault of nature and spirit."
Each child progresses through stages where he becomes receptive to certain learning experiences and the child's readiness is obvious by his self-motivated experiments to master a task. Maximum learning takes place when the dynamic of balance between jelal-jemal, yin-yang energy is programmed into the day.
Learning According to the Child's Own Rhythm
Freedom to choose, balanced with a discipline that insists upon completing a task once started, is also part of the dynamic of learning. Observation of what is happening in the school determines the progress of learning, not a text-book or curriculum plan of what shall be learned in any one time slot.
Rhythm in the child's internal timer allows the child to progress at his own rate. This demands parent participation in regularity of scheduling in the home, consciousness of breath, concentration, chores, and rewards for doing them. "As long as a person in the position of a mother, or father, or teacher, or guardian does not understand this one principle, that every soul must be free to choose, he really does not understand how to help another." (HIK) Parents suggest, the child decides.
Discovering the Interests of the Child
In the home, awakened parents will tune into the interests of their child, letting him discover challenging mental avenues to pursue and giving full support and equipment to that end. The temptation of the parent is always to try to steer the child into avenues of interest that they idealized and did not have the opportunity of developing in their early years. However, the soul is not an extension of the parent, any more than the spirit it comes with is hereditary. "The liking of the soul is to become human." (HIK) Learning to stand back and observe the wonderful changes that manifest after each developmental transition can enable a parent to guide in the true spiritual sense.
Setting basic rhythms of activity and repose, play and learning to sit and relax, explore and discover one's own truth, takes planning and observation of an entire staff. Five bodies are developing, through guided experiences in a controlled environment, and during the growth spurts the mental and emotional bodies are at war. This calls for grouping and regrouping as the child learns first to work with a partner of his choice, then in a small group. Until the child can sit still and show a desire to know what the printed word is saying, academics are best postponed.
The Importance of Love
Love is the one ingredient that all philosophy of education of children is grounded in. Loving and caring one-to-one, child to guide, and child to child, is the basis of all guidance.
Within the home the child should feel centered and never forced from his play, which is his natural work. The school should be the environment in which the child's home-discovered knowledge can be put to use. The skills learned at school make it possible for the inclination of the soul to progress smoothly.
Creative experiences in many mediums encourages seeking out, trying out, and combining knowledge in many new ways. Creativity means the total mental, emotional and physical expression of the child to produce something new to him. It needs to be a many-leveled experience combining many facts, methods and concepts.
First, the parent or teacher must know how to "turn him on." Providing an environment that is rich in source materials so that the child can be urged to dig it out is the first step.
Sex-Role Behavior Development
The opportunity to explore crafts and projects usually performed by one of the other sex is left open and free, yet we realize that there are still different standards of expectation for boys and girls. We expect and tolerate more boisterous behavior and energy in boys than in girls. Our society demands that boys be more assertive than girls.
Our philosophy is to refrain from fostering female behavior in boys in drama and dance, yet at the same time to recognize the gentle, feminine qualities that some boys express in play. Feminine nicknames are discouraged in the peer group. Substituting names that are meaningful to the child is common in our community as the child approaches the nine-year transition anyway. The neatness we expect of girls is tolerated at a lesser level, as are table manners, in general with boys.
Girls should have absolute freedom to enter any construction or science experiment dominated by boys or to enter into boy's games during free-play time. The goal is to help the girl child to find pleasure and pride in the feminine arts without insisting upon conformity. The nature and spirit of the child determines this. The Sufi mystic Jelal-ud-Din Rumi says, "The soul is imprisoned in the mortal body and its constant aim is to be free and to experience that liberty which is its very nature."
"Nature is born, character is built, and personality is developed." (HIK)
Freedom to play is a reward earned by tasks that guide to goals. Free-play should take place every 20 minutes, alternating with quiet, concentrating activities in schools. Freedom is won, not given. Freedom of opinion, together with consciousness of right and wrong behavior, is modeled and expected. Self-discipline is not "the process of what is right for one is right for others." The individual spirit monitors self-discipline. Aiding the child to overcome difficulties in learning, rather than completing the task for him, is true guidance. We must constantly fight propaganda of the media and condition children to tolerate opposing points of view other than their own.
Since the 60‘s, no single philosophy has served as the source of our social and educational aims, but the common goals of equality, freedom and economic betterment for all children persists. The hope that we can follow growth patterns and build free, creative and humanitarian adults, bent on peace instead of destruction, is the goal of the 80's.
Both mind and senses are involved in all learning, to which Hazrat Inayat Khan adds, "the individual goal of the soul." This impresses and allows the child to do it his own way, according to the built-in timer that gives the "go" signal to the individual learning process.
Developing a Respectful Attitude Towards Elders
The first ideal given in Sufi education is a respectful attitude towards elders. For this reason children are encouraged to address their teachers and guides as "Miss" or "Mr.", followed by the first name. A spirit of respect builds an attitude of joy towards others and attracts joy in return.
The old adage, "Familiarity breeds contempt," seems still to be true. A tendency to argue, to hit back, to refuse to obey and to reflect a tone or a facial expression of disagreeableness shows that the child does not respect himself or others. When the ideal is encouraged and nurtured by showing respect for the child's needs and wants and at the same time making clear the limits of behavior within the learning center, a respectful attitude is nurtured.
Another ideal is to inspire in the child a sense of pride in his work, regardless of the level he is capable of working at. When we leave out the ideal, we lose the finer principles of education, and rudeness and lack of thoughtfulness, and a rebellious spirit soon takes over.
The God Ideal
The final ideal is to impart the God Ideal, and this is done through the Children‘s Universal Worship Service. It is a service conducted by children with an adult aide, which honors the thoughts, songs, dances, chants, and stories of the world's great religions. It is joyous, fast-moving, and gives the school the tool to teach respect for other people's customs and beliefs.
Religious belief is a source of truth and wisdom observable in all cultures. The Sufi recognizes all masters, saints and prophets, "known and unknown," making our schools unique in their unification of all religious ideals.
(This article is from the Ziraat Newsletter — the Summer 1986 issue on Children — and is based on excerpts Murshida Vera Corda made from her book, Holistic Child Guidance.)