Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A new arena of learning for the institutes

In April 1963 the existing 56 National Spiritual Assemblies of the world gathered at the home of Abdu'l-Baha in Haifa to elect the Universal House of Justice. Since then the worldwide Baha'i community has increased many times. In the rural areas of the world masses of humanity were moved to embrace the Faith. To respond to their need for deepening we created various deepening institutes. These were educational programs of various durations and several kinds. Then we introduced mobile institutes. Some of these were in the form of a van that carried pamphlets, books, film strips or other literature, and were driven by volunteer teachers from village to village. As the needs still grew we established permanent institutes, often at a central place. Gradually as more teachers were trained these institutes began to offer distance education.

Institutes are not buildings, or a set of work books, or even a given curriculum. They are organizational structures. In 1996 we began to see the institutes in a new light. Since these institutes were meant to increase the knowledge and spiritual insight of their participants, and to develop skills and cultivate attitudes and habits for service, their title was changed from teaching or deepening institutes to training institutes. And since the Ruhi institute had been most effective in bringing about the desired transformation in its participants, five years ago all the institutes in the world adopted its material as the first set and the trunk of their educational programs.

The organizational structure of the institutes is adapted to the needs in each cluster and is considered as highly flat. The participants are referred to as collaborators, since they are not merely expected to learn, but also to act in the field of service. The study sessions are referred to as circles, to encourage each participant to take ownership of his or her development. Those who facilitate the pace of the study are referred to as tutors to avoid the image of a learned professor or faculty making deposits of information onto blank pages of ignorant students. And the work of tutors in each cluster is improved incrementally as the tutors themselves gather for periodic reflection on their work, facilitated by a coordinator. Normally cluster institute coordinators are accompanied in their work by a regional coordinator.

Currently in US there are 19 such regional coordinators serving 7 training institutes, many of them dedicating their full time to such sacrificial service on a volunteer basis. Each institute operates under the guidance of a board of directors, which are appointed by and act as agencies of the National Spiritual Assembly. Named after Magdalene Carney, and Hands of the Cause of God Dr. R. Muhajir, Martha Root, and Louis Gregory, or merely take on the name of their respective regions.

During the summer of 2010 some 300 cluster institute coordinators from as many clusters around the world, assisted by their respective regional coordinators and Auxiliary Board members participated in seminars lasting 6 days during which they reviewed and reflected upon initiating a conversation in a receptive neighborhood that would then attract new participants to the study of the first book, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. We are learning about building communities using the instrument of a devotional meeting. What an inspiration it is to see these new faces learn so quickly and take on the tasks so willingly.

It is in reference to these gatherings and the ensuing activities in the neighborhoods that the Universal House of Justice makes reference in its letter of 28 December 2010, paragraph 16, when it speaks about "strengthening the educational processes set in motion by the training institute". This particular paragraph speaks of the 3 educational processes, then lists 5 dynamics that underlie the transformative effects of the training institute, and closes by mentioning 5 characteristics of study circles that raises the capacity of the collaborators for service.

The following questions are suggested by the study of this paragraph:

1.     What is the “new arena of learning”?
2.     What does “strengthening the educational processes set in motion by the training institute” look like?
3.     What did the Ridvan message say about the work that is involved in “strengthening [this] educational processes”?
4.     List five “dynamics that underlie” the educational process fostered at the level of the study circle.
5.     In these advanced clusters “every effort is being exerted to ensure that” the environment of the study circles are such that new human resources are trained with increasing capacity for service. List five principles that characterize such study circles.
6.     How does the institute raise consciousness without awakening the insistent self?

Baha'u'llah wrote: " How many the lands that remain untilled and uncultivated, and how many the lands that were cultivated and yet remained without water, and how many the lands which when the hour of harvest arrived no harvester came forth to reap them. However, through the wonders of God’s favor and the revelation of His loving kindness we cherish the hope that souls who are the embodiments of heavenly virtues may appear and busy themselves with teaching the Cause of God and training all who dwell on earth." [From recently translated tablets of Baha’u’llah]

No comments:

Post a Comment