By Christina Wright
You may often think to yourself, “That happens to other people’s kids, but not mine.”
But bullying isn’t just something that happens to some kids you don’t know in some small corner pocket of where you live. Bullying is happening to 60 to 80 percent of our children all over the country — all over the world.
And as a teacher of a small Baha’i children’s class in Evanston, Illinois, I find myself repeatedly asking the question: “How do I protect these kids, whom I love as if they were my very own, from falling victim to this global problem?”
My friends and I have been children’s class teachers for eight kids who live in our building for over half a year now.
We meet every Saturday morning to study quotes from the Baha’i writings and do a various number of activities — songs, storytelling, games and the like — that are centered on such universal values as unity, kindness, love, forgiveness and truthfulness.
Unity is where we started. One day they came over to the apartment on a weeknight (they love to make impromptu visits, which is an encouraging sign that we are building some wonderful relationships with these brilliant stars) and we started talking about the “homework” I had given them the previous Saturday.
I had encouraged them to think about ways they could practice unity at school. When I asked them how that was going and we began discussing what it means to be unified, that’s when it happened.
The subject of bullying came up. And as I looked into the sweet faces of two of my kids, they admitted to me that during the previous school year, they had been bullied.
I was beyond words. No, God, please. Not my little ones!
But what completely astonished me were the next words from one of them, “I feel bad for the person who bullied me.”
What? You feel bad? “Why?” I asked.
“Because I know he must be going through a rough time in his life to feel that he needs to treat people like that.”
At the mere age of 9, he possesses this level of insight and compassion. For a moment I asked myself, “Who is the teacher and who is the student?” I was touched beyond words!
It was then that the answer to my question became clear: As a children’s class teacher, my contribution to this global problem is to nurture these saplings into strong beings who possess the kind of moral character that this one child was already modeling to our entire class.
Through the education we’re providing in these virtues classes, we can make sure that they don’t become bullies!
Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, taught that we should “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.”
My kids are a shining example of these gems. They all have a latent capacity to have and reflect moral values. And I am reminded that my role as a children’s class teacher is to work with children in developing and sharpening that capacity.
‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u'llah, stated:
“O thou teacher of the children of the Kingdom! Thou hast arisen to perform a service which would justly entitle thee to vaunt thyself over all the teachers on earth. For the teachers of this world make use of human education to develop the powers, whether spiritual or material, of humankind, whilst thou art training these young plants in the gardens of God according to the education of Heaven, and art giving them the lessons of the Kingdom.
“The result of this kind of teaching will be that it will attract the blessings of God, and make manifest the perfections of man.”
As a follow-up to our conversation about bullying, we spent a good few weeks studying the virtue of kindness and the children learned a quote from ‘Abdu’l-Baha: “The language of kindness is the lodestone of hearts and the food of the soul…”
To visualize this, they took a heart shaped cookie cutter and used their snack to cut out a heart.
Another activity we did about kindness was our “Language of Kindness” experiment. We showed them a clear glass of water and then began to slowly pour salt into it.
The children noticed how “unclean” the water became. We talked about how when we say unkind things to one another, it is like pouring salt into their hearts.
After all of these months teaching this class, I am already noticing a change in these kids. They use kinder and softer words towards each other when they speak, they listen to each other more, and thankfully they’re learning to cooperate better and engage in consultation over choosing to argue about things.
The parents are noticing a change as well. One parent remarked to me that ever since our lesson on truthfulness, where we memorized another quote of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s: — “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues” — their daughter will ask at home, “Are you being truthfulness?” (We love how she phrases this question. She knows the lesson is “Truthfulness,” so instead of “Are you being truthful” it’s “Are you being truthfulness.” She’s so adorable!)
Interestingly, this question is mostly directed at her sister, who is also in the class and is not only learning to be more honest about things but is also learning to admit when she is not.
During one class we worked with the kids to make “virtues mirrors.” We placed an aluminum sheet in the center of a piece of construction paper to make a mirror. And around the mirror we placed hearts that listed the virtues we had studied thus far.
We titled this project “What Virtues Will I Reflect?” and the kids took each of theirs home to hang in their bedrooms.
These eight children have touched my heart and helped me to further deepen my understanding of just how important the education of children is to my community and also to the world.
I won’t have these children forever; they will grow and their lives will take them many different directions. But I’m honored to have this time with them and feel grateful to God that I’ve had this opportunity to share His virtuous Teachings with them.