Investigation as Education as Work as Worship
The Haldimand Spiritual Assembly is sponsoring for its monthly proclamation meeting on October 10th a discussion of the principle of work as worship, animated by
Before Osler medical students were still hitting the books and sitting in on lectures only, even in the third and fourth year of medical school. Baha'is regard this practice of practical experience early in professional training as part of the spiritual teaching that the principle of work as worship aims at.
"The value placed on service, and the elevation of work to an act of worship when it is done in the spirit of service, helps programs achieve a balance between working with one's hands and acquiring abstract knowledge. The student's attention is focused from the beginning on needs and aspirations of the local community, and curricula seek to develop those skills and capacities that render acts of service meaningful and effective." (Baha'i International Community, 1989 Jan 02, Position Statement on Education)
This mix of education and work, known in many universities as "co-op programs," expanded in the 20th Century into the training of most other professions. Computer scientists, engineers and many other highbrow professions have swallowed the pill and adopted apprenticeship programs that used to be the exclusive province of lowly manual trades. Teaching and work, like love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.
In my opinion co-operative education, advanced as it has become, still has not gone far enough or early enough. Schlosser, in Fast Food Nation, talks about how the big fast food giants routinely pressure their High School student employees to go beyond the established modicum of five hours work a week, thus impairing rather than helping their tender young careers. If all employment by all high school students were moderated and regulated by their teachers and curriculum, this could never happen and the nature of the work that students do would in time become less menial and dead-end and more edifying. I would like to see primary school children being introduced to the real world of work too, though specifically how that might be done I do not know. Maybe workplace tours and group janitorial sweep-ups, supervised by teachers, starting off in Kindergarten. Even if the productivity of the little ones does not pay for itself, that is not the point.
Anyway, the Master often mentioned work as worship as part and parcel with the principle of promotion of education. For example, in covering education in
"In addition to this widespread education each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship." (Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 83)
I find this rather mind-blowing, that work done by all, universally, is the "highest" form of worship. It certainly is not directly confirmed in the writings of Baha'u'llah that we have in English; in the Aqdas He says that work has been "elevated" to the station of worship, not that has been raised higher. Frankly, I suspect this source, which is among the most un-authoritative of all collections of the Master's talks, and has never come out in any editions after the first. True, the House quotes this passage several times in its own letters, but I still have my doubts about its authenticity.
The Wiki article about Osler mentions a contribution of Osler that I do not remember being mentioned in the Bliss biography, his initiating of the idea of a "journal club." The Wiki article says, "Osler subsequently taught at
"A journal club is a group of individuals who meet regularly to evaluate critically the clinical application of recent articles in scientific literature. The earliest reference to a journal club is found in a book of memoirs and letters by the late Sir James Paget, a British surgeon, who describes a group at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London in the mid-1800s as `a kind of club ... a small room over a baker's shop near the Hospital-gate where we could sit and read the journals.' Sir William Osler established the first formalized journal club at
Sound familiar? Does the word "Ruhi" ring a bell? The journal club sounds like a sort of scientific Ruhi where instead of Baha'is and friends of Baha'is going over the Creative Word as our source of authority, practicing doctors and medical students buy journals and go over the scientific studies reported in them actively and critically, sharing insights and criticisms. Indeed, Osler's journal clubs sound much like what Francis Bacon had in mind with his "nursery gardens of the mind," places where ideas can grow in a protected atmosphere, and be weeded out too, before they are exposed to the elements in an open air garden. Though most historians take the laboratory method, enacted under Napoleon, as the flowering of Bacon's nursery garden, the journal club sounds more like the intermediary of theory and practice that he had in mind. It reminds me of this joke that popped out my home page's joke pipe a few days ago:
"Do not LOOK at anything in a physics lab.
Do not TASTE anything in a chemistry lab.
Do not SMELL anything in a biology lab.
Do not TOUCH anything in a medical lab.
and, most important,
Do not LISTEN to anything in a philosophy department."
Funny as that is, it points to a major problem in our social setup. If this were anything like a truly scientific, spiritual, healthy world philosophers would be the profession that is the most in demand of any, for they are the ones with expertise about expertise. Nothing can trump that. Democracy, leadership, science, are all about putting experts in the right places and having them communicate amicably, critically, and productively. But no, philosophers are hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of analytic hairsplitting. Sad but true. They are the most in need of all professions of practical experience, of apprenticeships and journal clubs, but they eschew such practices, in effect making themselves, in Plato's image, lame, having only one working leg of theory rather than two, theory and practice. Frightening but true. Plato wrote his Republic to prove that the only way to save the world is to do one of two things, make kings into philosophers or make philosophers into kings. As things are, there is no danger of either happening anytime soon. And just as politicians make themselves into the butt of jokes, so are philosophers, as we see above.