January 15, 2003


Children learn they can be superheroes

While some children are busy getting their moral fiber from superheroes on TV and in video games, others are learning how to become superheroes themselves to make the world better. Tucked away in a cluster of houses off of Green Street, 35 local and area youth convene every other weekend for Bahá’í community children’s classes, where they experience how one’s daily actions can change the world.

Liza Zhilkin, background, Robbie Weigand, foreground, Anthony Blue-Keyes and Elias Mulhall tried to lunge forward while their ankles were tied together in a game on virtues during a Bahá’í children’s class Saturday.


Last Sunday at the house of Bahá’í teacher Jackie Mulhall, children in the younger group of three-to seven-year-olds were exploring the theme of superheroes, namely, Captain Courtesy and Lady Loving Deeds.

A hush came over the room of eight children and their parents when suddenly a woman in a silver cape and carrying a magic wand leapt out of the bathroom and appeared beside a boy who had stubbed his toe. It was Lady Loving Deeds, who had come to be helpful and supply a band-aid for the wound.

The children understood when in role play they donned cowboy hats and sponge holsters and rode mop horses to the cleaning rescue, that the power to become a superhero by helping someone in need was well within their grasp. And they were squealing with joy in the process.

“Strive that your actions may be like beautiful prayers,” Mulhall told the students, taking a passage from the Bahá’í holy writings. “Is fighting like a prayer?”

“Nooo!” the students answered in unison. Then Mulhall asked what was like a prayer.

“Hugging,” Greta Kramer answered. “Helping people,” Folger Pyles said. “Being nice to my sister,” Marya Weigand said.

Meanwhile, next door at the house of Bahá’í teacher Linden Qualls, children in the older group of 6- to 12-years-olds were exploring some of the virtues of the Bahá’í Faith through group storytelling. The floor was bouncing with the urgency of the students who wanted to be chosen next to add helpful, serving, kind or perservering characters onto a magical adventure story in the deep dark woods. The youth not only practiced cooperation and creative narration, they also saw how they could become people who serve humanity.

Children can learn positive morals at school and at home. However, Qualls, who has been teaching children’s classes for over 20 years, believes that American culture is so saturated with messages about self, individualism, dominance and pleasure that it nourishes and cultivates spiritual toxicity. And because spiritual growth, which envelopes moral development, is kept to a minimum at public schools by the separation of church and state, she said, good values are not reinforced enough for today’s youth.

“I feel confident in saying that kids who have no spiritual identity to counteract the culture, accept the culture because it’s everywhere, and they’re sponges,” she said.

Though the Bahá’í classes integrate historical and religious elements of the Bahá’í faith, much of their focus is on developing spiritual principles of world peace, racial unity and equality, which, Mulhall said, are the universal truths of all the world’s teachings and are applicable to everyone.

About a fourth of both the younger and older group children are non-Bahá’í and come from Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and meditative spiritual backgrounds. The diversity is appropriate for the Bahá’í faith, which was founded in Iran in the mid-19th century on the belief that its messenger, Baha’u’llah, was the successor to the prophets of all the world religions. Central to the faith is the belief in world unity.

To get there, Qualls said, people have to behave virtuously, which is difficult to do. It requires self-control and strong resistance to the temptations tugging at the soul every day to buy, acquire and gratify the self, she said. The children’s classes help defray those influences and act as a “deposit in the children’s spiritual bank account,” Qualls said.

“I want the children to fall in love with God, humanity and spiritual principles like the oneness of humanity, unity and the equality of men and women,” she said. “They’re powerful and beautiful principles that can make a difference in the world.”

There is very little downtime in the classes, which broach these ideas through drama, art and cooperative games that teach children to work together for a common end rather than work against each other for mutually exclusive ends.

The students’ excitement and inclusion during the classes indicate that they have fun learning. And parents feel the classes are valuable because of the exposure to creativity and diversity they get there.

“I take Mollie not because we’re Bahá’ís but because I like the values that they teach about being generous, respectful and kind,” Dione Greenberg said. “And I want Mollie to be exposed to a broad range of spiritual and religious teachings so that she can make her own choice.”

Each class is centered on a different theme, such as gratitude, cleanliness, honoring your parents, the Bahá’í spiritual laws and discovering your inner beauty. Classes run from September to June, but students can join at any time for an annual fee of $20 for the younger group and $30 for the older group. A large portion of the cost of the classes is paid for by the Yellow Springs Bahá’ís, who see it as a service to this and the surrounding communities to offer the wisdom of the faith.

Mulhall wants the children to see that it’s their job to bring peace in the world and do service to help other people.

“So much of this world is about me, me, me, but we need to think about what we can do for others,” she said.

—Lauren Heaton