At schools, teaching and learning practices are always based on a set of fundamental beliefs or basic assumptions about human beings, such as their essential nature, how they learn, what inspires them, and their role in society.
Without these essential questions being articulated and addressed, practices can become lost in tradition or simply recycled year after year. This is not just true for schools, but for any institution.
Therefore at Townshend we wish to be explicit and clear about our foundational beliefs and the source of their inspiration.
Townshend was founded in 1992 by a family from Austria who were members of the Bahá’í Faith. As such, the school’s philosophy is drawn from the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, which inspires our approach to education, the individual and social progress in the world.
We take to heart the statement that “man is in reality, a spiritual being, and not until he lives in the spirit is he truly happy.” Preparation for material success takes place while recognizing that material things cannot fulfill the deepest yearnings of the soul – the yearning for purpose, for meaning, for connection to one’s Creator, for love and compassion and kindness. Therefore, time is regularly afforded to reflect on the life of the spirit. As a diverse community, we nurture spiritual expression for students of all faiths, and of no faith.
Our approach towards education is based upon the concept that each individual is a noble and spiritual being; a mine rich in gems, which education alone can uncover. Our task then, as educators, is not to just fill a young person with knowledge, but to also unleash the latent potential in each student. We see the best in each student - their talents and qualities - and by holding up a mirror to those qualities, help them to develop the best in themselves. As one graduate put it, “Townshend helped me see something within myself that I did not know was there.” This is among the greatest gifts we could give our students.
Excellent academics and intellectual development are vital. But the world has no shortage of smart people. What it needs is more people with character – ethical values and human virtues. At Townshend, moral development is front and center, along with academic excellence. Our code of conduct is based upon five seminal virtues: Honor, Respect, Responsibility, Leadership, and Commitment. Intellectual development is vital, and when combined with moral development, it is “light upon light.”
A harmonious social environment allows children to grow by resonating with the virtues implicit to that environment. Townshend usually lies in sharp distinction from what most students have experienced. Skills are developed to solve problems through consultation, to have meaningful conversations, and to be empowered to take actions that strengthen unity, such as avoiding backbiting and exclusivity. As one student put it, “There are no cliques here. Everyone knows each other by name, and although not every single person is a close friend, everyone is friendly. Each person has such a big group of friends that it’s hard to classify someone as your ‘best friend.’”
Every person has a two-fold moral purpose in life: To pursue their spiritual, material and intellectual growth - and to contribute to the well-being and advancement of society. Over the millennia society has evolved through progressive stages of greater cooperation and interdependence – such as tribes, followed by city-states, growing into nations. The advancement and maturation of society seen in this light means that ever higher levels of acceptance, understanding, justice and peace are needed for an evolving global society built upon the principle of the oneness of humanity.
Education has a purpose beyond providing outstanding credentials and a successful career. Ultimately, knowledge, insights, and skills allow students to be of service to others. For it is in service to others that the deepest fulfillment and happiness are to be found. During life at Townshend students participate in core activities and service projects that help them gain experience in community-building and in shaping human affairs. The motivation and desire to be of help in creating a fair global society is strengthened by experiencing that one’s actions really can make a difference in the world.
Practices and Methods
For our educational approach and practices to be reflective of these key principles, cycles of reflection, consultation, planning and action are employed. Societal change and the unique generational needs of children and youth requires us to be constantly in this ‘learning mode’, drawing from the experiences and wisdom of all stakeholders. It is our desire that in these continual cycles of development, lessons learned can also be shared with the a wider community of educational institutions.
Any educational practice should always have a reason to exist and be supported by a key principle. These are just a few examples of our approach:
students are encouraged to be active learners and ask questions
inquiry-based learning and inter-disciplinary projects are encouraged
cooperative methods are chosen in favour of competitive structures
teamwork is practiced
time is provided in the mornings and evenings for prayerful reflection
life-skills, which go beyond regular academic subjects, are timetabled weekly
all students participate in service projects
classes are deliberately kept small for personable and meaningful interactions
students are empowered to take on wider responsibilities, e.g. running Assemblies and a Snack Shop
The school also draws from wider sources of experience and insights gained from the theory and practice of various educational approaches around the world.
FAQ – Bahá’í-Inspired
These are some questions that parents frequently ask about the school and it being inspired by the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith.
1. Is the school run by the Bahá’í Faith?
No. Townshend is entirely a private entity. It does not come under the auspices of any governmental, religious or philanthropic body, nor does it receive from or contribute funds to those institutions, including the Bahá'í Faith. Although it is inspired by the principles of the Bahá'í Faith, it is completely separate from its administration.
2. Does the school try to convert people to the Bahá’í Faith?
No. In fact, ‘proselytising’, which is offering rewards or putting pressure on people to adopt a religion, is strictly prohibited in the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith.
3. Bahá’í Studies is a subject. Do all students have to take it?
No. From Grade 10 upwards, it is an option that is open to anyone. They do not have to take it. It is frequently taken by students from Bahá’í families who wish to explore the teachings further. Townshend makes no distinction between those from any or no religious belief. All students are free to choose their course of study.
4. Will my child be forced to say prayers?
No. There are short times for prayerful reflection in the mornings and evenings, when prayers and readings are shared from a wide range of sources, including the world’s major religions and inspirational historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. Reading and sharing is completely voluntary. The minimum that is required is that students respect the silence and reverence shown by others.
5. How else is the inspiration from the Bahá’í teachings visible in the school routine?
- The yearly calendar of the school includes holidays on the Bahá’í Holy days. There are often community commemorative gatherings on these days, to which all are welcome and optional for students to attend.
- Various student service projects, ‘Social Action’ classes, and staff training seminars, may use study materials of the Ruhi Institute. Based on the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, the books of this institute are intended to be used to enhance capacity for service and the spiritual and moral empowerment of individuals.
- Sometimes there are activities and events organised by the local or national Bahá’í community, quite separate from the school. Because some students are also members of the local Bahá’í community, they may invite their friends to accompany them. Again, this is on a purely voluntary basis.
More information on the Bahá’í Faith
The Bahá’í Faith, is and independent world faith and is established in more than 100,000 localities in virtually every country and territory around the world.
The Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
Bahá’ís believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life.
Bahá’í beliefs address such essential themes as the oneness of God and religion, the oneness of humanity and freedom from prejudice, the inherent nobility of the human being, the progressive revelation of religious truth, the development of spiritual qualities, the integration of worship and service, the fundamental equality of the sexes, the harmony between religion and science, the centrality of justice to all human endeavours, the importance of education, and the dynamics of the relationships that are to bind together individuals, communities, and institutions as humanity advances towards its collective maturity.
- The official website of the worldwide Bahá’í community can be found at: https://www.bahai.org/
- The Czech national community has its website at: https://bahai.cz/