The word “education” is defined at Dictionary.com as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” In short, education is an enlightening experience, or as Sydney J. Harris, an American journalist for the Chicago Daily News and later the Chicago Sun-Times, astutely stated, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” However, as someone has intelligently reasoned, “An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living, but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.”
Why Mormons Place a High Value on Education
It is the desire of every faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to become more like their Father in Heaven. One way in which this is achieved is through the education of the mind, which enables a person to develop the skills and talents that will not only prove to be of great worth and help him to appreciate mortal life, but will be of value in the life hereafter as well. Modern-day revelation as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 130:18 teaches, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.”
Robert Maynard Hutchins, an educational philosopher, Dean of Yale Law School, and President and Chancellor of the University of Chicago is quoted as having said, “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” He further stated, “My idea of education is to unsettle the minds of the young and inflame their intellects.” These intellectual ideas and others are incorporated in the philosophy which Latter-day Saints maintain about how and why members should pursue a life-long education.
In the youth section of the official Church website, LDS.org, under the heading standards/education, the following guidance is given concerning the importance of obtaining a good education:
Education will prepare you for greater service in the world and in the Church. It will help you better provide for yourself, your family, and those in need. It will also help you be a wise counselor and companion to your future spouse and an informed and effective teacher of your future children.
Education is an investment that brings great rewards and will open the doors of opportunity that may otherwise be closed to you. Plan now to obtain an education. Be willing to work diligently and make sacrifices if necessary. Share your educational goals with your family, friends, and leaders so they can support and encourage you.
As Latter-day Saints we believe in education, and we have a philosophy about how and why we should pursue it. Our religious faith teaches us that we should seek learning by the Spirit and that we have a stewardship to use our knowledge for the benefit of mankind.
Our quest for truth should be as broad as our life’s activities and as deep as our circumstances permit. A learned Latter-day Saint should seek to understand the important religious, physical, social, and political problems of the day. The more knowledge we have of heavenly laws and earthly things, the greater influence we can exert for good on those around us and the safer we will be from scurrilous and evil influences that may confuse and destroy us.
The Quest for Knowledge
Education is an ongoing process, therefore we are constantly learning throughout the different periods of our lives. Case in point, in the early morning of our lives, our school is our home, the students in the classroom are our siblings, and our teachers are our parents. In the afternoon of our lives, our school is a building outside the home, the students in the classroom become our friends and confidants, and our teachers are those who have themselves studied and prepared to impart knowledge to us that we will use as we continue on our journey through life. And in the evening of our lives, we continue learning in the school of life with the world being our classroom, and life itself being our teacher.
The start of each new day presents opportunities to learn new and interesting things. Mormons attest to the fact that the wise man gleans as much as he can from his life experiences, and with his new found knowledge and wisdom, he is able to chart and navigate his course in life. It should be noted, however, that education should include more than the things that are learned in the traditional classroom from textbooks. It should also include spiritual learning which can be obtained from the study of the scriptures, and for Latter-day Saints, that also includes the words of Latter-day prophets. Latter-day Saints are also encouraged to participate in seminary and institute classes and to continue throughout their lives to learn about Heavenly Father’s plan. It is through spiritual learning that a person, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is able to find answers to the quandaries and challenges of life.
Solomon, perhaps one of the wisest men who ever lived, wrote, “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). There are many students who have witnessed the truthfulness of that statement as they have pulled an all-niter studying their textbook, trying to memorize important material for a test or exam. In making his point, however, Solomon was not attempting to devalue or minimize the importance of education, but rather his counsel was, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14).
Although the actual word “education” is not used in the Bible, there are references as to its importance:
In the book of Proverbs, a son is exhorted to heed his father’s instruction, and the application of the knowledge learned is called wisdom. The word education may not appear in the English form in the Bible, but Scripture does say a lot about the process of education, and it begins with the parent and child. The command to parents is to nurture their children in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), and the Greek word paideia, translated “nurture” in the KJV, carries with it the idea of training, education, instruction and discipline.
Solomon tells us that the basis of all true knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). The word fear here does not carry the idea of terror or dread; rather, it is awe and reverence for the holiness and majesty of God and a reluctance to disappoint or disobey Him. Jesus said that when we know the truth, the truth will make us free (John 8:32). Freedom from fear comes from being educated in Truth.
In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul uses the word “know” or “knowing” eleven times. What is it that he exhorts that we should know? The Word of God. Thus, a knowledge of the Word of God is absolutely essential in our spiritual learning process. God’s Word is absolute truth, and the beauty of absolute truth is that it forever stands on its own merits as being truth regardless if one person believes it, if a thousand people believe it, or if no one believes it. Absolute truth does not need our sustaining vote to be declared as truth, nor can we void its validity by simply disbelieving it. Such “absolute truth” cannot be discovered in traditional education alone. When we acquire spiritual knowledge and apply it to our lives, we are then able to serve the Lord in spirit and truth (see Romans 6:11-13).
The Apostle Paul also admonishes us to, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It is noted that the Greek word translated “study” means to give diligence, to exert oneself, or to make haste to apply oneself. Therefore, in our quest for knowledge, in order to adequately educate ourselves, we must include as part of the education process, the personal application of diligently studying the Word of God. At any cause, in all of our learning, we must avoid being, as Paul warns, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
Why Should We Be Concerned About Education?
The purpose of God’s creations and of His giving us life is to allow us to have the learning experience necessary to come back to live with Him in eternal life. That is only possible if we have our natures changed through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, true repentance, and making and keeping the covenants He offers all of His Father’s children through His Church. True learning must have a powerful spiritual component. That spiritual element, when it is effective, refines and uplifts the aims of our total education.
The thirst for education can be a blessing or a curse, depending on our motives. If we continue to seek learning to serve God and His children better, it is a blessing of great worth. If we seek learning to exalt ourselves alone, it leads to selfishness and pride.
The Lord and His Church have always encouraged education to increase our ability to serve Him and our Heavenly Father’s children. For each of us, whatever our talents, He has service for us to give. And to do it well always involves learning, not once or for a limited time, but continually.
Remember, you are interested in education, not just for mortal life but for eternal life. When you see that reality clearly, you will put spiritual learning first and yet not slight the secular learning. In fact, you will work harder at your secular learning than you would without that spiritual vision.
William Ralph Inge, an English author, Anglican priest, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, perhaps said it best when he stated, “The modern world belongs to the half-educated, a rather difficult class, because they do not realize how little they know.” Latter-day Saints are taught that although they may be a part of the world, they are not to be of the world. Therefore, they learn from an early age to learn, but not to follow, the philosophies of men, unless they are wise. “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). They realize the importance of education and dedicate their lives to continually learning for they also understand “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36) and “Light and truth forsake that evil one” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:37).
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.