Education lies close to the hearts of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and resonates with many of the other values they hold dear. Mormons love learning and are dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge. Their commitment to education, both as a principle and as a practice, is evident in their beliefs, teachings and everyday activities. They affirm that education is a broad, lifelong pursuit with a variety of vital purposes. They have a unique understanding of what education is — a principle that recognizes the human soul as well as the intellect. Moreover, Mormons have a tradition of education that is rich and longstanding, something they cherish and continue to maintain. Because they believe that education deserves their best efforts, Latter-day Saints afford it significant resources and energy.
I. Mormons’ Understanding of Education
The Purposes of Education
The principle of education is woven into the most fundamental beliefs Mormons hold about God, about life and about themselves. Latter-day Saints affirm, for instance, that God is all-knowing, and are taught that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” They also believe that as children of God, the objective of all people is to continuously strive to become like Him, and they see education as a vital part of this striving. Hence life, for Latter-day Saints, is not only a time of testing but also a school to develop understanding through both study and experience. Education is one of life’s preeminent purposes and has enduring eternal value that transcends death. The development of a refined, enlightened, and godly character is its ultimate end.
Latter-day Saints believe that because of its immense and lasting value, God has made education a divine commandment for which His children are responsible. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon echo this commandment with invitations to seek, “knock,” and ask for knowledge; modern revelations and prophets give explicit instruction to learn, and clarify that learning is essential for salvation. Church founder Joseph Smith taught that “no man is saved faster than he gets knowledge,” and that “no man can be saved in ignorance.” Mormons also affirm that God is actively involved in the education of His children. He enlightens the mind; He promises that efforts to learn will be recognized and met with His wise dispensations of knowledge.
Behind the Latter-day Saint approach to education is a distinctive understanding of learning and knowledge. Mormons distinctly emphasize that education is for the whole person; it involves and benefits both the mind and the spirit. Education is not exclusively intellectual; rather, Latter-day Saints seek learning “by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). In part, this means that Mormons recognize a kind of learning that incorporates both intellect and spiritual insight. They also acknowledge that these are not unrelated: spiritual understanding, for instance, is necessary to give rational inquiry its ultimate purpose. Moreover, Latter-day Saints affirm that faith and reason are not fundamentally hostile to each other. Thus the pursuit of truth is unbounded, although Latter-day Saints especially prize understanding that brings seekers nearer to God and helps fulfill life’s essential purposes.
While education plays a vital role in the theology of Mormonism, it also has other personal value. Latter-day Saints believe that education ought to relate to and enhance life experience. Brigham Young explained that “education is the power to think clearly, to act well in the world’s work, and to appreciate life.” Mormons value the life of the mind and the richness that education adds to life experience. They are encouraged to love learning and teaching, and they recognize that knowledge is personally empowering.
Latter-day Saints also believe that learning ought to have practical value; it should improve one’s ability to make social contributions, to be financially self-reliant, and generally to “act well in the world’s work.” Latter-day Saints recognize that education is crucial for moral and practical reasons that range from the support and upbringing of their families to participation in broader society. Education is a serious charge for parents who are responsible to provide the necessities of life for their children. Church President Thomas S. Monsonhas encouraged both men and women to pursue education in order to participate as needed in a competitive economic world. Education also enables those who pursue it to make a greater impact for good in their communities. It enhances their ability to serve the human family.
Of course, Mormons affirm that education is crucial in the immediate family as well. As the Saints understand the family to be the most fundamental unit of human society, they regard the home as the seat of human learning. Parents are divinely commissioned to rear their children “in light and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:40). They have primary responsibility to bring their children to intellectual, social and spiritual maturity through precept and example. The raising of children is considered a collaboration with God, and parents and other educators are responsible to guide children in ways that benefit them immediately and eternally.
The Scope of Education
The Mormon understanding of education is inclusive, not only of different kinds of learning, but in other ways as well. Church teachings outline a vast field of valuable knowledge, incorporating an unlimited array of secular and religious subjects. Geography, culture, history, science and innumerable other subjects fall within these wide parameters, which extend well beyond the conventional scope of religious knowledge. Indeed, at one level, Mormons do not distinguish between “secular” and “religious” knowledge. They regard all forms of truth as relevant and sacred.
Although “education” often suggests formal schooling, Latter-day Saints recognize that it should involve far more than that. They are encouraged to regard education as an individual responsibility, and they are taught that each person ought to pursue education independently in the context of their own lives, learning in the ways and to the extent that their circumstances allow. While they view formal educational programs as indispensible, Mormons also value individual reading, study, thought and observation of many kinds. They affirm that a wealth of knowledge is available to all those who will engage it.
Finally, to Latter-day Saints, education is a principle that spans eternity. Mormon scripture teaches that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life” will follow us in the hereafter (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18). Latter-day Saints also see in education a perpetual enterprise; they anticipate and hope for a long course of learning that extends indefinitely into the future.
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