Summer is coming to a close and it’s almost time to send our children back to school. This is a perfect time to think about education and what it means for our children. What is true education? What do we want our children to know and to be by the time they leave our homes and go out on their own?
My favorite definition of education comes from Orson F. Whitney: “[Education] is the expansion of the soul – the body and the spirit – to the fullness of its capacity” (“What is Education,” 6/19/1885). What a beautiful way to look at it! This is education from an eternal perspective – allowing the mind and the spirit to expand in wisdom and knowledge to the fullness of their capacity. Education needs to include our whole soul.
What is the goal that we have for educating our children? Certainly we want them to learn and gain skills that will allow them to provide for their future temporal needs. Financial stability is important. However, there are other areas of life that deserve even greater attention. Isn’t the ultimate goal to give our children a strong spiritual foundation so that they can help grow the Kingdom of God in these latter days? All of our spiritual and temporal learning should work to serve that goal in some way.
Usually when we speak of education and learning, our minds go to the learning done in a classroom. Approximately 90% of school-aged children attend public schools – usually for about seven hours a day, five days a week, for nine months every year. That is a significant chunk of time to send our children anywhere, and parents should be keenly aware of how the time spent there can affect them. The public school system is not perfect and we need to take an honest and open look at it. This series of articles will examine some of the concerns of public school and how parents can deal with them.
The Absence of God in Public Education
The biggest concern I see is the absence of God in public school. Through Supreme Court decisions and the misapplied doctrine of separation of church and state, prayer, biblical teachings, and discussion of God are not allowed in school. How do we balance sending our children to school to learn the secular things they need to know with also ensuring that their spiritual needs are being met?
With God removed from education, a vacuum is created which must be filled by another belief system. Our schools now embrace a secular viewpoint which posits that God and his divine influence are of no consequence. Ezra Taft Benson explains why this is a concern: “I would have you consider soberly how this secular influence has affected the treatment of our nation’s history in the textbook in the classroom. Today, students are subjected in their textbooks and classroom lectures to a subtle propaganda that there is a ‘natural’ or a rational explanation to all causes and events. Such a position removes the need for a faith in God, or belief in His interposition in the affairs of men” (BYU, 3/28/76). The secular influence naturally extends beyond history to other subjects like science and philosophy.
Another caution on this subject comes from Bishop Keith B. McMullin: “Because secularism typically ignores the eternal perspective, it can in time lead to unbelief” (BYU, 11/5/06). This seems quite logical when you think about it. We teach our children at church and at home that God’s influence is seen in everything; that a sparrow cannot fall without his notice. We teach our children that their Father in Heaven knows us each intimately and has a grand plan for all of his children. Then they attend school and are taught nothing of God’s influence and instead given alternate secular explanations in all subjects. This will surely lead to confusion for some of our youth.
This dichotomy makes it critical that we examine what is being taught so that we can combat false philosophies and help our children find truth. Ezra Taft Benson said, “As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. President Joseph F. Smith referred to false educational ideas as one of the three threatening dangers among our Church members. . . It is important that you stay close to your children, daily review, if possible, what they have learned in school, and go over their textbooks” (October 1970 General Conference). We must be truly vigilant to ensure that the righteous goal of gaining an education doesn’t result in the negative consequence of having faith weakened or destroyed by those who teach theories as truth that are contrary to God’s laws.
In addition to monitoring what is taught, how can we give our children a strong spiritual foundation to support them through school? Here are some suggestions:
Pray for Discernment
Both we and our children need the gift of discernment. The adversary is subtle and cunning, but the light of the Holy Ghost will illuminate truth and allow us to navigate a world in turmoil.
Attend Seminary and Institute
These programs have been established to help our youth and young adults understand the teachings of Jesus Christ and how to apply them in daily life. Attendance will provide a daily source of spiritual strength for our children.
Make the Gospel a Priority
Family prayer is a wonderful way to begin our day and invite the Spirit to guide our actions. Reading and discussing the scriptures together each day will help our children learn true principles and how to apply them in their lives. Spending quality family time together is essential. We need to be available for our children when they’re home so that they can come to us with cares and concerns. It really is the basic things that can make all the difference.
Teach Children How to Recognize the Spirit
We often discuss the Holy Ghost and we know that he can communicate with us, but each person receives inspiration in different ways. We need to teach our children from a young age how it feels when the Holy Ghost is present in our lives. Point out times when you feel the Spirit. Teach them to pray to know how the Holy Ghost speaks to them. Teach them that the Holy Ghost sends feelings of peace and assurance that can help them know they are doing what is right.
It is always wonderful to have hobbies and to participate in wholesome activities that build talent and character, but we have been warned against participating in these things at the expense of gospel learning and study and quality family time. In the October 2007 General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave this counsel: “The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. Parents should teach gospel priorities through what they do with their children.”
Later in that talk he makes this clear statement: “Some young people are amusing themselves to death—spiritual death.” Keeping our families too busy (albeit with good things) and our priorities off-balance can certainly result in weakening the spiritual foundation of our families.
In an increasingly secular world where God is irrelevant and belief in absolute right and wrong is fading, our children need to be strengthened at home more than ever before. Kim B. Clark said, “Brothers and sisters, you and I need to be much better than we are now. The scriptures teach us that the world is now and will be in commotion. Wickedness and darkness will increase. Yet in that darkening world there will be increased divine light. The Lord Jesus Christ has a great work for us to do with the rising generation. It is a greater work than we have ever done before. The Lord is working in power to strengthen teaching and learning in His true and living Church. He is hastening His work, and He is preparing the earth and His kingdom and us for His return” (“Encircled About with Fire”, 8/4/15).
Our youth have a marvelous work to do on the earth and we have the critical role to prepare them. With so much of their time spent away from home and family, we need to do all we can to strengthen our children and provide a strong spiritual foundation so they may face the world with courage and faith.
Written by Stephanie Gifford
Stephanie Gifford lives in southeast Idaho with her wonderful husband, Jared, and their beautiful daughter. She has a passion for learning about God’s hand in American history and how it ties to the restoration of the Gospel. Stephanie enjoys horses, baseball, reading, and spending time with family.