What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Education?

This week marks the beginning of a new school year. As my children return to school, I’ve been thinking about what the Book of Mormon teaches about education. Here are a few key principles:

Principle #1: Education begins at home.

In the very first sentence of the Book of Mormon, Nephi praises his parents and expresses gratitude for their teachings:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father (1 Nephi 1:1).

And Nephi’s nephew, Enos, begins his record in much the same way:

I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it (Enos 1:1).

Elder L. Tom Perry reminded us that parents bear the ultimate responsibility for the education of their children:

Parents must resolve that teaching in the home is a most sacred and important responsibility. While other institutions, such as church and school, can assist parents to “train up a child in the way he [or she] should go” (Proverbs 22:6), ultimately this responsibility rests with parents (“Mothers Teaching Children in the Home,” General Conference, April 2010).

Principle #2: We will only learn if we are teachable.

Commenting on a passage from Isaiah, Nephi tells us that people who choose not to open their minds to new knowledge have stunted their own growth:

Thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have (2 Nephi 28:30). (See also Isaiah 28:10, 13.)

King Benjamin began his sermon by urging his people to open their ears, their hearts, and their minds to his message (Mosiah 2:9). And Alma warned the people of Ammonihah that if they hardened their hearts, they would receive “the lesser portion of the word,” while those who didn’t harden their hearts would receive “the greater portion of the word” (Alma 12:10).

Principle #3: Education loses its value when it becomes a status symbol instead of a quest for knowledge.

One problem with education is that it can produce pride. Performing well on an exam, earning a degree, or being recognized as an expert in a field can cause us to overestimate our abilities and discount input from others, including God. Additionally, it can shift our focus from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of recognition.

The prophet Jacob was particularly direct in denouncing this error:

O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish (2 Nephi 9:28).

Jacob isn’t condemning education in this passage. He is condemning the hubris which often accompanies educational achievement.

When we let our educational success go to our heads, we may set aside the teachability which enabled us to learn so much, and which will be necessary for us to continue to learn.

Principle #4: Education is a key to economic opportunity.

Mormon makes a sobering observation as he describes a period of low economic mobility among the Nephites: Education increases productivity. Therefore, if less wealthy children receive a lower quality education, they will likely remain poor in adulthood:

And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches (3 Nephi 6:12).

We ought to provide educational opportunities for all members of our society, with a particular focus on those who are less fortunate.

Today, I will remember the importance of education. I will recommit to teach my children in my home. I will strive to be open-minded and teachable so that I can continue to learn, and not to let academic honors go to my head. And I will look for ways to help other people receive educational opportunities.

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