Based on our theology, Mormons should lead the world in early childhood education. Why? Here’s one basic line of argument.
Nowadays, in industrialized nations, we are approaching a sort of theoretical limit of education. It’s wonderful that we have so much time and money to spend on education, so much knowledge within reach, and such great institutions for going to learn it. But people are spending so much time in formal, full-time education that it is cutting into the birthrate! Sure, educated people and people with the leisure to spend a lot of time on education also have a tendency to just not want a lot of children. I won’t speculate on the psychology of that here. Sure, there are a lot of other reasons for the declining birthrate in Europe and the U.S. besides people spending more years in school. But . . .
Mormons are all in favor of education. President Hinckley tells us to get as much education as we can. And though there are some Mormons who still seem to think higher education for women is a fairly low priority, the trend is definitely that women and men both are spending more and more years in school. But Mormons are also all in favor of children, and generally the more the better. This puts us in a bit of a bind. Having children while in school is tough. Especially if you are in a very demanding program. Based on traditional roles, Mom needs to be able to spend lots of time with the kids, and Dad needs to be making enough money that they can afford to have Mom do this. And even if you divide things differently, children just take a lot of time, energy, and money from whichever parent that can make being a student rather inconvenient.
Some of us have bought into the idea that you can just have kids later (and later, and later). Others, though, have learned the hard way that having kids late in a woman’s life, especially starting to have kids late, can be not just difficult but positively dangerous. Anyway, barring some really drastic developments in reproduction assistance, there is a limit to how late one can go without cutting into family size, and if one’s desired family size is, say, five or six kids, one hits that limit very quickly. (Being in school can also be a real impediment to dating, and hence coupling up in the first place, if dating means spending money!)
So what do we do? We feel strongly about both of these things. But a society (or church membership) that spends so much time in education that its members don’t reproduce is a dying society.
My favored solution: Instead of educating more, we educate smarter. We could teach kids twice as much as we do in grade school, easy, if we made it a priority, hired the best people (to teach, or to tell us how to teach!), refined our techniques, and spent a bit more money on it. At least half of what goes on in college in the U.S. is making up for what should have been done in high school. If we do the childhood and teen years right, we could buy ourselves a good four years’ worth of educating “time”, time to add in a JD/MBA with no penalty to child-bearing time. If you’re not Mormon, maybe you don’t care about children. Maybe you’re content to let the people in Angola and Afghanistan have all the children (world data). But given our theology, Mormons should (at least be working every angle we can come up with to) lead the world in early childhood–heck, in all education!