Theology and Early Childhood Education

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!

49 comments for “Theology and Early Childhood Education

  1. November 7, 2005 at 1:06 am

    What you are suggesting is exactly why some of homeschoolers homeschool.

  2. November 7, 2005 at 1:08 am

    Bah! I am incoherent. You know what I meant to say.

  3. Wilfried Decoo
    November 7, 2005 at 1:42 am

    Interesting topic, Ben. Just a few thoughts.

    “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.” Probably true, but when I compare to some West-Europe nations or to Japan, am I wrong to say that in the U.S. the youth at least had a youth during their high-school? And that the U.S. system can recuperate late bloomers, who in those other countries have been crushed? I am not saying your statement is wrong, I’m only adding some nuances when we shift too much to high school and expect too much of that age group.

    “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.” I concur. But what remains amazing is that all the waves of (expensive) educational reforms since the middle of the 19th century have, apparently, not led to major breakthroughs for all – but only to temporary improvements for select groups. It raises the question of the deeper functionality of educational improvement. We cannot deny plenty is already done worldwide.

  4. November 7, 2005 at 2:54 am

    “Mormons are all in favor of education”

    If education in Utah is any indication, this is true until it starts costing $. After that, the all-mighty dollar wins.

  5. Keith
    November 7, 2005 at 3:18 am

    No matter what we do in terms of formal schooling, perhaps the best thing parents can do for their children is read to them early on–often and widely. For all that Arthur King overstated things, on the issue of reading to children–and also immersing them in the language of the scriptures throughout their lives–I think he’s spot on.

    Then provide opportunities for reading–their reading, not the parent’s. A huge number of the highly intelligent folks I know will tell of their being brought fairly early to a library and the kind of glee/wonder there was at knowing they could check out six books every week.

    I would venture to guess that nearly every permanent blogger on T&S were read to early on or at least had wide access to books and a healthy encouragement to read. So hard to find a substitute for this.

  6. Mark IV
    November 7, 2005 at 9:59 am

    Ben, I wonder if there might not be some benefit to having young children watch their parents struggle to finish school? I would think that is more common among our people than among the population at large.

    I think one possible benefit might be that the children in those homes learn that knowledge is worthwhile and deserves our best efforts, even our sacrifice.

  7. John Mansfield
    November 7, 2005 at 11:05 am

    Counter to the rest of U.S. society, among Latter-day Saint mothers family size correlates positively with education attained. (Maybe someone can provide the source on this.) When I told this to a woman in my ward who was pregnant with her fourth, she said “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing: showing how smart I am.”

  8. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Sure, Mark, that is a real benefit. I suspect if what we want is for children to learn to love education from their parents’ example, there are other ways of achieving it about as well, though. One is for parents to continue to read and reflect, attend lectures or conferences, or hold book groups or the like. Another is for the parents to take an active interest in their children’s education, hold interesting Family Home Evenings, meet with teachers etc. If the parents actually put effort of their own into being sure their kids are well educated (beyond just nagging the kids to do their homework and keep their grades up), the kids will get the message that their education matters and–surprise–that they matter, which is a huge help to positive development.

    Keith, absolutely, much of the most valuable education is not really part of schooling, and the ability and habit of seeking out stimuli oneself is crucial. I read a lot as a kid, and it made a big difference. I think it is also very important that kids do things that are even more active than reading: build projects, help keep a garden . . . Boy Scout stuff . . .

    Absolutely, Bryce.

    Loyd, there are some problems there. I’m not saying Mormons are living up to the implications of their theology! But I think there are other ways in which Mormons in Utah show their commitment to education, and I think doing so in ways that are not measured in money (e.g. by parents’ own investment in their childrens’ lives and education) or not measured by money spent within the school system (piano/harp/bassoon lessons, scouting, church/seminary) is a pretty good way to go. Plus they increase the effectiveness of money spent on schools. So while I would like to see Utah spend more on schools (not necessarily public schools in the conventional mold), I don’t think that measure reflects very well Mormons’ real commitment to education. (Also, think about BYU and you’ll see the church’s commitment to education)

    Wilfried, while I think Europe’s high schools do show that much of what goes on in college in the U.S. is making up for deficient high schools, I am not advocating a move in the direction of the European model. I’m no connoisseur, but my hunch is that in Europe they have a similar basic model of education but more ideological support (social context) and different demographics, so their greater success is not attributable to their educational model.

    When I said we should educate smarter, not more, I meant it. I think our kids could spend fewer hours in school and still learn twice as much. For many kids, school is a major impediment to learning, for reasons closely related to its conflict with their having a youth. Education in Japan, where I served my mission, is a beautiful example of how to go badly wrong. Kids spend way too much time squinting at books. Books are an important part of education, but they are as much a stimulus as anything, and then the response has to be given space and context and support to carry through.

    I happily spent my youth largely in structured activities and in school because they were so great at my high school. Who says playing sports on a team, or singing in a choir, or playing in a jazz band, or reading and discussing great books, or designing crazy science projects, conflict with youth? I think they only conflict with it so far as they are painful, and too much time spent doing what one doesn’t want to be doing is contrary to youth. But when they are run well, they are a lark and a spree and also excellent in their educational value. In junior high I spent a lot of time frivolously, playing video games, watching dumb movies, though also playing in more healthy ways like basketball or capture the flag or whatever. But once I got to high school, I had no time for movies anymore, not because I was required to do other things, but because movies were too dull compared with the other things I was doing, including classwork. When I went to BYU, I felt in some ways I had regressed, and school was again something of an impediment to my education (though I don’t know any other present institution where I would have been likely to learn the things I needed to learn there). I think school becomes oppressive (and contrary to youth) primarily when the grown-ups aren’t investing enough in it to make it a really good use of the kids’ time. Maybe the kids still need to do it because how else are they going to learn the stuff? But it is odious because they are having to struggle through, less effectively, alone (or in a crowd of too many other students for the teacher to effectively serve).

    I’m not pretending it is easy to make education a lark and a spree, but there are places that do it pretty consistently.

  9. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 11:46 am

    John Mansfield, that is really interesting. I wonder how far it goes, though. I mean, I bet Mormon women with PhDs or JD/MBA/MDs before 35 tend to have more children than non-Mormons, but not more than Mormon women with a bachelor’s degree. I would love to see the numbers.

    Wilfried, I am not sure what waves of educational reform you are talking about, but the fact that people have tried to reform education before doesn’t mean they have tried right. Further, I suspect these waves you are talking about were done by people who had to work in important ways within the constraints of a pre-given paradigm which may have already included many of the worst problems. Like, how many of these reformers had access to parents, and to parents’ ideals? Many of the problems with education in the U.S. today can’t be addressed within the schools. Rather, they must be addressed at the level of a community or society as a whole, or in ways that require the cooperation of the community or society as a whole. As a church, we are capable (in principle) of acting as a people in response to our ideals, which is the kind of response I think we need. Maybe we need to restructure to some extent the whole rest of society, though perhaps in relatively small ways, to enable a better approach to education! And that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Parenthood changes your whole life. A society’s commitment to its children should change the whole way it runs.

  10. Adam Greenwood
    November 7, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    Ben Huff,

    A fascinating suggestion. One thought: how would accelerating education impact our missionary culture? One reason our young men are so willing to serve is that the mission comes right at the start of college, making the transition from education to work force or education to graduate education seamless. But would that be so if our boys are finishing up their college right about when its time for the mission?

    Another thought: I think you’re right that we could be educationally ready for going to college several years sooner, but what about emotional and character maturity? Fifteen and sixteen and seventeen year olds don’t fit well, I think, with our current apron-strings-cutting model of college education. So I think any concerted attempt at accelerating education would have to figure out different ways of getting advanced education: either an expansion of BYU-type schools where the church can serve in loco parentis, or an emphasis on stay-at-home college attendance, or a homeschooling/distance-education model.

    Another thought: school is where Mormons go to get married. Your concern is that Mormons are putting off childrearing, or at least attenuating it, until they graduate at 24 — 25 -26 or even until they get advanced degrees at 28 – 29 – 30. So you propose pushing this all up by three to four years. This would mean, however, that folks would be graduating before they reach the age that most Mormons get married at. This wouldn’t be a problem for folks who do post-graduation, I suppose, but that’s not the majority. So your proposal needs some serious thought about how it affects Mormon courtship. Would we want kids to start getting married younger? I would be all for this, myself, but that would impact missions, and I just dont’ see how you could make that happen. Getting people to get married at an earlier age is a huge cultural shift, and, in this case, one that runs in the opposite direction from prevailing societal trends (the fact that our marriage ages are already fairly marginal in relation to the general society makes it even more difficult). Or you’d have to make post-college life more conducive to courtship, but there’s limits on how effective that could be–but I’d be interested in hearing people’s ideas.

  11. Mike
    November 7, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    I wonder if the establishment of Mormon private schools might not be part of the answer?

    What other church has a better flagship institution (BYU) that could become a sort of teacher factory? Technology has Cal Tech and MIT and Georgia Tech. BYU could become the same for the field of primary and secondary education and all these teachers could work in the church schools

    What other church already has in place a rudimentary skeletal organization in the current CES system? (Although the CES would have to get out of the cheerleading for Jesus and Joseph business and into the real academic business in my opinion.)

    What other church has a larger army of possible part-time teacher’s aids, I am thinking of the full time missionaries who could help in far flung areas?

    What other church has more money?

    I think the world would beat a path to our door if we had the best private education system in the US and a worldwide network of schools supported by missionaries where needed. I think it would result in bettter growth with better retention than our current missionary approach.

  12. Adam Greenwood
    November 7, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    This sort of post and discussion is, by the way, exactly what I hoped for when I got into blogging.

    If you want to complain, you don’t have to go on the internet to do it. If you want a discussion of Mormon history or Mormonism’s intellectual implications, publication is probably a better medium (though I find do find those posts interesting and valuable).

    But Mormonism doesn’t have a good venue for brainstorming and think tanks. Good on you, Ben Huff.

  13. Wilfried Decoo
    November 7, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    Ben, thanks for responding to my quick thoughts. I think we are in full agreement. Even with the differences between schools in the U.S. and in Europe, I concur with your statement: “I think our kids could spend fewer hours in school and still learn twice as much. For many kids, school is a major impediment to learning, for reasons closely related to its conflict with their having a youth.”

    When I referred to educational reforms, I was thinking outside “the constraints of a pre-given paradigm” (I hope). I would say people like Pestalozzi, Montessori, Steiner, Waldorf… have shown ways you also would defend (in whatever modernized form of course). The point I was trying to make is that it is amazing that such endeavors have not led to major breakthroughs for all, and so the deeper functionality of educational improvement seems the major question: how to implement what we know must be implemented.

  14. b bell
    November 7, 2005 at 3:08 pm


    Your post about a system of private schools is a very interesting idea. It would be easier to implement in the US core areas of course but I see real value in at least exploring the idea. Again you make good points like your rant about the PTA. Outside of the core areas it would ahve to operate in the major metro areas probably on a county basis. There are enough kids (12k total members) in my county to make this feasible to have at least 2 schools.

    FWIW I am related (by marriage) to senior church employee and he tells me that the 12 is considering opening church schools in areas of the third world with problems of retention (think Philipines, South America, parts of Africa) in an effort to retain more of the converts. Its an idea that may gain some traction here eventually. My relation again says that the Adventists have used this idea to great effect in many parts of the world.

  15. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 3:18 pm


    Accelerated education would boost missionary effectiveness drastically I think. I am convinced that a big part of the immaturity we see in 19-year-olds is due to our educational models: they are not responsible for anything until they go on their missions. Education should include responsibility, projects, goal-oriented activity. And if we can’t get the kids to do anything goal-oriented, but only know how to carrot-and-stick them through hoops, that is a sign of our failure to understand them and meet their needs.

    For the moment, I’m not proposing we change the typical current timelines for finishing education, marrying, and entering a career. Professionally-oriented higher education should probably still come after missions for young men, and staying in school until 22-6 is a good idea for meeting marriage partners. That just means people would be entering careers with much more education at 22-6 than otherwise. Think of it this way: there’s time for the equivalent of a liberal arts undergraduate degree in the high school years, then professional specialization (engineering, management, etc.) afterward. If that means masters degrees and the like become as routine as undergraduate degrees are now, great. If people are over-educated for the available jobs, so what? Education will benefit them in other aspects of their lives.

    But I am not no way never suggesting that we send fifteen-year-olds to universities as they typically stand today. Better, we send them to schools with other accelerated kids until eighteen or so, then let them go take a second major or master’s degree at regular universities if they want to go.

    Mike, I definitely think there should be Mormon private schools, though we have a lot of work to do to get ready to run them. With a few exceptions, we don’t know yet how to teach religion above a (current) high school level.

    Wilfried, I don’t know a lot about these reforms you mention, but I suspect a big part of the problem is selling it to a large audience. That is a problem any education reform will have to face. I do think, though, that the shared values of the LDS community provide a forum in which ideas like these could perhaps be more fruitfully “sold”. And Mormons are committed to children in a way many others are not. Thus the advantages of a “targeted” approach. Still, I would love to hear more about what these reformers’ basic ideas were, and the particulars of the resistance they have met. I suspect another big part of the problem is state-imposed uniformity in education. That seems to be loosening up lately, as one of many movements in recent decades toward decentralization of decision-making.

    The Catholic schools in the early days of the U.S. had a different educational plan than the other schools, and eventually they had to give in, in the interest of compatibility. But perhaps Mormons are cohesive enough to maintain a parallel standard, a sort of Apple Computer of education, with enough people and institutional mass to be independently viable.

  16. Rosalynde Welch
    November 7, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    Ben, I think you’re a little too doomsday about the biological childbearing window for women. If the desired family size is five or six, I don’t think putting off children until several years into a (reasonable length) PhD program should be a problem. I served a mission from 22-23, married and started PhD at 24, had first child at 26 (after finishing coursework in PhD program), had second child and finished degree at 29. Even with a generous two to three years between children, I think I’ll still be able to get my five or six by middish thirties. And if I were willing to have them closer, I could have waited even longer. If I wanted ten or eleven, like my mother, it would of course be a very different ballgame, on both ends.

    The problem is if a start on the career is desired before kids; that really does get into the time crunch. Or if there turn out to be fertility issues, although if you start working on kids even in the late twenties, there’s still time for fertility therapy, and probably without any reduction in the total number of children, given the price and difficulty of ART.

    [Edited to add, if my husband is reading: “my five or six” should be read, of course, as pure hypothetical! ]

  17. CS Eric
    November 7, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    I find the idea of Mormon private schools to be intriguing. The experience the Church is now gaining worldwide with the PEF may be a good base to begin with. As we have more participants in PEF, the Church will gain credibility with schools throughout the world, and is almost certainly making excellent contacts for establishing the infrastructure such a move would require.

  18. November 7, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    Ben, you are right. Mormons should care more about educating children. They should be willing to put more money into it. Mormons should be willing to hire the best teachers. The fact here in Utah is that they do not. The spirit may be willing, and the wallet able, but the flesh is just too weak.

    Sure, parents may be interested in their own children’s education. And BYU is a great example of the church‘s commitment to education, and an example of people seeking their own education, as well as their children‘s education. I think the argument could be made that many use BYU’s level of education as a tool for evangelizing as well.

    My point is that the money spent on education in Utah is indicative of the general Mormon (personal not theological) view towards general education. Education for oneself or one’s children may have the highest priority, but what about the education of others? What about all those children whose parents are unable or unavailable to further educate them outside of school? What about those who can’t afford for themselves or their children the techonology and tools needed to further their own education?

    The Mormon pursuit of education should exceed the confines of one’s own self and home. The love of education should be measured by the community one is in, not merely their own.

  19. Adam Greenwood
    November 7, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    I think your overplaying your point. Spending per child is nothing to shake a stick at in Utah, but spending per capita is a lot less bleak, and when you get to what Utah spends on education as a percentage of its public funds, they rank highly among the states. Or at least that’s what I recall.

  20. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    Rosalynde, I would like to see some actual data on this. As in another conversation about reproductive biology recently, I worry that an ideological a priori might be having undue influence. I admit my own information is mainly anecdotal. But what if there is a miscarriage or two? What if someone only can get pregnant three years apart? What if decreasing fertility becomes a problem in the thirties for a particular woman? And just counting on my fingers, children three years apart from 26 would be 26, 29, 32, 35–that’s just four by the middle of the thirties. 2.5 years’ separation gets one to five at 36. Not bad, if all goes smoothly. But to plan in advance, without having done it before, on having children into the later thirties seems a bit dicey. Much more sensible to leave some margin for error on something as important as child-bearing than to leave it until the last instant one can realistically hope to get away with. Do you know a good article on this?

    In no way am I suggesting you have been less than fully sensible about this, Rosalynde. I think 26 is a very reasonable time to start having children. Nor do I think that someone who plans on having fewer than six children is therefore irresponsible or something. But as a norm, I think your schedule starts pretty late. You will probably be fine and have as many kids as you had hoped for. But if we’re formulating rules of thumb here, to plan our institutions around, 26 is on the late side baseline if someone wants to be able to have six kids. And I am really leery of planning institutions in such a way that instead of leaving a couple of years’ margin of error, the margin of error is all about funky medical technology.

    I think my mother is exemplary in a lot of ways. She generally had very unproblematic pregnancies, etc. but she still took from 23 to 39 to have her six kids (perhaps because of breastfeeding couldn’t really get pregnant less than about three years apart), and 39 was fine for her but is a bit on the late side if we’re thinking in terms of norms, isn’t it?

    But you’re right about the career thing, and anyway, who says you are as educated as anyone should ever want to get? : )
    I mean, it’s hard to imagine anyone realistically aspiring to be smarter than you, Rosalynde–except, well, perhaps my niece Rosie or my nephew Joseph, or a couple of other kids I know of smart parents . . .

    But I’m thinking in terms of the future here. As life gets increasingly complicated, technology advances, etc., there will continue to be pressure for more and more and more education, as there has been in the past century. And frankly, I don’t think we are educated enough as a people to handle even the challenges we are already facing. Far from it.

  21. Adam Greenwood
    November 7, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    Ben Huff,
    You’re being deliciously utopian, but utopian nonetheless. Accelerating education, so that kids at 18-19 know as much as their peers at 23-24 is a revolutionary idea but, for the reasons you point out, a feasible one. But when, on top of that, you add (1) trying to get the youth not only to learn more but to mature faster and (2) trying to encourage most everyone to get a graduate education, you are exponentially making the task more difficult and less likely, even if all of these other goals were feasible.

    Which I don’t think they are. Youth could mature faster than they do, but I think there are biological and time constraints that you can’t social engineer. Eperience is partly a function of, well, experience, and experience takes time. And certain kinds of brain growth that are associated with mature decisionmaking processes aren’t finished until towards the end of the teenage years. And not only do most people not want to go to graduate school, but lots of people aren’t fit for it. The reason your idea of accelerating education works is that college is fairly dumbed down these days. This means that a college education is well within the reach of most. But that’s not as true of graduate education. It would be a mistake to say that we’ll simply convert the bachelors-getting folks into grad-degree getting folks. Also, there are cost issues. Grad students come out of school with more debts than undergrad students, so your solution might paradoxically lead to reduced marriage and childrearing because couples would be starting their married lives with more debt.

  22. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Hm. Maybe I was unclear, and maybe I am just trying out ideas here, but Adam, I think you are reading more maturity into my utopia than I mean to be assuming. My main goal here is not to get kids out of school sooner. My main goal is to help kids pack in more education without increasing the average graduation age any further. Terminal degrees should still probably be happening in the same time frame they do today. But someone who has done the equivalent of an extra major or two in related or unrelated fields will be a much more interesting grad. student and accomplish more. A lot of what I would like to see boosted is breadth of education. But I also am not convinced graduate school requires as much maturity as you suggest. In Europe there are whole countries where doctoral degrees don’t really involve coursework the way they do in the States, so I really think they are getting their graduate work done a couple of years earlier. For myself, I felt like my graduate coursework was a step back in the maturity demanded compared with my work as a research assistant at BYU. Not until I started working on my dissertation, more than three years into my program, did I feel like I had decisively left the mode of undergraduate education.

  23. November 7, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    Ben, one huge obstacle to your proposal (in the United States at least) is the fact that the public education establishment has decreed that the number one, no, make that the only criterion for when a child should be taught something is their age. Not their ability to understand the material. Not their willingness to study hard. Not their learning disability. Not their “gifted and talented” status. It’s strictly age-based.

    An efficient education system would allow students to move through it at their own pace. Where we as a nation really underserve our children is in the high-achieving tail of the student population. Adequately meeting the educational needs of gifted and talented students requires approaches and resources of the same order of magnitude as special needs students, but are funded at perhaps two orders of magnitude less. Furthermore, the simple (if not really adequate) solution of letting such students work ahead is prohibited by law in most states. Gifted and talented programs in almost every (perhaps all) state provide enrichment, not acceleration. It’s basically busywork to keep them occupied until the rest of the class catches up.

    Another problem is that students are typically classified as special needs or gifted generally, when in fact their strengths and weaknesses may manifest only in specific areas.

    Unless this state of affairs changes, it’s going to be hard to accelerate the rate of learning in the general student population in this country.

  24. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    Well, Bryce, for anyone using the public school system, sure, that built-in inflexibility is a problem. Here in Utah, though, recently there has been put in place a pretty broad provision for charter schools which could easily adopt a different plan. And in Arizona they’ve been doing it for a while. If those programs are successful, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them adopted elsewhere. They’re still new, of course, and it will take many years for their full potential to be explored.

    But I would also be happy to see this philosophy lead to a lot more people home schooling, too.

  25. November 7, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    Just FYI, although I am a homeschooling parent, I am not a homeschooling evangelist. Homeschooling is not a cure-all for our country’s educational problems.

  26. Adam Greenwood
    November 7, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    “My main goal here is not to get kids out of school sooner. My main goal is to help kids pack in more education without increasing the average graduation age any further.”

    All right, fair enough. I thought your goal was to accelrate kid’s education so they could marry and have children sooner, but certainly getting more out of the time spent in school. while spending the same amount of time, is a laudable goal in itself. That raises a different set of issues, though. At each level where you want to improve on the way education is done in this country, you either have to change the whole country or else you have to evolve a Mormon alternative. So if your goal was to get kids into college at younger ages, you’d need to evolve a Mormon alternative education until about age 16, at which point you could plug in to the regular university system.

    But if you want kids to be getting improved education throughout, while still following the normal years of education in the society at large, then you have to evolve an alternative Mormon system all the way through college. This gets a lot more expensive and difficult. Paradoxically, BYU existing already might be one of the things that makes it more difficult–institutions resist change. Also, the fact that colleges and universities are big is a problem–your proposal ideally needs a lot of experimenting and trial-and-error, which is a lot easier to do with smaller and more numerous primary and secondary schools.

  27. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    If people are getting married in their early twenties (20-25) and starting to have kids shortly thereafter, as seems to be pretty typical among those who pass through BYU, I’m fine with the status quo on that. If we can keep that paradigm going, that will be an achievement itself.

    Yes, I’m envisioning an alternative education system (including mixing in homeschooling or whatever) at least through the late teens–not just for Mormons, but spearheaded by Mormons if necessary–lots of non-Catholics go to Catholic schools, for example. I think we could work with existing universities after that, though. One way to do this would be, as I mentioned earlier, to focus on the liberal arts and sciences in the latter teens, and then let the kids go to existing universities to study engineering or other things that are more marketable. How well this works will depend on the field. Probably some of the lower-division courses they would want to test out of, but they still should easily be able to find three or four years’ worth of worthwhile things to do at a standard university. There’s plenty there. But when I was at BYU lots of people wanted to be there for six years because they kept changing their majors and exploring. Having learned more before going to college would reduce the need for that. Plus for Mormon men, a two-year mission means Mormons could be straightforwardly two years ahead in their undergraduate work and still just arrive in grad. school the same time as others do. There would have to be experimentation to see what works earlier in life and what doesn’t. But what is clear is that kids are capable of an awful lot more than we usually give them the chance to do pre-college.

  28. Rosalynde Welch
    November 7, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    Ben, no problem, I’m not offended! You’re right, it’s difficult to talk about these issues without generalizing our own (or our mothers’!) anecdotal experiences.

    Yeah, my timetable is a brisk one, although I allowed time for a mission, which most women will not need. And many (most?) women will not opt for a PhD, even given unlimited time. I’ve had a couple of miscarriages, too; if it’s a first-trimester miscarriage, as mine were, it only adds a few months to the space between kids. (Serial miscarriages, of course, are another issue, and they’ll throw even the most generous timetable off course!) The average time to return to full fertility for mothers who breastfeed exclusively for six months, and continue to breastfeed for a year or longer, is 14.5 months. This still allows for children about two years apart. And, of course, that sort of breastfeeding is relatively uncommon (although desirable!).

    So I don’t think it’s necessarily too rushed—although, of course, there will be exceptions and delays (and unexpected hastenings, too!). In all honesty, it’s my guess that LDS family sizes are limited not because of later marriages and delayed pregnancies, although those certainly are in play, but because of changes in expectations and desires of both partners.

  29. Ben Huff
    November 7, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks Rosalynde. I think you are right that LDS family sizes nowadays are usually not limited by people’s desire for education and career. Rather, the reverse is more likely. In particular, a lot of men probably opt for professional school and practical majors who otherwise might have liked and benefited from a bit more time on other topics, and a lot of women drop out of school when they start having kids. But in the long run I think humans are headed toward more and more education.

  30. Julie M. Smith
    November 7, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    I’d like to put in a plug for accelerated education: because I skipped 5th grade and did my BA in 2.5 years (plus a semester for student teaching), I had my MA a month after turning 22, first child at not-quite-23, and good thing, too, because for a variety for reasons I space mine quite a bit (3.25 years) and still want 4 children.

    I’m going to say two things that will be (at least!) mildly unpopular:

    (1) If (notice the if? did you see the if?) a woman has a choice, I think it is somewhat irresponsible to put off having babies until her late 30s because of the health risks to the child, if her only reason for doing so is to meet her educational or career goals. Which is not to say that many women won’t feel inspired to continue having babies into their late 30s (or 40s even), but to decide to put it off (all other things being equal) is not fair to the child(ren).

    (2) I think K12 LDS private schools are generally a bad idea. I say this because all the info I have seen about the ones that exist suggests that they represent the very most conservative portion of LDS thought. I think that they have to justify their LDSness by incorporating the word ‘liahona’ into the phonics curriculum and asking math word problems about how many stripling warriors would be left if 300 went on a march. The problems are exacerbated in history, etc. where worldview plays a larger role.

    And I agree with Adam: great post, great discussion.

  31. Adam Greenwood
    November 7, 2005 at 9:36 pm

    “I say this because all the info I have seen about the ones that exist suggests that they represent the very most conservative portion of LDS thought. I think that they have to justify their LDSness by incorporating the word ‘liahona’ into the phonics curriculum and asking math word problems about how many stripling warriors would be left if 300 went on a march. The problems are exacerbated in history, etc. where worldview plays a larger role. ”

    I don’t know that conservative is the right word. And certainly there’s no problem with using ‘liahona’ in a phonics curriculum or stuff like that. But some of the private schools I’ve seen do seem to cater to a certain anti-intellectual strain. Clearly they’re not the answer, but they may be part of the seedbed for the answer.

  32. Mike W.
    November 8, 2005 at 9:03 am

    I agree with the idea that we should be involved in creating private schools. These do not need to be theologically LDS schools, however, for the same reasons Julie points out. I have just been through Utah and into Michigan looking at certain private schools as models for one I am working on establishing. The school that seemed very out of the mainstream (intentionally so) was one with curriculum based entirely on the Book of Mormon, which at first blush seems “cool” and very “righteous” but leaves one wondering about the breadth of the knowledge and ability to relate to those of other faiths and ways of thinking. Teaching the gospel is best done in the home by the parents. Even the church organization exists specifically to support the family. For a school to take such a central role seems almost a usurpation.

  33. Ben Huff
    November 8, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    I would much rather a successful early/accelerated education movement were a broad movement to draw in everyone who cares about educating their children well. Mormons have special theological reasons to care about this, but the goal is humanistic. Mormons may also have enough agreement on values and critical mass to make this project viable where others have failed to make it so. And I am supportive of Mormon schools in principle, despite serious problems we’ve seen in implementation. But frankly, on the whole, Mormons as of yet are not especially sophisticated in our approach to education, so the movement would surely need to be broadly humanistic to be successful.

  34. Julie M. Smith
    November 8, 2005 at 10:29 pm

    Adam, anti-intellectual may be a better way to describe it. But I think anytime ‘Liahona’ ends up in a phonics lesson we have evidence that someone is very concerned about appearing Very Mormon.

    Mike W. also said it better than I did and echoes many of my thoughts.

  35. Mike W.
    November 9, 2005 at 8:31 am

    I agree with the lack of sophistication in our approach to education. This is likely due to long-standing reliance on local public education that has been on the whole better than average and more moral in character than average in Utah. However, this has led Mormons to the point of complacency with regard to education thinking that, not only rely on the church to train our children, but we’ll let the public system (which is becoming increasingly sub-standard) train them also.

    Starting a wide variety of alternatives to the current situation seems to me to provide Mormons with the best opportunity to broaden and strengthen our education in order:

    “that you may be instructed• more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

    79 Of things both in aheaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly• come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

    80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.

  36. Ben Huff
    November 9, 2005 at 3:32 pm

    Nice assessment, Mike W. I’ll be interested to see how your venture goes. Are you starting something in Utah?

  37. Adam Greenwood
    November 9, 2005 at 3:41 pm

    “Teaching the gospel is best done in the home by the parents. Even the church organization exists specifically to support the family. For a school to take such a central role seems almost a usurpation. ”

    I don’t see much point in Mormon private schools that don’t see the gospel as part of their curriculum or knowledge base. Perhaps there would be something else, excluding that, that would make having a specifically Mormon school worthwhile? Please inform.

  38. ESO
    November 9, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    I have always been very surprised that the Chruch , its’ members, and BYU do NOT value education as much as I think they should. Someone refered to BYU as a potential teacher factory–hardly. If the powers that be within the Church REALLY valued education, they would fund the BYU School of Education much better than they do, say, the sciences or business school. Didn’t it loose its accredidation? Surely that is a sign that BYU, or at least Bateman, wasn’t too preoccupied with it. Scandelous, if you ask me. I think I have also seen on this very site some generally degrading comments about education majors, too. If we truely valued education, we would support those willing to sacrifice money in order to do an important and undervalued job.

    I think LDS private schools are a rotten idea–how would they coexist with our goals to be in the world but not of it. We have our own youth programs, our own scouts, our own Sunday mega-schedule, and then you want to take kids out of the world for school, too? Sounds like a poor idea if only from a missionary aspect.

    I am not responding to any specific comments, just a general reaction to the topic.

  39. Ben Huff
    November 9, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    This issue of parents’ role versus that of a school in teaching kids religion is a tricky one. I agree that Mormon parents in general have a tendency to leave spiritual education way too much up to Sunday church, seminary, and other institutions. I would hate to see this tendency encouraged, and a really good school teaching religion unfortunately might do just that. Alternatively, a bad but overly aggressive school or teacher might undermine parents’ efforts, overplay his/her authority etc. We’ve seen this happen in existing institutions and should expect it to happen again.

    Still, I don’t think that kids are only supposed to learn from their parents. Putting institutional muscle behind other kinds of education but not behind religion I fear leads to destructive imbalance. A person’s thoughts on religion need to develop at a pace to compare with her thoughts on other matters to avoid bifurcation or conflict.

    In Seminary and Institute, young people study religion outside Sunday meetings and outside the home. So we seem to be okay with that sort of thing. And recent General Conference talks suggest there is room for improvement in these programs. The trick as I see it, if a Mormon private school is going to teach religion, is to sort out appropriately its relationship with other existing institutions like CES.

  40. Ben Huff
    November 9, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    Of course, it should not be hard for a sincere teacher to be sure that parents are not marginalized. A teacher could even issue assignments for the kids to have discussions with parents, and require reports, and of course confer directly with parents periodically.

    But it will be a lot easier initially, I think for a Mormon-run school to improve over existing public schools on other topics (on which there is a lot of interesting thought and research out there done by non-Mormons) than to improve over, or even fruitfully add to existing Mormon institutions for teaching religion. Religion is just not easy to teach really well.

  41. ESO
    November 9, 2005 at 8:01 pm

    In conversation with a Jewish colleague of mine (we were public school teachers), she expressed admiration for the Mormon resistance to establishing our own schools. She said that although American Jews had been raised out of poverty by American public schools, they increasingly turn to inferior (academically) Jewish private schools to educate their kids in order to seperate them from the worldliness they encountered at public schools (these were HER ideas and terms, not mine). She thought that the Jewish community should keep their kids in public school for the greater good, and to teach their kids to interact with everyone rather than to confine them to a cocoon where no one questioned their religion/culture/history. I think in some regions in the country, they do, but in the place we taught together, many Jewish parents chose private schools.

    Also, as far as school reform goes, it has often been strictly political. Look at No Child Left Behind, every teacher I know thinks it is a disaster. In what field besides education do elected officials trump actual professionals? Maybe you can think of a few, but when is it a success?

    I understand frustration with our current educational system–teachers feel it, too. But teaching is not a business or a science, and when it is treated as such, we have problems (NCLB was approved based on “scientific” results from school districts in TX which we now know were “cooked”). I appreciate the autonomy we used to have in schools, and NCLB has changed the picture. I think reform needs to be grass-roots, rather than national (our country is too big, with too many variations).

    I have taught in a “Catholic” and an “Anglican” school in Africa. Neither schools would have inspired retention. There, most kids go to the best school their families could afford, regardless of which church ran it.

  42. Julie M. Smith
    November 9, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Adam writes, “I don’t see much point in Mormon private schools that don’t see the gospel as part of their curriculum or knowledge base. Perhaps there would be something else, excluding that, that would make having a specifically Mormon school worthwhile? Please inform.”

    It sounds good, in theory, but what does it look like in practice? Seriously–that’s where the problem is. Tell me how you are going to have a religion class for 3rd graders: Will you use the Primary manual? No way; then they’ll be bored on Sunday (and you can’t get a week’s worth of lesson out of it anyway). Do you use Gospel Principles? Boring! Those Primary supplementals you buy at church book stores? Non-approved! Write your own? Eeek! I’d have to POUR over that before I’d trust someone else’s version of church stuff.

    Point: Except for my husband and me, only those called by God and sustained by the ward have the authority to teach my children religion. To let anyone else do it is to really open a can of worms.

    So I go with your second alternative: there is no need for an LDS private school. Although one that followed and expected its students to follow the guidelines in the Strength of Youth might be a good idea.

  43. Mike W.
    November 10, 2005 at 2:13 pm

    Ben: Yes, what I am working on is in Utah, southern part of the state. And I guess that what we hope to establish is not an LDS school per say, but a school based on Judeo-Christian moral characteristics and Greco-Roman classical academics.

    ESO: I agree with much of your assessment: “I appreciate the autonomy we used to have in schools, and NCLB has changed the picture. I think reform needs to be grass-roots, rather than national (our country is too big, with too many variations).” Unfortunately, the labor unions and large government organizations involved with education are so set in their ways, that I don’t see an effective way to change the environment from within the public school system (at least not at this point). I think that if we make the changes little by little in private or charter schools that are outside the standard system, we can affect great improvement in the education of the children nation-wide

    Adam: I agree with your analysis; see my above comment to Ben. I guess the only Mormon thing about our school would be that those who have philosophical and administrative control would be LDS and that most (but hopefully not all) of our parents and students would be LDS.

  44. Ben Huff
    November 10, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    Julie raises an interesting point: kids who are getting religious ed. in school may start to get bored on Sundays if lessons are tailored to kids who may not be getting much else (of course, the kids in my Primary class already knew pretty much everything in the manual from their parents’ teaching, so it was always an exercise in flexibility for me to figure out what to try to teach them!). It would be interesting to watch the reaction of local congregations and teachers to accelerated kids!

    It seems to me, though, this is a problem we don’t need to worry about until there is a solid curriculum for the study of religion, or a model and a way of reliably training people to follow that model. Until these exist, I think Mike W.’s plan of just building a school that has enough LDS involved to be sure LDS needs and interests are respected and welcomed, and has the flexibility to innovate vis-a-vis the public school status quo, is the best plan.

  45. Julie M. Smith
    November 10, 2005 at 8:24 pm

    Ben, my main concern isn’t bored kids in Primary; my main concern is teachers at an LDS school teaching false doctrine,

    But I agree with your final point: what Mike W. is describing sounds about right. But you wouldn’t even market that as an LDS school, I don’t think . . .

    Classical ed is the way to go.

  46. Mike
    November 13, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    Some tangential obsevations.

    The local Dunwoody Baptist church is struggling, on the ropes and is not gaining many members while the Dunwoody Methodist church across the street grew from 1700 to 4500 members in the last 7 years and recently completed a huge new sanctuary. Both of these churches draw almost entirely from people living in my ward boundries. (My wife teaches at the Methodist pre-school). The ministers of both churchs are very interested in why this is happening and so am I. But no one in my ward or on the missionary committee seems to think this is even relevant.

    Surveys show that 70% of these new Methodists are young families who came to the church directly from the pre-school and 20% from the sports program and a few from scouting. The Methodist minister told this to the pre-school teachers and thanked them for their efforts. Our ward could sure use a few new families; I’m not asking for hundreds or a couple thousand, just a half a dozen would make a huge difference to us.

    The Methodist pre-school is full and so you now have to be a Methodist first to get your kid in, so no further growth will come from that until they expand it. The sports programs are more competitive and also strictly segregated by sex at the Baptist church in comparison to the Methodists who are more lax about it. Baptist don’t do scouting, they do Awanas instead, which is not that different but doesn’t bring non-Baptist to the church. Not much beyond passsing interest to me in these other areas.

    More news:

    I noticed in the paper that no fewer than 6 other churches in this area have opened up pre- schools this year and I am told that it is still hard to find a good pre-school. Our building sits idle from about 7 am when seminary finally clears out until the evening. We have two sister missionaries and it is hard for me to imagine what kind of productive missionary work they can do during the day, especially if they don’t have a car. We have quite a few mothers at home in our ward, empty nest-ers, who have successfully raised their children and I guess they have plenty to keep them occupied. Many retired men also puttering around the yard or going to the temple several times a week.

    Other thoughts:

    The history of small private church schools around here often goes something like this: A group of rambunctious parents of very young children start up a pre-school. It morphs into a grade school in a couple stages as the kids grow up. Later they add the junior high and high school. If they do a good job, it grows. If or when they don’t, it poops out.

    Not all private schools have the same agenda. Some just want to bash their kids over the head with the Bible 5 more days a week, Sunday is not enough. Any additional educational attainment is purely accidental. Others what to protect their children at all costs from the cultural wars along with the accompanying sex drugs and rock and roll and a perceived simmering racial war. One school here is a boarding school for troubled kids often with criminal records and guarantees college admission to a short list of respectable institutions; 100% success for over a decade. They have a very tight military style discipline and are rumored to use quite a bit of corporal punishment. If you can’t control your kids they can. The mere threat of being sent to this school is often enough to straighten up some teens. It is very expensive. Other schools are focused on gifted students with the idea of giving them even more of an edge getting into the ivy league colleges.

    If we Mormons want to get into the private school business, we would have to define what kind of an approach we want to take. We would be smart if we looked very closely at the vast experience of other churches already out there. We do not have to re-invent this wheel, just make it better than anyone else. We have significant advantages; cental organization, plenty of money comparatively, fairly cohesive and loyal membership, etc. I think I like the idea of classical education and I think we should be practical and be result based, rather than try to duplicate tasks that parents are suppose to do at home or in church.

    I really do think that as the public education system groans and creaks under its own oppressive weight of social ax grinding and continues to deteriorate, anyone who does this right is going to reap an enormous reward. Large numbers of good people will come into their schools and then into their churches. If we build “Fortress Momon” schools; exclusive bastions of unique Mormon culture and behavior, then we might protect our own but we will fail to attract any other people and we will do a disservice to our own children if they can;t fit in outside the fortress. If we make our schools academically demanding, only marginally LDS denominational, and free from most of the grosser sins of this generation, it will work for our children and for others.

  47. Adam Greenwood
    November 14, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    Great comment, Mike Doe.

    It’s interesting that the Church is paring down programs, but at least in this country, the most successful churches are the full service ones, absurdly so, the ones that have gyms and pre-schools and sports programs and so on. The problem of course is that this may not work in other countries, and we’re a worldwide church, and also that all this costs a lot of money, which we would prefer to use elsewhere. It’s probably also true that becoming a methodist is easier than becoming a Mormon.

  48. Mike
    November 15, 2005 at 1:30 pm


    “costs a lot of money”
    Which church has more money per capita than we do? I snooped into the financial records of that church (which is about the size of a Mormon stake) and their income is only a couple three times the annual tithing haul of some 2 million bucks from my ward; a small number of high rollers accounting for a big chunk of it. When I try and look at where the money goes and where is comes from and compare my church to others and guess relative expenses it doesn’t add up.

    “becoming a methodist is easier than becoming a Mormon”
    By a factor of what? Twice as easy? Ten times as easy?

    Since we are a family centered church, if we look at convert families who own homes and compare my ward with the above described church, both being in the same community where people from all over are moving in (so it might be sort of close to an average for this part of the country), we get a ratio of…..
    2800 to zero!

    Ok, that was not fair. If we include all converts, it might be around 50-80 Mormons for that period of time versus about 2800 but our retention is under 10% and many of our converts are down and out in a variety of ways. Our Sac Mtg attendance is slightly lower over the same time frame. I don’t know what their retention is, probably pretty good as long as the youth programs roll smoothly along. I don’t think it is very hard to be a totally inactive Mormon which is the fate of most of our converts. HT/VT is in shambles so the inactive don’t even have to hide from us. It gets complex; I admit I over state my point. But it still has to be on the order of about a hundred to one.

    I do not think it should be 100 times harder to become a Mormon than a Methodist. I don’t wonder why we have not converted 2 or 3 thousand people in my ward and had to divide it up so many times it is now a stake. What makes me wonder is why we can’t seem to convert even a handful of these fine people with children to populate our starving youth programs and with homes that imply financial stability and enough left over after the fight for daily survival to give back to the church in significant ways.

    I thought that Jesus said that the yoke was easy, the burden light; he must have been talking about something else.

  49. Madera Verde
    November 15, 2005 at 11:31 pm

    The church did run private schools in Mexico some years ago. As context, Mexico’s Private schools are equally numerous as their public schools. They were decent institutions but not very secular. Children and their parents had to be members to be admitted. As you can imagine many went inactive or left the church when the schools shut down.
    I think that schools are the fine way to make a community, but not a fine way to convert someone to the Lord. Thus it is not the primary business of the church to do something like that.
    Additionally, if we can’t run a simple program like HT and VT effectively what reason do we have to suppose that we could run schools and take advantage of those proselyting oppurtunities.
    Also the church is very scared of having sex abuse scandals like those of the catholic church. One McMartin type case could destroy much of the postive effects of schools. For that reason, missionaries were banned several years ago to play with children or to have them sit in their laps.
    The real issue here though, is your assertion that schools would lead to more conversions, just those Methodists mentioned. I would posit that such is not the case. It seems to me that what drives conversions are people who are “on fire” and who are filled with love. I think your proposal would make the Mormon church more like the Catholic church. Many members but little commonality and not enough people to fill leadership positions. Or in other words: Many sheep, too few shepards. As part of that I would argue that the purpose of the Mormon church in God’s plan is to ultimately produce shepards. After all, all the sheep are already his.
    Re: The yoke is easy, the burden is light. I agree. I think that he was talking about something else. I can’t imagine that he meant that we should duplicate institutions that are already available.

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