November Young Women Lesson: Why is it important for me to gain an education and develop skills?

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From Tracy M.’s remarkable BCC post, “Young Women Values: Not Princesses & Not for the Faint of Heart Personal Progress Cards”

The manual may be found here.

When I was a junior in high school, I sat in a cozy room with a few of my friends, and listened as Gordon B. Hinckley encouraged us to “get A grades in [our] various courses,” and then told us that he would give us the B’s. The second of those B’s was to “be smart.”

Among other things, President Hinckley said,

You need all the education you can get…You belong to a church that teaches the importance of education. You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands. The Lord has said, “Teach ye diligently … of things both in heaven 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—that ye may be prepared in all things” (D&C 88:78–80).

…These are the words of the Lord who loves you. He wants you to train your minds and hands to become an influence for good as you go forward with your lives. And as you do so and as you perform honorably and with excellence, you will bring honor to the Church, for you will be regarded as a man or woman of integrity and ability and conscientious workmanship.

And,

Be smart. The Lord wants you to educate your minds and hands, whatever your chosen field. Whether it be repairing refrigerators, or the work of a skilled surgeon, you must train yourselves. Seek for the best schooling available. Become a workman of integrity in the world that lies ahead of you. I repeat, you will bring honor to the Church and you will be generously blessed because of that training. (“A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for the Youth,” Ensign, January 2001.)

It meant so much to me then to have a President of the Church encourage me as a young woman to be smart, and to seek the best education possible. I knew he wasn’t just talking to the young men, because he said if I followed his counsel, I would “be regarded as a man or woman of integrity.” He further suggested that while seeking a strong education would be good for the church, it would also be good for mewould “be generously blessed, because of that training.” There was crucially no mention of my future children or husband. Just the church and me, and the Lord’s mandate to seek knowledge.

When we share this lesson with the Young Women in our wards, I hope that we will follow a similar pattern, emphasizing 1) that the call for education extends to young women and 2) gaining an education is good for them, specifically, rather than just for everyone else in their current or future lives. It adds to their joy, their fulfillment, their personal relationship to God, and their growth, as it allows them to tap into their truest identity and divine potential.

As Claudia Bushman once reminded me, the role of women (including young women) is set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 25. There Emma Smith was told that she would be “ordained…to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church,” and that her “time shall be given to writing, and to learning much” (v. 7-8). Then, during the first official meeting of the Nauvoo Relief Society, her husband Joseph read the whole section aloud, again emphasizing that Emma was “ordain’d” to “expound the scriptures to all…and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings” (p. 8, Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book). There are no words about cleaning or childrearing, just an injunction that we (and our young women), are also to spend our time writing, learning, and expounding.

Ask the young women what they enjoy writing and learning about, and what they want to be when they grow up. (These questions are not just for young men.) Share with them your own educational passions and pursuits, and how they have developed or shifted over time. What did seeking skills and education look like during your active school years? Work years? Lead parent years? Some combination years? Other years? Perhaps invite some women in your ward from different backgrounds and fields to speak briefly as well, or better yet, invite the young women to help you plan a career night for a weekday YW activity, and/or a TED Talk style event where each young woman takes a turn speaking for a few minutes about one of her interests. (I did this very recently with a small group of friends, and it was awesome.)

The inspiring website, Aspiring Mormon Women, has other phenomenal, education oriented activity ideas, as well as a recent campaign for LDS women to embrace (and share) their ands. Mine is that I am a daughter, and sister, and wife, and mother, and PhD student, and blogger, and co-editor. I bet the young women already have some pretty good ands too, such as daughter, and sister, and student, and athlete, and musician, and etc. Ask them what they are.

It is crucial that young women recognize that women’s lives are often long, and they will be able to do many different things over time, and that they they will also be able to do many different things at the same time (as they almost certainly already are). Both Claudia Bushman and Pulitzer-Prize winner, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, went back to school to get their PhD’s after their children were born. When my path took a similar turn (albeit after starting my program), Claudia wrote me encouraging, helpful words that I still treasure. (We can do this for each other.)

Former General Relief Society President, Barbara B. Smith taught that,

Knowledge builds upon knowledge. There is no end to the capacity of men and women to learn. The great vision of the gospel is that we grow in wisdom, in knowledge, and in favor with God and man. We must put ourselves to that task because we have the power. (“The Powers within Us,” Ensign, February 1983)

Six years after President Hinckley offered his “Be” address, he remarked,

“The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world (see D&C 84:46) (“Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning,” New Era, September 2007).

I am grateful, too. I’m also thankful to know that (in part because of polygamy) Mormon women were some of the first in the United States to study medicine, law, and more. Brigham Young told them,

We have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large.

Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States recently spoke to over 1,000 teenage girls about the importance of education as part of her Let Girls Learn Campaign. Just one of her smart suggestions was to “choose books over boys.”

Let’s just be clear you don’t want to be with a boy that’s too stupid to know you’re a smart, young lady and I want to encourage all of us as young women, as older women, we have to raise our own bars, you will not be successful hanging around people who drag you down… There is no boy at this age that is cute enough or interesting enough to stop you from getting your education.

I would share this, and the quote by Malala Yousafzai at the very beginning. (Be sure to also checkout the rest of Tracy M’s YW value cards.) There are girls all over the world that want a chance to learn. If your young women are among the ones that have that chance, please encourage them to be grateful for it, to seek it. If they are not, help give them as many chances as you can, when you are with them. It is so needed.

I would also have the young women read one or more of these manual suggested scriptures about seeking wisdom and knowledge. (They are golden.)

Proverbs 4:7: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

D&C 88:118: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teachone another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”

D&C 90:15: “And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.”

D&C 93:36: “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words,light and truth.”

What do you wish someone said to you when you were a Young Women about the importance of education?

What would you now like to say to YW? 

Rachel

Rachel is a PhD student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. She co-edited _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ with Joanna Brooks and Hannah Wheelwright. She is also a lover of all things books and bikes.

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2 Responses

  1. Jen says:

    My biggest wish for the Young Women, based on my own personal life experience, is to be prepared for whatever God’s plan is for them. I always intended to graduate with at least a bachelor’s degree (which I did) and I figured I would probably have a career at some point in my life (just wasn’t sure what that career would be, even at graduation). What I did not expect was to be single until I was 36 years old, and then to be sole the breadwinner for my family of three. I’d never desired to have a career and be a parent at the same time (I grew up with a mom who worked full-time and had zero flexibility in her work schedule — because she worked in the schools she didn’t even get vacation days). I have a good life even though it wasn’t the life I’d expected. I love being an educated woman who has the earning potential to provide for my family. That said, I had had to deal with feelings of disappointment and resentment because I wasn’t prepared for a life that doesn’t match the “Mormon dream” of marrying young, having as many children as you want, and being a SAHM.

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