Exponent II Classics: On Continuing Education

I admire the author’s intiative to educate herself in this piece. Lately, I’ve been feeling like my brain is getting a little mushy. What do you do to further your education? (click here if you want to read the complete article at ExponentII.org)

On Continuing Education
Pamela Bookstaber
Watertown, Massachusetts
Vol 3 No 3 (March 1977)

“Where did you go to school?”
“What did you major in?”
“Oh!” (Interested) “Well, do you plan to do anything with it? I mean, are you going to get a Masters?”

I have had this conversation many times during the two and a half years since I’ve been in the Boston area. People here go to school the way other people go to work. About half of my ward is comprised of couples who are here because the husband is in business school, medical school, law school, or some other graduate school. Boston gives off strong academic vibes which women here have to deal with. But Boston only brought to the fore a Mormon idea I’ve heard vague ramblings of all my life—that I be continually educating myself for my own self-improvement, to set an example for my children, and to equip myself to rear them. The scriptures tell me to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people” (D&C 90:15) and to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).

After living hear for several months I feared I was reaching an educational standstill as my husband and most of our friends, including wives and mothers, pursued higher degrees. I wondered, how can I continue my education while being a good mother, keeping the house running smoothly, and doing my church work?…

… I believe we are misled about the advantages of a higher degree. Is it really the best way to become educated? This, of course, depends on one’s definition of education and the role one wishes education to play in one’s life. Again, turning to scripture, we read “Obtain knowledge of history and countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion” (D&C 93:53). The Lord apparently feels there is a lot to gain from secular knowledge. What truths we learn, if they add to our wisdom, will bring us closer to Him. My primary role is the salvation of myself and my children. Whatever I can teach my children of, say, the rule of kings versus judges in history or of sentimentality and self-consciousness versus sincerity in art, for example, will add to their ability to resist temptation…

…Although I am all for academia, the high degree of research skills required for a Ph.D. is not the best vehicle for educating me…

…At first, afraid of beginning one more self-improvement program only to drop it weeks later, I started small, expanding my reading material, which usually consisted of classical fiction, to include some non-fiction: an art appreciation book, a book explaining some simple physics to the unscientifically-minded, and a practical book relating to finance theory to the stock market. Then, as I became more convinced that this could really work, I began to choose topic areas that I had always been interested in but had never studied, and spent a couple months reading in those areas: Chinese history, Picasso and his art, childbirth and child psychology (while I was pregnant), etc. This is a very loose but satisfying way to study; simply choose a subject to concentrate on for several months.

Another approach which I think is effective is to audit a course at a local college. Or if going to a class regularly doesn’t fit into your schedule, attend the first class or two and get the reading list, or ask the professor for some suggested reading (an excellent way to get a good reading list on a particular subject). Then study on your own.

Museums, historical sites, and concerts are not only learning experiences themselves, but provide ideas for subjects to study. For instance, after a tour of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House across from our chapel in Cambridge, I check out a couple of books on Longfellow’s poetry and his life and got to know him for the next few weeks.

Listening to music and practicing an instrument are also fun and interesting ways to learn. My husband showed me that reading the short expositions on record jackets can lead to reading biographies of composers’ lives or books on different periods of music.

This is just a sampling of all the way there are to keep learning. I am sure that virtually every woman who likes to learn, college-educated or not, is continually educating herself to some degree in ways like these. We have years and years ahead of us in which to learn many things—we only need to give some thought to where we want to be educationally at the end of the next few months or the next few years, then devise a study plan that will fit our schedules. There have been months when the only thing I could work in was a once-a-week Institute class. Other times I can read two or three books a month; sometimes I can study every afternoon. No matter what my schedule, if I have chosen my topic and made the trip to the library for books, there is always some time during the day, or week, or month to read. It helps to do without a TV.

The object of setting goals like this is not to frustrate us, busy as we are, or force us to compete in one more way. Rather, I would hope that we could stop worrying about measuring up educationally to the world’s image of the new woman. Structuring our reading matter and choosing more carefully the activities we use to entertain or relax us will make the learning time we have more effective. I don’t think we need to study for an advanced degree in the name of furthering our education. Our God-given curiosity, if we use it to our advantage over the years, will yield us a very good education indeed.


EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. dangermom says:

    Yes! Great post. I don’t have time to take courses at school, but I always want to be learning more.

    It’s been about 2 years since I decided to start a reading program, and it’s pretty haphazard, but it works for me. I have a notebook divided into sections (poetry, drama, fiction, history, etc.) and try to have some sort of ‘classic’ book going at all times. I just started “Anna Karenina,” which I’ve never read before. I don’t work chronologically or anything–I just pick something and read it and take some notes.

    I also homeschool my daughter, and I’m learning all kinds of things. This year we’re doing ancient history, and even though we’re at a 1st grade level, I am learning a lot of basics I never knew. Then I can go and read up on the topic on an adult level. I’m learning a lot of botany, too. I’m looking forward to teaching myself real grammar as well.

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