I studied the importance of lifelong learning in my life skills class this week and want to share some of the information with you. Many people stop learning, and they have a variety of reasons for doing so. Some people believe they know enough and have no need for further education. Other people believe they cannot learn without being in a formal situation. Still others stop learning because they do not know how.
While giving a commencement address at Ricks College on April 21, 1988, then Bishop Henry B. Eyring of the Presiding Bishopric of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told the story of a young man named Duke Fergerson. Duke’s father died while Duke was very young, and his mother gave him the following advice as a young man: “Do what they think you can’t do.” Duke managed to get through high school without learning to read and was accepted into a local junior college on his athletic abilities. Then he realized he had cheated himself by not learning what he needed to know, and he began his quest for knowledge. He became a football star for a college team and then a professional football player and kept studying, even when ridiculed by his team members. After retiring from football, he enrolled at Harvard Business School.
Bishop Eying gave three keys to lifelong learning. His first key is to remember you are a child of God; “He knows all truth” and therefore “there is nothing that is true that you cannot learn.”
“Most people stop learning out of fear. They are afraid they cannot learn. Your formal schooling may be interrupted for some reason, but I want you to know with absolute certainty that you can learn whatever God would have you learn. Great learners believe that. They have the attitude that they can learn.”
The second key is “Because God is so great and I am so small, it is easy to admit what I do not know. Therefore, I am teachable.” Bishop Eyring used the example of his father, “an internationally famous research chemist. When he would give talks to audiences of nonscientists, he would often give his explanation of an answer to a scientific question and then he would say, `You know, sometimes I think that God watches me and laughs at me as I struggle like a little child. Someday I will be with Him and He will show me how childlike my ideas were.’
“That always got a chuckle from the audience. And it endeared Dad to people because they thought it was a sign of humility. But it was far more than a sign of humility. It was an explanation of why he was a lifelong learner. He really saw himself as a little child. Because of that, it was easy for him to admit that there were better explanations than the ones he had already offered. He was constantly changing, constantly trying to learn.”
Bishop Eyring’s third key is “Because I am clean, the Holy Ghost can teach me.” Doctrine and Covenants 42:14 tells us “… if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” If no teaching takes place without the Holy Ghost, there is also no learning. We must be morally clean in order for the Holy Ghost to be with us because “no unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 15:34). Since the Holy Ghost is part of the Godhead, we must be clean to have Him with us. The Holy Ghost helps us by “nudging [us] in the direction of truth, confirming truth when [we] find it, even bringing ideas directly into [our minds].”
My Grandma Litster was a lifelong learner. I do not know how much formal education she received, but I know that she kept learning. After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother moved to Salt Lake City where she got a job working in the Salt Lake City library. In her older years – she retired from work in her 80s – she walked a block or two to catch the city bus and rode up town to the library, reversing the direction after work. I always enjoyed visiting with her because she was so interesting. She not only worked in a library, but she read many books and magazines. She told me about all kinds of people, places, and events.
I remember a story I read many years ago; I do not remember many of the details, but I do remember the principle of the story. A woman attended a lecture about education given by a noted professor and was so impressed that she wrote a letter to him about her circumstances. The woman told the professor that she did not have the opportunity to further her education because all she did was peel potatoes. He wrote to her, asking where she sat while peeling potatoes, and she answered that she sat on the door step. He asked, “What is under the doorstep?” She answered, “Ants.” He then asked her to tell him about the ants. The teacher and the student continued their correspondence and the woman had eventually prepared a profession paper about ants that the professor arranged to have published.
This story remained with me and may be the reason why I have always loved to learn. I read articles in the encyclopedia simply because I have a desire to learn more about a certain subject. While my husband and I traveled across the United States several years ago, I put my smart phone to good use. We would see something along the way – a horse in a pasture, a national landmark, or the next town – and I would research it on my smart phone and share it with my husband. My husband loves to learn new information, particularly history. Whenever I have a question about a historical event, I can usually learn about it from my husband. He often has more interesting details than I find researching.
In his book Major Decisions Bishop Eyring wrote a chapter entitled “Education and the Gospel.” In this chapter he discusses the importance of education, specifically “for those who sense the deeper meaning and purpose of life.” He wrote about Joseph Smith being “a dedicated student” as well as “a great teacher.” He explained that Joseph Smith “directed the early Mormon pioneers to create schools at the same time they were constructing temples” in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois. “School building became a pattern for these pioneers when they went west. As soon as they had established a new settlement, they built a school for their children…. Many schools … initially built for grade-schoolers, grew larger: BYU, BYU-Idaho, and the University of Utah all started as Mormon academies.” The pioneer schools taught both boys and girls and prepared them for further education. Many of the children went on to receive college degrees.
Bishop Eyring shared his grandfather’s belief that “education was invaluable for parents, who play the central role in their children’s education and development of character. He argued that all parents, mothers and fathers alike, have to know enough science to answer their children’s questions, especially questions about how the things taught in school relate to the principles of religion. He said,
“`The influence that you have on your children and grandchildren depends very much on how well you understand the world. It is surprising how much they will listen to you if they think you are talking sense, and how little attention they will pay to you on the things that you talk nonsense on, that you do not even pretend to know very much about. It is important to everybody to be as widely acquainted with the things going on in the world and to understand what people are thinking and saying as clearly as they can if they want to influence other people. I think that each of you has a definite obligation to understand something about science in this world.”
Bishop Eyring stated later in the chapter that we risk becoming “an old fuddy-duddy” with no influence if we do not keep up with the events of our day. “We owe it to ourselves to understand the world we live in – science, music, and art.” He counseled his readers to prepare for future opportunities by learning as much as possible. We are preparing for eternal life, and we can take all that we learn on this life into our next life to “enhance our capacity to serve.” Education should be important to us because we know we are preparing for eternal life now.