Following Joseph Smith's Pattern of Education
We hear the words of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf when he said, “For members of the church, education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment.”1 And all of a sudden the drill sergeant in each of us comes out: “Read this. Write that. Regurgitate this. Replicate that . . .” The demands go on and on. And why shouldn’t they? That is the way it has been done for so long in public education. Surely, if something is done for so long in the same way, it must be the correct way, right?
Then we hear the words of Joseph Smith when he said, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves,”2 and we wonder if the drill-sergeant way of education is not what Elder Uchtdorf meant.
Can we really provide a deep, rich education for our children without demanding certain things of them? Can it really be done?
Referring to Joseph Smith’s statement of “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves,” Elder Bednar said that it is an “inspired pattern of instruction.”3
I want to back up just a little bit in time, though, back to when Joseph Smith was a boy, before the gospel was restored.
One day I wondered, How was Joseph Smith taught the gospel? There was no one on the earth who had the fullness of the gospel. How did the Lord go about teaching Joseph Smith? Surely we can learn a lot from the way Heavenly Father taught Joseph Smith and use the same approach with our children.
How was Joseph Smith taught the fullness of the gospel? Here are a few ways:
In Joseph Smith History—1:5, we read, “Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion.”
This great excitement among the people, this led to desire. The people desired to learn more. Joseph desired to learn more.
Are we excited about learning? Do our children see excitement in us as we continue in learning?
2. Questions and Answers
Joseph asked questions and looked for answers from family members, friends, leaders, and the Bible.
Asking questions and encouraging children to ask questions can be a very powerful tool in teaching and in kindling desire and excitement for learning.
In Joseph Smith History—1:11, Joseph says, “I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Reading this scripture led to one of the most incredible educational experiences of Joseph’s life.
Alma 31:5 reiterates the power of teaching using scripture: “And now, as the preaching of the word . . . had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.”
Do we use the scriptures as a tool in teaching?
4. Recognizing Personal Mission and Purpose
In Joseph Smith—History 1:33, Joseph shares a time when the angel Moroni inspires him and helps him recognize his purpose. “He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”
When we help God’s children come to recognize the divine mission they are here to fulfill, the learning begins to take on roots of its own.
In the October 2015 general conference, Rosemary M. Wixom said:
Because you are His child, He knows who you can become. He knows your fears and your dreams. He relishes your potential. He waits for you to come to Him in prayer. Because you are His child, you not only need Him, but He also needs you. . . .The world needs you, and your divine nature allows you to be His trusted disciple to all His children. Once we begin to see the divinity in ourselves, we can see it in others.4
As Joseph began to learn, the angel returned and repeated the same message over and over to him.
Repetition of stories, images, and information is crucial in developing lifelong understanding and remembrance. It takes time.
6. Layered Learning
Each time the angel taught Joseph Smith, he repeated the message and then taught a little more than before.
All learning is line upon line. We start from the simple and teach from there, adding a little more each time.
7. Real-Life Experience
Joseph Smith learned as he lived his life, learning from moments of obedience and disobedience.
As we teach our children, we must not forget the power of real-life learning. Experience is a tool of teaching unlike any other.
Joseph was given many assignments from Heavenly Father, the Savior, and from angels. One of his great assignments was to translate the Book of Mormon. Joseph was asked to do these things but never forced.
Assignments are also an important part of the learning process. However, we must always remember the purpose of each assignment. We must not get caught up in giving assignments just to check a box. Assignments need to be age and development friendly and have a clear objective.
9. Teaching Others
As Joseph grew in knowledge, he was asked to share that knowledge with others.
Some of our greater learning comes when we are asked to teach a subject to someone else. The same can be a great way of facilitating learning in our children.
Truly, a love of learning comes over time and by creating an atmosphere—an atmosphere of deep love, of patience, and of excitement to learn. It comes by example and by helping to light the flame of passion and mission in the heart of others. May we all strive to be a little more thoughtful and intentional in the way we go about educating our children.
1Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Two Principles for Any Economy,” Ensign, November 2009, p. 58, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2009/11/two-principles-for-any-economy?lang=eng
2Joseph Smith Jr., Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:54.
3David A. Bednar, “The Principles of My Gospel,” Liahona, May 2021, p. 56, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2021/05/56bednar?lang=eng
4Rosemary M. Wixom, “Discovering the Divinity Within,” Ensign, November 2015, p. 8, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2015/11/general-womens-session/discovering-the-divinity-within?lang=eng
- The Mindful Heart