Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Train Up A Child..."

As I substitute teach here in the Boise school district, I learn and remember more and more about the public school system, especially the elementary school side. Oh the days of nothing but playgrounds, bike riding, recess, cooties, and assigned seats. The days of little or no responsibility where grades don’t really matter because your report card shows letters such as ‘E’ or ‘S’ with comments such as “plays well with others,” or, as was frequent in my case, "talks a lot."

Teaching Children the Importance of an Education

One thing that I deal with every day are the comments, “do I have to?” “I don’t want to do this,” and, “why do we have to?” Talk to any group of students and you will find that the vast majority of them will say that they don’t like school, don’t want to be in school, hope for snow days, want early release, don’t want school to start, can’t wait for it to end, and so on and so forth. We all complained, kids now continue to complain. Some of the incessant complaining is generic because certain aspects of school are really appealing and fun, but some of the complaining is genuinely founded on a desire to be anywhere else but learning how to do long division, memorizing all the bones in the human body, or just doing another worksheet.

How many ten-year-olds would opt to go to school or do any work at school if they weren’t forced or punished if they didn’t? Yet how many of us finish high school even though we are no longer legally required to go? And then continue on to college to endure another four+ years of complaining about bad teachers, hard assignments, impossible tests, and time-consuming projects--and finance the whole thing on our own? Why do we persist in activities about which we perpetually complain? Because by the time we reach teenage years or at least by the time we graduate high school most of us understand the importance and inherent rewards of education and thus have the desire to push through the hard parts in order to continue our education.

Those who are experienced enough to see the results education produces understand the importance of continually teaching principles that will help our children’s and the next generation’s lives in the future. We understand that good habits and principles must be instilled in children while they are young because the same habits of learning and gaining knowledge are so much harder, if not impossible, to learn when they are older. We also understand that if those good habits are not formed, bad habits take their place. If children aren’t in school, they are running around and filling their minds with video games, internet whatever, and "reality" TV. Or worse, they are running around, getting into trouble, shoplifting, getting into drugs, and starting broken families.

Education helps save our society. That is why we invest so much in the struggle to keep kids in school and try to give them the best education we can.

Teaching Children the Gospel of Jesus Christ

With this in mind, I do not understand why some look down upon teaching their children the gospel of Jesus Christ and why so many leave religion for their children to discover when they’re “old enough to understand” or are old enough to “choose for themselves.” Please understand that this post is not about infant baptism but about teaching children the gospel in the home.

Parents argue that when their child is old enough, he or she can choose what they believe but are we not risking our children’s lives by hoping that our children will start making Christlike choices in their teenage years or when they move out of the house? I understand and agree with the argument that children should be allowed to choose for themselves—no one should be forced to believe or act in a manner contrary to their desires. However, in order to choose the right for oneself, one must understand both sides. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:

I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.

Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is, in reality, to reject the existence of God and His authority. We must, rather, acknowledge Him and His omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). (“Moral Discipline,” Ensign, Nov 2009)

As parents fail to teach their children the blessings of a gospel-centered life and instead wait for their children to choose for themselves, the adversary-through the media-and other means is hard at work on the opposing side. The “other side” does not wait for children to come of age, but tries to attract children as young as they possibly can. Spiritually numbing material that is highly offensive to the Spirit is all too common in TV, movies, video games and the internet and is readily available to anyone at any age. And while parents wait for their children to “find religion” or learn the importance of an active belief in God and His Son Jesus Christ on their own, children are already being bombarded by the adversary. The lifestyles portrayed on reality TV and in movies are enticing, appealing, and deceivingly “fun.” On the other hand, without experience keeping the commandments and living the standards of Jesus Christ and without experiencing the blessings of a Christ-centered life first hand, a religious and Christian lifestyle may seem hard, confusing, unnecessary, and boring. With knowledge of only the deceptively-exciting, immoral, degrading, spiritually-numbing lifestyle portrayed by the media, children cannot make educated decisions concerning the life they need to live if they want to be truly happy and successful.

We do not wait to educate in our children in public or private schools because by the time they realize that they need to be educated, they will be older and will have made many poor decisions—some so serious that they may not be able to return to school and obtain an education. The same principle applies to teaching our children the gospel. If we wait to teach our children the blessings of living a Christ-centered life, if we wait for them to discover on their own the strength that comes from studying the scriptures, if we wait to pray with our children and to teach them to recognize the promptings of the Spirit, if we do not help our children recognize that the lifestyles portrayed by the media will never lead to lasting happiness, our children will learn on their own that “wickedness never was happiness.”

Prophetic Counsel

In the most recent General Conference, one of the underlying themes that stuck out to me was the importance of teaching children the gospel in the home. The majority of the speakers which consist of the apostles, prophet, and seventies taught about the importance of teaching children and the major role of parents in teaching their children while the children are young and a number of the apostles devoted their entire talk to the subject.

Elder L. Tom Perry of the quorum of the twelve apostles taught:

Teaching in the home is becoming increasingly important in today’s world, where the influence of the adversary is so widespread and he is attacking, attempting to erode and destroy the very foundation of our society, even the family. Parents must resolve that teaching in the home is a most sacred and important responsibility. While other institutions, such as church and school, can assist parents to “train up a child in the way he [or she] should go (Proverbs 22:6), ultimately this responsibility rests with parents. According to the great plan of happiness, it is parents who are entrusted with the care and development of our Heavenly Father’s children. . . .

We see so many challenges today from distracting and destructive influences intended to mislead God’s children. We are seeing many young people who lack the deep spiritual roots necessary to remain standing in faith as storms of unbelief and despair swirl around them. Too many of our Father in Heaven’s children are being overcome by worldly desires. The onslaught of wickedness against our children is at once more subtle and more brazen that it has ever been. (“Mothers Teaching Children in the Home,” Ensign, May 2010, 29)

Although this counsel is becoming increasingly important, it is not new. As Elder Perry quoted, the Old Testament reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Fifteen years ago the prophet and twelve apostles stated:

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to live and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov 1995, 102)

And six years ago came this teaching from the same servants of the Lord:

God has established families to bring happiness to his children, allow them to learn correct principles in a loving atmosphere, and prepare them for eternal life. The home is the best place to teach, learn, and apply principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A home established on gospel principles will be a place of refuge and safety. It will be a place where the Spirit of the Lord can abide, blessing family members with peace, joy, and happiness. (Preach My Gospel, 32)

Conclusion

The extreme importance of teaching our children the gospel of Jesus Christ is clear. We cannot wait under the pretense of allowing our children to choose for themselves because how can they make an educated and clear choice if they do not know the blessings of a Christ-centered life? They cannot. God has set up His plan so that we learn of Him in our families on earth; it is His will and His way.

I love my family. I am grateful to my parents who, while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, pushed through all of the tough challenges of raising me and strove to teach me by example the blessings of living the commandments of God. If not for them and their untiring efforts to raise me in the gospel and in the Church, I do not know where I would be or what I would be doing but I guarantee that I would not be living the lifestyle I am now with all of the inherent blessings. Although I am not perfect nor are the decisions I make perfect, they are my decisions—decisions that I choose to make because I have a strong spiritual foundation that my parents and other church leaders and teachers helped me build. I would not trade my life or the principles and doctrines I was taught as a child for anything in the world. I know how to live a truly happy and successful life.

Jeremy

Further Reading

L. Tom Perry, “‘Train Up a Child’,” Ensign, Nov 1988, 73

L. Tom Perry, “Train Up a Child,” Ensign, May 1983, 77

Robert D. Hales, “Strengthening Families: Our Sacred Duty,” Ensign, May 1999, 32

Cheryl C. Lant, "That Our Children Might See the Face of the Savior," Ensign, May 2010, 81