A House of Learning
… Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith; organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayers, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God; that your incomings may be in the name of the Lord, that your outgoings may be in the name of the Lord, that all your salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with uplifted hands unto the Most High— D&C 109
When we undertook schooling our posterity at home, Lo, These Many Years Ago, our first motivations were largely related to helping our children avoid some significantly negative experiences my Beloved and I had endured in our own schooling years. Somewhere in the last decade and a half, this quote from the Doctrine and Covenants has become the more pressing motivation for our choice to learn together at home.
Whether or not a household chooses home-based education is an entirely individual thing; I think it’s fantastic, but I’m not the boss of everyone else. Regardless of the particular arrangements a family uses for learning, I am convinced that having a family culture of learning is vital to raising generations that have both the secular foundation they need to function in the world, and the spiritual foundation they need to do far better than just function: to thrive.
Establishing a family culture of learning requires a few key elements:
Be okay with learning new things at all ages, even when you’re really old (which, according to my current 5-year-old, I am. Really, really old.) I expect eventually, we can know truly everything, but that’s why God invented Eternity. Until we get to the end of that, there are new things to learn. So go learn something. And take a kid with you.
Understand that learning and school may not look at all alike. Some of the most effective learning days don’t look a thing like school, and that’s alright. Look for learning in the odd spaces, the bad days, and the unexpected adventures. Be willing to set aside your plans in favor of helping a child explore something new or deepen old knowledge.
Understand that learning doesn’t necessarily happen sitting down. We learn a lot by doing; we exercise our faith and put new principles to the test by using them. We learn to serve by serving, not just by reading about serving. We learn welding, electrical repair, knitting, math, science, and gardening by doing, too.
Be ready to associate the temporal, sometimes mundane things with the larger concepts God has waiting for us. A house of learning has a million tiny opportunities every day to share a testimony of the gospel. Learning to live in tune with the Spirit, and access that inspiration frequently, makes it easier to point out the blessings and wonders our God showers down on us.
Be willing to attempt to live an authentic life, where internal belief and external practice actually harmonize. This is both simpler and much harder than it seems. Simpler, because it’s a less-conflicted way to go, and less conflict makes for a more pleasant life. Harder, because it means giving up a lot of favorite indulgences, and making temporal sacrifices that serve a philosophical ideal, even when the benefits are not immediate.
Be okay with screwing up and starting over. Kids look at adults and sometimes assume that everything we know and do now, we’ve known and done perfectly forever. Let your kids see you attempt and fail and rewind. Try to be okay with letting a child mess something up or fail utterly, without cushioning the blow every time. Developing emotional resilience takes time and practice; you might be a little startled that you don’t start out with as much as you thought you had. But take heart: a family culture of learning reinforces the concepts of repentance and re-dedication, because we screw it up All The Time, and try again. All is well.
Learn how to build bookcases. A home where learning is a priority tends to accumulate books, and the stuff we learn to make and do from books. Such as learning to build bookcases for the books we want to keep.
Be willing to give this mentoring and teaching and learning thing a shot using the patterns Heavenly Father has already given us. I’m very fond (five study-journal pages fond) of the principles Matthew Richardson gave in his Fall 2011 General Conference address.
Teach the individual; start where you stand right now, and add to it line upon line, precept on precept. (Is anyone else humming tunes from Saturday’s Warrior right now? No? Just me? Okay.) We learn best by learning in our own time; Heavenly Father allows us the space and time to develop, and we need to do the same with our household. Heavenly Father invites, inspires, guides; He beckons, rather than threatens. In a home with a culture of learning, we can facilitate opportunities; force and coercion compromise our effectiveness.
In a learning home, we look for every opportunity to use agency well; we look for chances to practice positive autonomy. We look for ways to get everyone involved in real, meaningful service and duty. We try very hard to not do things for our kids that they can learn to do for themselves. We have also learned to listen when one of them tells us they’re ready for more. The self-respect and dignity that grows when a small person is able to accomplish big, real things is amazingly powerful. (And their friends will think you’re cool, too, because they know how to DO stuff.)
Gordon B Hinckley counseled our youth, saying “The Lord wants you to train your minds and hands to become an influence for good as you go forward with your lives.” A developed family culture of learning has more potential to nurture generations able to fulfill this counsel than anything else I can imagine. Regardless of specific educational arrangements, this family culture is the one element that must be in place to really expand on the counsel to learn.
And, it’s frankly a lot of fun, too.