Education Week Revisited

I wrote most of this post three years ago but, it is Education Week at BYU again this week, things seem to be as they were, so I decided to pull it out, brush it off and give it a ‘recycle.’

Just a note before I get started: This post addresses and uses terms familiar to a specific audience, anyone associated with Education Week at Brigham Young University (BYU), most being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). If you are not a member of this church you may be unfamiliar with many terms used here. That’s not a bad thing! I’m just giving you a heads-up that you may not “get” everything that I’m saying. For more information you can link here for the Church, here for BYU and here for Education Week.

Education Week (hereafter referred to as Ed.Wk.) at BYU has been a source of irritation to me for several years and I’m speaking out. Before anyone feels the need to condemn me for being a smug, secular (aka “godless”) elitist, you need to know that I have personally attended this esteemed gathering. I have faithfully carried my folded, dog-eared schedule, post-it notes with recommendations, alternative class options and mapped routes from one class location to another and, with my worthiness badge around my neck, plowed my furrow through the fields of expectant faces to plant myself at the feet of those who preach.

My notebook overflowed with gleanings on how it’s important to be a friend to those in need, how to recognize a marriage in trouble, how to be the perfect ‘latter-day grandparent,’ the role that music plays in family and spiritual life, that we need to learn to forgive ourselves, planning for retirement, and to reorganize my “telestial”* house into a “celestial” house– yes, cleaning toilets and decluttering closets can be a spiritual experience. Lest you think that I am making light of serious things, no, — well, yes, but I am being serious as well. There is much good information to be gathered from Ed. Wk.  There are other presentations that I would never sit through (e.g. “How the Difficult and Wayward Child is a Gift and Blessing from Heavenly Father” — I do NOT believe that statement!)  and those will perhaps be topics of subsequent blog posts.  My criticisms here are 1) of the perceptions of those who come, albeit with the very best of intentions, 2) with the often flawed internalization of what they hear/learn, and finally, 3) of the missing application of the principles being taught and discussed.

Attendees spend hours listening to perceived “experts” on everything from Isaiah to potty training. These “experts” are subsequently quoted in informal neighborly chats as well as church meetings with the deference afforded to chosen and called church leaders. Just because this event is held at BYU does not mean that the person teaching your class knows or is guided by the Spirit more than your local Gospel Doctrine teacher. Some Ed. Wk. instructors are deeply sincere and/or spiritually focused.  Others sound like tv infomercials or tv evangelists. They may have had more teaching experience and know engaging ways to present material but your ward Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society teachers have been called and set apart to teach. One difference between the two settings is that in your ward/branch classes you are expected to be an active participant, to share what you know with the class and contribute to the discussion whereas at Ed. Wk. you usually just sit there and act like a sponge. Sponges are great for cleaning up messes but they soak up whatever is there, good or bad, bringing me to my second point, flawed internalization.

I don’t know the statistical male/female breakdown of attendance; I see more women though so unless the men are magically transporting themselves from car to class, class to class and back, they are in fact fewer in numbers. LDS women are told over and over, including at Ed.Wk. “Of course you can be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, etc. Just organize your housekeeping and food storage according to this system, and you too can be the next Relief Society President.” I simplify and exaggerate but we are constantly fed examples of perfection – perfectly organized home office, perfect family histories, perfect marriage, perfect children. We have the eternal goal of perfection always before us and often forget that it is a GOAL, something to move toward but will not reach until we are perfected by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Ed. Wk. perpetuates the perfection expectation, even while couching it in such terms as “overcoming perfection” or “living imperfect lives” – I have wished that someone would dare teach a class titled “You’re not going to be perfect in this life – Deal With It!”

Finally, I see masses of people coming to campus to learn about being “God’s Chosen” while leaving common sense and common manners at home. People sit in these classes learning about Christ and how to pattern our lives after Him, but every year in this peculiar society of believers in law – both God’s and man’s – there are several near-misses of people who step out in the street in front of the car that has the right of way, instances of shoplifting in the Bookstore by attendees who “just have to have that CTR ring for my daughter,” or simply cutting in line or cutting people off in the mad dash to get ahead of those less worthy souls who have been waiting patiently in line for food or to get out of the parking lot. What is it that makes one person think that they are the one who really needs to get that sandwich, or that parking space or that whatever? Why is there so often a lack of common courtesy in a setting where we are surrounded by our “brothers and sisters?” How can we ever hope to get along in a world of 6.6 billion people of mixed language, race and culture if we can’t show kindness to those with whom we have the most in common?! No wonder our world is in such a mess!

Now, my conclusion: I realize that I may be considered a marginal member with a questionable testimony by openly criticizing Education Week. Forgive me**, I’m not perfect. I simply ask that people keep it in proper perspective; these may be great teachers but they have NOT been called nor set apart to teach you. They are invited because of their expertise in the field (yes, there are real doctors talking about real skin problems!), or their ability to tell a darn good story or evoke “testimony tears”. Anyone who attends can learn a great deal but should be very careful in the selection of classes. Don’t take on too much, and don’t necessarily try to solve all your problems (example: you have a daughter/son making troubling choices for so you take the class titled “We are a Happy Family”). Lastly, if you attend Education Week please be considerate of each other and of people on campus –yes, some of us actually work here. Obey traffic signals and driving laws – we really don’t want to run over you (although it does get tempting when you “walk” instead of wait). I believe, however, that it can be a great experience for anyone who attends IF the emphasis is on GOALS (and not too many of them), finding our way back to God, enjoying life, and being kind to each other. Thanks for listening to my rant – have a great life.

* “Telestial” : the lowest of the three kingdoms of glory; still a kingdom of glory and not to be confused with or misinterpreted to be “hell.”

**On second thought, it doesn’t really matter whether you forgive me or not — I’m not perfect but I’m happy and I hope you are, too!