On the Aspiring Mormon Women Facebook discussion forum we often see postings that say something to the effect of “I’ve been asked to speak to the young women about the importance of education. What should I say?” For those of us that feel strongly about the importance of education for LDS women – especially education that leads to career readiness – it can be difficult to put into words just why this topic is so significant. It feels self-evident. And yet there are those who, for a variety of reasons, may not see education and career-preparedness as an obvious priority.
When I was in graduate school in a fairly rural area of Pennsylvania, I was asked to take part in a Young Women lesson on education. For many of these girls, school wasn’t a priority. Many didn’t have examples of adults in their lives who had attended or graduated from college. I don’t remember what I said to them all those years ago (though I do remember struggling with what to say and how to say it), but here are some thoughts of what I’d say now. Not every point will be persuasive to every person, so rather than framing this as a comprehensive list of the “right” discussion points, I’d like to start a dialogue about why you think young women should be taught to value education and career preparation.
One of the things that sets our Heavenly Mother and Father apart as gods is their omniscience. They know all. They possess all truth. Our mission on earth and in eternity is to become like our Heavenly Parents, which means that we should be constantly striving to learn and understand eternal truths. The scriptures teach us that these truths include “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—“ (D&C 88:79). We also know that whatever knowledge we acquire in this life will be to our benefit in the world to come (see D&C 130:18-19). The more we learn, the more we become like God, and the happier we will be.
President Monson has said, “God left the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unabridged and the forest unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to man the challenges of raw materials, not the ease of finished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that man might know the joys and glories of creation.” We all have within us the God-given capability to learn and to create, and in the process of learning and creating we fulfill our divine potential.
This might seem like kind of a fuzzy concept, but it has very real, very tangible implications. Women with education are more likely to attract a highly educated spouse and are less likely to stay in abusive relationships. Education often leads to a varied identity, which is correlated with improved mental health and can serve as an outlet for frustration. Educated women are more adaptable and resilient. Education for women often leads to an increased capacity to serve. In a 2004 BYU devotional Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “…prepare to do work of real worth for your fellowmen. This is one of the fundamental reasons for enrollment at this institution of higher learning. The critical difference between your just hoping for good things for mankind and your being able to do good things for mankind is education.” Education leads us to discover and use our talents, which helps us to be more confident in ourselves.
In her excellent brief “The Value of Higher Education for Women in Utah,” Dr. Susan Madsen outlines a plethora of benefits that education offers to women, including a section on health benefits. Studies have shown that educated women have longer lifespans, as well as lower rates of addiction, depression, and obesity. Educated women are more likely to be able to pay for health insurance and have stronger social-support networks. The health benefits of education for women extend to their families. Educated women give birth to healthier babies, and they are more likely to prepare their children academically and socially.
In the culture of the Church, we champion the importance of education, but we often stop there. Too often we don’t emphasize to young women that they should be prepared to apply their education in the marketplace, or we fall back on the language of “just in case.” There are so many great reasons why women should value education and prepare for a career, and “just in case you don’t get married or your husband dies or gets injured” is nowhere near the top of the list. And yet, there are practical realities to this point. Multiple AMW posts have quoted Marie Hafen’s statistic that 90% of LDS women will at some time be responsible for financially providing for themselves and/or their families. Of course, this is not to say that the goal to be a stay-at-home mother is a bad one, but if needing or wanting to work is a real possibility for the majority of women (and it is), women should choose to prepare for a career they would enjoy. Some women approach thinking about education and career as a contingency plan – what they would do to scrape by in an emergency – rather than preparing for a career that they would enjoy and excel in.
Year after year it’s proven that earnings increase and unemployment is less likely if you have a college degree or at least some training beyond high school. Education helps women (and men) adapt to the constantly changing demands of the workforce. Dr. Susan Madsen explains, “In order to succeed in a complex global work environment, women need the training and skill base of a strong education in order to respond effectively to the dynamics of changing technologies.” For many LDS women, flexibility in employment is a key priority. Occasionally women will forego educational and career opportunities in favor of flexible options. While flexible work options can be a great thing, many of these opportunities offer a low wage, limited opportunity for advancement, and little if any, benefits. On the other hand, as women gain education and professional experience, their professional options increase. Women who have developed specialized skills and a positive professional reputation are much more likely to ask for and receive flexible work schedules at higher wages with better benefits packages.
Above all, we should always seek to follow the Spirit. Heavenly Father’s plan for us often looks different than what we’ve envisioned for ourselves, but He is the Master Teacher and Tutor. He will lead us to opportunities to learn and develop our talents and capacities; it’s up to us to be open to learning from the experiences He provides for us. My own education has taught me to see Him in works of architecture, historical events, and biological processes. My professional opportunities have deeply humbled me and led me to rely on my Savior as well as given me insight into my divine nature and spiritual gifts.
We’re so lucky we live in a time in which women can #embraceyourAND. We can be educated and nurturing and ambitious and professionally successful and engaged in the community and champions of family and so much more. My hope is that we take advantage of the enormous blessings and opportunities we have been given by a Heavenly Mother and Father who are leading us to discover and fulfill the full measure of our creation.