Teaching: the dance of the spiraling generations

Parker J. Palmer  Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance, and one of teaching’s great rewards is the daily chance it gives us to get back on the dance floor. It is the dance of the spiraling generations, in which the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn.

Parker J. Palmer, “The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life,” p. 26

Learning by faith is no task for a lazy man

l to r: N. Eldon Tanner, Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Dallin H. Oaks, 1971, at President Oaks' inaugural

…perhaps I can impress upon you again what I have said to you before, especially some things that I said at the inauguration of President Dallin Oaks in 1971. The First Presidency had previously declared that because of its unique combination of revealed and secular learning, Brigham Young University is destined to become a leader among the great universities of the world. If that lofty goal is to be obtained, it must be based upon the extraordinary efforts of the students of Brigham Young University, as well as the dedicated and skillful instruction and research of faculty and staff of the university. And I added at that inaugural exercise,

“The acquiring of knowledge by faith is no easy road to learning. It will demand strenuous effort and continual striving by faith. In short, learning by faith is no task for a lazy man.” Someone has said, in effect, that, “such a process requires the bending of the whole soul, the calling up from the depths of the human mind and linking the person with God. The right connection must be formed; then only comes knowledge by faith, a kind of knowledge that goes beyond secular learning, that reaches into the realms of the unknown and makes those who follow that course great in the sight of the Lord” (President Brigham H. Roberts).

Harold B. Lee  in “Be Loyal to the Royal within You,” 1973 BYU Devotional and Ten-Stake Fireside Address, 1973
Photo: l to r: N. Eldon Tanner, Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Dallin H. Oaks at President Oaks’ inaugural, November 12, 1971.

Compare this statement from President Kimball:
As previous First Presidencies have said, and we say again to you, we expect (we do not simply hope) that Brigham Young University will “become a leader among the great universities of the world.” To that expectation I would add, “Become a unique university in all of the world!”

Spencer W. Kimball, The Second Century of Brigham Young University, 10 October 1975

Gathering the inherent genius of children

I dropped the idea that I was an expert whose job it was to fill the little heads with my expertise, and began to explore how I could remove those obstacles that prevented the inherent genius of children from gathering itself.

John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down, p. xxxiv

Our goal is not so much the imparting of knowledge as the unveiling and developing of spiritual energy.

Maria Montessori

Learning skills: “the constant interplay of agency and action”

Andy Gibbons Skilled performance is a very important manifestation of human knowledge. It is a kind of knowledge that improves with use. We begin learning as a novice and gain new capability every time we exercise a skill. What can we learn about skill by recalling how we learned the skills that we use every day? Let me suggest several things:

First, skill is learned through multiple attempts, over a period of time….

Second, skill learning requires much practice. Not just any kind of practice will do: it must be practice in which the learner can find out how well they did after each attempt….

Third, you can’t learn a new skill just from being told, unless you already possess other very similar skills….

Fourth, the learning of a new skill requires the integration of skills you already possess….

Fifth, skilled performance consists of more than robotically repeated procedural actions. This is where the topic of skill begins to become more interesting.

A skill is performed slightly differently each time we perform it. This is because the circumstances surrounding the performance change. Skill is the type of human behavior that allows us to adapt our actions to changing circumstances. The next pitch in a baseball game usually depends on the previous pitch, among other things. The pitcher who throws the same pitch every time doesn’t win games, as demonstrated in this last World Series.

Sixth, it is important to notice that the exercise of a skill is often the very thing that changes the circumstances.

Skill requires the exercise of judgment, decision making, agency, and problem solving. When we exercise our agency to act righteously, it changes the world around us, setting up new conditions that we then continue to respond to….

…no matter how automatic the performance of skill subroutines becomes, skilled performance always follows the same pattern: it is a pattern of action followed by decision making….

Skill is more than just thinking about something: it involves doing, then judging how we did, and then deciding what to do next. It involves knowing when to start, when to stop, what to do, how much to do, and what not to do. It involves judging how well we are doing and how effective our actions are in practice. Skill is the constant interplay of agency and action….

Andrew Gibbons, “The Skills of a  Saint,” BYU Devotional, 25 January 2011.

Humility: the doorway to educational excellence


Henry B. Eyring  …. the way to humility is also the doorway to educational excellence. The best antidote I know for pride also can produce in us the characteristics that lead to excellence in learning.


Henry B. Eyring, A Child of God, 1997 Brigham Young University Devotional


  It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878)


A vortex of the miraculous

…history is saying it is our job to radically and fundamentally change the world….

We are the only generation who has ever wanted to change the world over white wine and Brie. The change, as I understand it, does not have to do with a collection of more data. Spiritual advancement does not mean that we grow more metaphysically complicated. Many people in this room already know the basic principles because we’ve been learning it together for 20 years. The people, my generation of seekers, as I see it, need a psychological shift. It’s like when you stay a student, at some point rehearsal is over. And if you take a good look at your life, I would like to submit to you to ponder this: Look at the stress and some of the challenges that you’ve had in your life over the last two and three years. Is it possible that some of those stresses and challenges were a direct focus on that part of yourself that you know stands between good and great. A focus that you know makes the difference between a life in which “yeah, you know, I’m coping, I’m functioning,” and a fuller actualization of yourself. Is that not true? Is it something that you sort of thought you could get away with by not dealing with it? Now, why is it so important that we have to actualize ourselves more fully? Because whether you call it the authentic self, the divine self, the Christ self, or the Buddha self – I don’t care what we call it – it is a space of quantum possibility. It is a vortex of the miraculous.

Marianne Williamson, talk at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, December, 2004

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3

Elder Scott on answers to prayers

Richard G. Scott  Some truths regarding how prayers are answered may help you.

Often when we pray for help with a significant matter, Heavenly Father will give us gentle promptings that require us to think, exercise faith, work, at times struggle, then act. It is a step-by-step process that enables us to discern inspired answers.

I have discovered that what sometimes seems an impenetrable barrier to communication is a giant step to be taken in trust. Seldom will you receive a complete response all at once. It will come a piece at a time, in packets, so that you will grow in capacity. As each piece is followed in faith, you will be led to other portions until you have the whole answer. That pattern requires you to exercise faith in our Father’s capacity to respond. While sometimes it’s very hard, it results in significant personal growth.

He will always hear your prayers and will invariably answer them. However, His answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. Rather, He will prompt you in quiet moments when the Spirit can most effectively touch your mind and heart. Hence, you should find periods of quiet time to recognize when you are being instructed and strengthened. His pattern causes you to grow.

Richard G. Scott, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” April 2007 General Conference

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