Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Essential Role of Education

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

– Proverbs 4:7


In concert with love, education is the greatest gift you can give to another human being. Education is the foundation of all Existential Growth and achievement. It is also the gateway to personal freedom. I am who I am, and you are who you are, in large part because of our education. While human beings are free to choose their thoughts, speech, and actions, people make most of their choices based on a combination of what they know and don’t know. Knowledge creates opportunity and power while ignorance begets frailty and failure in thought, word, and deed. 

Education is obtained in three different ways: precept, example, and inspiration. Precept refers to learning from what a teacher SAYS. Example refers to learning from what a teacher DOES. Inspiration is learning from the voice of conscience within.

Whether a lesson is taught by precept, example, or inspiration, the lessons you learn influence the choices that shape your life. If you are taught to work hard, be honest, and take personal responsibility for your words and deeds, you will most likely become trustworthy and self-reliant. If you are taught to blame, game, shame, and call people names, you will most likely become hateful and irresponsible. If you are taught peace and forgiveness, you are more likely to forgive and let go of past injuries. If you are taught vindictiveness and revenge, you will likely spend your life questing after satisfactions that can never be quenched. If you are taught discipline, diligence, and determination, you will most likely succeed in your life no matter what external difficulties you face, or how challenging life was when you started out. If you are taught emotional volatility, intemperance, laziness, victimization, and entitlement, you will most likely fail – and blame others for your failures, no matter what external privileges or blessings come your way. 

WHY I VALUE MY EDUCATION


From my boyhood onward, I have been blessed with a magnificent education. Much of my education was acquired informally as a means of personally satiating my own thirst for knowledge. To quench this thirst I read books, asked questions, devoured educational multimedia, and carefully observed how smart and successful people spoke and acted. 

My formal education was good, but not unusually privileged. My first thirteen years of formal schooling came in the public schools of rural Utah, suburban Phoenix, Arizona, and Spokane, Washington. Later, I earned a Bachelor’s degree from a public state college in Utah and a Doctorate from a relatively unknown distance learning University in Southern California. 

I am by no means an academic genius or member of the Ivy-League intelligentsia. There are no big-name universities on my resume. Excluding my elementary years and doctoral studies, my grades and test scores were average, and I was rejected by my first choice of undergraduate studies—a prestigious private university. 
My informal education, however, was unusually blessed. It began at home where my family fueled my love of great books. My maternal grandparents were not financially wealthy, but had spent a lifetime collecting books and had thereby accrued a home library of several thousand volumes. It was there that I spent some of my choicest childhood hours. 

My dad, albeit a bona fide rural Renaissance man, was first and foremost an educator. He taught middle and high school English for twenty years and amassed an impressive personal library. My father’s home library contained a more modest collection than my grandmother’s, but was still larger than the parents of most of my childhood friends. Perusing the books in his office and throughout our house ranked among my childhood’s most treasured pastimes. Sometimes I would help him prepare and organize his classroom in Mesa, Arizona prior to the start of a new school year. I say I helped him, but mostly I was blissfully lost among his hundreds of texts and other books, as well as eagerly anticipating our trip to Taco Bell together for lunch.

My parents encouraged me to check out books from public libraries, and provided transportation to and from these bastions of book learning before I could drive myself. By the time I was 10 years old, immediate and extended family members knew exactly what to get me for birthdays and Christmas. Between these gifts and my own proactive procurements, I had, by the age of 23, amassed a personal library that exceeded 500 volumes. 


At age 10, my Dad gave me the Complete Works of William Shakespeare for Christmas. His note to me in the front cover of this 2,334-page tome was indicative of my parent’s love, support, and passion for reading, education, and their pursuit of the American dream.

I was further blessed with five older siblings, who were between four and 12 years older than me. This provided me with early exposure to concepts, conversations, and a variety of high school and college texts that were far advanced from the elementary lessons I was receiving at school. 

The influence of my parents, siblings, and personal study, in conjunction with my religious background, afforded me continual educational opportunities in history, philosophy, psychology, theology, spirituality, critical thinking, logic, rhetoric, oratory, leadership, self-leadership, management, pedagogy, emotional intelligence, sales, marketing, time management, and human relations.

In connection with the endless social, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and academic lessons I learned at home, my parents also taught me that America is the ultimate land of opportunity, and that if I was willing to work hard, follow the rules, take personal responsibility for my actions, and never give up, I could accomplish great things in my life. I believed them. 

A PEDAGOGY OF PARENTAL AFFIRMATION


In conjunction with learning from my family members, my life and education were blessed further by a constant stream of positive affirmation regarding my worth and potential. They explicitly taught me that I was smart, capable, and had a bright future.

My mother had a habit of leaving little notes for my siblings and me to find when we’d come home from school. Often the notes contained reminders of chores or other household duties, but they almost always they included a smiley face and an “I Love You!”

In fourth grade, my teacher requested parents write a letter of affirmation to their child. The words my mother wrote meant a great deal to me then, and they still do today.
Jordan Jensen is indeed a unique and special human being. … He is an example of determination and excellence in our home. … The Jensen home would surely miss a great deal without Jordan’s presence. Jordan is a good friend and tries not to ever offend or hurt one of his [friends].… We love Jordan and are very proud of his efforts and actions thus far in his life.[1]
My father was especially positive and enthusiastic in his affirmations of my worth, capacity, and potential. There was never any doubt in my mind he really believed I could do or be just about anything I decided to achieve or become. He was, and still is, my greatest cheerleader.

For example, once day, around age ten or so, I announced my interest in someday becoming a newscaster. This was not the first time I had announced a grandiose ambition for my future career, yet my father’s reply was swift and certain: “Well, Jordan, if you want to become a newscaster then you can become a newscaster.” My interest in broadcast journalism was fleeting, but my memory of Dad affirming my potential was lasting.

Years later, after the completion of my missionary service, a brief exchange took place between my father and me that I will forever cherish. I was getting in my car to drive to my first semester of college. That particular morning had been unnecessarily stressful due to last minute preparations and poor planning on my part. To make matters worse, I had absentmindedly misplaced my car keys. I eventually found them, and got in my car to leave. As I did, Dad looked at me, and with a twinkle in his eye, said: “Jordan, someday you will speak before Congress, but right now, you just need to focus on remembering where you put your keys.” He smiled, we laughed, embraced each other, and I drove off to college feeling like a million bucks knowing my Dad thought I was pretty special—in spite of my lingering immaturities and mindless mistakes.

In sharing these stories, I am not suggesting parents and teachers fill the heads of their children and students with disingenuous platitudes and unrealistic potentialities. To be clear, my Dad never told me I was destined to become a rocket scientist, or that I would someday play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. He was, however, consistently optimistic about my legitimate potential in areas where I had consistently demonstrated natural abilities and a strong work ethic. He was quick, therefore, to point out my potential as a budding writer and orator. While he saw no harm in a little playful grandiosity, which made me feel like a prince, he was never unrealistic, just incredibly affirming and encouraging.

Pedagogues and parents should never allow a false or unrealistic optimism to strangle pragmatic realism in the lives of their students and children. At the same time, they should also avoid letting cynical perceptions of reality squelch optimism about their legitimate potential.

While they were lavish in their affirmations of my worth and support of my goals, my parents never tried to push me into an activity or endeavor for their sakes. They never tried to live their lives through me. Instead, they encouraged me to pursue my own passions, and rejoiced in my successes.

How could I go wrong when the two most important people in my life were continually affirming my worth, potential, and worthy desires? And it wasn’t just my Mom and Dad. My siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, schoolteachers, Sunday school teachers, neighbors, and friends repeatedly reminded me that I was important and could accomplish great things. My family members were not perfect, but they were nearly perfect in their practice of positively affirming and sincerely encouraging me.

I painfully recognize that not everybody is born into a family with such luxuries in the form of parental and sibling affirmation, love, and support. Such temporary troubles do not, however, diminish anyone’s existential worth. Regardless of your upbringing, your potential remains limitless if you are willing to take the time and effort required to overcome the challenges of the past by learning to forgive and grow. Even if no one has ever told you this, believe it! Hold on to hope for the future and exercise faith in yourself. Believe that you can work hard, make good choices, and eventually overcome the challenges of your past to become very successful. And then, if you decide to ever have children yourself, you can choose to give them the love, affection, and encouragement you were denied.

A PEDAGOGY OF REPROOF


As valuable as positive affirmation was in my education, it was only half the story. Just as importantly, I was taught the difference between right and wrong, and what that difference entailed. When I did something wrong, I was lovingly—albeit often firmly—reproved by parents, siblings, extended family, and teachers. Discipline and appropriate punishment were essential components of my understanding of right, wrong, and consequences. From an early age, I was taught to do what was right, and helped along to succeed in making right decisions. Sometimes this involved reproof, discipline, and even punishment.

For example, at age four or so, I innocently pocketed some candies from the grocery store. When my parents found out about the goods their preschooler had pilfered, they wisely turned the incident into a learning experiencing by taking me back to the store to return the stolen items. The lesson was not lost on me, and my life as a thief ended as quickly as it had started.

On another occasion, I had opted to run wildly through the coat rack in my kindergarten class. I thought it great fun to watch all the other kids’ coats fly off the rack making a big heap on the floor. My teacher, Mrs. Moore, did not share my good humor in the matter; neither did my parents. After receiving Mrs. Moore’s call, I was sternly scolded. They further required that I call and apologize to Mrs. Moore. They also expected me to apologize to the entire class the next day when I returned to school. Never again did I yank all my classmates’ coats off the rack.

My education in reproof involved being told—sometimes with steely seriousness—when I was thinking, saying, or doing something that was wrong. From reprimands and rebukes to formal discipline and the removal of privileges, I received a fine education in what it meant to act like an idiot—and that acting thus was not acceptable.

I don’t know anyone who likes being rebuked. I also don’t know anyone who doesn’t need it from time-to-time. Benjamin Franklin once wrote: "That which hurts, instructs." He was likely referring to a variety of adversity when he wrote this, but I believe his truism applies to necessary and wise, albeit sometimes hurtful and uncomfortable behavioral "discussions" from those who love us, and whose perspective transcends our own.

Some of the most painful moments of my life have come from being corrected, reprimanded, disciplined, or otherwise held accountable for my actions. Part of the pain results from the severe blow to my pride. Another part stems from the shame and remorse I feel from knowing I have disappointed someone I love and respect. A third component involves the realization that I have fallen short of my potential. I DON’T like to fail. Screwing up causes me great pain.

No matter how caring and compassionate the delivery may be, reproof can cause one to feel small and ineffectual. It is not easy to admit fault and weakness. But it has been absolutely essential to my Existential Growth, and it will be just as essential to yours at various junctures of your life’s journey. No human being is perfect—we can’t always see beyond our own heads, and we are sometimes incapable of perceiving the need to change without outside intervention. In this respect it is far more efficient to pay attention to corrections and warnings from others than it is to figure things out for ourselves through the much longer process of “trial and error.”

CHURCH EDUCATION


The purpose of this book is not to proselytize for my faith. Nevertheless, in a book that draws heavily on my personal narrative, it would be intellectually negligent to overlook the impact of my religious upbringing and continued activity in my faith on my overall education. This is due to the sheer amount of time and effort I have invested as an active member of my church.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints begin their formal theological education in between the ages of 18 months and 3-years of age. I gave my first public address at age four, in the children’s program (“Primary”) of the church. Since that first childhood address, I have spoken publicly literally thousands of times in a variety of church settings to audiences ranging from 1-500 people.

I have attended 30 years of Sunday school classes. I am a graduate of LDS Seminary (4-years of high school) and Institute (2-years of college). I served a 2-year full-time proselytizing mission in Alberta, Canada. In all, I have spent upwards of 20,000 hours in ecclesiastical education, worship, and service.

A detailed overview of the theological underpinnings of mainstream Mormonism is beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say, my Church taught me humility, self-discipline, moderation, the courage and competence to teach and speak effectively in public, leadership, hard work, goal setting, personal vision, kindness, forgiveness, service, self-sacrifice, generosity, tolerance, and unconditional love. In the words of Joseph Smith, Jr., the Church’s first prophet-president: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men … if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”[2] You can judge for yourself whether my church education has been beneficial to my exercise of Self-Action Leadership, or not. 
 

A BLESSED EDUCATION


I am now 35 years old, and while it is still weird to think of myself as “Dr. Jensen,” I am aware that my education has been unusually blessed. I am convinced the best possible way to give back to my Country is to teach others what I have learned, especially regarding those principles that, if followed, will bring anyone success, happiness, and peace of mind beyond their wildest dreams here in the land of the free and the home of the brave--and beyond. I desire, therefore, to share and promote the principles that provide the key to unlocking the American Dream, which, despite contemporary popular opinion, is still alive and well throughout most corners of our great land, and doesn’t have to die—ever—unless we collectively choose to let it perish.

YOUR DUTY TO LEARN & TEACH


Now that I have learned and deeply internalized SAL principles, it is my solemn duty to teach them to others. I wrote this book in an explicit effort to fulfill this responsibility. I have dedicated my life to teaching other people what I have been so incredibly blessed to learn myself. Everything good that has entered my life as an adult has been a result of learning, and then practicing, correct principles I learned in my formative years and beyond. I am honored beyond measure to share with you what I have learned. I hope you will choose to make good use of this knowledge and experience.

There are two basic existential duties or purposes we all share in life. The first is to learn. The second is to teach. Once you have learned something that benefits yourself and helps you avoid danger, you have an Existential Duty to teach that truth to others. Teaching occurs primarily through example and secondarily through instruction. I have been taught, reminded, and re-reminded about all of the principles in this book dozens, hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of times throughout my life. I hungered and thirsted vociferously after these truths. Learning them has been one of my life’s most satisfying fulfillments. Teaching them has been even more rewarding.

Once you have learned and applied them to yourself, I invite you to join me in my quest to teach and exemplify these priceless principles of personal power, success, and freedom at every opportunity throughout your lifetime. As we work together in a united mission of SAL-education, everyone who wants to learn and who is willing to work, will receive their chance to scale the massive heights of their own potential. Let us then each do our part by seeking out correct knowledge, and then following and sharing it as faithfully and enduringly as our imperfect minds, hearts, and spirits are capable.

Next Blog Post: Friday, December 5, 2014 ~ Chapter 11: The Last Best Hope of Earth




[1] Excerpts from a personal letter written to me by my mother, Pauline Smith Jensen in April 1991, at the request of Bridget Owens, my fifth grade teacher at Hermosa Vista Elementary School; Mesa Public Schools; Mesa, Arizona. 
[2] 13th Article of the LDS Faith.  Written in 1842 by Joseph Smith in a letter to John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat.

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