Seeds of Learning

By Theo E. McKean

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    A few weeks ago we planted our family vegetable garden. I directed the operation and my boys did most of the work—not because I was lazy, but because I remembered that had my father not guided me through similar experiences, I would not have known how to guide them. Furthermore, they would not know how to teach my grandchildren—and I must not let that happen!

    In like manner, we as teachers of the gospel must not think of ourselves as being lazy when we put our children or our students to work. One of the most valuable things we will ever do is to teach them how to study the gospel themselves. “This church relies on individual testimony. Each must earn his own.” (Elder Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, p. 208. See also “Self-Reliance,” IM April 1976, p. 21, for valuable insights on this subject.)

    Student Effort

    Important as it is for us to preach, teach, expound, exhort and declare the truth, our students, if they are going to obtain testimonies on their own, must work. (Alma 34:37). They must read (Alma 33:14), ponder (Hel. 10:2–3), search (2 Ne. 32:7), and study (2 Tim. 2:15).

    They must ask (2 Ne. 4:35), seek (Deut. 4:29), and knock (3 Ne. 27:29).

    They must desire (1 Ne. 11:1), inquire (D&C 6:11), think (Philip. 4:8), and write (D&C 69:8). And then they must perform (Alma 34:32) by becoming doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

    As teachers, we have the responsibility to guide our students into efforts such as these listed. (See chart, “Teaching/Learning Relationships,” published in International Magazines, April 1977, p. 27.)

    It is said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime!

    Teacher Preparation

    Teaching others how to study, and stimulating their desire to do so, is not always an easy task. Not only must the teacher do all that he expects his students to do but he must also prepare lesson approaches and learning exercises, that will result in the student becoming involved in learning.

    The garden project required important preparations on my part. I had to be prepared to answer all kinds of questions. Some I was able to answer with straightforward do’s and don’ts. With others, I responded by saying something like, “Pick up the hoe, hold it like this, (showing them) and pull it through the soil. Then you will begin to understand the meaning of what I have told you.”

    I provided them with tools and various other kinds of helps. Most importantly, I placed in their hands some good seed. Seed, which in many ways is so much like the living seed we read about in the scriptures.

    It was the Savior who introduced his subject by saying, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow”, and then followed with that inspiring parable that teaches us so much about how a student learns the gospel. (See Matt. 13:3–23.)

    Alma used the same approach when he said, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed.” (Alma 32:28.)

    At this point I poured a few seeds into the hand of each child so he could examine them more closely. They were intrigued with the thought that one little kernel of corn, about the size of a tooth, could produce more than they would eat in an entire meal.

    But hearing about such potential, or even holding the seeds in one’s hand is not enough. They must be planted. Alma goes on: “Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:28.)

    Faith in the Harvest

    By now the mouths of my children were watering with anticipation of how the fresh vegetables would taste. “Let’s plant it,” they said. “How long will it take?” “Will it be ready tomorrow?”

    Alma answers, as he continues:

    “The word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, …

    “After ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

    “Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed …

    “And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.” (Alma 32:34–37.)

    Quickly they planted the seeds. They were now personally involved and were beginning to learn for themselves.

    Endure to the End

    My children had to be informed about the need for patience. The good work they had begun on this day must be continued day after day, week after week.

    At this point, it seemed appropriate for me to declare, teach, preach, tell, (or whatever other word one may choose to use) some additional principles of truth. They must realize that growing, whether in the garden or in the classroom, is a process, that happens over a long period not an event. The counsel unfolded somewhat as follows:

    “Not only must you wait, but that waiting must be filled with work. You must place nutrients and water into the soil. You must dig about the plants, keeping the soil fertile and well-cultivated. Especially must you be diligent on those very hot days when it will be much easier to go to sleep in the shade. The thing that will keep you going, even in the face of other interests and desires, will be your faith. You must not forget the potential of that little seed you held in your hand only a few moments ago.” Alma, referring to the seed he was describing, put it this way: “If ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it will take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” (Alma 32:41.)

    Alma also warns: “But if you neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath not root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

    “Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.” (Alma 32:38, 39.)

    God Gives the Increase

    Finally, after giving our students and children the good seed and after teaching them to nourish it and care for it through work, study, and prayer, we must remember what Paul said: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:6.)