Seminary Woes

For a people that values educational choices, I find it surprising that we accept very limited options for seminary programs for our teenagers.

I live in Provo, Utah, the home of several charter schools, some private school options, and many homeschooling families. My freshman son has the option of early morning or released-time seminary. Although there is an online seminary program and a home study course of study, neither of these is available to my family because of the first two options.

But neither early morning nor released-time is a good fit for my son, and it has become a source of frustration and contention in our home.

We signed him up for early morning seminary because as an eighth grader, he was up bright and early every morning, just waiting to go to school. But his body is changing, and now it’s all but impossible to get him up and out before 6 a.m. four mornings a week.

His school has an early morning intervention time from 7 to 8 a.m. in which kids may go to their classes to get extra help or do make up work. Seminary kids must either miss half of seminary or three quarters of intervention time. The one day that intervention is not offered is the day that there are no seminary classes.

Release time is not ideal either. To take it, he would have to give up one of his very few elective classes like computer programming. It seems an impractical punishment for a kid whose teenager biology makes it difficult to be up and alert crazy early in the morning.

I write this as a person who never had either early morning or released-time seminary. I grew up in a rural area, with only a few other Mormon youth in my ward who lived in a couple of different towns fifteen to twenty miles away. We did home study seminary. We had packets to work on during the week and met for an hour on Sunday for class. My mom was the teacher, and she was fantastic. Home study is not a perfect option; there were times that I would fall behind and have to spend a Saturday getting caught up on my reading and my worksheets. But I did it all, and I learned a great deal and got a solid sense of the scriptures. I am also unfamiliar with most seminary videos, something I have never thought of as a disadvantage.

The online seminary program has completed its trial phase, and is now being implemented on a wider scale. The students are required to log on everyday or they get locked out and need the teacher to readmit them. This seems like a good course, one that would correct the tendency to procrastinate and binge that I (and probably many other homestudy teens) fell into. I haven’t been able to examine the program more than this brief description because it is not available for my child or any child who has the option of daily (generally early morning) or released-time seminary.

My first run in with seminary came last summer with the parental consent form. First a quick definition from the agreement:

You and your child (collectively “you”)

Then my problem:

Release to Use Image

You assign and irrevocably grant to us the right and permission to use and—without limit to time, number, language, geography, and/or medium (including now unknown and future media)— reproduce, distribute, display, perform, create derivative works from, or sublicense any images or recordings made of you in connection with seminary. You authorize us to interview you and record your interview; to use or record your name, voice, image, likeness, and performance; and to copy, reproduce, adapt, edit, and summarize any recording for use at our sole discretion. You authorize the reproduction, sale, copyright, exhibition, broadcast, electronic storage, and/or distribution of images or recordings without limitation, at our sole discretion. You hereby release us from any and all liability from such use and publication, and you waive any right to compensation for any of the foregoing.

If you would like your child to participate in seminary but you do NOT accept all or any portion of this Agreement, please email your concerns to [email protected], or contact your local S&I Administrator for assistance.

I was not comfortable with this very broad release to use image and the idea that my child could be interviewed or photographed without any further notice. I followed the instructions to allow my son to participate without accepting that part of the agreement, which turns out to be a fairly common sticking point. But then a very sweet senior sister missionary came to my home to confirm my son’s registration and clicked that I had accepted the entire parental agreement while I was trying to explain to her why I hadn’t. There is no way I can revoke that check mark; it’s still in the system. I had to go through another round of emails to confirm my original partial acceptance.

I worry that that experience predisposed me to be critical of the entire seminary program. I thought I had overcome it, but my intense frustration that some well-meaning person thought she knew better than I what I wanted for my child may still be a factor.

I would like very much to pull my son out of seminary. I would happily go through the home study packet with him; I already spend time every day reading and discussing the scriptures with my children, and I think this would be good our whole family. It would be much better than getting that sinking feeling every time I get an email from my son’s seminary teacher (who is a lovely person) because he has been counted absent because he had to go make up a math test or was out of town on a band trip. The measurable good he gets out of seminary–scripture mastery verses memorized, scriptures read (which I think he does instead of paying attention in class), feels less and less sufficient with each new notice I get that something is wrong.

I hesitate to take this step. I want him to have the option of going to BYU, and I am under the impression that graduating from seminary helps with admission. (Please correct me if I am mistaken.) But something is wrong in the relationship between my child and this program. I want him to learn to read and love the scriptures as I did when I was in seminary. If seminary isn’t working for my child, perhaps like parents who homeschool their children because of the deficiencies of the public education system, I should take this responsibility into my own hands.

Note: This is not the first T&S post about seminary. See here and here and here and here, and for an especially pithy post, look here. I’m simply writing now because I finally have a horse in the race.

57 comments for “Seminary Woes

  1. What? Only four days a week? Not here. I have advocated for years to do early morning seminary (our only option except in very unusual circumstances) to four days per week and I am rebuffed. Especially this year with increased exam requirements.

  2. You’re complaining about 2 options not being enough? Talk about a Utah problem. Our “option” is 5 day a week early morning, that’s it.

  3. We have online and early morning. My kids do online (my son’s third year and daughter’s first). It isn’t as good as the old home study though. There are lots of presuppositions built into the questions, and interpretation of scripture is very directed, which my daughter complains about not infrequently (eg. she had to choose from a list of 3 what a particular verse of scripture meant, and she didn’t think it meant any of those things, and I agreed with her, but she HAD to pick one of the three to move on). She gets very annoyed by her very accurate perception that this is what THEY (CES) want her to think things mean. There are also questions they to answer which don’t get marked, and which we all wonder whether they might form some kind of internal survey about current youth attitudes, or something, else why ask. They are both getting quite savvy about precisely how they choose to answer questions, and retain privacy. It feels a bit Big Brother. Neither of them have uploaded photos of themselves on account of the release to use image thing. The assigned teacher to the online class is great though.
    The old home study, which I did for 3 years, was great because if I thought a question was daft I could write exactly what I thought on the booklet, and frequently did, and had a great relationship with the teacher. It’s not as flexible – they have to go through an opening hymn and devotional section before tackling the study material. Ostensibly it’s meant to take 45 minutes or so, but sometimes the video clips are over long.
    It’s better than early morning (which I loathe and detest), – I can look over what they are learning, and we can talk about stuff, and they don’t have to get up before they are able (for school anyway – they’d prefer to get up later). But otherwise I’m unimpressed.

  4. I believe that early-morning seminary, as currently run, is highly problematic for three reasons:

    1. It is very difficult for a minority of students. While all students find it to be challenging, for many it is the kind of challenge that your rise to (at 5:20 am in our our family) and eventually feel proud of. But for a small number of students it is more than a challenge. Those students, who really struggle with it, can be seen as wimpy or even apostate. We have three children in our family. The first two found seminary to be challenging, but they easily met the challenge. Our third found it to be almost impossibly difficult. I believe that it impacted her academic achievements and, more significantly, her mental health. If one complains about the program, one will likely encounter a large number of bright, perky, sincere teens who love the program and testify of how important it is. I believe that those testimonies can lead to a lack of empathy/compassion towards those few kids who find it to be highly difficult. “I did it. So can you.”

  5. 2. The most important: It is a deeply, severely, anti-family program. It reduces “quality” family time by 30 to 50% by my estimate. Breakfast is not taken together as a family. Family morning scripture time and morning family prayer are all undermined. The family is separated, before breakfast, because the student, and usualy one parent is off driving to seminary and then to school. Seminary starts at 6 am. There is one family in our ward (but only one as far as I have been aware) that gets the entire family up. Breakfast is served, scriptures are read, and prayer is said, and then the student goes to school while the rest of the kids go back to bed. This requires a wake-up time of about 5 am. Not in my family. Seminary severely impacted our family-time.

  6. 3. I believe that it isolates our children from their peers. Perhaps you may find this to be a desired “side effect” of the program. We live in an area where the Mormon density is approximately 1/1000 (I have done the math.) OUr children’s peers were perplexed by the fact that their good friends who had walked with them to school for years suddently vanished. I believe that it had a strong negative impact on some of those friendships. There was no hostility; just a drifting apart.

    I have never understood why early morning seminary can’t be a 3 or 4 day per week program. Let the family teach it on the days that they don’t go early. Isn’t the family supposed to be where the gospel is taught?

  7. I suspect that if the people who mandate the conditions of the early morning seminary program actually had to live it, and do it with anything but a high-energy child, it would immediately change.

    Seminary is on the BYU application process, and since our busy children want the option of attending BYU they need to get up in the wee hours of the morning and work straight through until late at night, eighteen hours straight most days. How many adults could do that week after week?

    And since I commented at length in the first linked discussion, I’ll just say ditto to what Stephen and scw said, and leave it at that and get on with my work.

  8. I’ve recently become disillusioned with seminary. My daughter attends a top ranked STEM boarding school. She has mandatory roll call every night at 10:30, followed by team building activities. The kids on her hall are regularly up till 1 a.m. studying together and making lots of noise. Classes don’t begin until 8 a.m., often later. Early morning seminary, at 6 a.m., is the only option for her. Her dad and I encouraged her to drop seminary because it was affecting her emotional and physical health. She finally did so, so she will be half a year shy of a four year seminary diploma. We realize this will probably affect her admission chances to BYU, but she fortunately has lots of other great college opportunities so that’s not our major concern. Our big concern is the reputation she has at church. I keep hearing phrases such as “kids need to do hard things,” and “you just need to sacrifice.” I’ve always thought that seminary was a great program, & a good option if it works for the particular child. I don’t like how seminary has been elevated to a measurement of a person’s worth or spirituality.

  9. Just one more thing, I forgot to agree about the parental consent form. That was beyond ridiculous.

  10. You are mistaken in leaving out “from” which belongs between “graduating” and “seminary.”

    A school may graduate its students, but students cannot graduate school.

  11. In our ward we have daily seminary which is three mornings and two evenings. Some students come to all 5 but some only come to the evening classes due to family/health situations and do home study for the 3 mornings they are not able to do.

    We had been told that there was a stronger emphasis on finding the style of seminary to suit the child and so we looked at that as a ward along with the stake and CES coordinator. It was emphasised we should look at needs and not wants, which we have tried to do.

    We were informed that it wasn’t early morning now but daily seminary – which didn’t have to be all early mornings. My children do the 5 daily lessons, its hard but they prefer that over home study which they occasionally have to do when the teacher is absent, It does mean we need to organise ourselves well in the mornings – which we are working on but they still get to walk to school with their friends as they have done previously.

    I realise that in some parts of the world seminary may cause more issues but for our family daily seminary has and continues to be a great blessing.

  12. My daughter is a freshman this year. Early -morning or home study are the options, and happily she can get up pretty week. I would not choose home study if I could help it –we homeschool and seminary is a nice chance for her to see friends who are then unavailable for most of the rest of the day.

    Honestly my main focus has been the wonderful sanity and quality of the teachers here. I am so grateful my kids have good seminary teachers. My teachers were all bonkers in some way –one went to jail — my hometown has a really high proportion of bonkers people.

    I’m sympathetic to problems and I hope more options will appear.

  13. I wish my ward and stake were that flexible, SJ. That sounds lovely. It actually makes me emotional to think how life could have been over the past six years if we had local leadership like that. You’re very fortunate.

  14. We are in the UK so release time obviously is not an option but what we have seems to work well. We also have the online option. Interestingly some of the youth who have done that preferred daily seminary as they preferred the interaction with other youth and a teacher.

    As I said earlier I see seminary as a great blessing, even when hard – perhaps you can continue to sensitively persevere with your local leaders and share what other options are being done around the world.

  15. Thanks for the grammar check, Mark B. I’ve fixed it in the post.

    I realize that having two options is one more than many people have, and that complaining may seem petulant. But I didn’t know that the daily seminary program could be so flexible. An after school program would be great for my son. Now I know to ask around to see if there is the interest or capacity to do something like that here. SJ, your story is very encouraging. Thanks to all of you for commenting.

  16. My sister teaches online seminary as a calling (not a CES employee) in Kentucky. It works out well because there is flexibility in scheduling the class times.

    I had half home study and half early morning. I hated early morning my senior year, mostly because the time had been shifted earlier and I knew that we were all forced into early morning because the branch president’s special snowflake kids couldn’t ever get their home study materials finished on time.

  17. We’ve had a very hard time making seminary work for us as expats. Even the new home study option is difficult now because you’re supposed to meet with a teacher once a week and that’s not always possible (isn’t the point of home study for some students to solve the problem of not being able to meet with the regular teacher?). It took us over a year of living in Mexico to find a solution that works for us. There is very little support for seminary students who don’t speak the language of the country they’re living in, no matter the language or country, whether they are non-English speakers in the US or non-Korean speakers in Korea. It’s difficult to find a workable online option because you have to sign up with an already-established online class somewhere else in the world that works with your time zone. Seminary has been a huge headache for us and I’m really looking forward to spending a few months in the US next year when our children will be able to drive themselves to early morning seminary and get it done easily.

    There are so many things that could be done to make seminary more practical. Things don’t always have to be insanely hard to be worthwhile.

  18. I might be wrong here, but I think that seminary is under the direction of the Stake President, but it is also one of those two-lines of authority things: there is the Stake President, and then there is the CES administrator. (I know, I know, I don’t think that it is “CES” now.) But the flexability from stake to stake is tremendous. It has to do with the personalities, inspiration, understanding and world-view of those two people. What is offered “there” may not be offered “here.”

    I also wish to make it clear that any complaining on my part does NOT have to do with the highly effective, charismatic, dedicated, and inspirational teachers that all of my three children have been lucky enough to have as teachers. My concerns are structural/programatic, and not personal.

  19. Good points Rachel. I still think home study is excellent for actually teaching the kids. It requires effort from the study to gain knowledge that just attending early morning doesn’t. Although I always thought the monthly Saturday meeting should be optional and not count as a requirement for completion as so many kids had school activities or work on Saturdays.

  20. The church is nothing if not controlling! I don’t know why you put with this nonsense.

    If it’s only because of BYU, then I REALLY don’t know why you put with it. If you think the seminary program is controlling…

  21. I did early morning, home study, and once/twice a week in the evenings. (We moved a lot.) By far the most enjoyable was the 2x a week in the evenings. I think it was mostly the group of kids we had and the teacher, but it felt like we genuinely learned things and the scripture mastery was worked in so we would pass our test :) Home study was okay, but a little boring and repetitive and not really useful in answering big questions or encouraging me to think too much.

    Once a week was fine – one place we lived was with a very, very, small group, and it was mostly home study, so it was challenging, but still okay. Early morning was, well, early. Some girls woke up at 4:30 hours to do their hair before school (seminary starts at 6, takes half an hour to get there, you need an hour to get ready…). Friends now report they wish they remembered more of what teachers said because the teachers did good work but they were so exhausted to appreciate it.

    TL;DR: 2x/week in the evenings was the best. Good teachers can only do so much to overcome sleep exhaustion.

  22. Timely post, Rachel! Some friends and I have been exploring alternatives to the early-morning format. I am partial to a 9-10 pm timeframe, four days a week, which would give the same total instruction time as five days a week of 40-minutes instructional time, with the advantage of the kids actually being awake! Of course, there would still be conflicts from some extracurriculars and it would still eat into some family time. A hybrid of some mornings and some evenings is also a very attractive alternative.

    I have heard a few instances of daily seminary (and yes, it is no longer specified as “early morning seminary”) being held in the afternoon or evening, with mixed results. The biggest obstacle seems to be changing people’s mindset. I hope you find something that works for your son! I am very sympathetic to your woes. We will be there next year.

  23. Early morning seminary seems like a huge, huge sacrifice just to get your kid into BYU. Why not just think of other college options for your kids? They seriously need to change the seminary program anyways. The church is asking way, way too much (5 days a week at 6:00am, and voluntary teachers, or underpaid teachers in some parts of Utah?) of people when it comes to seminary. I can’t imagine lots and lots of LDS wanting to put up with that much longer. Time to relax the system a bit.

  24. BYU is dirt cheap even compared to a state school, and the educational quality, while not world-class, isn’t bad. Admission Is also, with the growth in the Church, very competitive. Seminary graduation (and all of those brown-nosing bells and whistles, like attendance and scripture mastery awards) are tie-breakers. They have a middle-class family, whose kids are good-but-not-great students, over a barrel. Especially if you have a lot of kids you’ve got to try to get through school. So they can get away with the ludicrous testing nonsense they’re implementing this year.

    They sent someone from CES out to introduce it to us in a big stake meeting. Being used to locals called as volunteer or part-time CES employees, exposure to the Bug-Eyed Monsters from HQ was frightening.

    I recall as LDSSA president in the late ’80s, telling HS students that they wouldn’t all be able to go to BYU, even though Mormons went to other schools in those days because they wanted to escape the Church. (Running the LDSSA at the University of Minnesota 25-30 years ago was like being an inner-city EQ president.)

  25. Why BYU? A critical mass of LDS peers, both for social support during the critical young adult years and with an eye toward finding a marriage partner. Of course there is no guarantee, but the odds seem much better in Provo than in a tiny Institute branch at a state school or small liberal arts college. (I know wonderful LDS couples who met in tiny Institutes — so of course it can and does happen.) But it will certainly be a decision that we leave up to our kids; no pressure or coercion to attend from us.

  26. As always, a variety of experiences. My four years of early morning seminary had the opposite social effect of Stephenchardy’s kids, and our family of seven was up eating oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, or something else hot every day before Seminary, which started at 6:00. Sheer parental willpower, I suppose.

    I wish I had something constructive to contribute. Perhaps the Church could offer the Seminary equivalent of a GED, where you test out.

    A rare occasion when Daddy has answered a ringing telephone without saying ‘Oh, go away’ as he raises the receiver to his ear. I overhear his side of the conversation.
    ‘Yes, this is Mr. Nibley.
    Yes, Martha is at Provo High School.
    She what?
    She missed what?
    He holds the phone an inch farther away from his mouth and calls to my mother:
    ‘Dear? Is Martha taking seminary? I told her not to take seminary. Great guns, why is she wasting her time in seminary?!'”
    – Boyd Peterson, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, Salt Lake: Greg Kofford Books, 2002, xviii.

  27. BenS: We didn’t even try getting everyone up at 5:15. Hearing that some do it make me wonder whether we should have tried it.

  28. What CES will never tell you: your kid has a much better chance of getting into BYU ditching seminary and focusing on academics and getting great grades than in being diligent about seminary at the cost of some academic achievement. CES defines itself as being oh-so-concerned with the youth, but my sense is they are mostly concerned with the system, with CES. While small adjustments are being made, it is still primarily about making the kids fit the system, not the other way around. Sure, there are plenty of decent, dedicated teachers … but CES as a whole is simply dishonest in pushing this false narrative that seminary graduation is a prerequisite or a significant factor in BYU admissions.

    As a parent, do what is best for your kid. That may be to push them a bit and get the good things that EMS can offer, but if that isn’t working, a parent ought to find something that works for the kid.

  29. Ellie (22): 2x per week in the evening sounds dreamy, and SO much more effective for teaching and learning than daily classes, where so much time is spent just in hymn and prayers. But my reading of the handbook definitely specifies “daily” seminary, so I would have a hard time making a proposal in my stake. When and where did your 2x/week seminary operate? I’d love to have exceptions (even anecdotal!) to back up my (as yet unrealized) campaign for change.

  30. Ben S, thanks for the quote. Laughter definitely helps the conversation.

    The new comprehensive test that the kids have to pass that New Iconoclast brings up could be good (hopeful, positive thoughts). I understand that it is designed so that there is some universal standard of knowledge that kids going through many different programs are held to. If kids like mine could use it to test out of daily classes, that would be great.

    The other thing I have noticed is that the home study course packet is significantly different from the one I used as a teenager (no surprise, given that enough time has passed that I now have a high schooler of my own). The new one seems to rely heavily on the student writing thoughts in his or her scripture journal. While it could appear to be a very guided exercise, I could see some kids taking off with it. Or some, who are just not that introspective squeezing out a measly sentence or two and hoping it’ll suffice.

  31. Has anyone ever tried telling their Stake President that they will be their own child’s seminary teacher for the year? I ask because that is what i plan on doing in five years. I just can’t justify outsourcing any more of my child’s spiritual education to the Church. Happy to give them three hours on Sunday and an extra hour during the week, But the seminary request changes the Church’s role from being an education partner,to being the sole provider.

  32. Dave R, I have two sisters who are each officially-called seminary teachers in their wards (in California and Wisconsin) and only teach their daughters at home before they leave for school. It works out well for them. You generally can’t do it entirely on your own and get credit for it though.

  33. Steve Smith, I didn’t go to BYU and I wouldn’t care if my kids did, except for one thing–the cost. My own alma mater, a public university, now costs $17K per year. The state college in our town is currently nearly twice what BYU costs and going up fast–and I wouldn’t send my kid there if I could help it. It’s possible to send a kid to BYU and get a good solid education for less than what it would cost to live at home and go to the local junky college. Plus I have no complaints about seminary.

  34. Rachel, the best option for your son may be to take one of his regular academic classes on-line (maybe through BYU, though there are other options) and take seminary release-time during the school day. I recall hearing that one reason BYU offered high school courses was to make this possible where release-time was an option but students struggled with getting in all the classes they wanted at school plus seminary. I can understand: 2 of my 4 years as a seminary student in Provo I took seminary before school because I couldn’t fit everything in during the school day.

    Our kids (growing up far from Provo) woke up and were out the door in about 10 minutes for seminary classes that started at 6:10a, then came home, got ready for school, and had breakfast with the family before going to school. That worked because seminary started earlier than necessary to just make it to school, we live where traffic is not an issue, and our house wasn’t far off the route between the meetinghouse and the high school. Our kids could never understand why others in the ward didn’t do the same thing.

  35. As I understand it, stephenchardy (19) is right. How Seminary is configured is up to the Stake President.

    Beyond BYU, I recently learned another reason why seminary graduation is helpful: It can determine where missionaries serve.

    A few countries (notably Brazil) require that missionaries requesting visa have formal academic training for the ministry. Seminary fills that requirement. As a result, youth who don’t complete seminary can’t be called there because they won’t qualify for a visa.

    [Note that I haven’t researched Brazilian law — I’ve been told this from a couple of different independent Mormon sources. So its a rumor that I can’t verify.]

  36. Is the daily seminary requirement a new thing? When I was in high school 10 years ago with release time seminary we only met 2-3 times a week because of the block scheduling our school had (maybe you don’t have this type of schedule in Utah?) If we had to meet every day the release time program would have to be discontinued. Admittedly I wish it had been, I hated not being able to take any interesting electives because I was losing real credits to seminary. In our stake if release time was an option we weren’t even allowed to sign up for early morning seminary even though the ward that met in our same building had an early morning class.

    I honestly don’t understand why the church thinks that the way to keeping youth in the faith is to overwhelm them with duties, callings, and meetings. Daily seminary, weekly mutual, 3 hour blocks on Sunday plus some if you do things like choir or have one of the many special seminars or youth meetings Sunday evening, and now cleaning the church on Saturdays or temple trips. Maybe I was just never a good child but it didn’t strengthen my faith it just made me resentful towards to church for all of all the opportunities I missed out on because I never had the option of not going to anything church related growing up.

  37. Thanks, Amira! Good to know.

    I’m sure that’s discouraged by CES, but I’m hoping my Stake President will make that concession.

  38. With regards to BYU – if a student has decent grades and SAT/ACT scores high enough, no one will look to see if he or she has graduated from seminary. It only really matters for those in the middle of the pack, and even then, I’m not sure that it matters as much as people say it does. I know several non-seminary grads who were admitted to BYU in the last few years.

    I personally have no testimony of seminary and regret going while in high school. I’m the only one of my siblings who really went, and we all turned out just fine. I didn’t learn much, and it impacted my physical and mental health.

    The early morning structure also goes against everything we know about teenagers and leads to a lot of them resenting the church.

    I don’t have kids yet, but I can’t image that I’d even want them to go, much less encourage it.

  39. My view is that all the non institutional forms of Seminary (online, home-study, etc) ought to be available everywhere. When it isn’t available because of some theory about the superiority of other forms that have a lecture or other direct instruction format, such as early morning or release-time, I don’t buy it.

    Early Morning seminary imposes its burdens but my kids have still all chosen to go. That’s remarkable to me, since I never plan to return to or endorse it. But they draw significant and obvious benefit for their efforts.

    Where I see the difficulty is that the teaching styles “volunteer teachers” can bring to seminary have begun to be out of step with the teaching styles they find in their high schools, where there has been some rapid innovation based on learning science for 15 years now. They rely on the experiences they had in school instead, all outmoded and proven less than best.

    It feels like CES is not keeping tabs on the efficacy of other instructional methods, which leaves early morning teachers unempowered in at least that one important way.

    If seminary becomes foreign or boring on that basis for kids, then enrollment will be less out of interest in the subject matter, and more out of checking off a box: enhance the chance of a Church university admission, or a wider scope of mission assignment opportunities. That works against the purpose of seminary, and isn’t close to ideal.

  40. Wow, reading this and the comments that follow makes me wonder why I even try. Here I thought I was helping my teenagers, but from what I’ve read I’m just causing them mental and physical harm.

  41. Not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not, but seriously, maybe it would be good if you investigated yourself whether things are helping your children, and not just take the church’s word for it.

  42. Dave R, a family in our ward did that for a year when they were told their kids couldn’t join the online class. They got to the end of the year, the kids said they’d learnt more that year than any other previously, but CES wouldn’t let them graduate the year. Not unnaturally the younger child who still had a couple of years to go decided there was no point continuing when they were told they could join the online class the following year – until told they’d sort out the graduation for the previous year.

  43. I wonder if in some ways, the system has become less flexible. I graduated from high school in three years. In order to do four years of seminary, I read the New Testament and did the home study packet on my own. I did not attend any group classes for it, but that was considered good enough to graduate from seminary.

  44. We did the online program for a semester. I am a public school teacher with experience in teaching online, so I was somewhat skeptical at first. The program was actually quite good. My son felt like he had a private online mentor as he progressed through the D&C. He got behind and the teacher called and let me know what he had to do to make up the work. There was caring and flexibility.

    The only downside was the battle we had to win to get into the online program in the first place. We live in Utah, so released-time seminar is available. But our son had scheduling conflicts because of an A.P. class he wanted to take. Our Stake President was very understanding. But CES employees do feel threatened by the online program. (They should not feel that way, it takes a skilled, knowledgeable teacher to work with students online. And a teacher can only handle about the same number of students online as a teacher in a traditional setting, I would argue that effective online instruction is more difficult than traditional instruction in many ways.) Several CES administrators really attempted to put a guilt trip on my wife and son for even requesting the online class. They reluctantly followed the direction of our Stake President.

    So if you feel your child needs an online experience, I encourage you to fight the battle and get in. Most Stake Presidents are thrilled to see kids take seminary in any form. But if you live in an area with released-time seminary, you will have to be very firm in your approach with the CES.

  45. Rosalynde (30): Sorry for the delay replying. The 2x/week was overseas. There were only a small number of English speaking teens and we were originally schlepping an hour each way once a week. But I think we hit critical mass at some point, and so we moved to 2x/week but closer. We did memorize scripture mastery (chanting of some sort, I think) and have to take a test at the end, but the teacher was not beholden to the manual, which was great.

    Unfortunately I don’t know if that situation is useful for you, since we were overseas, didn’t really have mutual on a regular basis (lack of youth/language barrier), so this became something of a catch all. Good luck, though!! I was definitely a fan.

  46. I was super lucky growing up, I guess. My high school in Las Vegas (Nevada, USA) had (1) early morning, (2) lunch-time*, (3) after school, (4) home study. I attended types 1-3 and moved each year or semester according to my school schedule. It was great to not have seminary feel like a chore, but rather an enrichment activity (which it was).

    *The chapel where it was held was essentially across the street from the high school, so it was easy to pop over and spend 30 of your 45 minute lunch each day at seminary. We weren’t allowed to miss any days though, so lunch-time seminary had the same amount of time at the end of the year as the other class times

  47. Oh, one more thing: Because the times, rules, locations, requirements, etc. of the seminary program are administered completely by the Stake Presidencies, saying “the Church ought to …” would more effectively be thought of as “I should talk to my Stake President about doing…”

    CES/S&I produces centralized materials and online attendance tools/tracking. As fas as I was told at training meetings with S&I, everything else (staffing, how to implement the curriculum, times, locations, etc) is decided by the Stake Prez (and delegates).

  48. When I was in high school (in Utah) I was allowed to do my senior year by home study packet (contrary to the rules) because I contracted mono the end of my junior year. (I’d had early morning the three prior years, released time was also an option, but I was in too many performing groups.)

    My homeschool-for-academics kids have attended both released time and early morning on various years. Last year (again, contrary to the rules, we are again in Utah), my junior daughter used the home study packet program. She was allowed to do so because: she attended a performing arts charter school part time (which did not offered seminary), she got a custodial job before school (which interfered with early morning classes), and her school and company rehearsals conflicted with released-time.

    In some cases they are flexible, but I’d honestly guess that “I’m too tired to go” isn’t going to be accepted most times because, well, everyone is tired for early morning.

    I’m glad they are working on an online home study program, but wish that the timing was more flexible than “log on every day or get locked out.” This year (when my daughter and son attend the released time seminary provided by a local private school two afternoons per week), that simply wouldn’t be possible as there are some days she could never log in, but she could double up on others.

  49. Kent, I don’t have what would even qualify as anecdotal evidence, but I didn’t graduate from seminary and, nonetheless, served my mission in Brazil. Of course, things may well have changed over the last two decades.

  50. Rachel,
    I am an early morning seminary teacher, and I have been thinking about your post for a few days. I think that seminary is a valuable program and that there is something to be said for taking a daily class. I have some students who struggle but love it, and some that just struggle. A good option for those who have difficulty with the early hours is to come 2-3 times a week, and to do make-up classes from the home packet as needed. This has been particularly effective for one of my students; however, I do find myself, after the end of a great discussion, thinking,”Oh I wish he had been here!” but it works out. 75% attendance and participation is what is required for credit. It can be pretty flexible.

  51. Not looking forward to this dilemma which will start for us in 18 months. We live 12 miles out of town, and town is the opposite direction from work, and our only seminary option is being at the ward building for early morning–finishing before the school’s ‘zero hour’ for those students who do jazz band. I would be more ok with it if daughter could drive herself, but mom needs to be home helping other kids get ready for the 7:15 bus. I guess dad will be driving her in 12 miles the opposite direction from work, then the 12 miles plus 25 miles to work, taking dad out of home for breakfast together, scriptures and family prayer…the concerns mentioned above. Then we get to enjoy it for multiple children.

    I guess this must be the routine some of you are putting in already. God Bless You. I am hoping to send my kids to non-BYU schools, but want my children to have some of that ‘community’ and excitement of learning from a non-family member teacher that I got—though I got it in released time. If I could get the online program approved, it would certainly be a nice second option. And I did sit through Ward Council meetings where the seminary teacher reviewed attendance, including those who missed early morning because of returning from later evening school sports trips. Made me cringe.

  52. We are seriously considering not doing the official seminary program with our kids. I did 4 years of 6 AM EMS in Massachusetts growing up, and I still feel like I’m recovering from the sleep deprivation I dealt with as a teenager. (Yes, physical and mental harm are real; just read what sleep deprivation and stress do to you physiologically.) I had perfect attendance for three years but barely squeaked by my last year, in large part because the volunteer teacher was horrible and it was basically a waste of time to go; we were all falling asleep on the soft couches she had us sit on while she droned on from the manual in a quiet, monotone voice. I did have two excellent years of seminary, with a teacher who put a lot into it and who even made warm breakfast cakes for us sometimes. :) Still, I look back in almost disbelief at the huge sacrifices made by the volunteer teachers and all of our parents (my dad taught for 4 years, but not the years I was in seminary). Just to get up and out of the house in the pitch-black, freezing cold New England winter to scrape the car off every morning, I realize now, must have been extremely difficult for my dad and mom. Yes, sacrifice can bring great blessings, but I have come to believe, like many others on here, that church membership often demands more than is reasonable, and that it can backfire down the road. Burnout is a real reason, I think, for many who leave the church when they find out some of the less savory historical and institutional truths about the church. It just becomes not worth it anymore.

    This year we are living in Europe and our daughter is doing parent-directed home-study combined with once-a-week evening meetings with a teacher from the ward (held just after mutual). It’s working out OK. She’s supposed to spend 50 minutes per day, 4 days per week, on her own, but we go through the lessons with her in 20-40 minutes. She doesn’t do all of the journal-writing exercises that Rachel talked about since no one checks them and a lot of them seem pointless. She is doing seminary in French (books, scriptures, and the weekly class), and we love that, but I can see that it would be hard for foreigners who don’t speak French. There are some families in the ward whose kids go to American schools who would have a hard time with it but the kids aren’t of age yet. An online class in English would be perfect for them (although I have a big problem with online programs that require logging in everyday). One thing that really bothers us is that the teacher told our daughter she was close to not meeting the attendance requirement because she had missed 2-3 of the weekly meetings; the attendance figures apparently didn’t take into account the 4 days per week that our daughter studies with us! Another family in the class does *none* of the home study work but shows up to the weekly classes and was considered to have better attendance. That is ridiculous! (Perhaps I am also bitter about this because there has been at least one time when my daughter showed up—walked 15 minutes, then took the bus across town by herself to get there–and was the only one who came, so the teacher canceled the class.)

    There are other reasons we are considering having her not do seminary, including those already mentioned by Rachel and others above (as well as in the other posts here and elsewhere — e.g., the hiring policies for women in CES). Another (related to one comment above): Our daughter just took her first test. The French kids were having a hard time with it. They do not do multiple choice tests here in France, so it was a completely different experience for them, and they were very confused by it and scored badly. (Some of that might have to do with the fact that at least some of them are not doing their 4 days per week at home.) Our daughter at least was familiar with the format. One of the questions, though, was something like “Why do we believe that the talks of the prophets (i.e. General Authorities in General Conference) are Scripture?” Our daughter had no good answer to choose from since she doesn’t believe this — at least not in the “black and white” way clearly envisioned by the people who wrote the test. At least with the home-study, family-oriented seminary that we are doing, we are able to use the manual as a jumping off point for our own scripture study and discussion. We would rather spend time as a family searching the scriptures ourselves than have her indoctrinated with things we don’t believe just so she can get a graduation certificate. The manuals today are filled as much with randomly selected quotes from modern prophets, basically telling you how to interpret the scriptures and apply them today, as with the actual content of the scriptures. I liked the old booklets that focused on the actual content and contexts of the scriptures. I suppose the new formats may be a hint of what we will see with the new college-level curricula. I don’t like it. I know firsthand what cognitive dissonance and, yes, mental harm can be caused in youth and young adults (or adults of any age) when what they were taught at church and through church culture, and what was tested and drilled in to them, does not match their lived experiences or their personal testimonies gained through prayer and scripture study.

    All of that said, the suggestion for Rachel to have her son do an online academic class and release-time Seminary seemed a good one.

  53. Since the question of Brazil came up, here’s a source that explains the requirements for a religious visa:

    Note that eighth on the list is a “Notarized copy of ordination certificate and/or diploma and school transcript for theological studies, which will be authenticated by the consular office.” Looking at the list, it’s no wonder so many missionaries wait for their visas so long.

    Best wishes to Rigel and TLC and your families and any others dealing with complicated seminary schedules. May we all be blessed with local leaders who are as kind and sensible as the ones SJ mentioned early in the discussion.

  54. #54 – I had a good friend who served in Brazil. He did have to wait several months and serve in California while awaiting his visa to clear. He did not graduate (nor attend) seminary. I wonder if the Church provides some kind of alternate certification for missionaries in that situation?

  55. I wondered about that, too, after posting that excerpt, Bro. Jones. It says ordination certificate and/OR theological studies. So according to this website, a certificate of ordination should suffice, and the rumor that the seminary year just had to be extended and tests added because of the situation in Brazil becomes urban legend?

    Anyone still reading the comments down this far? Could this be written into a separate post? (Anyone?)

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