YW Lesson: Why Is It Important for Me to Gain an Education and Develop Skills?

Here’s how I taught this lesson in my ward:

I put the following on the board before class:


500 / 7.25 = 69 hours

500 / 15.78 = 32 hours

500 / 28.28 = 18 hours

500 / 54.58 = 9 hours

500 / 85 = 6 hours

I asked them to imagine that sometime in the future, they decided that they needed to add $500 per week to their household budget. If they could only get a job which earned minimum wage, they’d need to work 69 hours per week for their $500. The average wage for a high school graduate is $15.78–they would need to work 32 hours. A college graduate earns $28.28, so 18 hours. A lawyer–$54.58, so 9 hours, and a doctor makes $85, so 6 hours. I threw in all sorts of qualifications (about how statistics are not perfectly accurate, not all college grads make the same amount, it may be hard to find a job that will let you work 9 hours per week, people who take out loans for higher education will need to pay them off, etc.), but explained that I was trying to make a general point that I think the numbers make clear: increased education gives you more options about what you can do with your time.

Then I told them that there are many others reasons besides earning potential to get an education. (In fact, the adult leaders in the room spontaneously generated a discussion that we would all have gotten more education if we hadn’t had to work to earn money–I thought this was fabulous.) I said that it bothered me how our culture (American, not Mormon in particular) sometimes treated education as if it were nothing more than job training–I explained that we hadn’t always talked like this, and it made me sad that we now do.

Then, I had the girls look up some profiles from the “I’m a Mormon” campaign on their phones and read them. These profiles were chosen ahead of time by me because they feature women with a variety of educational background and mention how they use their training to help build the kingdom and bless the world. (The way I managed this in class was to list the four-digit code that identifies each profile on the board and then I had the girls Google “I’m a Mormon” and the code.) I asked them to tell us how the woman in the profile used her education to build up the kingdom. These are the profiles that I used:









I talked about how important their contributions are: people like Chalene keep our country safe; people like Maryeri make it possible for us to have events like church camps.

Then we looked at several scriptural examples of women who were able to use their training to build up the kingdom. I had planned on talking about the Hebrew midwives (I ended up on a tangent feminist rant about how Pharaoh’s big mistake was to not recognize the power of righteous women and how much I love it that a whole bunch of women–the midwives, Moses’ mom, Moses’ sister, and Pharaoh’s own daughter–work to protect Moses), Deborah, the Proverbs 31 woman, Mary and Martha, Lydia, and Emma Smith, but we only had time for the midwives, Deborah, and Mary and Martha.

One of the counselors in the bishopric was there and he asked to add something to the end. He said that he hoped that the girls didn’t think that guys preferred uneducated girls–he said the good guys wanted a partner who was their equal. I was pleased he added that.

I ended by challenging them to take their educations seriously.

29 comments for “YW Lesson: Why Is It Important for Me to Gain an Education and Develop Skills?

  1. Great lesson. This father of three daughters appreciates it. (Thanks, too, for providing the links to the “I’m a Mormon” videos.)

  2. I am blown away at what a great example of using technology that is meaningful to this age group as well as a substantive lesson.

    I joke that for me a masters degree was a job requirement as a wife and mother, but there is a lot of truth to it. A positive turning point in my husband’s career was when we took the family to South America for a sabbatical. I had to homeschool our teens, including Algebra II and AP Eurohistory. We also team taught a class on preparing scienitifc manuscripts in English at a local university, to help pay back their favor of lending lab space and support to his research. Although we weren’t paid for teaching, the class credit counted, but I would not have been considered qualified without the college degree.

    I was also asked to write a history of our stake, as well as serving in public affairs–assignments where the skills i learned in graduate school were important.

  3. Hopefully you also told the girls that most jobs that earn 85$ an hour do not allow you to work only 6 hours per week. Hopefully you also told them that jobs that earn 85$ a week require many additional years of schooling, and often high loans that require years of paying off education. You should also point out the cost of daycare, professional wardrobe, the emotional cost of stress, and reduced time available for children. As someone living in a family where both parents are PhDs, I want to make it clear, that posts that seemingly encourage both parents working often have far more complications and costs than those who are rah rah rah for 2 income homes.

  4. Great lesson, Julie. In reality, the economics are a lot messier than you will get $X dollars if you have a college degree. I think it’s instructive to talk about the economics, but it’s critical that the girls understand the importance of finding and focusing on a career that you’d like to pursue instead of taking jobs here and there when you need some extra money.

  5. Also, many Mormon women are not heeding the counsel in the lesson, since Utah has the highest discrepancy between male-female graduations from college in the nation.

    relatedly, the church culture here in Utah and elsewhere I’ve lived is to live according to the plan that women will get married and will be supported by a man and therefore won’t need marketable skills or work experience. This “plan” is dangerous and irresponsible for all concerned. I hope that the church would stop encouraging women to get an education but then neglecting to tell them that they must also be in a position to support themselves economically. A child development degree may be interesting but generally it won’t lead to jobs that pay more than minimum wage.

    I’m not sure I appreciate the comment from the priesthood leader in the class, other than it demonstrates that the girls are given very mixed messages about their futures and identity (i.e., you can be smart but not too smart that boys won’t like you).

  6. Laserguy and Former YW, it sounds from your comments like you missed this part of the OP:

    “I threw in all sorts of qualifications (about how statistics are not perfectly accurate, not all college grads make the same amount, it may be hard to find a job that will let you work 9 hours per week, people who take out loans for higher education will need to pay them off, etc.), but explained that I was trying to make a general point that I think the numbers make clear: increased education gives you more options about what you can do with your time.”

    Laserguy, I’m not sure what posts you are talking about that “that seemingly encourage both parents working” — nothing in this lesson does this. I made a point of picking “I’m a Mormon” profiles where some (but not all) of the women chose either not to work or to work very little when their children were young.

    Former YW, I don’t think they left with the impression that I was advocating taking jobs “here and there.” Maybe that wasn’t clear from my write up.

  7. Former YW, you will be pleased to hear that this is part of the lesson manual (link in the OP):

    “Invite the young women to imagine that a friend from church tells them she is going to drop out of school, explaining, “I’m going to get married someday, and my husband will support me, so I don’t need to keep going to school.” How would the young women encourage her to continue to pursue an education?”

  8. Thanks, Julie. I don’t mean to criticize your post or your efforts. I would have loved your lesson as a YM. My problem growing up wasn’t that women weren’t educated but that there were no women who had both careers and families. I literally had no role models in this regard, and I look around now 20 years later and don’t see many changes in church culture to support women in pursuing careers, so as a working professional with a family this has always been a source of insecurity for me – that I was somehow doing something wrong since no other women were making similar choices as I. I understand the importance of personal revelation and have made my own peace with these issues, but I’m at the stage in life where many of my fellow YW are really struggling because they have an education but no work experience.

    Anyway, great lesson and thanks for all your work with the YW.

  9. Former YW, thanks. The focus of the lesson was on “getting an education,” so I didn’t really get into “balancing your life as an adult,” but I did try to select “I’m a Mormon” profiles that had some working moms and some who chose minimal/no work while their kids were young. (ETA: and some who had no choice but to work).

  10. Thanks for the clarification. Just out of curiosity, are there any lessons about careers or as you say, balancing your life as an adult, for YW? I can’t remember any, so hopefully the manual has been revised.

  11. This would be a great lesson for young men too, with just slight modifications. I know far too many families in the church where the parents have to hold down a total of three jobs just in order to live in a small house in a decent part of town. Young families where both parents work full-time jobs and the father works another 20 hours every weekend; young families where the father holds a full-time job, and a part-time job, and the mother runs daycare out of their home. It’s true that most jobs require more than 6 hours a week; however, life’s a lot easier when your family can put in 30 or 40 hours a week and still have a more comfortable lifestyle than those families working 100 hours a week. That’s the difference an education can make.

  12. The issue of professional jobs that can be done on a part-time basis is a huge issue, and I don’t want to threadjack…but yeah, choosing a career wisely can really help in doing that successfully. I have known pharmacists, physical therapists, nurse anesthetists who earned a great salary and work at paid employment fewer than 20 hours a week during seasons when that was their choice. Also people with accounting backgrounds who worked from home or just during tax season.

    At one time a friend and I were working for the same organization earning almost the same salary, but I was only half-time and he was full-time. My health benefits were pro-rated but the amount of defined-benefit retirement contribution from our employer was exactly the same.

  13. “Invite the young women to imagine that a friend from church tells them she is going to drop out of school, explaining, “I’m going to get married someday, and my husband will support me, so I don’t need to keep going to school.” How would the young women encourage her to continue to pursue an education?”

    Has this lesson been in the manual since I was a YW 20 years ago? Because I remember all the girls taking turns saying why you shouldn’t drop out of high school–it was unthinkable because no RM would want to marry a high-school dropout. And the girl with learning disabilities who was in summer school every summer was very quiet. Probably best that you skipped this question, Julie!

  14. Love this, Julie.

    In the 90s I taught a lesson on the flip side. I had the girls write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. At the next mutual night I brought them stats showing how much they would make (one girl wanted to be a “supermodel” so I used AVERAGE modeling wages, heh) and they had to work out a budget. Kind of hilarious, but eye-opening.

    That said, when we talk about “how important their contributions are” for women OR men, I don’t think there is anything more important than raising human beings.

  15. One of my favorite articles/talks on this topic came from a BYU-I professor named Casey Hurley. http://www.byui.edu/Documents/instructional_development/Perspective/V7n2PDF/v7n2_hurley.pdf

    I also really like what Mary Cook has said about this — about how education made her ‘more fit for the kingdom’ in every role she had — at home, in the Church, in her work, in the community. She gave a talk at a graduation, but only notes were available rather than the text itself. Her personal story that she shared there is mirrored pretty closely here:

  16. Also, although this goes beyond the scope of your lesson, obviously, I think more women and young women would benefit from discussions and idea-sharing about how hire-ability isn’t just based on degrees. A degree that seems useless on the surface could turn into something valuable if a student does internships, has mentors, shadows and networks, volunteers in a space that she is interested in, attends conferences, builds knowledge by reading professional journals and blogs, or other such things. Sometimes people think of degrees as ends, and I think this is often why women struggle when needing or wanting to find work. I like this list of ideas from a panel of women from a BYU Women in Business conference from years ago. http://byuwomeninbusiness.blogspot.com/2014/03/staying-home-staying-connected-keeping.html

    And this organization might be worth a look — legitimizing and allowing people to catalog continuous learning efforts: Degreed.com

  17. Maybe I missed this and you did cover it, but the benefits of a mother’s higher education for children’s academic (and other) achievement are important. Every potential part of a young woman’s future life is enhanced by education.

  18. Yes, education, please, and not just for working, but for the sheer fun of using the mind we’ve been given – whatever kind of mind we have. And if we didn’t get enough early, we can come back to it later. I didn’t finish my PhD till I was 65 and had long had the job I loved on the basis of my MS, after my kids were pretty independent, so I did it basically for fun [and rather a lot of hard work]. And the university where I taught paid for it at another university! I spent 20 years as course tutor for the mature part-time students on our degree, mostly women, who were wonderful! They were more than a match for most of the youngsters on the course. It was grand to watch their minds unfurl and light up, remembering that they really are brighter than they’d come to think during their stay home with kids years. Twelve years after she graduated with an excellent honours degree, one of them has just come back to me to talk about research for a PhD herself. Please don’t let those wonderful minds stop wondering!

  19. I was taught in YW that I should have a career as a back-up plan, in case my husband died or worse- couldn’t “provide” for us. However, the statistics for women re-entering the workforce after a long hiatus with expired or no professional experience are quite dismal. In today’s competitive workplace, you really have to keep one foot in the field, or be prepared to re-enter school or professional training in order to enter the workforce.

    Also, I find the references to women in healthcare fascinating. I wonder what the girls would say if you asked them to talk about receiving healthcare degrees and then being a complete or periodic SAHM. For example, by accepting a position in med school, you are taking a career away from approximately 100-400 other students who would have liked to, but will not be physicians. (Many are equally competent, it’s just that there are only so many seats in med school.) Is it ethical for you to take one of those seats and then be a SAHM? If you become a physician, you will take the Hippocratic Oath and have a duty to alleviate illness and pain with the training you were privileged enough to earn (on the backs of hard-working tax payers and the lifetime commitment of many others.) Is it ethical to work only part time? 6 hours a week? Likewise, as a midwife, an NP, an RN, you can provide a service to the community with specialized skills that others cannot. What was Emma or Zipporah, or Mariam doing with their own children when they were called upon to save lives and ensure public health? Isn’t this argument true for just about every other skilled profession? Which roles should we expect to exchange in a community and which roles should not be out-sourced?

    I commend you Julie for showing positive role models of both modern and biblical women. This is going in the teaching file!

  20. Julie – thank you for helping YW recognize the need to invest in themselves, their education, and their future.

    Caregiver roles and other relentless demands on women often mean they must be innovative with regard to employment. As pointed out by other commenters, having no work experience after earning a degree or leaving a career to be a SAHM often makes entering or re-entering the workforce difficult.
    However, women who use their education and talents to run their own businesses may have a better opportunity to adjust their work schedule to be compatible with their current life situation (with or without a spouse and/or dependents-children or aging relatives).

    In 2015, Silicon Valley Women (SVW) hosted Women in Small Business workshops. The dozens of creative women business owners who shared their knowledge and experience was impressive. SVW welcomes all women (regardless of religious affiliation) to participate in our events, however, our one minute promotional video happens to feature LDS women:


    Note that the women in this video all have families in different stages: some with young children, some with teenagers, and some with an empty nest.

  21. Excellent lesson. I’d like to add that our daughter is a doctor. Medical school tuition is high but before she graduated nearly all her loan was paid off due to her father being taught by his father, how to invest in major companies– through stocks and bonds which pay dividends—and keep re-investing those dividends instead of spending them and it really grows while weathering the markets over time. My father simply worked hard and wondered how others got ahead.
    My mother in law was a SAHM and then school teacher and my father in- law, a building inspector, worked hard and invested –the latter made the difference in what his children and their children could aspire to and attain without incurring huge debt. They lived comfortably but frugally. always trying to put aside for the next generation. Most of their grandkids today are professionals.

  22. Julie – great lesson! For those interested in more resources for YW activities and materials that fit into educational and career discussions for YW please check out http://www.aspiringmormonwomen.org. We have career profiles of LDS women, articles written by young women on why and how they chose which college to attend, podcasts, and even an archive of young women’s lessons on various topics from career days, to leadership training. http://aspiringmormonwomen.org/category/young-womens-activities-2/. Julie, we would love to add your lesson plan to our archives!

    Our girls need support not only in obtaining their educational goals but in making sure they feel the “whole spectrum of human endeavor” is open to them. Thanks President Hinkley! I want to second the person that said a predominant “just in case” rhetoric is one of the most damaging ways in which we frame educational and career endeavors for women. It makes anything but one path feel like a plan B and even that if and when a women decides to enter the workforce it is due to some sort of family system failure. I think it also tacitly denigrates families who choose to have spouse at home (often by major sacrifice) by not honoring the full agency of their choice and stokes the incredibly unproductive mommy wars. Additionally, the often accompanying message that a college degree alone is an actual effective “just in case” plan is simply untrue in today’s economy. Your lesson honoring the multi-faceted reasons for education is much healthier.

  23. Mez,
    Your daughter’s medical school tuition was paid for because she came from a wealthy family and had money to invest. She also had money to live on and the ability to re-invest. Most students do not have inheritances to do this. It takes money to grow money.

    Some people work hard and live frugally, but through no fault of their own, they simply never amass enough money to invest. Sometimes those solid blue-chip investments are stolen by crooked people. Sometimes the stock-market lottery crashes down on even the most conservative investors. Sometimes people decide not to invest in portfolio pieces that they find to be morally in-congruent with their values- for example, some boycott companies that rape the environment, profit from sweat shops or child labor, evade taxes, outsource American business, benefit from multi-level marketing, are associated with certain political lobbies or policies, etc. etc. etc. I’m not saying that your money was invested in such causes, I’m just saying that there are some who ethically oppose portfolio pieces, regardless of how stable they are.

    I’m glad your daughter doesn’t have debt, but you can’t teach poor or middle-class girls that they can do the same thing and you certainly don’t have the right to insinuate that it was because three generations of wealth were more clever, thrifty, prudent, etc. Granted, you did manage the money well, but you had money to grow money. Setting girls up to believe that if they were just as clever, they could live the same way is not only FALSE most of the time, but it also contributes to guilt, shame, “holier than thou” mentalities, and class issues. Stop it.

  24. ji, ditto on both counts. As I’ve watched those in my family work very hard for the educations and careers, one of the most harmful things I see is deriding those who have succeeded while demanding they are outliers whose experiences cannot be duplicated.

    Mez, thanks for sharing and for the great example.

  25. Many bloggernacle writers wring their hands at YW lessons that focus unhealthily on modesty, or prioritize narrow life paths at the expense of important topics such as education. I add the prosperity doctrine to that list. I probably should have been more delicate in bringing it forward, but I’m sick of it. The truth is that most medical students, despite working hard and handling their money extremely carefully and intentionally, do not pay off their student loans prior to graduation. I challenge those who have decided I’m wrong to show me a model using the past three years of market performance, and a realistic amount of discretionary money for a low-income student (such as $250-$500 even annually) to parlay $200k-$300k in a three year period using not hindsight, but advice from the time.

  26. I had the opportunity to teach this lesson today as well. I love Julie’s idea of using the “I am a Mormon” profiles. While that never occurred to me, I did something that I think basically had the same sort of impact. I chose three of my personal friends and wrote up a profile of each one, then had girls take turns reading them aloud and sharing their impressions from each woman’s story. (I asked my friends to share their educational journeys and how education had blessed their lives; I then wrote these stories in a format that would be best for my lesson.) I felt it was important to share stories of real women whose lives were much like my YW’s lives may be in the future. Two of the three I shared were working mothers, and two of the three had advanced degrees. The other was a woman who grew up with adhd and learning disabilities and didn’t learn to read until she was an adult, but found an alternative career in which she is highly successful and now owns her own business. I wanted the girls to know that it doesn’t matter what your talents or weaknesses are, there is a place for you to do something amazing in this world.

    I did use the example from the lesson helps online, starting out with the question of what they might say to a friend considering dropping out of school and counting on a future husband to support her. The girls in my class had some fabulous answers to give, and no one said anything even remotely resembling “so you can attract a RM”. I have a former neighbor who did drop out of high school, and whose own mother did indeed say to her, “It doesn’t really matter, you have a pretty face, you’ll get married and it will be fine.” It was not fine. Six kids and one divorce later, with not even a high school diploma, it was not fine. (I wasn’t planning to, but I actually did share this story with the girls as we discussed that question.)

  27. Well, thank you! I was showing how people with no money to start with –got some. No one showed my parents and if you don’t know, it’s harder. Mortimer, listen up! My parents were immigrants. I am the first generation born in the U.S. Their parents were coalminers who came here with NOTHING. My husband’s parents were also immigrants–Jews who fled Poland and came here with NOTHING.
    No one had wealth. Both sets of parents worked and sacrificed for what they obtained–with the women working outside the home because quite frankly, a SAHM was a luxury they couldn’t afford. My parents saved what they could–in the bank. That’s what they knew to do. My inlaws saved what they could–and invested it in large companies that seemed like they’d be around a long time and paid dividends –like the electric company, other utilities, US Steel, Merck, etc. Then reinvested those dividends. And my inlaws lived more frugally than my parents. What they did advanced their family more than what mine did. Mortimer, I shared this with all because it might help someone else better their situation. It shows that people who had no wealth to begin with, were able to attain it –over time –by doing those things
    Of course most medical students, especially LDS ones, don’t begin to pay off their loan until after graduation–that’s my point. The ones who can had someone way back in their family who looked into investing. It starts somewhere with someone–who didn’t have enough. You could use some sound guidance.
    I accept your challenge Mortimer–go to Wells Fargo. Tell them you’d like to meet with a financial planner to see what they’d recommend you do. Also, go to a used book store. Pick up a copy of one of David Bach’s finish rich series like “Smart Women Finish Rich”. It shows what can be done by nearly anyone with, literally, a few dollars today.

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