The Value of a Foundations Experience
Institutional Research and Assessment Officer
General education isn't about gaining a breadth of knowledge anymore. In the Foundations Program, students are deeply immersed into key subject matter, providing a more focused education. It's about becoming a well-rounded individual, both spiritually and secularly.
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About 15 years ago I was in my car somewhere on the North Dakota prairie headed home. It was a typical winter night—10 degrees below zero; waves of powdery snow blowing across the highway; thousands of stars visible in the clear, moonless sky. I was checking channels on the radio and came upon an interesting program. It featured the conductor of a symphony orchestra. He was analyzing a passage from a Mozart symphony. Even though I lacked a full technical understanding of his explanation, I was fascinated by the analysis, and I was duly reminded that Mozart was indeed a musical genius. At the conclusion of the vignette the radio announcer said, “Join us next time for another episode of What Makes it Great.”
In the moment I heard the title of that program, I had one of those wonderful moments of enlightenment. I understood what my undergraduate professors were trying to teach me when I was a college student. Through their choice of subject matter, they were exposing me to what was the most interesting, the most profound, the most successful, the most beautiful, in essence, the best that their discipline had to offer. On that frigid night, I was warmed by a feeling of tremendous gratitude for the great gift I had been given those many years ago.
Specifically, the part of my undergraduate curriculum in which these teachings were most prominent was my general education. The topic is timely because we have launched a new approach to general education called Foundations. This new curriculum has enormous potential to bless lives given its unique approach and concepts, and especially its connection with the BYU-Idaho Learning Model. On top of that, the Foundations experience becomes even more potent when it is connected with another unique BYU-Idaho idea, that of the disciple-leader.
I would like to take a brief journey through each of the five primary areas of the Foundations experience. They are Academic Fundamentals, the Sciences, Cultural Awareness, Analytical Reasoning and Moral Judgment, and Eternal Truths.
1. Academic Fundamentals
This area involves writing and reasoning, professional communication, and quantitative reasoning.
Writing and Reasoning
A few years ago my wife showed me a paper written by one of her students and asked, “What do you think of this paper?” I said it was a very bad piece of writing. She said, “That's what I thought.” She called the young man into her office and expressed her concerns. Surprisingly, he was not the least bit flustered. He said, “Oh, I'm not worried. I plan on being rich enough to hire people to write for me.” Of course, the student completely missed the point, because writing is far more than just grammar and editorial style. It is a manifestation of our thinking.
Let's turn to professional communication. You have an incredible opportunity to learn to verbalize your thoughts by engaging in meaningful discussions and by being able to teach others what you know. Your speech and your writing will portray to the world who you are. There should be no mystery or ambiguity about who you are and where you stand based on your words and speech. Consider how these skills will help you as you rear your family, build the Kingdom of God, and communicate with others.
2. The Sciences
The last element of the Academic Fundamentals area is quantitative reasoning. Many important decisions in life depend upon a certain level of ability to work with numbers. You will all buy a house someday. You will all have to make investment decisions for your retirement. You will have personal and professional challenges related to budgets and money. A disciple-leader will want to be prepared to make good decisions when the stakes are high. A disciple-leader will want to use the financial resources at his or her disposal wisely and with integrity so that he or she is never ethically compromised in any way. Consider how much more effective you will be as a disciple-leader free from the burdens of unsound financial decisions.
Let's turn to the Sciences. Why would the Lord care that His disciple-leaders understand some science?
For the disciple-leader, the study of science is the study of God's creations. Jesus said, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.”1 One can't help but be awestruck by looking into the night sky. On a clear night there are about 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye. Beyond this visible layer lies an uncountable array of heavenly objects. The Hubble telescope has captured images of very small segments of space in which there are hundreds of galaxies populated by trillions of stars. We have an equally wondrous view of God's greatness and glory as we contemplate the Earth and how it works, or the human body and how it and its various components work, or human behavior and how it works in all its dimensions, and ultimately matter itself and how it works. Surely, He would appreciate the fact that you would spend time delving deeply into one or more parts of His handiwork. This is a form of worship.
3. Cultural Awareness
Now we come to Cultural Awareness. Disciple-leaders who surround themselves with the great creative accomplishments of mankind are reminded that the children of God are capable of great nobility and expressions of beauty. By seeking out the things which are, as the 13th Article of Faith teaches, “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” disciple-leaders are refreshed and strengthened so that they can, in turn, uplift and inspire others.
This is in direct contrast to most popular culture, which is served to us through television, movies, popular music, pulp fiction, and the like. The products of popular culture are like junk food. They can be tasty morsels, but they are low in nutritional value, and continual consumption over the long-term is unhealthy. I don't read Shakespeare every day or listen to Beethoven all the time, but I do try to engage great thinkers and artists as often as opportunities to do so present themselves.
Disciple-leaders will use the works of great thinkers and artists to more fully understand the human experience and the struggles of mortality that take place without gospel truths. They will use great works of art to enhance the power of the scriptures in their lives and use them to teach and illustrate eternal truths. I am grateful for the wisdom and creativity of great men and women who expressed truth as best as they could without having the plain and precious truths of the restored gospel.
4. Analytical Thinking and Moral Judgment
The capstone of Foundations is an experience in analytical thinking and moral judgment. The Savior instructed his disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”2 The Savior's use of the serpent symbol is curious because the snake is generally associated with craftiness and deception rather than wisdom. In my interpretation, to be wise as a serpent means to use your intellectual and spiritual resources to see through the fog of uncertainty, even deception, and determine a course of action which is correct or at least optimal. It is to use these resources to correctly judge which things are right and praiseworthy, and which things are not, in a world which routinely presents evil things as either morally neutral or morally acceptable. A disciple-leader should have disciplined thoughts so that he or she can deal effectively with difficult situations and the challenging problems of life. Testing your attitudes and values is invaluable.
5. Eternal Truths
I want to briefly touch upon the Eternal Truths area. Delve deeply into many aspects of the gospel. Carefully study the prophets, ancient and modern, and become acquainted with leading gospel scholars and their writings. Carefully study the Savior, His ministry, and His Atonement. Disciple-leaders will use these experiences to bolster their testimonies with new enlightenment and understanding, and to establish a solid foundation for future gospel study.
6. The Overall Foundations Experience
I will always be grateful to those teachers who, not of my major, were so skilled and inspirational. They exposed me to things that have been a lifelong blessing. I am grateful to the authors of the texts and other great works that I studied. They were my teachers as well.
I suspect many of you have thought to yourselves, “I will never use this again!” I would simply ask that you not be so quick to dismiss a Foundations experience because there is no immediate payoff or perceived long-term utility. If you cannot see the beauty or the point of something long recognized to be beautiful or meaningful, then you might want to ask yourself, “What am I missing?”
I have long regarded my general education as a spiritual experience because, as I came to realize, all truths and all praiseworthy endeavors are in harmony with the things of God. Brigham Young made this very point when he said, “Every true principle, every true science, every art, and all the knowledge that men possess, or that they ever did or ever will possess is from God.”3
As disciples-leaders determine the things with which they will surround themselves, they will carefully cling to Moroni's standard: “ . . . that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually, wherefore, everything which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”4 Disciple-leaders will want to fill their lives with things that are praiseworthy and great so that there is no room for things which are dark, vulgar, vain, or foolish.
Taken from a BYU-Idaho devotional address given Dec. 2, 2008
13 Nephi 9:15
3Bringham Young, Journal of Discourses,Vol. 12, 1869, 326