Lawyer and political adviser Melody Barnes spoke about the important role education plays in strengthening our communities and government during Tuesday’s forum via Zoom for BYU.
Barnes pointed to the Age of Enlightenment during the 18th century as the foundation for what we consider to be education today. The Enlightenment was centered around a question of authority, rational debate and reasoned thinking. Though many disagreed with each other, there was a universal belief in dialogue and discourse.
In 2020, Enlightenment principles have become less important, according to Barnes. She shared her concerns that facts and knowledge are often dismissed when they make people uncomfortable instead of discussed. Traditional education, within the four walls of a classroom, is emphasized while informal education is deemed not a priority. Both types of education are vital and build upon each other, Barnes stressed.
“Knowledge that we gain when studying history, science, government, math, art or religion is important, but so is our embrace of an Enlightenment frame of mind,” she said. “The disciplines we study provide us with information, but the process we go through in studying them help us to become better educated.”
Barnes recalled her husband’s experience taking a year off to explore abroad. When they went back to Italy years later, he pointed to a park bench in Florence and said, “You know, I think it was exactly in this spot that I really came to grips with a deep, deep appreciation for culture and for art and for food and wine and many of the things that I got to experience as a young man when I spent that time abroad.” He drew a connection between his experience and who he became because of it.
“The world has such a great deal to teach us, and we have to be truly open to those lessons if we are to truly be educated,” she said.
Barnes said education is vital, and having and using our education will be necessary in discerning fact from fiction and in attempting to solve threats to liberal democracy and society as a whole, such as climate change, political unrest and misinformation on the internet.
“Our divided house will not stand, not in a manner that ensures individuals and the nations prosper,” she said. “Democracy is not guaranteed.”
Society is worse off when people do not have access to this education. Barnes shared a key example of this in Black civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
Fannie Lou Hamer was born in 1917 and was picking cotton as early as six years old. At the age of 12, she dropped out of school to pick cotton full time. Later, she and her husband worked at a plantation where Fannie was the only literate worker. She began attending meetings about the Civil Rights Movement and became a community organizer, making sure African Americans in Mississippi were able to register to vote in the early 1960s. She was harassed, she lost her job and she and her husband lost their property. She was arrested and beaten, left with substantial injuries.
Despite Hamer’s limited classroom experience, she ultimately paved the way for other marginalized people to do so through her experience and perspective.
“The effect of thin education has been profound. It has shaped our culture and sense of American identity, including a warped, non-factual perception of who is intelligent and who has and should contribute to economic and civic life,” Barnes said. “We fail to include in our curriculum that which is painful, that which challenges generations-old conceptions of supremacy, and those considered unimportant.”
According to Barens, getting an education, both from formal and informal learning, better prepares individuals with the tools to take on tough questions in a way that enables forward progress. Access to education for everyone makes society wiser as a whole.
“To be educated ensures us of nothing more and nothing less than the ability to engage life’s most complex challenges, to build and strengthen our body politic and our democracy, and to live a life of meaning,” Barnes said.
Next Devotional: Candace Berrett, Statistics
Candace Berrett, from BYU’s department of statistics, will deliver the devotional on Tuesday, October 6, at 11:05 a.m. The devotional will be broadcast only; there will be no attendance in the Marriott Center.
Her remarks will be broadcast on BYUtv, BYUtv.org, Classical 89 FM (89.1 FM) and BYUradio (107.9 FM).