On Education and Certification

I have been thinking a lot recently about learning and online education and researching subjects for my own benefit.  There are a lot of things that I would like to know, would like to be able to do and there are a lot of resources on the internet to provide the knowledge that I am looking for.  But, with all of this, there is one big question that I have been pondering.

 

How do I prove what I know?

 

I can research information online, even take courses online, free courses from MIT or other universities that offer such things online.  But, then how do I prove that I have learned that information?  More importantly, how do I show an employer that I have this knowledge?  Isn’t that really all a college degree is — a document from the university that says this individual has adequately demonstrated that they possess the knowledge and skills requisite to achieve this type of degree in this field.  And employers can look at that and assume that an individual has a certain level of knowledge and skill.  That document represents what the individual knows and can do.

But, with the advent of the internet and online content, there is a lot of information available and a lot of people who try to learn skills. The question now becomes how do we prove that we have actually learned this, that we have gained this knowledge?  Is there, or should there be, some sort of online equivalent of what a university degree is?   Some documentation that can be earned to prove that an individual has a certain amount of knowledge so that others can look and at a glance have an idea as to what this individual knows.

I have gone through some courses at Code Academy, teaching myself some basic HTML and web design.  It was fun and I think I’d like to take those courses again to refresh my understanding of HTML and CSS and to dig a little deeper.  At this site, there are badges that are earned whenever a course or project is completed.  I guess these could be used to demonstrate that I have indeed completed certain courses and gained this understanding of these specific principles.  But, for me, the questions still remains, how do I demonstrate this to others?  Would an employer look at this as evidence that I know how to build a webpage with HTML and CSS?  Should I include some of these badges on my resume?  And would they have the same weight as someone who has taken an official course at a university or college?  Why not, if the material covered and the information learned is the same?

I think that is the crux of the issue.   Is the material I learn online by researching and reading and studying the various websites the same as material covered in a course taught at a college or university?  And is it perceived that way by employers?  If so, should an online certification hold the same weight as a college degree?  What would be the ultimate difference?

Education is definitely changing and the internet is making more information more readily accessible.   I believe that we need to somehow come up with a way of codifying what is learned and we need a way to demonstrate what people know even if they do not have any ‘official’ degree or certification.   I think a system like Code Academy has would be great — a series of courses and practices and assignments that demonstrate what has been learned and then a badge is earned demonstrating that a course has been passed, that a project has been completed, that a certain level of knowledge has been gained.

If online educational resources were to implement some sort of exam or assessment at the end whereby a user could verify they have learned what was taught in the course, then they could award a badge or certificate of some kind demonstrating that, which would be acceptable as proof of what a person has learned.   That is hopefully where the future of online education is going.   Right now there seem to be many sites and resources that can provide the information and teaching that learners are looking for, we now need to have some universally recognized form of certifying what a person has learned.

And could this style of online learning eventually replace (at least in part) a formal University education?  There are many people who believe and have been taught that the only worthwhile career or life goal is to go to college and get a degree.   Now, I am not saying that people who want to go to college should not, but I think there are many who feel forced or pressured into going to college who would do much better in a different learning environment.   Some would do much better in a trade school or technical college, taking courses and earning certifications that will qualify them for specific careers.   And there are many who do much better in individualized education, studying on their own and not in a classroom setting.

If I were an employer and looking at a group of candidates, there is a certain something to be said for an individual who has obtained a college degree.   It does show that not only have they taken courses required for this particular degree, but that they have successfully navigated the university setting.   It shows that they have learned how to work and achieve and fulfill requirements.   All of this is necessary when considering a person for a position.   But, if I am looking for someone who knows a particular thing or has skill and experience in a particular field, I do not really care where they gained their experience, if it was in a classroom at a university, or by reading and studying and doing things on their own.   If the candidate can demonstrate knowledge and experience and skill in the required field, that is good enough for me.

But, this brings us back to the point of how to we demonstrate knowledge or skill or experience, when it is gained in a non-traditional setting?  A college degree is shortcut for this and demonstrates that I have sat through a certain number of classes and passed the accompanying assessments.   But there does not yet exist an equivalent online version of a university degree.   I would love to see this develop in the next several years.   I can imagine some sort of online organization that exists to validate and certify individuals.   I see people creating accounts with a central site and then uploading documents or performing tasks or taking certification tests and earning scores that can be translated into some sort of “virtual transcript”, indicating what knowledge and skills the user has.

Or maybe I am just not as well-versed in internet-ology as I think I am.   Does something like this already exist that I am unaware of?  What are your thoughts about education and certification in a digital era?

On College Costs: What Can and Should be Done?

The president has been touring this week, holding town hall type meetings at college campuses in New York and Pennsylvania discussing his new plan to help make college more affordable for more people.  When I hear people talk about making college and higher education more affordable, the following thoughts go through my head:

 

As a student I want cheaper tuition and better access to higher education.

 

As a citizen I understand that more people with access to better education is a good thing for society as a whole.

 

As a hopeful professor, I want to be paid.

 

College tuition is rising – that is undeniable.  The questions then must be asked –Why are colleges raising tuition?  Where do college tuition moneys go in the University?   Are their expenses rising at a rate equal to the rise in tuition?

What costs does a university have? — They have to pay faculty and staff and employees’ salaries; they also pay for equipment and materials such as computers, phones, fax machines, copiers, paper, pens and pencils, etc; research supplies and materials – I admit I don’t have a great sciences background, but I can imagine that a lot of the research they do can be expensive with expensive, sensitive equipment and materials and then again they need to pay for the faculty or student assistants that are doing the research.   In that kind of ironic circular logic,  I know a lot of students get student jobs, paid by the university to do things such as custodial work or assist professors, and they need these jobs to have money to buy food and pay rent as well as to pay their tuition.   So, the university pays students to work who then in turn pay the university to study. Universities (at least BYU where I went) also seem to be constantly under construction, building newer buildings to meet with the demand and the needs of the students and the faculty.   I had some classes at BYU that were in some pretty old buildings on campus, with outdated technology in the classrooms that desperately needed updating.

One area that gets criticized a lot is college sports.  A lot of money goes into college sports, from salaries of coaches and staff to all of the equipment that is needed for the players to play to promotional materials and I guess that universities pay to have games aired on television.   I admit, I am not all that familiar with the whole sports thing and how it all works, but there is a lot of money that is spent on sports.   On the other hand, tickets to these sports games, especially the football games at most major universities are pretty expensive.   Are they not able to recoup most of the cost of sports programs from these ticket sales?

But, the point stands – Universities have expenses, and as someone who wants to someday teach at the collegiate level, I want to make sure that I make a salary that allows me to live comfortably with my family.   True, no one goes into academia expecting to be a millionaire, but I believe that a professor should be paid enough so that he can support his family and live well.   In the debate about colleges becoming too expensive for people to afford, do we look at the colleges’ expenses and what is driving the rising tuition costs?

I have heard a lot of politicians talk recently about what to do about student loans and making student loan debts easier for students to manage, suggesting caps on how much a student can be expected to pay back each month and other ideas focused on what to do with students who already have incurred debts to pay for their college education.

To me that is focusing on one symptom of the problem, but ignoring the root cause.   Why are universities charging students so much?  Why have tuition rates increased so much so rapidly? Where is all of that money going? What can we do with colleges and universities to help lower their costs?

In doing a little research for this blog post, I was able to Google and find some budget reports for a few universities in past years (University of California 2012-2013, Duke University 2008)  and the interesting thing I saw was that tuition and fees only make up about 15% of the budget for these universities.   Tuition is not a major part of where universities receive their money, so the question remains, why has tuition increased so much so rapidly?  And what can be done to help universities reign in their costs so that we can make higher education more affordable for more people?

The bottom line is: Money has to come from somewhere, and universities do need money to operate.   I believe we need a balanced approach, using some of several ideas that have been presented to resolve the issue.   We need to help universities manage their costs so that they can lower tuition rates for students, we need to work with lenders and financial institutions to make student loan money more available and on better terms so that students have access to the money they need to pay for college, and maybe something can be done on the tax side as well, making more of college tuition and fees tax-deductible as incentive and to make paying for college just a little bit easier.

I love this clip, I like that he says it should be hard paying for college.  It is an accomplishment, something to be proud of. But, it should be just a little bit easier.

 

What are your thoughts?  Any suggestions on making this whole thing a little easier for more people?  What can be done?

Linguistics Fun and Teaching

I have been using some of my free time lately to go back over the capstone paper that I wrote for my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University.  My degree is in German Linguistics, and the paper was titled, Using Explicit Linguistic Instruction to Improve the Teaching of German as a Foreign Language, sounds fun, no?  As I have been rewriting this paper, trying to get it into a better position to be used as my writing sample for applying to grad schools this fall, and possibly for submitting to a couple different German Linguistic journals, I have been thinking a lot about the similarities between English and German.

That is really why I started this paper in the first place.  I started at BYU as a German Teaching major, my plan was to eventually teach high school German, and possibly English or Drama as well.  I may still teach high school someday, I am applying for an Ohio State teaching license, which would definitely help my chances of finding a job where I can use my language skills daily, but as I took a required course in the History of the the German Language I found just how much the history of a language can help in the understanding of that language.  Coming as I did from a pedagogic background, I began applying the historical linguistic principles I was learning to the teaching of German as a foreign language, specifically using the relationship between English and German to find and make connections that would help students learn the language.

It’s funny, really, that students seem to love complaining that a foreign language is so hard to learn because it is so different, or has so many rules, or even more exceptions to the rules, yet when we take a look at their native English we find a language that is such a conglomerate hodge-podge of words and grammar principles from different languages that it’s a surprise anyone can learn it at all.  Students don’t blink twice at the irregular verbs in English that they use everyday, but they can’t seem to grasp the concept when applied to German.  For example, in German, the word for drink is trinken, the simple past is trank and the past participle is getrunken.  Those are usually the three forms of the verb that teachers have students memorize.  And the fact that the vowel changes in the stem in each form sometimes seems to confuse students.  But let’s consider the English word for a minute: drink. What’s the past tense of drink? Drank.  And what is the participle? Drunk.  Well, that looks familiar, doesn’t it.  trinken, trank, getrunken;  drink, drank, drunk.

I think that we can help students overcome their fear or anxiety about learning a foreign language by helping them realize that it really isn’t all that foreign at all.  And at the same time, as we explain these similarities between the foreign language and the native language, we should be helping students understand their native language better.  For example, one of those rules we all remember being taught in elementary school was that you never say “Joe and me” it should always be “Joe and I”.  Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but that is just wrong.  Sometimes the one way is correct and sometimes the other is correct, and if English speakers had a better understanding of grammatical cases they would be able to know the difference and when to use each one.  Students often complain that it is so hard to learn all of the different cases in a language like German, and it does take some getting used to, but the notion is not entirely foreign.  It just takes an understanding that different parts of the sentence perform different functions.  We are familiar with subject and object when talking about sentences, why is it such a stretch to learn about Nominative and Accusative cases?  That’s really all linguists mean when they talk about cases.  Nominative case is used for the subject of the sentence, the doer of the action.  Accusative case is used for the object of the sentence, the receiver of the action.  German also has a Dative case used for the indirect object, or the part of the sentence that receives the direct object.  So, in the sentence Bill threw the ball to Dave.  Bill is Nominative, or the subject, since he is the one doing the throwing; the ball is Accusative, or the direct object, since it is what is being thrown; and Dave is Dative, or the indirect object, since he is receiving the direct object, or the ball.

When we realize that the difference between I and me is that I is nominative and me is accusative, then we can begin placing them correctly in sentences.  Joe and I are going to the store is correct because Joe and I is functioning as the subject of the sentence: Nominative.  He gave the money to Joe and me is correct because Joe and me is functioning as the indirect object (the receiver of the direct object, money).  Where German makes the distinction between direct object (Accusative) and indirect object (Dative), English does not.  English has lost these extra cases and now seems to only have a sense of Nominative and not-Nominative, though to be fair, we do have vestiges of the Genitive case lying around in our possessive s at the end of words  Teaching about cases in this way not only helps the student understand the purpose and role they play in the foreign language, it helps students understand and speak their native language better.

This type of specific linguistic instruction may not be the best idea in a very beginning foreign language class, but I strongly believe that the teacher should at least have this knowledge and then be aware of the opportunities to utilize this linguistic knowledge in the classroom, when it is appropriate.  Not every student will immediately get or want this type of instruction, but there are definitely some students, like me, who would appreciate this extra explanation as to why the language functions in the way it does.  I believe teachers should have more tools available to them and then be able to choose which ones work best to teach the students that they have.  And there’s so much more that a study of linguistics can do for the foreign language classroom.  A study of historical phonology, or the ways in which the sounds of a language have changed over time, can help with vocabulary learning and recognizing cognate words between English and German, since both have derived from a common source.  There have been certain sound changes that English has undergone and certain sound changes that German has undergone, and when one understands these changes one can backtrack them and find common words between the languages.  A teacher could also have a discussion on morphology, or the ways in which words change to reflect different meanings, like verbs that change form to match the subject. (“I am”, but “you are”, for example.  Both are forms of the verb “to be”, but they change depending on the subject.)  This discussion could include things like prefixes and suffixes and how they affect the meaning of words.  German is a very precise language and utilizes prefixes and suffixes to make words that have exact meanings.  Armed with a knowledge of what different prefixes and suffixes mean, students can then recognize new words and even make their own in the same way that Germans do, by adding the appropriate prefix or suffix.

There is so much that linguistics knowledge can do for a foreign language classroom, I just hope that I can help teachers realize this and give them a few extra tips and tricks that they can use to give to their students to help them learn the language better.  That’s the bottom line.  I’m not saying one method of teaching is better than another, but merely that all methods should be tried to give students as much advantage as possible in helping them learn the language.  Students are all different and learn in different ways, what may be extremely useful for one may be extremely confusing for another.  Which is why we should have various different ways of presenting material so that all students can succeed.

What do you think, what methods have you seen in your foreign language experience?  What has or hasn’t worked for you?

Bilingualism and the Republican primary process

Just when I thought the Republican primary process was becoming sensible a new ad surfaces from the Newt Gingrich campaign attacking Mitt Romney, and the best line of the ad? That would be, “And just like John Kerry — he speaks French, too.”

There is another ad that has been making the rounds, which encourages people to vote for Ron Paul, though the Ron Paul campaign denies making or running the ad.  In this ad Jon Huntsman is attacked for speaking Chinese, with the question, “American values? or Chinese?”  The worst part is when they attack him for his adopted daughters who are Chinese and Indian, but that’s not the point I want to make now.

What is wrong with bilingualism?  I personally believe that the fact that these men speak a foreign language makes them better candidates for President of the United States.  In a world that is growing ever smaller, with international relations being one of the primary functions of the President, how does it hurt at all to be able to speak a foreign language and communicate with diplomats and ambassadors and heads of state in their own language?  Why is this being portrayed as a negative thing, the fact that they are bilingual?

As one who has had a deep love of the German language and culture for longer than I can remember, this is appalling.  When did Americans decide that it was wrong to want to speak another language?  When did we decide that anyone who speaks an additional language must not be a ‘true’ American?  Probably around the same time that honest, native-born Americans who grew up speaking German in Texas or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania were suspected of being Nazi sympathizers, or their honest, native-born neighbors who grew up speaking Japanese or Chinese in California, Oregon, and Washington were sent to Relocation camps (because we did not call them internment camps) for fear they might be spies aiding their homelands.

America has always been a nation of immigrants and children of immigrants.  I don’t know the actual statistics, but I bet most Americans have an ancestor born outside of the United States within three or four generations.  And with these immigrants came their languages.  America was built on multiculturalism, so why do we see declining foreign language programs across the country?

I will say it again – though it is not a deal-breaker with me, I find that I am more inclined to vote for a presidential candidate who can speak another language.  I feel it makes him more suited to the job.  And not just because he can then converse with more people, but because as one studies a foreign language one must also learn a foreign culture.  And it is this learning to understand customs and idioms that are different from those you grew up with that makes a man better able to not only speak, but to communicate with those from other countries.

I am David Tertipes, and I approve this message.  Ich bin David Tertipes, und ich billige diese Botschaft.

Conference Presentation, take two: On German Linguistics

Last October I had an opportunity to present a paper at BYU’s conference on Literature and Belief.  That was my first experience in academia, presenting at a conference, being a real scholar.   Next week I have the chance to do it again.

The Utah Foreign Language Association (UFLA) conference is being held at Utah Valley University on 3 November, and they have asked me to present.  Really, they asked me.  Sort of.  They noticed that they did not have very many presentations about German and so they contacted one of my professors at BYU, who immediately turned to me and asked if I wanted to present the research that I have been working on.

And what is my presentation about?  Using Linguistic Principles to Improve the Teaching of German as a Foreign Language.

There is a lot of talk, among certain circles at least, about foreign language instruction in the American school system.  Many believe that it is unnecessary and many believe that it is ineffective.  This is mostly because people have experience with learning a foreign language for several years in high school, but never being able to say more than a few words or phrases.  And it’s a downward spiral from there — these people become parents and legislators and they don’t expect foreign language programs to be more effective than they have been for them.  Teachers should always be looking for new or different ways to approach teaching to help students learn better, not all students have the same learning style.  Explicit linguistic instruction has been used in many college level foreign language classes, but not in many high schools.  Linguistic principles like morphology, phonology, and phonetics can be helpful even in a high school language classroom.

 

Morphology

Morphology is the study of how words change to reflect slight changes in meaning.  the verb “to be”, for example, changes depending on the subject it is paired with (I am, you are, he/she/it is, etc.).  This is probably one of the most confusing parts of learning a foreign language for English speakers because English does not have much morphology, and we learn this language natively, naturally, so we don’t notice the complexities of our morphological system.  You learn the paradigm for “to be” and it becomes natural, so it sounds weird to hear some say “I is” (unless you live in one of the dialect regions of the US where that is acceptable).  But learning how to conjugate a foreign verb always seem so difficult.

As we look at the history of English and German, we can find connections that help make this process a little less foreign.   Shakespeare or the King James Version of the Bible, which are still classified as Modern English or Early Modern English, still have evidence of verbs changing depending on subject, and maybe this is why they are difficult for students to read.  We read “thou hast” or “he hath” which is reminiscent of German’s “du hast” or “er hat”.

 

Phonology

Phonology is the study of the sounds of a language, and often teachers refer to phonology when they talk about pronunciation, but phonology can also help with vocabulary, if we take a look at historical phonology and the sound changes that have taken place.

The High German Consonant Shift – which occurred about the 5th century AD, is a shift in stop consonants (p,t,k) to become fricatives or affricates (pf or ff, ts or ss, ch).  This shift occurred in High German languages and separated High German from Low German, from which English is derived.  So, words that in English have a p, t, or k we see pf or ff, ts or ss, or ch in German.  So the word ‘ship’ in English, we see the word ‘Schiff’ in German. (And what’s even more interesting is that there is a subsequent sound shift that shifted ‘sch’ to ‘sk’, so the word became ‘Skiff’, and was then borrowed back into English. Skiff and ship are related words!)

So a student who understands this sound shift could look at a German word and retrace the sound shift to find a related English word.  Say the student read the German word “hoffen”, recognize that the “ff” was probably originally a “p”, so the word may have been “hopen”, which they should recognize as the English word “hope”.  Knowing about this sound shift, and others, like the Great Vowel Shift that affected English in the 1400-1700s where many English vowels changed the way they were pronounced, can help students find and recognize related cognate words and boost their ability to understand what they read, without having to turn to a dictionary for every other word.

 

Phonetics

In addition to historical phonology, the field of phonetics deals specifically with articulation and the perception and production of sounds.  Teachers do touch on this when they teach pronunciation, but a more explicit approach could be beneficial to some students.  By showing a vowel chart like the one below, teachers can talk about the characteristics that make up different vowel sounds, helping students understand which vowels are front or back in the mouth, high or low, and rounded or unrounded.  Students can also see the relationship between different vowels in this chart.  They can see that /i/ is slightly higher and more front than /e/, which can help them learn the difference between these sounds.

German Vowel Chart

 

Praat — is a free, open-source software for acoustic and speech analysis.  It has become the gold standard and is used in college level courses world-wide to discuss acoustics and linguistics.  It may seem overwhelmingly difficult at first use, but with a little training it can be used to help students see their own speech patterns and compare to a native speaker.  The formants (shown by the rows of red dots below) can be plotted on a Formant Chart, like the one below, which (not surprisingly) resembles our vowel chart.  This can show students if they are producing their vowels in the right position.

Praat screenshot
Formant Chart

 

What the future holds

J. Reuben Clark Law School
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Monday evening, as part of BYU’s German Week, I listened to a Fireside / FHE from Elder Kopischke, who is currently serving as the Area President for the Church’s Europe Area.  As part of this fireside, he took questions, and someone asked him how he chose his career path ans what he had learned as a part of that.  He then told a very interesting story about his life, how he had always wanted to be a teacher, but did not have the money or ability to go to University in Germany, so he decided to join the military and use the military to get his college education.  He prayed about it and received no answer.  Believing that no answer was also an answer, he decided to go for it.  After just a week in the military he had the overwhelming feeling that this was the wrong career choice, so he left.  He ended up self-employed, selling insurance to support his family, and only twenty years later was he approached by the Church to be a Seminary teacher, finally having the opportunity to teach.

This was a fascinating story, and he emphasized the fact that despite his life not going according to the plan he had chosen, the Lord had been in charge and had given him the opportunities he had needed.

This story reminded me of a similar story that a professor I had once told.  He was teaching Family History at BYU, but had gotten his PhD from OSU in Germanics and Second Language Acquisition (just what I want to do).  But after graduating, he couldn’t find a job, so he moved to Salt Lake and started working in Family History as a researcher, especially of German lines.  He told this story in class to show that he had years of experience as a professional family history researcher, before becoming a professor.  But I took away a different lesson.

 

Both of these stories were floating around in my head as I have been working on getting my applications to Grad Schools set these last couple of days.  And the phrase that keeps coming to mind is “I’ll go where you want me to go.  I’ll do what you want me to do.”

I am a little worried that my life will not go exactly as I hope it will.  That I will not be able to teach Germanic linguistic classes at the college level.  But, at the same time I am reassured that my life will work out.  I will definitely find something to do that will allow me to support my family.  And I will probably find something that I enjoy doing.  I have enjoyed immensely my time that I have worked doing tech support these last four years, and that is a career where I could make good money, and do a lot of good.

And even my skills in tech support are attributable to the Lord guiding me to a job I didn’t think I would get, but a job where I learned many valuable skills.   I originally saw the job posting looking for a German speaker to help with computer support, and I applied because I wanted a job where I could speak German, even if I did not have much skill with computers or troubleshooting.

I went in for the interview, and the main question of the interview was a game of Yes and No.  The interviewer had chosen an object in the room and I was to determine what the object was by only asking yes or no questions.  I had the opportunity later to sit in on other interviews and watch other people respond to this activity, and apparently I answered in a the perfect way.  I immediately launched into binary troubleshooting, where you take the problem and ask a question that splits it in half – Is it in front of your desk?  Is it to your right? Is it above the level of your desk?  With these sorts of questions you can very quickly narrow it down to know the exact object or cause of the problem.  They didn’t really care that I had not experience with computer support, or much knowledge with computers, they could teach me that.  They were looking for the ability to ask the right questions, troubleshoot in the proper way, and narrow down to find the root cause.

A few months after I was hired, though, they told me that they were not actually going to be supporting German officially, so I never got to use my language skill much more than the occasional call that I happened to be lucky enough to get from a German.  But I learned a great deal about computers, about troubleshooting, about KCS, and I now have a valuable skill that will allow me to get a job pretty much anywhere I end up going.  There are always people who need IT guys.

And so, as I move forward with my academic career, I am hopeful that I will be able to do what I want, to be able to help students learn the German language.  But I am also aware that life can take interesting  turns and present you with opportunities that you had never imagined.

Mormon Monday: The Fundamentals of What I Believe

Painting by an unknown painter, circa 1842. Th...
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As I mentioned in a post last week, my wife and I have been reading through Preach My Gospel: A guide for missionary service.  This is the handbook that full-time missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use as they find and teach those who are looking to know more about Jesus Christ and his gospel.  It contains the doctrines, principles, and commandments that one must know and keep.  These are organized in lessons that present the material in a logical progression to help one who is unfamiliar with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

I thought I would take the next couple installments of my Mormon Monday posts to discuss these lessons and talk a little more in-depth about what I believe as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Lesson One: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

God is our loving Heavenly Father

There is a God and He is the father of our spirits.  It is as simple as that.  There is a God, a divine supreme Creator, but the title that he chooses to use is Father.  He loves us as His children, and because he loves us he has a plan for our happiness that is centered in Jesus Christ as the Atoner for the sins of the world.

The Gospel blesses families

The family is the basic unit of society and of the kingdom of God.  God has established and ordained families as a place where His children can grow and learn and support each other in loving relationships.  As families strive to follow God’s plan they will find more happiness and peace and love in their lives. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

Heavenly Father reveals his gospel in every dispensation

Because God loves us and wants us to be happy he wants us to follow his plan, so he has revealed this plan to His children in all ages of this earth.  He calls prophets as righteous men and reveals His will to them with the instruction that they teach others.  Prophets like Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses spoke with God and then taught the people what God wanted.

People don’t always choose to listen to prophets, however, and often they reject the message.  When the people do not want to listen to or obey the prophets, God removes his prophets.  But because God does love His children, He is always willing to call new prophets.  That is the pattern He follows.

The Savior’s earthly ministry

Jesus Christ came to earth to once again restore the Gospel and teach the people God’s plan of happiness.  Christ also came to fulfill his diving mission as Savior and Redeemer; through his atoning sacrifice it is now possible for all of us to repent and receive forgiveness of our sins.  He called twelve Apostles and ordained them to the priesthood to lead and govern his Church after he returned to the Father.  They received the call to take the gospel to all the world, teaching all people about Jesus Christ and God’s plan.

The Great Apostasy

Apostasy is a time when people fall away from God and turn away from his plan.  After Christ’s death his Apostles went into the whole world to spread the good news of the gospel of Christ.  They ran into great persecution and eventually all were killed.  Once again, God removed his prophets and his priesthood from the earth due to the wickedness of the people.  Throughout the centuries, though, there were many great men and women who sought God’s will and tried to learn what He would have them do.  They sought to reform the church that currently existed, but none claimed that God had called them as prophets to restore what was lost.

The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith

In the early 1800s Joseph Smith was a young boy living in New England who was confused by the many different churches and religions who all claimed to be the church of Jesus Christ.  Joseph wanted to “know which of all the sects was right … and which I should join” (Joseph Smith History 1:18).  He was an honest seeker of truth who turned to the word of God to find answers.  He read in the Bible, in the Book of James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

With this verse in mind, he went to a quiet place in the woods near his farm, where he could be alone to pray to God and ask the question of his heart.  He wrote of this experience, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.  When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! (Joseph Smith—History 1:16-17).

God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith.  They spoke with him, telling him that there was no church yet on the earth that had the entirety of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that through him this church would soon be restored.

In following years, Joseph Smith had other visions and heavenly messengers; John the Baptist appeared and ordained him to the priesthood; Peter, James, and John (the Lord’s ancient Apostles) appeared and conferred further priesthood keys; Moroni (a prophet who lived and taught the people living in ancient America) appeared and told him of the Book of Mormon, a record of the teachings of prophets who had been called among the ancient peoples living on the American continent.

Joseph Smith was called as a prophet for our day and age, continuing the pattern which God has always followed by calling and ordaining men to teach and preach in all ages of this world.  He called other men as Apostles, restoring the order and organization of the church established by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry.

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ

The Book of Mormon is a record of scripture similar to the Bible and contains the teachings of holy prophets who testified of Jesus Christ.  As prophets in Israel wrote down what they taught and the revelations they had received in what became the Bible, so did prophets in other parts of the world.  The Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus Christ and proves that God loves all of His children everywhere.  He calls prophets to teach them, wherever they live.

Joseph Smith was guided to buried plates of gold with writing engraved on them  by the angel Moroni, who was the last prophet who wrote in the record and hid them up in the earth.  Joseph Smith translated this record by the power of God, and published it to be sent forth into the whole world as another testament of Jesus Christ, alongside the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Pray to know the truth through the Holy Ghost

The message of the Restoration is either true or it is not.  Joseph Smith is either a prophet or he is not.  the book of Mormon is either a true record testifying of Jesus Christ or it is not.  It is that simple.  One can know the truth by following the example of Joseph Smith.  He read in the scriptures, pondered the words that he read, then prayed to the Father to know the truth.  Just as he obeyed the verse in the Book of James, we can lay hold of the promise at the end of the Book of Mormon.  In Moroni 10″3-5 it states,

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.  And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:3-5)

This is the promise of God: read and pray with a sincere heart and real intent and you will know through the power of the Holy Ghost.  Prayer is a wonderful blessing given us by a loving Father in Heaven.  He wants us to talk with him and he will respond in His own way and in His own time.  We can have open and honest communication with our Father through prayer.  I am so thankful to my God for this opportunity we have of developing a personal relationship with him, and of the promise he has given of his Holy Ghost.

 

I have taken the opportunity to avail myself of the promise of Moroni.  I have read the Book of Mormon, compared it to the teachings of the Bible, and I have prayed about it.  I have asked if the Book of Mormon were true and I received an answer through the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is a true record of a people striving to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It testifies of his divinity and of his role as the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

 

If you would like more information about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a lot of information on the internet, but the best resources would be those authorized and produced by the Church.  LDS.org and Mormon.org are wonderful resources.