It’s time to change early morning seminary

September 12, 2013 | 123 comments
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School’s back in session. Several weeks of early mornings have burned through the summer sleep reservoir. Inevitably, the debate over school start times sputters to life, ignited this year by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who tweeted “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.” Duncan’s statement references both the sleep science suggesting that teenagers’ circadian rhythms shift toward later wake and sleep times, and the small but growing initiative to delay high school bell schedules to better accommodate the students’ biological reality and, potentially, improve their academic performance.

For some LDS teens, there’s another wrinkle to the debate (and under their parents’ sleepy eyes): early morning seminary. It’s just so early. (1) Classes start as early as 5:30 AM in some areas, in order to accommodate students involved in zero-hour school activities. Assuming a 5:30 AM seminary start means a 5:00 AM alarm, a seminary student who needs eight hours of sleep at night would have to be in bed by 9:00 pm. Yet my daughter didn’t get home from her Young Women activity last night until 9:00. The hours just don’t add up.

This is a familiar complaint, and I make it out of craven self-interest, as I have a seventh-grader this year and I dread the imposition that early-morning seminary will soon make on the quality of our family life in the mornings and on my children’s other pursuits: before-school musical instrument practicing is an institution in our home, and if my morning is eaten up with driving kids to and from seminary, that can’t happen. I know, I know, boo hoo for me and my little Mozarts. Thousands of others families have figured it out, and we can too.

But I think it’s worth making the case for change again now, because something else has changed the equation: the missionary age. We’re seeing trickle-down effects all through LDS institutional and personal life. Missionary service is now a line-item on the standard life-script for all of our youth, and it starts right after high school. This means that all of our youth need to know the scriptures, know the gospel, and know how to teach by the time they graduate from high school. And that means that we need the most effective teaching and the most efficient learning.

With full knowledge that my suggestions carry absolutely no weight, I nevertheless suggest that we do away with traditional early-morning seminary, a venue in which even the students who do show up and stay awake — and there are many who don’t — are not learning efficiently. In its place, we use the weeknight youth activity slot for a two-hour, intensive institute-style missionary prep class, taught by the very best teachers in the stake. Twelve and 13-year-olds could continue traditional YW and Scouting activities, but in high school the focus shifts to mission prep. The weekly classes would be supplemented with fifteen minutes of daily online study from home, for a total of 75 minutes of online study and about 100 minutes of group class instruction per week. In terms of sheer minutes, that stacks up pretty well against early morning seminary, which, by the time you subtract five minutes of start-up and wind-down time from both ends of the class period, offers about 200 minutes of instructional time per week.

This will not be fool-proof system perfectly meeting the needs of every student. Some kids will have extra-curriculars in the evenings for part of the year, and perhaps a fully online option can be offered for them. But the weeknight youth activity is already a known quantity for LDS families, and we’ve coped with it in our family calendars in some fashion. Using that time for gospel instruction can ease the hardship of early morning instruction without introducing yet another church obligation into family life.

There are signs that change is afoot in CES. A re-vamped online home study seminar program was introduced last week, and it could be use seamlessly with weekly evening seminars to replace early morning instruction. We know that home-study, evening and after-school seminary has worked for LDS youth in other countries. Broader educational paradigms are shifting toward online learning, and we’re beginning to know what works and what doesn’t. Now is a good time to consider retiring early morning seminary for our youth.

(1) There are many virtues to early morning seminary, of which I am a graduate. Early rising is a time-honored austerity practice, and I believe it has value. Those students who attend faithfully each morning no doubt cherish the experience because they sacrificed for it. Morning seminary offers an opportunity for spiritual connection before the gauntlet of the school day. It can build camaraderie and friendship among students, especially those who attend different high schools and wouldn’t otherwise connect daily. There are some truly outstanding early morning seminary teachers out there, including my own mother and sister, and they change lives every year. These virtues are real, and some of them will not be reproduced in a less-onerous instructional setting. Nevertheless, I believe that the value of reaching those youth who, for whatever reason, are not attending or are not learning from early morning seminary will outweigh these virtues, in the end.

123 Responses to It’s time to change early morning seminary

  1. whizzbang on September 12, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    I know some wards are doing online skype seminary. Which is fine if you have the technology for it. I, too graduated from early seminary and school in the morning was a wash for me, I was SO freaking tired! I hated it. I live in Canada and so we walked to the chapel to be there for 6:45am, which meant my sister and I had to get up at like 5am or earlier, which is too early. As a family we never had scripture study together or we never had early morning prayers or anything like that, we always had seminary to go to. The only thing I remember is our teacher got disfellowshipped for apostasy so, I spent like ten years trying to unlearn everything she taught me, which makes me wonder,looking back, why did we bother even going-that’s my experience and not everyone else’s though.

  2. anita on September 12, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    With 2 early morning attending teens this year, I say Amen! Not only to more sleep and improved gospel learning, but I love the solution to replace the youth activities (basketball and Downton Abbey marathons aren’t great mission prep). Wonder what would happen to the entire CES structure in Utah built in to high school release time classes?

  3. Jonathon on September 12, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    We did online for the last two years in Al Ain, and it was wonderful. We could have scheduled an early morning class, but for all the reasons you mentioned, it just seemed like it would unnecessarily burden, well, almost everyone. The students who were most likely to get anything out of the daily lessons did (and then some), and the once-a-week sessions (not youth night, but another evening) were more active, vibrant, and meaningful for everybody than I remember early morning being (and I did four years of it, plus 3 years as a teacher.

    I like the idea of using youth night for mission prep: you could even do it twice a month (co-ed), and leave one Tuesday open for combined youth activity (with, you know, some actual action involved) and one for split activities without losing anything, in my view.

    I’ve often said that if I were ever called as a unit leader again, I’d gather youth leaders together in July and tell them to find a year-long service activity. As a parent, I want those evenings to mean something. Your suggestion is a good place to start.

  4. Lisa F. on September 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    In my experience as YW president twice and now an early-morning seminary teacher, the kids who do not go to seminary are also the ones who do not attend YM/YW very often, if at all. I don’t think that the switch you propose would increase the education of that group of kids.

  5. Naismith on September 12, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    There is a huge body of literature on why high school start times should be moved to 9 a.m.to accommodate teen biorhythms. I was asked by a school board member to speak at a meeting when they were considering this, and what is particularly impressive is that the findings hold up all around the world, in Israel, Japan and Minnesota, suggesting that it is biological rather than cultural.

    So the school start time did move an hour later before our last two started seminary. It is definitely worth lobbying for that.

    I homeschooled the kids in Brasil during the months that the local schools were not in session, since we were there for part of our winter/their summer.

  6. Anthony on September 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    As a former early-morning seminary teacher (and former teenager myself :)), I whole-heartedly agree that teens simply need more sleep. When I taught, I perceived that a small handful of kids seemed to be “morning people” who were consistently awake, alert, and happy at 6AM. They were on time, friendly, and had near-perfect attendance. Most, however, battled drowsiness, tardiness, and absenteeism, especially as the school year stretched into March, April, and May and their sleep deprivation gradually accumulated (as did mine).

    In addition to the challenges of students and parents you mention, the work/life/church-service balance of the called early morning seminary teachers is yet another. When I was called, one bishop in our stake confided in me that the 7 months he taught early-morning seminary without a team teacher were the most challenging months of his life, because he struggled balancing the demands of his career, family, calling, and health. As I taught, I began to understand why he spoke the way he did, even though I had a great team-teacher who alternated weeks with me.

    While your admittedly radical proposal aligns well with the latest sleep science, I doubt most CES folks would be partial toward it. Perhaps more modest changes could be achieved sooner and easier. Two relatively simple changes could be:
    1) Drop Fridays, so early-morning seminary holds to a M-Th schedule. By the end of most weeks, all I really wanted to do was just cancel Friday’s class to give the kids a break and let them catch up a bit on their sleep. Since Fridays are usually game or activity-based days anyway, there probably isn’t much lost here (besides opportunities to learn the scripture mastery verses, but the newly available SM games/activities – the links of which are currently available on the homepage of lds.org – could be viable substitutes).
    2) Designate certain days or weeks (perhaps each month) to be “home study” weeks. If communicated and implemented the right away, this would accomplish the dual purpose of letting everyone get some rest AND allowing the teens to do more self-directed, intensive scripture study, which is a skill and habit we want them to acquire anyways. They could come back when in-class seminary resumes and help teach a full or partial lesson, based on what they studied and internalized during the home-study week.

    Also, in addition to the sleep science, I believe that the synthesis and integration we’ve recently witnessed of the YM/YW, Sunday School, and Seminary curricula lend some credibility to reasonably reduce in-person, early-morning seminary sessions.

    Anyway, my suggestions probably carry absolutely no weight either. Thanks for sharing yours, though. I appreciate hearing others think creatively about how to best work and serve in the church. Innovation is needed.

  7. jks on September 12, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    The points I disagree with:
    You can’t cancel the fun activities. My children need to interact with other Mormons in some fun or structured stuff. Midweek activities being just mission prep? No thanks. I did homestudy and having one hour seminary and then an activity worked great! But two hours of just lessons? I say no way.
    Granted I only have one child in seminary at the moment, but I would rather her go to a class than to try to do it online or homestudy. We have the option of homestudy right now. Showing up at 6am everyday is easier than homestudy for some kids.

    Points I agree with:
    Kids need more sleep. Yes. Not sure how to make that happen. The fact is that an active high schooler is often gone from home for 10 hours or more hours. You could shift seminary to the afternoon or evening after sports or homework or music lessons or their nap or whatever. My daughter leaves at 5:50 to go to seminary, then school, then swim practice and gets home at 4:50. Last year she would stay after school to do homework with her friends at the library and get home at a simlar time. If we move things to start at 8 am that means she doesn’t get home until 7 pm. So I’ve traded having a morning time with my children but no dinner time with the family together.
    I think this is one reason why some people homeschool (I have homeschooled a little but I am not sold). It is so nice to have your kids around a lot more. So very, very, very nice. I miss my high schooler, but if she isn’t out doing seminary and school and swim team and homework or babysitting she’s home doing homework and helping out or learning to cook or playing the piano…..except when she is wasting time on the internet reading funny memes. She doesn’t really need to read more memes.

  8. Greedy Reader on September 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

    I have long worried that, as schools move start times earlier, the church will blithely follow along, as if they believe seminary students can adjust to anything. If a little sacrifice is good, more is better right? Ha.

    And I also heard a rumor than “mission field” wards can now choose between early morning and home study, whatever works best for their kids. Can anybody back me up on this?

  9. Kate Sherwood on September 13, 2013 at 1:00 am

    In response to #4, Lisa F:

    I was the good Mormon mom and forced my daughter to go to early morning seminary the first two and a half years. Then, she started working after school as well as had a very rigorous course load. I let her stop going to early morning seminary. I also let her make her own decision not to go this year, her final year of high school. I do enforce reading the scriptures as a family at home.

    The reason this is a response to your comment: She does go to church every Sunday and to the weekday YW activities and to Youth Conference. We live a 30-minute drive, one way, from the church building where these things take place (besides Youth Conference). We did volunteer our home for YW because of the price of gas and time for everyone involved (they all leave this area, go to that area to meet, and then all return to this area), but that has yet to be approved. But, she does go. Sometimes, I sit out in the car the entire time because it is not practical to return home, and sometimes she drives herself.

    Of note, when she did attend early morning seminary last year, she told me that some kids blatantly and openly went back to sleep (it is held in the home of the seminary teacher due to commute issues noted above). She has always been a respectful person and I told her in no uncertain terms that that was not acceptable. However, I do not really blame the kids for needing sleep, especially with work, sports, college-level classes, YW/YM (as you point out), etc. But truly, sleeping at the seminary’s teacher’s house provides the same experience as my daughter sleeping at home in the early morning–only hers is not disrupted sleep.

    I went to early morning seminary. That is why I was a good Mormon mom the first two and a half years. Now, I am a reasonable Mormon mom who gives her 17-year-old some free agency with its attendant consequences.

    I don’t know what the answer should be in general, but I am okay with our decision. I will account for allowing it.

  10. Rachel on September 13, 2013 at 1:13 am

    I’ve been disappointed at how punishing early morning seminary is for high school students seeking to excel. My son plays high school basketball, a program which requires nearly daily practice in the gym plus twice weekly early morning weights. We are constantly choosing between church activities and basketball, early morning seminary and basketball, and scouts and basketball. We are finding a balance but it is clumsy. Truthfully, it is just not possible to excel in this basketball program and be a fully active Mormon.

    I know we’re not the only ones: in your family it’s music, for others it’s academics. I feel like a lot of Mormon programs (like early morning seminary) enforce mediocrity or compromise in all other areas of achievement. Unless, of course, you live in the Jell-o belt with release time seminary, no sports on Monday nights (much less Sundays), and allowances made for mutual or youth conference.

    The long-term affects of these sacrifices might outweigh short-term disappointment, but when you’re dealing with a 15-year old, it’s a lot harder to work out just exactly where to fail.

  11. Laura on September 13, 2013 at 1:30 am

    What happens with seminary outside of the US? I can’t remember exactly how they handled things in Brazil where I served my mission, but I’m fairly sure it did not involve the traditional early-morning format. There must already be a wide variation in how this is handled worldwide?

  12. Justin on September 13, 2013 at 1:35 am

    It may be useful to note that most science suggests teens need a minimum of 9 hours of sleep per night, and it may be as much as 10 hours.

  13. Paul 2 on September 13, 2013 at 2:31 am

    In France there is a once-a-week seminary class, and the other four days are seminary home school days. There may be parts of Europe that can manage daily classes, but almost all areas do things like in France. Parents are officially expected to spend an hour each of those four days a week (!) working with their children on seminary. If the parent’s don’t complete the seminary classes with their children, the student needs to do the home study homework and turn it in to be graded.

    There was a big push three or four years ago to make seminary a five-day-a-week program all across Europe, and probably the only way to do that is to make every parent a seminary teacher.

  14. First dibs on "Anonymous" in this discussion on September 13, 2013 at 3:58 am

    This is the new option in early morning seminary areas:

    https://www.lds.org/callings/seminary/online-seminary-resources

    It has to be coordinated through the stake — individual parents can’t choose it — and there’s a lot of resistance in my area.

    When asked, the local leadership explains that the children need to meet together and enjoy each others’ company and feel the spirit together every morning before they head off to the minefields of public school. And I agree that there may be some benefits to the early morning seminary system.

    The following story is too long to tell in any detail, and it still makes me sad to think about, but my ward and stake were absolutely unwilling to let my oldest child do home study freshman year when the schedule did not work and we had very little flexibility due to a child’s medical disability. (Home study seminary is an older program than the new online seminary program in the link above.) The schedule conflict wasn’t a problem for families that lived closer to the seminary or were in different school districts; it was just us, and nothing we could say about the conflict seemed to make sense to the ward or stake leadership even though the church handbook clearly allowed for cases like ours. The responses we got were so peculiar that I’ve been puzzling over them for years.

    We prayed and prayed about the problem and at the last minute the school district changed its schedule and things worked, but just barely. We were very grateful for the blessing of the district schedule change, since we hadn’t known until then how seminary would even be possible.

    When some other parents in the ward recently started requesting the new online seminary program, with much resistance, I had a chance to think back over our experience, and realized two things I hadn’t understood before.

    First, some of the resistance could be because certain people must think (probably not on a conscious level) that if the form of seminary changes, then people won’t recognize the sacrifice that they made. Under the current system, once us “young folks” start taking our children to early morning seminary, or teaching seminary, we’ll understand and appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made for the Kingdom. (And seriously; driving an hour each way over winding, dangerous country roads to take your child to seminary? Yes, that is a great sacrifice.)

    Second, early morning seminary is the way these people learned the principle of sacrifice, and they must think that if we don’t do seminary the exact same way, we won’t learn the principle of sacrifice, and we’ll fail our mortal probation, and all because they allowed us and our children to take it easy and do seminary online.

    These two points may sound catty, but they really do explain some of the peculiar and insulting things we were told several years back when we requested other arrangements. And why did we go to the great lengths we did and not just skip seminary for a year? Because it’s commonly understood that kids have to attend early morning seminary to have a chance to get into a church college.

    I hesitate to mention all this, and apologize for the length of the comment, and for posting anonymously, but it may be useful to realize that although some of us see online seminary as a simple and obvious choice, it is very much not the case for many people.

  15. Last Lemming on September 13, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I have nothing to add to what has been said, but having advocated for online Seminary for years, I feel the need to register my agreement with the OP.

  16. Atlantic Toast Conference on September 13, 2013 at 8:54 am

    My high school had gotten the teenage-sleep memo and started at 9:30. However, my ward covered two school districts and 4-5 different high schools, so to accommodate everyone, seminary started at 5:30. I was a good-two-shoes with 100% attendance, but honestly, in retrospect I wish I had dropped out. I was usually the only student who was awake, and the quality of teaching was wildly inconsistent. (I can only imagine how hard it is to teach 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week, on top of a job and life.) It was just a sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake.

  17. Gabrielle Frandsen Turner on September 13, 2013 at 9:15 am

    I’m Rosalynde’s sister and one of the seminary teacher she referenced at the end, although I’m not sure I qualify as “outstanding.” I do try.
    Our class starts at 5:40 AM (which means I’m getting up at 4:40 and most of the kids are getting up at 5:00). The kids’ school doesn’t start until 9:05. It is completely absurd. We do it this early to accommodate before-school band and sports practices. I tried to figure out a way to have seminary at the high school (as a club) so we could meet there between the end of band/sports and the beginning of school. There is enough time for this if we meet at school, but not if the kids have to leave school to come to my house and then go back to school. Unfortunately that did not work out.
    This fall I did decide to offer another, later class so my students that don’t have band/sports don’t have to get up so early. I’m now teaching two classes every day, plus daily lesson prep. Seminary is easily a 15-20 hour-a-week job for me. Unpaid, of course. :-) I bet the time commitment for seminary teachers rivals that of some Bishops.
    I also homeschool my 3 children, supervise practicing, and act as chaperone to all the afternoon lessons and practices that are a staple of the modern upper-middle-class child’s life. So what that means is that I’m getting on average 5 hours of sleep a night, sometimes much less.
    Because of this, I absolutely, 100% sympathize with these good, good kids who make the sacrifice to come to seminary and struggle so hard to stay awake and engaged in class.
    I would applaud with the greatest enthusiasm a program like Rosalynde proposes. It would be better for kids, better for teachers, an would certainly prepare these kids for missions much better than the mighty struggle to fight exhaustion and mental fatigue every morning.
    I wonder sometimes if early morning seminary might actually be causing net harm, mentally and physically, to some kids. I often ask kids what time they got to bed, and almost always more than half the class is getting to bed after midnight. These kids are sacrificing close to HALF of the sleep that they biologically need. They are making serious cognitive and emotional sacrifices to come to seminary that they (and their parents and bishops) are probably not even aware of, and which may have far-reaching consequences. And I question the actual spiritual benefit from seminary when it is all these kids can do just to keep their eyes open. I don’t believe in sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake, and early morning seminary does sometimes feel like that is what it is.
    But, until the program changes, I will do my very best to offer engaging, educational, and hopefully spiritually uplifting lessons every morning, whether or not most kids are getting anything out of it. Oh yeah, and treats as often as possible. :-)

  18. Mmmeg on September 13, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I did home study seminary all four years in Chicago in the mid to late 90s. It was a great experience. I did the worksheets on my own (and later with my siblings as they entered seminary) and we met with the teacher on Saturdays. We had an awesome teacher my first three years and learned a lot. My last year the teacher wasn’t so great and I wish they would have just let me teach since my siblings and I were the only home study seminary kids that year. Our ward was very spread out geographically and we had multiple school districts involved but not enough kids to justify multiple early morning classes. I think it would have been great if we could have all done home study and all met together on Saturdays. The year after I graduated they switched to after school seminary which was difficult for my sister when she got a job and it still involved a lot of travel time for my family. Looking ahead now to 12 consecutive years of seminary for my own children starting in a couple years, I’ve already told my husband that I don’t think I can force them to do early morning. I don’t want to get up that early! I’d love to see more options and a little later start time for high schoolers. There has been some pushing for that in our district but it’s unclear if that will be feasible since they bus nearly every kid k-12 and have had to stagger start times to reuse busses.

  19. Steve Smith on September 13, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Amen to the OP. If we’re going to keep seminary in the early hours of the morning, let’s at least change it to just 2 days a week. 5 days a week is absolutely absurd. The real point of seminary is a give the kids an environment where they make good friends. No teacher, no matter how good they are, can fill 40 minutes 5 days a week with substantive material. The kids don’t actually learn that much from seminary. They just kind of go and sit there half-asleep. I would rather have them get more quality rest that they desperately need and focus on just one or two major extra-curricular activities really well outside school. When I have teenagers I will discourage them from going to early morning seminary. I will tell them that it is most likely a waste of time for them and that there are far more productive ways of spending your time and finding friends. I will tell them that only the weak bow to guilt-tripping tactics used to get teens to attend early morning seminary. If they feel guilt-tripped, I will teach them how to fight back, I will teach them how to question the system and force the guilt-trippers to give well-evidenced reasons as to why the system is the way it is and as to how effective it is.

  20. Katie Blakesley on September 13, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I think this is brilliant. The powers that be in charge of early morning seminary–please read this. And please, let’s change early morning seminary. There are so many more effective ways we could teach youth, starting with the fact that if they are awake, it HAS to be more effective. Early morning seminary + homework + extra curricular activities = exhaustion. And grumpiness.

  21. First dibs on "Anonymous" on September 13, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake. Sounds about right, but you’d probably have a hard time explaining the difference between that and the principle of sacrifice as found in our church teachings since the people who have made the early morning seminary sacrifice and are supporting the continuation of the program made their sacrifices in order to be obedient to the requests of their church leaders and were undoubtedly blessed for doing so.

    I suspect that if someone was to point out that the Church Board of Education (Thomas S. Monson, Henry B. Eyring, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks, M. Russell Ballard, Donald L. Hallstrom, Linda K. Burton, and Bonnie L. Oscarson) has approved the program, as it states on the Church website, that it would still be less important to them than the sacrifices they have made and want the rest of us to make. But of course I don’t know that for a fact, and my husband and I are staying out of the local debate after our experience several years ago, so I may never know.

  22. First dibs on "Anonymous" on September 13, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Katie and others, they are changing the program! Online seminary is being rolled out area by area, but participation is left to the discretion of the local leaders. I’ll post the link in again.

    https://www.lds.org/callings/seminary/online-seminary-resources

    If you’re doing early morning seminary, you can talk about this with your local leaders. Realize that it might take them a few years to have access to the system or to wrap their minds around the change.

  23. Julie M. Smith on September 13, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Our high schools start at 9:05 but our seminary starts at 6:00, so that children who prefer football to seminary will not be forced to choose between them.

    If you think that I am bitter about this, you do not know the half of it.

  24. Anon on September 13, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Little to add on the main question–early morning or some alternative. I’ve seen and experienced most of the variations, as a student, as a parent, and as the spouse of an early morning seminary teacher. Early morning is hard, but not all wrong. There are some pluses for some people in some areas. I will mention that early morning is even more difficult in areas where a ward includes several school districts that do not share or coordinate schedules. Taking the earliest time of three different school districts is punitive.
    Responding to a number of questions about decision making, our experience has been that the Stake President has the ultimate decision regarding seminary in his Stake. We’ve seen a push-pull between bishops and the Stake President, between parents and bishops and the Stake President, between CES (local and higher) and the Stake President, and it seems that the Stake President always wins. If you want change, he’s the man to talk to.

  25. Starla on September 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I second Gabrielle’s comment about the lack of sleep causing mental and physical harm. I had 5:55 am seminary for 4 years on top of a heavy course load, job after school and other extracurriculars. I would rarely get more than 5 hours of sleep most nights and would crash on the weekends, rarely rising before noon on Saturday and fighting my parents tooth and nail Sunday morning because I just wanted to sleep in and not go to church.

    This lack of sleep causes some severe emotional problems, I was diagnosed with a mental illness…although after I graduated high school and got on a decent sleep schedule all the symptoms went away and I have been diagnosis-free for a number of years. I would act out behaviorally, be very irritable and depressed, was eating unhealthily and my sleep schedule was totally off, I would binge sleep 16 hrs and then stay up for a day or two.

    I have read studies on linkages between teen depression and lack of sleep. Some theorize that “teen angst” is really just teens who need to sleep. The lack of sleep from early school and seminary cannot just be harmful academically, but emotionally. I would have been better off not going at all. I retained almost nothing from those sleep deprived 4 years of seminary except a conviction that I will never make my kid attend.

  26. john f. on September 13, 2013 at 10:45 am

    We know that home-study, evening and after-school seminary has worked for LDS youth in other countries.

    Yep. I was impressed while living in England how much the kids could learn and retain by meeting just once a week (with a supplemental Saturday meeting once a month) and occasional online instruction.

    To my shock, as I was preparing to move from the UK back to the US last summer, our stake was starting to have discussions about ruining that approach (which had been in place for a long time) and trying to force the kids to meet in early morning seminary, despite the great distances involved and the utterly foreign concept that was for the kids and the system within which they were functioning. So they were taking an opposite approach, apparently under the belief that they needed to try to provide the kids in the stake with an experience closer to what many American kids experience with early morning seminary.

    You probably can imagine that I found this to be completely wrong-headed. I was very distressed about it, worrying about how it would affect the kids in our stake, wondering why the saints in the UK couldn’t be more independent than feeling that they needed to copy a program that had been created in connection with the type of school system and suburban lifestyle (i.e. dependent on cars) that exists in the American suburbs around which most of the program of the Church has been constructed.

    Needless to say, I think this is a great suggestion, Rosalynde.

  27. Marie on September 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I live in Utah and attended release-time seminary (and loved it, despite the not-infrequent false doctrine), so I have no skin in this game, but I’m glad to hear that the Church is shifting toward a more reasonable approach and love the ideas presented by Rosalynde. They just make sense, and as a longtime crusader against achievement-focused sleep-deprivation-as-a-point-of-pride madness in American and Mormon culture, it’s nice to think that someday soon we might find a happier land where one’s devotion to the causes of excellence and goodness is not called into question if you make a healthy amount of sleep a consistent priority rather than an occasional luxury.

    I’d add, though, that overscheduling kids in general is often a problem–it’s not just early morning seminary, but a bunch of other stuff, and it can be a problem whether or not it cuts into sleep time. Studies are finding that unstructured play time and family time for many kids is being eaten away by endless extracurricular activities that parents feel are necessary to boost kids’ resumes, spiritual or academic or athletic or artistic. This would be a great place for LDS parents to use personal revelation to make sure that they are not buying too much into what society (or their own pride) thinks their children need to be doing with their before- and after-school hours, to the detriment of their longterm physical and mental (and maybe even spiritual) health.

  28. Old Man on September 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Marie,

    I agree. Think of the amount of religious instruction that our kids receive: FHE, Sunday School, YM/YW, Seminary, family and personal scripture study, Missionary prep, and then Institute. We also have justifiably high academic and vocational standards we want our kids to meet, with athletic participation and music lessons piled on. Being reasonable and flexible is what we should expect from local church leaders and programs.

  29. Dave on September 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Fine post, Rosalynde. Let’s look at this from an adult point of view. What sort of attendance would you expect at a 6 am stake priesthood meeting? How many Primary teachers would attend a 6 am teacher training meeting? Yet we think nothing of asking teenagers to do this five days a week for months on end.

    I admire those LDS teens and volunteer (i.e., unpaid) teachers who make the sacrifice. I’m not sure whether it is a needless sacrifice (because there are more efficient, less burdensome ways of learning) or a harmful sacrifice (because of the apparent cognitive and emotional costs of teen sleep deprivation). But it really is time to rethink the program. Bravo that CES has (finally!) put together an online program. That’s a step in the right direction. Let’s take two or three more.

  30. Karl on September 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    A couple of observations from taking early morning seminary myself, having had 5 kids graduate from early morning seminary and a wife who is currently a seminary teacher:
    1) No matter when you have seminary (early, late, home-study, etc.) there will be conflicts and challenges. Those that want to reap the benefits of seminary will figure out how to deal with the conflicts.
    2) My kids always had a hard time getting up, no matter what time school or seminary started. For that matter, they had a hard time going to bed, no matter what time they had to get up the next day. They didn’t like the solution I used as a seminary student and 3 sport athlete, I often went to bed at 7:00PM or 8:00PM.
    3) Personal opinion, but I believe early morning seminary students have spiritual experiences they would not have in home study or once a week lessons.
    4) Early morning seminary is a great preparation for life.

    There are lots of reasons to customize the seminary experience in given geographic areas, but I’m not convinced Rosalynde’s proposal will result in the teens getting any more sleep.

  31. rae keck on September 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    support a change in early morning seminary too. Our family has experienced every form of seminary possible on-line was the very best with the whole family getting involved. Can’t support the week night missionary prep idea through for several reason. 1. missionary prep is currently do in many areas as a Sunday evening fireside class with Elders and Sisters as aids . It has a wonderful success rate. 2. The social and organization skills learned during weekday activities are very important to missionary success and life success. If you mutual is still basketball playing and silly games the leadership needs have some serious training on the program and purpose.
    due to increased requirements for graduation many release time students have to drop a year of seminary or become a super senior.
    yes, I do teach early morning seminary and two of my children never attended at my suggestion because of reasons already mentioned. I also have arrived at mutual to take my kids home early and even excused them from disorganized meaningless week day activities. All in the name of a goods nights sleep.

  32. Elizabeth on September 13, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I totally agree! Here in Utah seminary is just every other day, because they have A days and B days, so not only is it during the day as a normal class period, it is also every other day, some weeks it’s on Mon, Wed, and Fri. And other weeks it’s on Tues. and Thurs. there are even some homeschooled kids I know who just go every Tues and Thurs. regardless of the week. How’s that for unfair, there is no virtue in sacrificing for sacrifices sake, what a waste and unnecessary hardship it has become, Local leaders who make things difficult for people unnecessarily by not allowing at least some home study will be accountable, I don’t think The Lord is pleased with that type of behavior. We’ve dealt with a whole bunch of other stupid church stuff, leaders being jerks and doing things under the guise of helping when actually doing it only for their own self aggrandizement. We will be moving out of Utah soon because of it, it has been a terrible place to raise our kids, but I am to the point where I will refuse to send my kids to early morning seminary if it interferes with their sleep and their other important endeavors. I don’t care if it disqualifies them from attending a church college or serving a foreign mission, It’s wrong for the church to hold things like that over our heads. They should be given a home study option, it is unrighteous dominion to control people that way. If some people want to do early morning seminary, go for it, but if they don’t they shouldn’t be treated as less than those who do. We as members should be given more freedom and less coercion. I have had it with this type of thing. I will do what is best for me and my family, not what some leader who I had no choice in choosing thinks is best for me and my family. God will be my judge in the end anyway, not them, so if I have His approval, then that’s all I need.

  33. Arg on September 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I did Home Study and I think I turned out fine. I wish there was total disclosure for new converts that when you join you are obligated to do a whole lot of other things you never heard like take your high schoolers to a church class every weekday morning before school. The youth already have Sunday School and YM\YW on Sunday…and YM\YW once a week. Is that not enough for organized instruction?

    Why can’t the parents decide what’s best for their child? Is it because they don’t know what’s best and but the Stake President does? If Early Morning Seminary is such a good thing why are there so many parents that hate it, and these are faithful members I might add. If Early Morning Seminary is so good why isn’t it done in Utah?

    Of course you could choose to not do it for your child but he\she will likely not be able to go to BYU-* or serve a foreign mission.

    I just feel like there’s so little say that parents have about anything with the youth in this church. You don’t have a say in who the youth leaders are, what they teach, or what they do, unless they care to talk to you about these things which in my experience is not that often, or if you happen to be called into a youth organization. And without some sanctioned exception granted to you from the Stake President, you can’t decide to not send you child to more meetings, every weekday, at a very early time.

    Parents are responsible for the upbringing of their children, not the church, so let the parents decide. The church is supposed to support families anyway.

  34. Caffeine Drinker on September 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Seminary never was about the subject matter; it’s about pro-Mormon peer pressure.

    Most musicians and athletes don’t have “zero hour” practices.

    Seminary usually starts at 6:45 am.

    Missionaries don’t need to have extensive knowledge to be successful.

  35. Wheatwoman on September 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Lisa F.(#4) wrote:
    “In my experience as YW president twice and now an early-morning seminary teacher, the kids who do not go to seminary are also the ones who do not attend YM/YW very often, if at all. I don’t think that the switch you propose would increase the education of that group of kids.”

    Maybe the reason the early-morning non-attenders didn’t come to Wednesday activities was because they felt bad about not being able to attend seminary. Did your ward even offer home-study to those kids? Why or why not?

  36. First dibs on "Anonymous" on September 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    “Seminary usually starts at 6:45 am.”

    Depends where you live. Here it starts at 6:00 and parents have to drive the kids 15 to 20 minutes to get there, so everyone’s getting up around 4:45. If a child is going to a seminary within his school district boundaries, he can take the bus to school, otherwise the parent has to wait outside and then drive the kid to his own bus stop or straight to school. Carpooling is only an option in a few cases and very few kids drive.

    “Seminary never was about the subject matter”

    I don’t know if you can say “never,” but we were told in a parent meeting (and I’m not making this up or exaggerating or misrepresenting anyone) that they don’t care if the kids learn anything about the scriptures; they just want them to feel the spirit. (Is that even possible? And is that the official seminary policy, or just something local?)

  37. Eva on September 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    When Seminary was first introduced in Scandinavia in the 1970:ies we had one class a week: on Sunday -replacing the sunday school class, the rest was homestudy. Perfect! With long distances,expensive petrol,and many members using public transportation only, early morning seminary at the Chapel was just not an option.It still isn’t. In our stake we now have 1 day with seminary via internet, 2 classes at night (one of which is right Before the weekly activity). The rest is home study. Youth definitely needs sleep and it is not uncommon for even Young Children to get sick and exhausted from all the activities going on. If I had a say I would let all youth have a weekly seminary class on Sunday – as their Sunday school class, one class right Before activity night, and the rest via internet/homestudy. I would also make a change so that S&I AND Sunday school classes all read the same scripture the same year. If that means letting a new Sunday School year start in August – or a new Seminary year start in January to coordinate the two – so be it. As a family we want to be able to study the scriptures together and it would be so much easier if we could concentrate on one book at a time, and not constantly feel inadequate because we are not reading both.

  38. Rob Perkins on September 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Here it starts at 6:20 a.m.; my daughter is usually up by 5:30 to prepare for the day.

    There is no call from her to make seminary different than what it is. She enjoys the time and manages her school’s workload along with seminary with sensibility and grace.

    It helps that her teacher is a ward member who has five years of experience teaching teenagers and is on his second rotation through the Standard Works. This means that all his lessons are already internalized and prepared; he needs only adapt them for his group. It also helps that the bulk of kids arrive on time. The circumstances were far different five years ago when I taught-and then burned out on teaching before the year’s end.

    Even so, I would far better prefer online seminary for all our currently early-morning Stake’s youth, especially those who have the “early-early” section to get them to their music and sports practices (which really exist, Caffeine Drinker!)

    All these kids have access to computer equipment and the burden on seminary teachers could be shared with a much smaller risk of burnout or incompetence. Once-a-week meetings could still be early-morning affairs, with other class sections held before youth activities if needed.

  39. rae keck on September 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    responds to #36 the seminary classes I teach are very much about the subject matter. With the new curriculum in Sunday school and mutual the seminary is the only place the youth are dealing with the scriptures in context of a historical record and cultural experience or even a family’s story. Except for the very few exceptions where the family has an on-going scripture study program, most of the students have never read entire books of scripture. We have had some very spiritual moments in our classes however, I will have to agree that it is difficult to respond spiritually when your physical body is half asleep.
    #35 you asked about offering home study for student not attending early morning seminary and often also not Wednesday activities. My understanding that this option is not available if there is an organized either early morning class or release time in the stake except as authorized by the stake president in unusual situations. I even taught one student separately in his home because of an on-going medical condition to complete his graduation credits. Maybe this new on=line program will address this issue.

    Question: when did seminary attendance have any bearing on mission calls. Several comments have indicated that without seminary credits an missionary will not be called to a foreign mission. source please.
    must be new my eldest served in Japan and did not graduate from seminary but that was a few year back.

  40. Rob Perkins on September 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    My sense is that no such requirement exists that someone attend Seminary to get a foreign mission call. A young convert from my ward never attended a day of Seminary before his baptism, and was called to Ghana.

    #36 — “they don’t care if the kids learn anything about the scriptures; they just want them to feel the spirit. (Is that even possible? And is that the official seminary policy, or just something local?)”

    I don’t think it’s ever been put that way to me. But consider: If you show up on time four days out of five, you get credit towards Seminary graduation. If you don’t, you can’t “be failed”, you just “aren’t given credit.” I’m sure that’s official CES policy even today. Seat time, even asleep with head on desk, is by policy the same as make-up workbook study.

  41. Kevin Barney on September 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Teaching seminary is the only calling I have ever declined. Twice. Partly due to logistical reasons with a long commute by train into Chicago; partly due to my self-knowledge that my tendency to want to meticulously prepare my lessons would eventually kill me with having to teach every single morning; and partly due to my having subbed enough to know how zoned out and unresponsive the kids in general were.

    Seminary also hastened by daughter’s journey out of the church. Her sophomore year she went to a woman’s home, where the woman simply read the lesson every single morning. After about a month of that she absolutely refused to go, and I couldn’t disagree with her decision.

    In my stake, our Stake YMP (a good friend of mine) has actually organized mission prep courses for the seniors in our stake. They are well done and the kids are eating it up.

    All of which is to say I would be in favor of something like your suggestions.

  42. Lisa F. on September 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    To Wheatwoman in response to #35: We offer home study groups as well as early morning. I am in a small town in Wyoming, and some teens travel 45 miles to church, one way. The ones in my class are within 5 miles of the church. I have not known of any kids not coming to youth group because they can’t attend seminary, but you have got me thinking.

    Early morning seminary is a sacrifice. I am up at 4 to get my run in, help my youngest son get ready for school, then out the door at 6:15. But I love it. I come home happy every day – even when my lesson has been fairly forgettable.

    Wanted to offer a correction about Fridays and Scripture Mastery – the pacing guide for the seminary year has “flex days” for extra practice on scripture mastery and to review or take more time on scripture blocks you may have had to breeze through. The days of class-long scripture chasing are gone. Instead, we are asked to do a little each day, or to work it in a couple times a week – whatever works for the class.

    In addition, seminary is all about subject matter. Please look through the teaching manuals as well as Gospel Teaching and Learning and you will see this emphasis. It is the one place where LDS youth are taught the scriptures in a sequential fashion. Students should leave class with knowledge of what happened in the scripture block I taught, as well as the doctrines and principles that can be found there. We are not just to teach a lesson on a topic (faith or prayer, for example) or simply try to get them to feel the spirit. The main goal is for them to know the scriptures better so that they can know the Savior better.

  43. jpv on September 14, 2013 at 12:12 am

    Better than the priestcraft that is released-time seminary! At least you get a called teacher.

  44. jpv on September 14, 2013 at 12:25 am

    The foreign mission thing relates to visas–some countries such as Brasil require 2 years of religious education.

  45. jks on September 14, 2013 at 12:32 am

    I had released time for one year and homestudy for three years (half in US and half out of US). I wish I had been able to do early morning for one year.
    Even without early morning, I didn’t get up on time, I didn’t go to bed on time, I was tired. I didn’t do my homework because I could get by without it and I didn’t do my homestudy until it was cram time.
    Released time seminary taught me a lot more than homestudy did. A lot.

    WHat I remember most about my last three years of seminary, though, is that I was starved for church by Wednesday and Sunday. I really needed to be at church with other church members studying my religion every Wednesday and Sunday. Life was hard in high school without Mormon friends around.

  46. Rob Perkins on September 14, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Released-time seminary is not priestcraft. See 2 Nephi 26:29. A CES teacher’s circumstance doesn’t contain all the elements of the full definition.

  47. Hedgehog on September 14, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Amen to a very thorough shake up of seminary and leadership attitudes to it.

    The ward I grew up in ran both home study and early morning options for my first 3 years seminary (in Britain), but discontinued home study for my 4th year. I loved the 3 years I did home study (I was very conscientious about completing everything in a timely manner), and although I dragged myself out to early morning for the last year (cycling there and back), I learnt nothing. It just didn’t fit my learning style or my body clock, and my school work suffered.

    We currently have a stake online class, but they are very picky about who is or isn’t allowed to join the class, and the rest are expected to do early morning. Our son is lucky enough to be online. Online lessons are expected to take 40 minutes, 4 days a week, and he has a weekly lesson before youth activities. It is just about doable. I will be fighting very hard to get our daughter online too. That or nothing.

    Early morning is a killer in this country when youth have to take public exams for the last 3 of the four years (and depending on the school, sometimes all four years). Several of the youth in our ward have had to resit their AS year at school. They suffer disappointment when their exam grades aren’t what they want, and are perpetually over-tired. One family wanted to switch their children to online this year, but were not allowed to do so. I find that totally outrageous, and am sick of the false promises of the CES that they’ll do well in school if they do seminary, or that it’ll look good on a CV to have got up so early in the morning for 4 years to study religion (looks fundamentalist bonkers more like!).

  48. Mathmom on September 14, 2013 at 11:08 am

    If experience gives me any credibility, I should have some. I have four children…so we, as a family, did 12 straight years of early morning seminary at 5:50am. Mid-year of my youngest child’s senior year, I was called as an early morning seminary teacher and taught for 3 1/2 years. I am also a teacher for our school district so I keep the students’ “hours”. Our stake is currently piloting online seminary for students outside of distance/home study issues and I have been asked to be a teacher for that program.

    The stake invited all seminary age students to participate in the online program via submitting an application. We have 250 active youth in our stake. Only 10% showed interest in this program. The youth involved in online seminary spend four days a week following a set lesson that requires submitting writing assignments and participating in discussion boards then we meet via WebEx once a week at 9:00 pm. It is remarkable to be a part of this program and see how the youth are growing in ways they likely wouldn’t have in early morning seminary. They put more in so they get more out.

    My experience tells me it would be difficult to eliminate early morning seminary. Ninety percent of our youth chose it! Most teenagers are social beings and they like being together, even at 5:30 in the morning. I like adding the online option for the youth whose needs are better met by it. I can see how the church is looking to meet the needs of many individuals and I am excited about that.

  49. rae keck on September 14, 2013 at 11:55 am

    please separate CES from “the church” they are not one and the same. Although the board of education members are general authorities the providers of seminary and institute are part of an educational system with paid employees interested in retaining their jobs. Having experiences CES from both inside and outside it is naïve to assume that “the church” is the same institution. “The church” is represented in your local area by your stake president and his inter-action with the CES employees the only local input to your child’s religious education.

  50. Rob Perkins on September 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

    “Ninety percent of our youth chose it!”

    At any point I’ll agree that LDS youth choices are remarkable, compared to the choices of the general population of their peers. But I boggle that their preference would be a persuasive reason to not eliminate early morning seminary.

    (I wouldn’t be in favor of a draconian elimination anyway, but, the burden on volunteers to perpetuate quality with the schedules the way it is is the best reason to move the program away from an every-school-day-first-thing setup.)

  51. Rob Perkins on September 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    49 — Once again, I disagree. No CES employee I’ve met has evinced a primary interest in job retention.

    In any case, the primary responsibility for religious education in any family rests with the parents in that family. That, at least, is canonical doctrine. CES exists as scaffolding around that structure.

  52. rae keck on September 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    never indicated that CES employees had a primary interest in job retention. They wouldn’t have take or been offered the job if that was their major focus, but it is still a job with an educational organization with all that implies. Some of those jobs are currently being assigned to senior missionaries, called teachers and volunteers so the nature of CES is changing. Many of the points discussed including types of programs, methods of teaching etc related to the CES as an organization. second point , as others have indicated the stake president is the local priesthood authority with ties into the CES program in your area and should be the person to contact with your concern and questions. As their children reach the teen age years,one of the major decisions any parent needs to make is how that organization can support their family’s religious education goals. It would be wonderful if CES seminary and institute were used as a support and resource for on-going family religious education.

    51 Once again?? my first comment ever on this blog

  53. Mathmom on September 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Rob –

    “But I boggle that their preference would be a persuasive reason to not eliminate early morning seminary”

    I thought we were looking for options that would best serve the youth. If early morning seminary meets the needs of the youth, why would we want to eliminate it?

    And as far as eliminating the burden…teaching seminary is the hardest, yet most rewarding calling I have ever had. I can’t imagine missing out on all the blessings I have received during this time. I like the fact that they are working to implement additional options to meet the varying needs.

  54. Rob Perkins on September 14, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    52 — Well, yes, “once again.” I’ve objected to two mischaracterizations of CES personnel. Yours was the second. I don’t know how else to interpret a separation argument with a main premise “[has] paid employees interested in retaining their jobs” than to suppose you meant that such an interest is primary. If it isn’t, then it isn’t a persuasive part of your argument.

    53 — I don’t trust that a 15 year olds knows what would best serve them.

  55. Cameron on September 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    When I was in school, a bunch of parents got together and petitioned the stake presidency to move seminary. They responded by suggesting we petition local zero-hour jazz bands to allow late arrival or slightly modified time. They were right.

    Early morning was tough. Luckily we moved to Oregon my sophomore year and I had release time, super awesome.

    Early morning also has its drawbacks. Suck as speculation by the teacher that Sodom and Gomorra was nuked and that may have turned Lot’s wife to salt. Not saying the man upstairs couldn’t nuke, but that stuff isn’t the most testimony buiding…

    As someone who consciously backed out of high-commitment activites in high school (maybe a bit much but I appreciated it at the time)I am agreeing more and more that hyper-busyness and commitment to serious time-sink programs in high school has lots of negatives.

    I would rather lobby for later school start time and shorter school hours, I feel that would be much more meaningful. My nieces in elementary school had 7 hour days and no recess…..I had six hour days, lunch and two recesses and it was amazing for my personal growth (what teaches you more about the real world than recess?)

  56. sjames on September 15, 2013 at 3:50 am

    School starts later + Seminary starts later = more sleep for everyone.

  57. Murray on September 15, 2013 at 5:40 am

    I have never understood why we have seminary students do early morning seminary in their final year of high school. I know of one Stake Pres here in Australia who let his daughter start seminary one year earlier so she didn’t have to do it in her final year of high school.
    Sleep deprivation can have serious short and long term health implications. It’s time this issue was addressed.

  58. Cameron on September 15, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Final year of high school? Who does anything that year? I think I had 4 classes per semester, max?

  59. Alison Moore Smith on September 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Rosalynde, I love this post and also the additional ideas from others. This needs a serious rethink. Thanks for bringing this some deserved attention.

    P.S. Please don’t conflate the “jello belt” with no early morning seminary. In my lifetime (and I’m old) Utah County has generally had released time AND early morning and sometimes early-early morning as well.

    We live in Utah County and last year my fourth daughter took early morning seminary 15 minutes away at 6:00 am. And to be clear, when you leave at 5:45, most girls get up long before that time to be ready.

    P.P.S. This year the same daughter, Monica, started early morning seminary. Then she was hired at an early morning job to pay for her extended musical theater classes she has CHOSEN to “over schedule” herself with. :)

    We talked to the seminary president and he was extremely helpful. She is now doing home study packets. As I’ve written elsewhere, our experience with released-time and early morning in Utah (with the same, full-time faculty) has been almost universally very positive and we actually love the in-class approach. But we were very happy with the accommodation. Also would love a once-in-a-while class approach in the OP and other comments that could combine the two.

  60. Steve Smith on September 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    “Ninety percent of our youth choose it!”

    Wait, where are you getting this figure? Is this the result of some large survey taken by active LDS youth who deliberately made the choice of early morning seminary over afternoon seminary or online seminary? Or is this your deduction from the 10% figure that you gave of youth choosing online seminary?

    The way your painting this Mathmom is as if active LDS youth are so full of the spirit as to choose, if not demand, early morning seminary and consequently we, as responsible adults who are active in the LDS church, must comply with their demands. I find this hard, if not absolutely impossible, to believe. I venture to say that if it were up to the LDS youth, they would not have seminary at all. They already have church and the rather time-consuming YW/YM program where they can socialize on a regular basis. I can’t imagine young people actually demanding that the LDS church create yet more programs to consume their already busy schedule.

    Look, the reason that youth go to early morning seminary is because of droves of guilt-tripping, consciousness, overzealous CES leaders, youth leaders, parents, and bishoprics who make excessive time demands on youth, who are guided by the philosophy that any idle time that a young person has will result in them getting possessed by the devil, and who make the youth feel that if they say no to anything that leaders ask of them will result in shaming, shunning, and ostracism. What we need is more active LDS members with the courage to stand up and make demands that the leadership relax some of its rules.

  61. Steve Smith on September 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    “I thought we were looking for options that would best serve the youth. If early morning seminary meets the needs of the youth, why would we want to eliminate it?”

    More sleep, fewer extracurricular activities, and a more flexible seminary program would best meet the needs of the youth. Appealing to reason has not historically been a strong point of traditionists.

  62. EFF on September 15, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Steve Smith, I find your comments to be a breath of fresh air, containing much needed candor and common sense.

    Our abiding obsession with early morning seminary brings to mind the following quote from Nibley’s “Zeal Without Knowledge:” “We think it more commendable to get up at five A.M. to write a bad book than to get up at nine o’clock to write a good one—that is pure zeal that tends to breed a race of insufferable, self-righteous prigs and barren minds.”

  63. First dibs on "Anonymous" on September 16, 2013 at 7:45 am

    “Ninety percent of our youth choose it!”

    This is a meaningless statistic because we don’t know the circumstances.

    Perhaps the kids weren’t adequately informed about the application process, or perhaps it was too complicated.

    Perhaps the kids involved have a fairly low cost for going to seminary. For example, the building could be nearby and most kids could be driving at 16.

    Perhaps the parents were not notified or consulted.

    Perhaps the leadership presented online seminary as an option but insinuated that righteous kids would do early morning seminary.

    So, people, if we have to do early morning seminary, what’s wrong with having it three days a week? Or four? On Wednesdays, my kids get home from school and start doing homework and then work straight through until it’s time to go to the church. We leave by 6:30 to get to the church for activities and get home by 9:30. Then the kids stay up another couple of hours to finish their homework. Then they get up five hours later at 4:45 to make it to seminary bright and early Thursday morning.

    Why is this seen as a wise and virtuous thing?

    Why is early morning seminary so inflexible? Why can’t they hold it four days a week, so the kids don’t have seminary Thursday morning after the late activity the night before?

    (By the way, my kids don’t know about the problems we have with seminary. We just go ahead and do it, but as each school year goes on, we progressively see the effect of the sleep deprivation including chronic fatigue, irritability, and a kind of low level depression.)

    All that said, we heard some lovely comments in sacrament meeting yesterday from one of the youth about the positive effects of early morning seminary.

    There are benefits to the program, but if we have to have it, why can it not be a more reasonable three or four days a week, and why aren’t online seminary and home study available in areas they’re clearly meant for?

  64. Mathmom on September 16, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Steve – Every year I have heard over and over from the majority (not all) of my seniors that their school days are better when they start the day with seminary-not that they feel more righteous than others. I had half a dozen each year asking for a substitute when we have inservice days so they can still come to seminary so their school days would go better for them. I said nothing about those who make a different choice. I made no reference to “so filled with the spirit” youth nor judgments about families that choose not to attend seminary. I imagine some, maybe many, might choose no seminary if all social pressure were eliminated. I know many would choose to still attend. My point is that early morning works for some, no seminary works for others, online is working for a few. My 24-year-old daughter read your comments, and she was an overworked teenager by choice (I often tried to get her to give something up), and she just said, “I loved early morning seminary.” I’m grateful for additional choices, early morning included.

    And 62 – it doesn’t take early morning seminary to become a “race of insufferable, self-righteous prigs”. I worked very hard in my classes to help them be less judgmental individuals. Hopefully they are trying because we sure need a lot less judgment and self-righteousness in the members of the church.

  65. DeeAnn on September 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I want my kids to participate in early morning seminary, not because it’s convenient (it’s not!) but because of what it does for my kids. Starting the morning off with like-minded friends, with the spirit present (hopefully), to help them face the world yeah, I would sacrifice all the other stuff so they could attend seminary daily. Can you do that on your own, yes you can, but I like the social aspect of having the class. I’m glad other options are out there, because I know not everyone is in a situation where early morning seminary will work (I had home study), but I would be very sad if early morning seminary went away.

  66. Steve Smith on September 16, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Mathmom, you sound like you were a superb and well-liked seminary teacher, but you’re still missing the point. 1) You still haven’t provided any evidence to back up your ninety percent statistic. 2) It is not like early teens are just jumping at the opportunity of early morning seminary and following through on it for four years out of their own volition (which IS a message that you are conveying) simply because LDS leaders and parents just casually mention it. The relative success of the early morning format is the result of an administrative approach that is heavily reliant on high pressure tactics such as guilt-tripping (saying things as, “come on, you’re better than that”), persistent nagging, hints and even thinly-veiled threats of mild ostracism (treatment as second class or not being a team player), and psychologically manipulative bait and switch tactics (“let’s go to seminary, it will be awesome…now that you’re here you can’t complain or go back”, or “it’s your fault if you are not getting anything out of seminary”). 3) In the end those that endure the four years are likely to experience the “best two years” phenomenon; meaning, that when they are asked about it, especially by another active Mormon, they are likely to feel that whatever criticism they make might strain the relationship. Conversely they feel that the more praise that they shower on the program the more likely they will gain recognition and approval. 4) Early morning seminary may have a tendency to breed a culture of damaging and divisive self-righteousness. Students who attend regularly are likely to think themselves better than those who chose to sleep the recommended number of hours of sleep. They are likely to look at those who didn’t attend because it was too early for their schedule as weak and beneath them. Your defense of early morning seminary (we should keep it because youths want it) is unconvincing. Early morning seminary is doing more physical (sleep deprivation) and social (divisions among teens) than it is good. What harm would it do to change and/or reduce the hours for seminary? If anything wouldn’t relaxing the demands of seminary have the potential to increase attendance?

  67. VAmom on September 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I’ve never experienced release time seminary, so I can’t make a qualified comparison. I will say that a daily 5:00 a.m. wakeup through four years of high school per child takes a tremendous toll on entire families. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it as a parent. It’s an awful task getting your kids out of bed at 5:00 every morning after they’ve been up until 1:00 finishing homework. And then for several months, we’re walking out to a car covered in ice.

    Please note, I’m not suggesting doing away with early morning Seminary. My husband is the Seminary teacher for two wards in our stake, and he, our kids, and the students find it very rewarding. My comments address the failure of BYU to understand the difference between Seminary experiences in release-time settings and early-morning settings.

    Where we live, Counselors and teachers invariably tell us that we shouldn’t schedule anything for our kids before school. They are disapproving, not proud and certainly not sympathetic. Early morning seminary is not a matter of kids walking to a building in the parking lot of the school along with the rest of their friends. For us, it means that when the weather is nice, parents work or sleep in their cars until it’s time to drive the kids over to the school. In the winter time, we hang out in the building. Early morning seminary means waking all non-high school students up at 5:20 for family prayer. If one child is in seminary and others aren’t, seminary means driving to the church, driving home and getting the others ready for school, driving back to the church and then the high school and then coming home. (Most of us live several miles from our meetinghouses.) Sometimes I was lucky and the bus hadn’t come yet so I could wave to a child standing at the bus stop. Everyone in the household pays a price. When my son did crew, he left the house at 5:30 a.m. for Seminary, and didn’t come home from school and team practice until 7:45 p.m. Daily — no time for recovery. I don’t hear these stories from my Utah family members.

    My issue isn’t personal sacrifice — again, it is the failure of BYU to recognize the difference between students inside and outside of Utah (and other areas with a very high LDS population). I don’t argue that we all sacrifice. Both kinds of seminary are good, but they are not the same. Each exacts a price, and BYU does not acknowledge the one we pay. Until this year when the new missionary ages made room for more acceptances, we had very few kids from our area going to BYU, in spite of the fact that our high schools are among the most demanding in the country. BYU does not recognize the gradations of rigor in curricula and in grading scales (US News and World Report published a list of the top — most challenging — 400 high schools in America. Every Fairfax County school was within the top 100. One Utah high school made it onto the list: in the high 300′s. A 4.0 GPA from a Fairfax County school is a very different thing from a 4.0 from a Utah school, but BYU judges them the same.) Our kids are meeting the highest US standards, but are judged against those who do well meeting the lowest ones. Seminary is only another example of BYU’s not recognizing those differences.

    Even the CES curriculum focuses on Utah kids and Utah experiences, though. When a kid in a film is nervous about sharing her testimony with a classmate because that classmate “has been inactive for a long time,” our kids know this film was not produced with them in mind. We see a definite Utah-centric focus. Please understand; this is not a personal attack. I don’t blame Utahns. But families outside of Utah are shouldering some heavy burdens not required of those inside Utah, and I do think this should be acknowledged, and remedied. A simple re-weighting of Admissions criteria to give more weight to standardized test scores and less to GPA would be a good place to start, but that’s a separate discussion.

  68. exAMteacher on September 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I taught early-early-morning seminary for one year before a new calling mandated my release. I woke up at 4:00 AM each morning for my class that started at 5:20 at the chapel. My students were a mixture of Freshmen through Seniors, about 2/3 of which were enrolled in an early bird class at the high school – like band and choir. A couple of students were homeschoolers who simply preferred to attend my class, probably because their friends were in there. The last student was an autistic boy that needed the smaller group size – 10 kids in all. With one exception, attendance was in the high 90% range, with a few 100%ers. They did not sleep in class, ever, caused no disciplinary problems, and participated well on most days.
    I don’t take any of the credit for my awesome students. They were simply driven to achieve. They wanted to go to seminary as well as their other school activities (band, choir, drama, sports), and the only way to do that was either the 5:20AM class or home study, which was not an acceptable option for those kids. They loved being with each other too much. They only thing I did was express at the beginning of the year how much I respected them for choosing the 5:20AM class, and how exceptional they were as teenagers in general and even among other seminary students, for that level of dedication. My intent was not for them to feel superior to their peers, but to recognize and appreciate the sacrifice they were making to be in that class.

    Given the opportunity, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

    I think early-morning seminary CAN build a lot of character, if the students have the right attitude. It builds testimonies as the students start to find out a little bit about how much they are willing sacrifice for the gospel. I was not one of those types of students. I sometimes slept in class, skipped class, did not participate, intentionally offered dumb answers, complained, or was tardy. I basically didn’t really care much either way. I’m glad I didn’t have students like me when I taught.

  69. Steve Smith on September 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    “It’s an awful task getting your kids out of bed at 5:00 every morning after they’ve been up until 1:00 finishing homework. And then for several months, we’re walking out to a car covered in ice.”

    Exactly! All the more reason for change in the seminary program. Getting only 4 hours of sleep on a regular basis isn’t healthy for the vast majority of adults, let alone teenagers who need more sleep than adults. But that begs the question, VAmom, why did you bother going through with the ordeal to begin with if what is essentially an extra-curricular activity that is completely non-essential to maintain your or your children’s standing in the LDS church was interfering with their much-needed sleep hours? Why not just tell them that seminary was too much for their busy schedules and that their choice to attend or not had no bearing on their level of spirituality and/or your approval and validation of them?

    Imagine, if more LDS faithfuls stood up and told CES and LDS church leaders that seminary was too demanding and that they would consequently not be having their kids go, or would be just leaving the decision up to their kids, the impact that it would have. We could effectively boycott early morning seminary and force leaders to change. No doubt the traditional leadership would dig in its heals and say, “you can’t tell us what to do,” as appeared to be the case in comment 55 (the plaintive parents should have petitioned more in that case). But I imagine that with low seminary turnout and continued pressure from the highest ranking administration on the lower stake level administration to continue to hold seminary, at least some discussion about change would be forced.

    And VAmom, don’t feel bad or the need to apologize for making the argument that you did. You went through an ordeal that you didn’t have to go through. Your grievance about it is just.

  70. exAMteacher on September 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I forgot to address the OP. I don’t see any harm in exploring alternatives to the traditional seminary regimen. Seminary is certainly not one-size-fits-all. Our stake currently offers four options: early-morning at three different times (5:20, 6:00 and 6:30) to accommodate homeschoolers, bus riders, and the high school earlybird kids, and also home study, which some kids choose for a variety of reasons.
    Now, the argument I don’t buy is that shifting to a later starting time for school classes will translate into more sleep for teenagers. Most of the teens I know have 18 hours worth of stuff to do in a day when you factor in seminary, school, extra-curriculars, meals, transportation, homework, etc. They are not sitting on the couch until midnight watching Letterman simply because their bio-whatevers won’t let them go to sleep yet. They are busy. Starting school later will simply cause those activities to be rearranged – not require less time.
    Case in point: one of my seminary students was the older (driving) brother of one of my younger students that had early bird choir rehearsal at the high school. He didn’t have to attend my 5:20 AM class, but did so anyway since he brought his sister. After seminary he would go swimming (for exercise), do homework, or train for cross-country. He then did not need to fit in those activities after school.

  71. Steve Smith on September 16, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    “They were simply driven to achieve. They wanted to go to seminary as well as their other school activities (band, choir, drama, sports), and the only way to do that was either the 5:20AM class or home study, which was not an acceptable option for those kids.”

    exAMteacher, here you’re making the same poor, and rather disingenuous, suggestion that Mathmom is making: it is the teenagers that are demanding early-morning seminary. Hardly. Who do you think is prodding the students to participate in early morning seminary? Who do you think created the structure that drives the relative success of early morning seminary? The desire for early morning seminary attendance is just some sort of innate phenomenon in Mormon teens?

    Now early morning seminary would be just fine if it wasn’t the cause of sleep deprivation, which is a major issue that neither you nor Mathmom have addressed. You sit there instead and insist that the early morning format must be defended because it is somehow represents “willing sacrifice for the gospel.” A sacrifice for what? One’s devotion to the gospel is determined by how early someone gets up in the morning or how little sleep one gets? You should talk to religious ascetics who crawl on hard ground on their knees and inflict physical pain on themselves all in the name of “devotion to the gospel,” for I think they’ve one-upped you there.

    Again logic and reason have never been a strong point of traditionists.

  72. Rob Perkins on September 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    #69 — My daughter, when presented with the idea of on-line once-weekly seminary, objected. She avowed a preference for early morning seminary. She can’t possibly be unique. One of the better kids from my year teaching, four years ago, demonstrated that he chose to go in spite of his parents’ ambivalence toward the idea. Those self-motivated kids exist, they’re not really all that rare, and don’t agree that it’s too much.

    Fundamentally, though, I think as a people none of us want to become activists against CES or Stake leaders. We want them to maintain awareness of the developing knowledge in youth education studies, continue to measure the pressures our youth endure, and apply a spirit of charity and revelation to what changes.

    Even with the costs involved, people who go do it because the benefit outweighs the costs. Even right decisions come with costs. Sometimes a person can know he made right choices and still recognize the costs involved.

  73. Steve Smith on September 16, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    “Most of the teens I know have 18 hours worth of stuff to do in a day”

    Then, you don’t know a whole lot of teens. Most teens aren’t involved in excessive extracurricular activities and are not high achievers. The early morning seminary format caters to overachieving types usually from well-regimented and well-organized Mormon families who place great pressure on them to rise above the rest. Why not try to restructure seminary by reducing it to fewer days per week or changing the time frame so as to cater to teens who do not achieve as much and wouldn’t be prone to regular attendance in the wee hours of the morning?

    Rob Perkins, have you stopped to question why your daughter went to seminary in the first place or why she opted to continue early morning seminary? Was it because she was overwhelmed with the spirit of God and intrinsically knew the “right” thing to do? There was a whole structure created by the LDS church at the higher and lower administrative levels that conditioned her to believe that attendance of early morning seminary was the more noble choice. It is likely that she desired to continue going to early-morning seminary to mingle with her friends, but at the same time felt guilt or that strain may result in relationships with her peers for not attending in the early morning.

    And what makes early morning attendance five days a week more “the right thing to do” than having seminary at some other time only two days a week? With your logic I could one-up you by proposing a 4:00am seminary to be held six days a week year-round. What of people who attended seminary in Utah during school times in the afternoon. Are they less noble than your daughter who attended regularly during the morning?

  74. exAMteacher on September 16, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks, Steve Smith, for ruining the Internet today. By the way, I didn’t even bother to read beyond the first sentence of each of your posts. I can see that you are simply in a mood today and I don’t need any of what you’re selling.

  75. Rob Perkins on September 16, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    #73 — There are implications possible in the way you’ve phrased things there, which suggest a begged question.

    My daughter attends because she likes it, full stop. There isn’t much more in the way of analysis, and no utility in making suppositions about her motivations to attend. She likes it and doesn’t want to do less of it, or do it at a different time. She’s 16, so I’m not going to stop her or make her want something different.

    Aside from all that, you probably really out to read my comments upstream a bit before begging a question about whether I’ve “stopped to think”.

  76. Bryan S. on September 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Looking back at my HS years I would have liked to not have to wake up for seminary so early, but I’m not sure where else I could have worked it into my schedule. I was a busy one though.

    My senior year looked like this. Seminary at 6. School at 7. Cross Country right after school till 5. Run home to grab a bite to eat and change then work from 6-10:30. Come home and crash.

    I might have had Wednesdays off for YM/YW, I can’t really remember.

    To some early morning seminary might be the only option. Providing an after school seminary or once a week seminary as an additional option might help for others though.

  77. Steve Smith on September 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    exAMteacher, you’re the one promoting, or should I say selling, the idea of keeping early morning seminary as it is on the basis of the teenagers desiring it and being a “sacrifice for the gospel.” I simply pointed out some flaws in your argumentation. As far as I can tell, you simply don’t have a rebuttal to my arguments (accusing me of being ‘moody’ and saying that you didn’t read past the first sentence aren’t rebuttals).

    Rob Perkins, suppose your daughter didn’t want to do seminary at all but wanted to join the Hare Krishnas and attend an early morning ritual that they held on a daily basis. You wouldn’t “stop her or make her want something different” right? You would respect her individual choices and not even bother to think for one instant as to why she was making them, right?

    I can’t ask the question of what is driving teenagers to attend early morning seminary and entertain a few hypotheses? Because the fact is that many of you are trying to justify keeping early morning seminary as is and not making any changes to it on the basis that the teenagers just want it. Yeah right! Teenagers just naturally love waking up in the wee hours of the morning to attend lessons given by an untrained volunteer about the LDS church and its doctrines, when they already spend at least four to six hours a week on average in a church environment????

    Well I’m so sorry for offending so many of you by urging you to think critically and deeply about a tradition of early-morning rigor that you insist is “the right way” and a “sacrifice for the gospel.” If anything I see myself as trying to help you keep the tradition of seminary and increase youth involvement in it by advocating a more flexible, less time-consuming seminary program.

  78. J.A.T. on September 16, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance.

    Sacrifice for cultural participation? Isn’t this our tower of Rameumpton?

    It’s not how many times we get through the scriptures, but whether the scriptures get through to us.

  79. J.A.T. on September 16, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Rosalynde,
    Great post.

    Here’s my solution to the seminary problem:

    Since kids are over-committed now, let’s try killing two birds with one stone and work to get seminary accredited by local school districts. CES teachers would be required to be licensed teachers in their state/country. If seminary were made to be more robust- including outcomes relating to English, languages, philosophy, arts, history and/or culture, it could support critical thinking and perhaps even be something more than an elective.

    Impossible? Perhaps not. Competency-based learning, hybridized learning, homeschooling, and MOOCs are changing much in secondary and higher education. Traditional structures may be crumbling.

    *Before you complain that you want your kid taking calculus or Brit Lit, not scripture bowl, I re-iterate that the CES curriculum would need to be ramped up. I “nominteer” Dan Witherspoon to be the author of this new CES curriculum ; )

  80. Rob Perkins on September 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    #77 — Just the tiniest bit more of reading, no further than upthread right here, would highlight that you’re erecting straw men to knock down, Steve. I both recognize and support your point, without the elements of enmity you’ve seemed to lace into them, and while also recognizing and supporting the idea that there are kids who like early morning seminary, love their teachers and the sacrifice their teachers made for them, whatever the level of expertise, and have fit it into their lives. For them, I wouldn’t eliminate it.

    Beyond that, I think you’re welcome to ask as many questions as you like, as long as you’re not taking and giving offense. Of course, by accusing me and others here of not thinking the issues through, you’re at least giving offense, no matter who is or isn’t taking it.

  81. exAMteacher on September 16, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Steve Smith, I am not rebutting anything because I’m not arguing. Nor am I advocating for or against early-morning seminary. I merely shared my experience with teaching the extra-early class during one year of my life, with 10 LDS teenagers. I completely understand where you are coming from. I’m always looking for shorter routes to my destination, cheaper sources for products, skipping through commercials, etc. Seminary should be as easy as possible because then every kid would do it, probably. I also think that we should have a 20 minute Sacrament-only option available for Sunday services, since the Sacrament ordinance is the only truly important part of the block. And it should be at whatever time is convenient for us, which I realize could differ for different families, or even individuals within the same family. Similarly, temple sessions take too long as well. Why don’t they have an express session for those of us that already know how to do everything? We could get a lot more temple work done that way. Regarding Seminary, have you considered calling dozens of teachers in each Stake, so that each student has their own personal teacher? Then the lessons could be taught on whatever schedule is most convenient for the student – on the bus, around the dinner table, late at night after the homework is done but before their uncontrollable sleep patterns kick in. On the list of priorities in life, Seminary certainly ranks near the bottom. If we want our kids to go, it should not inconvenience anybody in the slightest way. It’s a wonder that there don’t seem to be any shortcuts to heaven detailed in scripture.

  82. J.A.T. on September 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Early morning seminary does not work.

    Most music programs (marching band, orchestra, band, etc.) happen zero hour, when the weather is cool, the music doesn’t disturb other classes, and ‘electives’ don’t get in the way of requirements. Most sports take place after school.

    Our local school district denied us release-time, so seminary was only zero-hour. The church wouldn’t let us have after-school seminary.

    This started a huge debate in the wards about the church’s preference of sports over arts and men over women as more YM were involved in sports and more YW were involved in music.

    For 40 years our stake forced kids to choose between God and music.

    I choose both and went to orchestra practice.

  83. John Taber on September 16, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    “For 40 years our stake forced kids to choose between God and music.”

    Indeed, the line from Salt Lake these days is, that if released-time is available it’s more important than a full load of classes.

  84. Hedgehog on September 17, 2013 at 2:52 am

    “none of us want to become activists against CES”

    In this country at least there are a lot of complaints about the attitude of CES. I’m pretty vociferous myself. But yes, most people would prefer that other peole were the activists, complaints notwithstanding.

  85. Hedgehog on September 17, 2013 at 3:00 am

    “For 40 years our stake forced kids to choose between God and music.
    I choose both and went to orchestra practice.”

    Well done.
    A couple of years ago the New Era, during the season of ramping up seminary, sported a story about a young girl who had decided to give up her ice-skating in order to attend seminary. My daughter was horrified and appalled, and I agreed with her. On the one hand we teach our youth they should be developing their God-given talents, on the other church is responsible for so much of the overscheduling our leaders claim to disapprove, what is one to do? They’re very happy to display a wide diversity of talent in the I’m a Mormon ads, whilst pretty much making it near impossible for many of those raised in the church to reach those levels of excellence, unless they learn to push back.

    In our family sleep deprivation is a very quick route to mental ills.

  86. stephenchardy on September 17, 2013 at 8:04 am

    My concern with early morning seminary is that I believe that it is an anti-family program. When seminary requires getting up at 5:20 am (which is the case for us) then there is no chance of having a family breakfast, or family prayer. I understand that some familys get everyone up for family prayer, but I don’t do this, and wouldn’t even consider it. I would protect the other kids and my wife from the interrupted sleep that daily family prayer would require.

    Years ago, when talking about the need to build strong families, President Benson said that parents should be around at the boundaries of time. That is, someone should be home when the children arrive home from school. They should also be there at the beginning of school, and the reality of early morning seminary is that the exhausted parent and the seminary student sleep until the very last minute, and then work with robotic efficiency to arrive at seminary at 6:00 am on the dot. There are no spare minutes, or even seconds.

    I believe early morning seminary is a serious challenge to building a strong family identity. It removes a big chunk of high valuable potential family time by destroying family breakfast (and the discussions and interactions that might have gone on) as well as morning family prayer.

    Then there is the issue of it isolating our children from the non-Mormon friends. Our children’s non-Mormon friends are bewildered by the fact that after years of going to school together, that after the second week of high school, their Mormon friend disappears from the morning travel routine. Perhaps we really don’t want our children to have close non-Mormon friends. Seminary makes that much easier to achieve.

  87. stephenchardy on September 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    It may be that we aren’t “offended” by being urged to think critically. Possibly we are offended by self-righteous, paternalistic, I’ve-done-the-thinking-so-you-don’t-have-to, elitists who treat others as if they are stupid as cattle.

  88. Hedgehog on September 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    “My concern with early morning seminary is that I believe that it is an anti-family program.”

    Thrice amen!
    We have always held family prayer and family scripture study before breakfast, and I have always prayed additionally with the children before they leave for school in the morning. There is no way I want CES stomping all over that.

    There’s a lot more I could say on damage to families caused by the demands placed on early morning seminary teachers who also work fulltime. Grim observations.

  89. john f. on September 17, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Love your comments Hedgehog.

  90. Hedgehog on September 18, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Thank you John.

  91. Lindsey Brooks Hicks on September 18, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks for this post! I heard an interview with Arne Duncan on NPR and the whole time I couldn’t help but have the same thoughts about early am seminary (of which I am also a graduate). I not only struggled to stay awake in seminary but fell asleep in my other classes as well. I was a good student but I know my lack of sleep affected my school performance. I also think my sleep deficiency made me unhappy. I understand that high school is also just a hard time of life but I can’t help but wonder if I would have had a more positive experience if I had faced it with 8 hours of sleep.

  92. Anthony on September 24, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    I love this honest open discussion. Finally !! However, sadly the Bishopric and Stake Presidency is not open to this. They have the sacrifice mentality. Seminary is damaging our families. I grew up in Utah and enjoyed seminary. However this early seminary program is ridiculous. This program has turned into the Pharoses program. I ask my self why do we ask 19 year old kids to wake up at 6:30 AM, but 15 year old’s to wake up at 4:40 AM. The leaders and CES administrators do not wake up until late. Then the stake people joke wait until your kids can drive and you can stay asleep. These people “leaders” are irresponsible. When trying to have a honest discussion with stake leaders, one becomes blackballed. I suggest everyone on this blog write a letter to the 12 and maybe someone will finally listen to our cries and change the program. If the church only offered 5;30 AM seminary in Utah/Idaho the early morning program would be eliminated immediately. Please Elder Holland or Utchtdorf (the open minded ones) please hear our cries. I fall asleep at work and my clients ask every day why I don’t sleep more. My kids school teachers ask why my child sleeps in school. This program has gone too far. I know the church will change this obsolete hour of the program eventually, but we ask that it immediately be changed instead of waiting until we die in the asking. We are all active good members. When we invite people to visit the church, they ask “why would I join your church if I have to get up at 5:00 AM.” That is people think this is a cult. This is not a sacrifice, this is an bad tradition. The original seminary at Granite high was after school. We now think football and sports are more important than seminary, so why not 3:00 AM. This is a problem and we are the honest ones who are not apple polishers to the Stake leadership. Many times I would prefer to move back to Utah, than deal with this program.

  93. Anthony on September 24, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I was disappointed 2 years ago, when the church used a teenager in Iquitos Peru riding his canoe on the Amazon river at 4:30 AM to get to seminary. how about the kids in NYC that have to take the early morning subway to get to seminary. Or the teens in South America or Asia that have to take 2 buses through dangerous neighborhoods to get to seminary. Would the CES or Stake people let there kids do that. Would they let their daughters be on the street at this early morning hour. All in the name of sacrifice. Dealing with the drunks and the drugees. The kids in Apine, Utah do not have to do this. Lets stop the 2 tier church and one program for the Wasatch front kids and another for the “mission field”.

  94. Rob Perkins on September 24, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    I spoke today with a CES teacher who was in a position to eloquently defend early morning seminary, pointed out that there was an afternoon class on offer, and generally defended the current status quo sets of programs as flexible enough. As he explained it I came to understand he was right, and even agree. (Teaching is still Not For Me. Not without some serious contextualization or changes in the program. But, even those were extant in our conversations…)

    Some of this darkness-cursing (no pun intended…) leaves aside the fact that for thousands of young LDS, early morning Seminary is simply a part of life. They attend, if focuses the beginnings of their day on the Savior (if it’s done right) and they accomplish all the other work of the day including sports and music. They don’t think of it as a sacrifice and it isn’t lionized as one. If sports or music conflicts, they figure out how to fit it all in. And they win general respect from everyone around them for making such a choice.

    Personally I think there’s truth in the scientific findings about sleep for teenagers. But it will butt heads with a traditionally agrarian work ethic that elevates early morning work as a human virtue. Which makes me thoughtful: for centuries, if not thousands of years, survival in the northern hemisphere depended on an pre-sunrise work ethic. And as I recall reading, Europe flourished doing things that way…

  95. Amy T on September 25, 2013 at 6:42 am

    “for centuries, if not thousands of years, survival in the northern hemisphere depended on an pre-sunrise work ethic”

    They were also going to bed when the sun went down. Our kids don’t have that option. They have to go to youth activities and/or stay up late doing homework.

  96. Anthony on September 25, 2013 at 7:05 am

    It would be nice to have the afternoon seminary class as an option. We do not. Our stake presidency will not budge. When we initially spoke to the bishop, he asked if we were feeding our kids enough. How offensive !! They want to blame us. I now again, have a headache from getting up at this hour. I now have a greater understanding why others go inactive because of closed minded decision makers and their offensive remarks to defend their early hour program of sacrifice.

    There are 2 types of personalities. A and B. Too many of the church programs are geared toward the A, and when the B have a hard time, they look to the A’s and say they are doing fine, what is wrong with you. I have learned this. I am a A, my wife a B. My kids a mix. We need to include all people in all the church program’s not just the hyper-A’s.

    Some times the kids who are A’s think they are being leaders. Haaaaa. They are just forming their cliques. The kids do not talk at 5 AM and this idea of get together to strengthen each other is false. The decision makers need to be aware of reality in early morning LDS homes and its consequences.

  97. Anthony on September 25, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Rob where do you live ? afternoon seminary, I will move there.

    But this idea that we admired for taking kids to early morning seminary by others is false. My neighbors do not understand why we are up so early nor do I.
    Missionaries go to bed at 10:00 PM and get up at 6:30 if following the rules. Teenagers who have too much homework go to bed at 11:00-11:30 PM and get up at 4:45 AM. something is wrong with this scenario.

  98. Anthony on September 25, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Why do you think we no longer have roadshows, church volleyball or basketball. Don’t we need to socialization with church members. Solution, time machine back to 1965.

  99. Ann on September 25, 2013 at 8:07 am

    We have taught our kids to not do homework on Sunday. However too many kids do their homework on Sunday. There are not enough hours to do homework, early morning seminary and such. Lets cancel mutual and replace it with seminary and then teach kids not to do homework on Sunday.

  100. Hedgehog on September 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Ann, we too do not do homework on a Sunday. Instead our kids sometimes have to miss the weekday youth activities.

  101. Neany on September 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I’ve had eleven children attend early morning seminary and number twelve just started. This year it’s at 7:15. In years past the start times have varied; for a couple of years it started at 5:45am with a 20 minute drive to get there. Some of my kids enjoyed it but most did not. Unfortunately, some of the teaching has been lack-luster, including perpetuation of some of our “mormon myths”.
    Twice, we had leaders promise the kids good grades if they attended seminary. Arghhh! Well, even 100%er’s don’t always get good grades. In the area we live in(please don’t call it the mission field),we have a rigorous school curriculum and one has to work mighty hard to have a chance to get into BYU! (No eye rolls please)
    There are certain realities we need to accept and a proper amount of sleep is one of them. I realize that the kids benefit from seeing each other during the week, and often the lessons send them off for the day uplifted. All that said, I’ve always thought having seminary 2 or 3 days a week would be most beneficial.

  102. Steve Smith on September 26, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Rob Perkins, uh I’m sorry no. 94, the argument that youth have this innate desire to attend seminary has been shot down repeatedly. It is the adults creating expectations for them to attend seminary and the youth wanting the validation of the adults.

    Also, you seem to think that there is more value to someone who wakes up early. No, there is more value to someone who maintains a healthy balance in their life, whether they happen to arise before the sun rises or not. Also as was pointed out earlier, traditional agrarian communities went to bed earlier as well. The 4-5 night of sleep for teens is a fairly recent phenomenon, and it is extremely unhealthy. Lastly, you haven’t even addressed the question of why CES and the LDS church just can’t reduce seminary to 2 hours a week. It isn’t like the youth who want to attend early morning seminary are going to complain about that.

  103. Rob Perkins on September 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    #102 — Steve, the best possible thing I could recommend to you is to read more carefully. As I’m not a part of CES, even if persuaded that the local programs are flexible enough, I have no stake in defending the offerings. Chase your answers elsewhere. But, I can attest that “wanting the validation of the adults” doesn’t take the simple shape you imply.

    Responding to the fact that teens have artificial light to keep them up later could take two directions, only one of which requires us to decry early morning seminary as a net negative. Let’s also decry an overemphasis on hours and hours of after school intermural sports as a net negative and see if that has any power to it.

  104. Steve Smith on September 26, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    “Let’s also decry an overemphasis on hours and hours of after school intermural sports as a net negative and see if that has any power to it.”

    Fair enough

  105. Steve on September 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    A thread on the New Order Mormon forum about early morning seminary. Maybe some will find it of interest. http://forum.newordermormon.org/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=32785

  106. Kathy on September 30, 2013 at 1:22 am

    Early morning seminary caused contention and issues in our house. My girls had always been sweet natured, helpful and pleasant, it was like puberty had not affected them at all – until they started seminary.

    We live half an hour drive from the chapel and it started at 6:15am. So 1 hr seminary (sometimes running overtime) + 30 min drive home, they then had 15 minutes to have breakfast and leave for school. Not as bad as some I have read, but enough for us.

    I had people nod and smile smugly and say that puberty had finally hit, that they are now behaving like regular teens – grumpy, non-communicative, unhelpful, bickering, etc. Their school teachers noticed a difference and I had the maths teacher ask if they are getting enough sleep as they were falling asleep in class. They did not want to go to YW as it meant less sleep, they did not want to go to church as it was the only time they could see to catch up. They had assignments due for school that they would sit up at night crying over because they didn’t have the energy to do them.

    My health was affected as well. I had headaches that would last for weeks on end. My good spirits were constantly down. I had no energy through the day, basic household chores became unbearable and were often not done.

    We made a decision for the benefit of the family and quit seminary. Within a week, my headaches cleared up and we had our sweet natured girls back in the family.

    I truly don’t believe that heavenly father would want those outcomes in any family.

  107. Ann on September 30, 2013 at 8:55 am

    I agree with Kathy in #106. However, the only reason we keep our kids in seminary is to allow entrance into BYU and foreign missions. Need Super Saturday seminary and then 20 minutes on Skype M-F. It will change in 10 years, but too late for me and my family

  108. Erin on September 30, 2013 at 9:07 am

    “However, the only reason we keep our kids in seminary is to allow entrance into BYU and foreign missions”

    “Of course you could choose to not do it for your child but he\she will likely not be able to go to BYU-* or serve a foreign mission.”

    Please provide a source that supports the claim that seminary is necessary for a foreign mission.

  109. Steve on September 30, 2013 at 10:45 am

    “However, the only reason we keep our kids in seminary is to allow entrance into BYU and foreign missions.”

    I think just seminary attendance factors into BYU as opposed to seminary graduation. Of course it does help to be a seminary graduate. I haven’t heard that it factors into mission selection.

    But luckily there is a way that one can have his/her cake and eat it too on that issue. Have the child apply to federal or state schools of your state, the in-state tuition of some of which will be fairly low (maybe not as low as BYU, but not astronomically high), and then encourage them to do Peace Corps after graduation or do a study abroad program. After doing all that, they may be about 23 or 24 years old, and in a good position to apply for grad/law/business/med school. They could still go on a mission if they so desired. Or not. But you see, they could still be a LDS member in good standing without attending seminary, without attending BYU, and without going on a mission. Sometimes the pressure that we LDS parents put on kids can be too much.

  110. Naismith on September 30, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    RE Erin, 108. When my daughter was called to serve in Brasil, she had graduated from Institute already, and sent that certificate when asked for her seminary diploma. She was told that no, they really wanted her seminary diploma; it was needed for her visa. They explained that religious trianing was required, and the brasileiros understood “seminary” because the word is so close to their seminario. But they don’t understand Instittute, even though that is the more advanced degree:)

  111. Bryan S. on September 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Brazil is an exception rather than a rule. Most countries don’t require any sort of seminary graduation to grant visas.

  112. Rob Perkins on September 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    #109 Steve, you can’t depend any longer on State university systems having an affordable cost. BYU-Provo’s tuition is about $5000/year. The community college down the street is about $11,000. That used to be inverted, with the State systems much cheaper, but those days are long-gone. Not even the Utah system has tuition rates as affordable as BYU.

  113. Anthony on September 30, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Steve,
    Sorry to sound rude, but you must live in Utah and have no idea what it is like to be a responsible parent and wake up with your kids every day at 4:30 AM. This early morning seminary program needs to stop and it is very unhealthy and un-family friendly. If it was truly inspired and gospel related the Utah/Idaho/Meza folks would be doing the same.

    Time for a change.

  114. Rob Perkins on September 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    #113 Steve, I was looking at out of state rates, and misread the Southern Utah University tables. It remains that the state systems are now higher-priced than a BYU education, unless you can live at home.

  115. Steve on October 1, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Anthony, Amen. I’m in agreement. My point is that parents shouldn’t feel obligated, and youth shouldn’t feel obligated, to do early morning seminary. There are numerous reasons that early morning seminary appears to be successful: the incentive of getting into BYU (many LDS kids can’t and won’t), group feeling (the mentality that you’re out of the group if you’re not a team player), guilt-tripping and shaming (‘you’re better than that’ sort of mentality), and other factors. There is no reason that early morning seminary should continue to go on 5 days a week.

    Rob, yes, BYU is pretty much the cheapest option (especially for how high ranked it is). But there are other relatively cheap options.

  116. Carolina on October 23, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    I went to early morning seminary in the Chicago area for four years, and it blessed my life. Starting the day feeling that bond with fabulous teachers and other kids in the ward where we learned and testified together was so important. I still have such sweet memories of seminary. My oldest child is now in early morning seminary. Of course it is a sacrifice, but would I give up him starting each day in that environment? No way. I realize that ours doesn’t start as early as some I’ve seen here. I also realize everything is not one size fits all, and other options like home study or on-line that work better for others are great. Home study worked better for my husband who lived farther from church and other members. Members can and should do what works best for their families, but I don’t think we need to trash the early morning option. It’s great for some.

  117. Colleen James on October 24, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    My ward called me apart as a seminary teacher for just my daughter. Mostly I asked for this because of the travel distance to the church where seminary is held. We have seminary every morning as she is more of a morning person but we could do seminary in the evening. I think there would be too many distractions in the evening to hold seminary regularly. My daughter does miss having interaction with other members her age every morning but I get to share my testimony and learn the lessons myself. It has made us closer since I didn’t do family home evenings when she was growing up. So another option is to be set apart to teach your own child in your home as a seminary teacher.

  118. Rose on December 8, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Currently three of our five children are in seminary. It has been a nightmare for my family. Our oldest son has been ill for the past year and a half and his attendance has been low. The teacher doesn’t seem to care that his illness stops him from going. The illness has put a strain on our family.

    Also we homeschool so my children have no need to get up at 5:00 so that we can make it to seminary by 6am which is 15 minutes away.

    Today my husband and I decided we have had enough. We spoke to our bishop about our concerns. I explained the illness, I explained that we homeschool and that we do not have a public school schedule of early rising to adhere to and I explained the exhaustion that both my children and I are suffering from.

    All I want to do is do homestudy. The seminary teacher has to remain in contact with BYU to apprise them of my oldest’s seminary attendance, she doesn’t care that he is sick, she only cares that he come.

    The bishop told me that my children needed seminary and that we needed to make sacrifices. When my oldest heard that was the response my son said “fine, I will sacrifice my activity in the church”. All this over my desire to put my families well being first.

    There needs to be compromise and my concerns as a mother need to be taken seriously not cast aside because my bishop doesn’t think I sacrifice enough.

  119. Cameron N on December 9, 2013 at 12:24 am

    Rose, sounds like your family is going through some tough trials. God bless you and your family, and may you be guided and comforted in your paths and decisions.

  120. Old Man on December 9, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Rose,

    I believe there is an online/independent study seminary program available, but you need permission to use it. And why can’t the Bishop simply call you as an assistant Seminary teacher to take the pressure off of you and your three kids? I advise that you contact CES and ask the folks in Salt Lake what your options are.

  121. Waldo pepper on February 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Wow,what a group of whiners. I went to seminary as did my 4 kids. Now I am the teacher. Yeah it’s tough. The whole living the gospel thing is tough. I am tired so are they but they learn and survive as they will need to in life. What they don’t need is indulgent parents softening life up for them. If you need more sleep get of the computer or phone and go to bed. Gorw up, the church needs people who can endure. With the change in missinary age they need it more than ever.

  122. Rob Perkins on February 15, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    So… get with the program or get out? Is that what you mean?

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