Helping Others Learn How to Learn

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Roberta Merrill
Adjunct Faculty, Family, Home, and Social Sciences


My father did not graduate from high school. His parents only completed eighth grade, which was the accepted standard for their time. My mother and her parents had only graduated from high school; however, they all knew the value of education and delighted in celebrating academic achievements with their children and grandchildren. Although my father did not graduate from high school, I regard him as one of the most educated men I know. If he wanted to learn about a topic, he bought books, subscribed to magazines, and dove headfirst into the subject. He could fix anything, he could do anything, and if he didn’t know something, he found someone who knew more on the subject and “picked their brain” by asking questions and observing. As a young girl, that made an impression on me to the point that I thought that is how everyone gained knowledge or learned a new skill.

Since I did not have a role model within my family who had graduated from college, I did not believe a university education was in my future—nor did I believe I needed it. Many of my high school friends got married or planned to attend trade school. My good friend talked me into going to Salt Lake to be her roommate and that is how I “chose” to attend LDS Business College. I was a bit apprehensive that I would be able to achieve success at the college level, so I studied like crazy my first quarter and ended up getting pretty good grades. That was encouraging so I declared a major that resulted in an associate’s degree instead of a certificate.

My first full-time job after graduating from college was at Brigham Young University in the Graduate School Office. Working with professors and graduate students opened my eyes to the possibilities of further education. I always looked up to university professors as people with “superpowers” and abnormally high IQ’s reserved only for the elite. In working with them in that setting, however, I saw them as normal people who weren’t necessarily any smarter than I was. In addition, a benefit of full-time employment at BYU is being able to take evening classes tuition-free. So, I picked classes that appealed to me—not classes I had to take for a major, and when I did decide to return to complete a bachelor’s degree after serving a mission, the classes I took because I wanted to form the basis for choosing Home Economics Education as my major.

As a full-time student at BYU, I was able to work part-time at the Graduate School Office with my former colleagues. Therefore, going to LDS Business College again blessed my life by providing an opportunity to work on campus in a place that accommodated my class schedule with flexible hours (and a higher paycheck.) Every semester my co-workers would ask what my favorite classes were, and I could honestly tell them that my favorite one was the one I was in at the time. I loved them all!

Upon graduation, I began my first year teaching at Spanish Fork Junior High School. I met my husband the first weekend after school started. By the time that school year ended, I was married and pregnant. My education came through for me that year in numerous ways: I used what I learned in education classes to write lesson plans, I used my nutrition classes to pass knowledge to my students, and I used my child development classes to understand my pregnancy. Indeed, through the years I have consulted my college textbooks and class notes to solve problems and answer questions in my life and for my students and others. In the schools where I have taught, teachers and staff came to me with questions on food, nutrition and clothing. In church callings, my education has been invaluable as I have served in Relief Society, Young Women’s, and Primary.

Most importantly, my education has made me a better wife and mother. There is the obvious result of being able to help children with homework, but the bigger picture is helping others learn how to learn. My father’s example of figuring things out, asking questions, and taking classes if necessary formed the foundation of my educational theory. Rather than dish out knowledge like a spoonful of mashed potatoes, it is my belief that learning about the potato and how it ends up being the best mashed potato in the world has infinitely more value in the long run.

No one is ever “finished” with education. Being educated means attending concerts, lectures, ball games, church meetings, and even obtaining advanced degrees if necessary to get where a person wants to go. The people who have encouraged, persuaded, or otherwise dragged me along in my educational pursuits will forever be my friends.

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