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How we all feel at 5:20 in the morning. We are not farmers.  Not everyone is a morning person.

I wrote the first half of this a year ago.

In breaking news, teens are either not getting enough sleep or don’t need as much sleep as we used to think.  Either way, I can state with certainty that parents of teens who attend early morning seminary aren’t getting enough (consecutive) sleep.

This is a huge pet peeve for me. Here’s the circle I fall into:

  • BYU is far and away the cheapest way to get my kids a decent college education. It’s simply a good value. The next lowest tuition at a semi decent state school is exactly double the cost. Let’s be honest. I’m cheap.
  • Both early morning seminary and good grades are required to get in.
  • Early morning seminary (and being a teenager in general) contributes to my son’s mediocre grades. He’s up at 5:20am to get out the door by 6am for seminary. He comes home at 4pm and crashes for a few hours until about 7pm when we have a hard time waking him up. Then he’s up doing homework (and looking at funny videos on the internet) until at least 10pm, often later. Then he goes to bed and the cycle starts again.
  • Studies show that teens often have a later sleep cycle, but given when school starts, skipping seminary only gives him one extra hour of sleep.
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What my son looks like in seminary and in his classes throughout the day.

If I could get him exempted from early morning seminary, I would in a heartbeat; he’d get more consecutive sleep and so would we, since he requires a human alarm clock and doesn’t yet have his driver’s license or a car.  But I can’t because he needs it to get into BYU, which I’m not sure he’ll get into because his grades are not good enough, partly because of early morning seminary.

Fast forward one year:
I wrote the above when my second son was a sophomore and my oldest was attending BYU, having graduated from early morning seminary, so let me update where things stand now–mostly the same or worse.  I feel that there are social benefits to his attendance at early morning seminary, and as long as he wants to go, we will support him going.  So far, he has wanted to go (except on any given morning when it requires getting out of bed with the assistance of human parental alarm clocks).  My oldest son has transferred away from BYU because he hated the politically conservative environment (he is very liberal) and the culture of tattling.  He had issues with some of what was being taught in early morning seminary (in Singapore) that I pointed out in this post.[1]
Early morning seminary: not my jam

The church has also now added a test to the requirements for seminary graduation.  Students must pass with a 75% to get credit for seminary.  I can state with conviction that my kids are terrible scriptorians [2].  I think they view me quoting scriptures conversationally the way I viewed my mother singing “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” when she was making dinner.  It just seemed like old-people weirdness, alternately endearing and horrifying.  It seems to me that early morning seminary and in classroom seminary create a lazy approach to studying the scriptures. [3]  Instead of personal close reading of the scriptures, we get a CES interpretation which then just has to be regurgitated on a test (which is basically what Rel Ed is like at BYU).  On the upside, I imagine the kids benefit from the social aspect and the group spiritual experience thing, but this has never been my jam in the church.  I’d rather have personal spiritual experiences than group ones, and I am skeptical about cheesy object lessons and eccentric teachers.

BYU is an increasingly remote possibility for our son, who could possibly get into BYU-Idaho or a local community college.   He’s got real talent at engineering and math, but his grades are simply not good enough for BYU. [4]
This is just one parent’s perspective on the Early Morning Seminary conundrum.  What’s your view?
  • Do the benefits of early morning seminary outweigh the drawbacks?
  • Should the church be more consistent in allowing a home study alternative? [5]
  • Would a hybrid approach (e.g. meet twice weekly in the morning) get better results?
  • Is it fair that BYU weighs seminary graduation so heavily?
  • Are the odds of kids falling away too great if we don’t indoctrinate and socialize them daily in seminary classes in addition to their twice weekly commitments?

Just for fun, I thought I’d add a quick poll to see what type of seminary experience you  had as a teen. [6]

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[1] His experience at BYU was similar, although he was glad that his Biology 101 teacher said that evolution was not up for discussion; it was too clearly proven to be debated.
[2] Despite my oldest son naming our in-home network the LAN of Milk & Honey.
[3] I realize that I’m biased toward the home study version I did as a teen, but combined with the fact that my parents had never attended seminary and wanted to read it with me, it made me really read the materials, the scriptures themselves, and take the quizzes to check my knowledge.  This kind of self-directed study is  more similar to personal scripture study.  I also cared about doing well.
[4] His research skills include conflating with a scientific journal; I suspect he’s not alone among his cohorts.
[5] Right now, this is at the discretion of stake leaders, and exceptions are strongly discouraged in most stakes.
[6] I did home study for 3 and a half years, which I really enjoyed.  My senior year of high school, the ward switched to early morning at the behest of a new move-in family from Utah (first Utahns I had ever met!) who insisted this was the proper way.  There were six high schools combined in our ward, so we had to drive 20 miles or more in snow to get there, and I had to drive myself which was frightening with so little driving experience and the slick icy winter roads in PA.  We were studying the Doctrine & Covenants and when polygamy came up, I strongly objected to it.  I was told by the teacher that I couldn’t be a Mormon if I didn’t accept it.  I’m sure she meant well, but that was the end of my attendance at seminary, and largely my church attendance for the next two years.