The Importance of Education

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I have previously done two blog posts on our young, budding basketball star, Jabari Parker, the first on whether he should serve a mission and the second on whether he should jump to the NBA. I’m now going to make it a trilogy.

On the mission question, I opined that he should not go, reasoning in part as follows: “By being a good example and role model for young people, as a basketball player Jabari has the potential to have a far greater reach and impact than he would in a limited sphere as a formal missionary. He would be able to touch hearts and influence lives that 10,000 missionaries couldn’t reach.”

I think he is already fulfilling that promise in many ways. In particular, I want to focus on his advocacy for the importance of education for young people. A month ago he published an article in the Players’ Tribune, which was a personal reflection on the importance of education for young black children growing up in low-income neighborhoods in places like Chicago, where he himself grew up. He knows what he’s talking about, because he lived it.

You should read the whole article, which isn’t too long, but I’ll pull a few key quotes to give you the flavor:

Around the time that I was taking Ms. Reed’s class, I also started to play AAU basketball, which meant that I was playing games and going to practices in other parts of the city. I got to see a world beyond the South Side. Some of my best friends on the team lived on the North Shore, in really nice neighborhoods. We’d have sleepovers after practices or games and I’d be in their rooms looking at their school books. I’d pick them up and run my fingers through the new, crisp pages and over the covers that weren’t torn off. History books issued this year? At my school, I’d open my book and inside the cover (if there even was one) I’d see my older brother’s name from eight years earlier, and even more names before his.


I went to Simeon Career Academy, a vocational high school. But even as college recruiting letters started to arrive and I began to think about what school I would go to, it seemed Chicago was still reeling me back in. One older guy in my neighborhood kept telling me that I needed to learn a craft.

“Electricity. Plumbing. Welding. That’s what you need to do.”


Education is what’s going to give these kids a future. It doesn’t have to come from new books, or new buildings. We can deal without those. I’ve seen it. We can use those books until the pages fall out — I did it. But when you close schools and force kids into different neighborhoods, when you cut programs that keep them off of the streets, where are they going to go to escape? Where are they going to find something productive to do after school gets out at 3 p.m., in the hours when juvenile crime is at its highest?

Now this next Jabari quote comes from a different source but is in the same vein. This is the one that made a huge impression on me and moved me to share it here on the blog:

“Crime in the city happens after school and that’s between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.,” Parker said. “What are we doing to bring forward extra curricular activities besides sports? These kids are going to have different talents and other ventures. They have to be exposed to arts and drama and music, all types of things to give them versatility. Everybody’s not going to be a basketball player, football player, baseball player. That’s the difference between our environment and the North Shore, because these kids have so much exposure to different things and that’s why they’ll be able to reach so much success.”

When was the last time you saw a professional athlete advocating for arts education like this? Fine arts? Music? Drama? Yet Jabari sees that these are humanizing influences (thus humanities) that the affluent kids on the north shore have in abundance and the poor kids in Chicago neighborhoods don’t have at all. He sees and articulates how important these things (always the first to go in budget cuts) are for our children.

I was very impressed by his insight, and so resolved to share it here with you.

And I think he’s closing in on having the influence of those 10,000 missionaries that I talked about in a previous post.


  1. This is a really inspiring and thought-provoking post. Thanks Kevin.

  2. He is awesome.

    (A little off topic maybe, but I also think plumbing, electricity and welding are great and there is no shame in learning a trade; but kids should have the option to choose what works best for them, and even if they are studying a trade rather than a more intellectual or academic career, they should still have opportunities for education and enrichment with fine arts. For that matter, kids pursuing an academic course of study should learn at least something about skilled crafts. The segregation between the two is unhealthy, in my opinion.)

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    JKC, agreed.

  4. I agree, but sometimes I have a problem with the famous being exempt from things. What missionaries are doing is different than what he is writing about. That being said, if missionaries were engaged in doing things that he wrote about I fell like they would be more effective.

  5. Wish some of the talented young people serving a mission in my town would spend some of their time doing an afterschool art class for children or drama class for children. We have these big empty buildings filled with classrooms. We have missionaries who have remarkable talents. AND they have nothing to do. I can’t tell you the number of times the missionaries have aimlessly wandered down my street knocking on doors, begging for something to do. “Oh, high Sister. Is there anything we could help you with?” I live in a small rural town. My community doesn’t offer much enrichment for my children. Sponsoring a nice community art class would be a better missionary effort than knocking on the same doors repeatedly.

  6. As a musician I’m all for children having the opportunity to study the arts. But, while an arts program may do some good in keeping kids off the streets it falls infinitely short of what dedicated fathers can do in deterring crime. The poor children in Chicago need Dads.

  7. Just read your post after seeing the recent ACT results on college readiness. The breakdown along racial lines is important.

  8. Amy: I love your idea. Missionaries often teach English classes, so why shouldn’t they have art or music classes when they have gifts in those areas?

  9. Jason K. I think that most missionaries involved in teaching English are doing to to reach the most possible people with that effort. I may be mistaken, but I doubt as many parents of youth (or the parents themselves) would be interested in going to art or music classes rather than English. They likely view English as a way to improve their lot in life and get ahead in the world. Art and music (alas) are luxuries that are not priorities.

  10. I think that a bigger problem is transfers. If you have Elder or Sister Artistic Genius giving classes what happens if the mission president feels inspired to send them somewhere else? Art and music classes also leave questions of supplies and equipment. Not to mention issues of whether 18 year olds are mature or experienced enough to handle all of the individual planning that these classes would require.

    I would however like to see missions be more service focused. I think in the long run it would lead to more receptivity overall. As far as the you man this post is about, I think he should pray, fast and counsel with people he trusts and then make the choice that feels right to him. I don’t think that any of us have stewardship to make that call.

  11. When I was in the Indiana Indianapolis Mission, every missionay served 4 hrs per week in community service. Most of them worked in public schools. They got rave reports from school administrators. That said, Missionaries are in the mission field to preach the gospel and what look non productive to someone who hasn’t served, it is always productive in the Lords time table.

  12. Amen and amen. Thanks, Kev.

  13. Jack, maybe we can ship some in. Or maybe start a new kind of mission, where you’re called to be a dad for two years to an individual family in Chicago.

  14. John Mansfield says:

    Sonny Parker sounds like quite a man. I see from Wikipedia that his oldest son graduated from Oregon and is a Chicago cop, and another son of more modest basketball accomplishment served an LDS mission.

  15. I’m all for missionaries not being transferred as often, and committed to one or two communities for their entire mission. Match the skills a missionary has to the needs of a community, rather than constantly moving people around.

    I would love to see every LDS church building filled with clubs and after school activities for mostly non-LDS kids. I would love to have it be a way for LDS kids to mix more with kids in need, but let’s not pretend there aren’t lots of LDS kids that need those kinds of programs too.

  16. BYU-Idaho fits that niche. 99+% acceptance rate (i.e. anyone who wants to). Cheap tuition for Mormons. Basically community college away from home for Mormons, all-comers.

  17. On a related education theme, I highly recommend Jabari Parker’s SI biography in which he discusses the value of his seminary education. (

    I know something of the story behind this story. I was grad student on the south-side of Chicago in the early 2000s. The bishop of the Hyde Park ward felt a need to finally make seminary a reality for the youth in the ward. Since the main challenge had been transportation, bishop assigned the grad students to a taxi rotation. The result was some initial complaining, followed by some serious sacrifice by all the ward, followed by a successful seminary program and renewed unity in a ward that faced unique challenges (half the members were temporary students; half were long-term residents). I never drove Jabari. He was still in primary at the time. But I drove his older brother Chris who eventually served a mission. It’s one of the better things I’ve done in my life.

    PS – John Mansfield, I can attest that Sonny Parker is quite a man. His wife Lola is maybe even greater.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Mike W., agreed on BYU-I. It has been a godsend for some low-income students coming out of Chicago.

    Dave K., thanks for the great personal color.

  19. I love the idea of having missionaries staff after school classes like this. An army for good! When adults aren’t home to hear hear the door-to-door knocking anyway so that’s pointless.

    Parker is a class act. Very impressed by him.