What Manner of School Ought We to Have?

I was out driving one day and thought to turn my radio on just minutes before an hour break and just in time to hear the last question in an interview with Dr. Raymond Moody who speaks about near-death experiences. The questions was about the people who stayed on the other side for the longest amounts of time, and Dr. Moody said the thing they all talked about was seeing multitudes of people going into beautiful buildings of education.  They were excited about learning. Naturally I thought of the 24 temples in Joseph Smith’s plat plan for the New Jerusalem in Missouri.

What will a school in Zion be like?  Will it be like early American schools?  The Founders envisioned government encouraged education. The Northwest Ordinance, signed into law by George Washington, directed the circumstances under which new states to the west of the original thirteen would be admitted to the union.  The ordinance said, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”  Land was set aside in the middle of each township for a school.  The schools were built and run locally.  Thomas Jefferson supported taxation.  He said, “Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”

The reason the Founders wanted schools in every community was to protect our liberties.  How much of what is done in school today prepares students to protect their liberties? How much actually destroys “religion, morality, and [true] knowledge”?  Should we, then, restore the early American pattern of schools?  Should schools again be established under state constitutions, without federal involvement?  Should they be overseen and supported by taxation at the local community level rather than at the federal level?  Or might there be an even better way?

The Brigham Young Academy was founded in 1876 in Provo, Utah, 20 years before statehood and the adoption of “free” schools in Utah.  President Brigham Young called Carl Maeser to head the academy and told him not to teach “so much as the alphabet or the multiplications tables without the Spirit of God.”  The story was told by Terry Warner in a BYU Devotional address on November 11, 2008.  Brother Warner also established a permanent exhibit on the BYU campus as a tribute to the Academy and the great men and women who taught there.  The Academy was technically a high school, but I suspect the courses were more challenging and the students more mature in that day before the invention of “teenage.”  (Thanks to the new changes in our church, our teenage culture is changing.)

I first discovered Brother Warner’s Devotional a couple of years after he gave it, and wondered how anyone could watch it and not want such a school for their children.  I watched and read the devotional many times and visited the exhibit at BYU.  Now, three years later, I watched the talk again and it seemed quite different.  I heard things I didn’t remember hearing before and was so stunned by some of it that I downloaded the text again and compared it to the one I had saved in 2011, which was actually entitled “The Education of the Whole Soul.”  (The title is still the same on the print out, but on the BYU website it is listed as “The Lighters of Our Lamps.”).  The words are still the same!  I am amazed.  The only explanation I can see is that our situation has changed in the last year or two with the rapidity we see in Book of Mormon accounts.  Last night I attended a small meeting at which people spoke of having feelings that they need to start a private school.

If you’ve read Brother Warner’s devotional speech before, please read it again. It is very moving and quite sobering.  Whatever we do in education, we want to be on the path to that City of Zion.  Are there clues here about what that path might be.

We will be coming back to this topic soon to look at more schools.

For further study:

The American Founding Fathers, more Jefferson quotes:  http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/quotations-education

Terry Warner, “Lighters of our Lamps,” text, audio, and video
http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1813

Joyce

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