An overview of LDS principles in education.
Brigham Young taught: I am opposed to free education as much as I am opposed to taking away property from one man and giving it to another…
Ancient Israel Demanded a King
In the Old Testament, we read the account of how the majority of God’s chosen people rejected the Lord’s council en mass.
For generations they were ruled under a system of judges, not drastically unlike our Constitutional Republic. Then, because it was “too much effort” for them to keep their judges in check, they wanted to replace it with one where they wouldn’t have to do anything in regards to their government. Just like the other nations of the world, they would have a king.
“Then the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, “Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4–7)
This situation is much like what happened when Martin Harris pressed the issue of the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon against the will of the Lord.
“Some time later Mr. Harris had begun to write for me, he began to importune me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and show them; and desired of me that I would inquire of the Lord, through the Urim and Thummim, if he might not do so. I did inquire, and the answer was that he must not. However, he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should inquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented, but insisted that I should inquire once more. After much solicitation, I again inquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions;” (History of the Church 1:20-23)
The first account of disobedience lead to a loss of liberty and the latter lead to the loss of 116 pages of “The most correct book on earth”. From both of these examples we can see that when we seek to listen to our own council over that of the Lords, though he will not stop us, we will lose something that is most precious.
Brief history of Church and education
“It was the will of the Lord, made known shortly after the organization of the Church, that steps should be taken to have the children of the members taught in schools conducted under the influence of those who had faith in the Gospel.”
(Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 2: 98 – 99.)
Ever since the beginning of the restoration, education has been an important part in building the kingdom. As early as June 1831, the Lord commanded W.W. Phelps to “assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing, and of selecting and writing books for schools in this church, that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me.” (D&C 55:4)
Church schools were set up wherever members of the Church were gathered. After the pioneers had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and established themselves there, they again organized Church schools for the education and instruction of the youth of Zion. Although these were “Church Schools”, they were not fully funded by the Church any more than BYU is now. Anyone that has personally attended or has had children attend a Church school knows that that they are anything but “free”.
Although there were attendance fees to help pay for full time teachers and other staff, President Brigham Young felt that education was so important that he paid “the school fee of a number of children who (were) either orphans or sons and daughters of poor people.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 18 p. 357, General Conference April 1877)
During the 1870′s and 80′s (when Utah was attempting to enter the Union), there was again a great outcry from the outside world that the “Mormons” were getting too much power and influence. To help “combat” this, it was proposed that before entering the Union there must be an “establishment of free schools” which would “prohibit the teaching of denominational sentiments in them.” (Boston Watchman, impression of Sept. 5th, 1878)
Additionally, during the 1870s and 1880s, Protestant missionary societies established ninety free schools in Utah, hoping to win Latter-day Saint children away from the faith of their parents through “education.”
With the very natural inclination to want to take the “less costly” option, many Latter-day Saint families started to send their children to these “free” schools set up by the government, which were funded through tax payer dollars, as well as those set up by other faiths. Others just stopped paying the school fees though their children continued to attend the Church schools. This added much financial pressure on the Church schools and, since the teachers received their pay through fees agreed upon that went unfulfilled, many of them were forced to find employment elsewhere.
Throughout this crisis in education, Prophets of the Lord were constantly reinforcing the principles and warning the Saints of what would happen if they rejected the system the Lord had established.
Two principles that they focused on were that:
- Free schools by taxation is theft
- Only Latter-day Saints should teach Latter-day Saints
I will address these principles in order.
Brigham Young taught:
“I am opposed to free education as much as I am opposed to taking away property from one man and giving it to another… Would I encourage free schools by taxation? No!” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 18 p. 357, General Conference 1877)
Why would he be against funding schools through taxes? How else could we ensure that the schools were funded and teachers paid? Since the main argument for funding education through taxation is to provide an opportunity for the poor, who would not otherwise be able to afford to pay for their education, I will treat the subject as another forced charity through taxation.
Regarding forced charity through taxation, President Benson said:
“Occasionally, we receive questions as to the propriety of Church members receiving government assistance instead of Church assistance. Let me restate what is a fundamental principle. Individuals, to the extent possible, should provide for their own needs. Where the individual is unable to care for himself, his family should assist. Where the family is not able to provide, the Church should render assistance, not the government. We accept the basic principle that ‘though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.’” (General Conference April 1977)
Elder Boyd K Packer added,
“If a member is unable to sustain himself, then he is to call upon his own family, and then upon the Church, in that order, and not upon the government at all.” (General Conference April 1978)
Shedding more light on this President Benson says:
“When you accept food stamps, you accept an unearned handout that other working people are paying for. You do not earn food stamps or welfare payments. Every individual who accepts an unearned government gratuity is just as morally culpable as the individual who takes a handout from taxpayers’ money to pay his heat, electricity, or rent. There is no difference in principle between them… The price you pay for “something for nothing” may be more than you can afford. Do not rationalize your acceptance of government gratuities by saying, ‘I am a contributing taxpayer too.’ By doing this you contribute to the problem which is leading this nation to financial insolvency.” (BYU 1977)
Here President Benson teaches that accepting government gratuities in any form is the same. Why is wrong to accept these government gratuities?
In D&C 121 we read;
34. Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
36. That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
From “Many Are Called, But Few Are Chosen”, recommended in General Conference April 1972:
“Men may exercise unrighteous dominion upon one another through the agency of government in just as many ways as they can when acting outside its framework. The most common method, however, is by denying or interfering with the right to own and control property, one of the elements of freedom.
…applying the Golden Rule, put yourself in “A’s” shoes. He has already given all he desires to charity. Are you not violating his conscience when you compel him to give more? Would you enjoy having someone dictate how much you must give to your church, a hospital or college? Would not this be a plain case of theft? And if you pass a law and legalize the taking and the giving, have you really changed the essential nature of the act? Haven’t you merely legalized stealing?” -page 37
The principle being; even if I feel comfortable contributing my money towards something, no matter how noble the cause, I have no right to compel another to do so. To force another to support a cause or institution is unrighteous dominion and theft.
Taught by Latter-Day Saints
“It was the will of the Lord, made known shortly after the organization of the Church, that steps should be taken to have the children of the members taught in schools conducted under the influence of those who had faith in the Gospel.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 2: 98 – 99.)
The Lord commissioned WW Phelps and Oliver Cowdery to help in selecting and writing curriculum for the teaching of young Latter-Day Saints. Why? Why not just go by the recommendations of the most learned professors? Wouldn’t they be more qualified to decipher which books would be best?
When this thought process rears its head in the discussion of educating Latter-day Saint children, this talk by President Benson is the first thing that pops into my mind.
“I would rather have my child exposed to smallpox, typhus fever, cholera, or other malignant and deadly diseases than to the degrading influence of a corrupt teacher. It is infinitely better to take chances with an ignorant, but pure-minded teacher than with the greatest philosopher who is impure.” (General Conference, October 1970)
The importance of having our children taught by Latter-day Saints was made clear by President John Taylor when he said;
“And then we want to study also the principles of education, and to get the very best teachers we can to teach our children; see that they are men and women who fear God and keep his commandments. We do not want men or women to teach the children of the Latter-day Saints who are not Latter-day Saints themselves. Hear it, you Elders of Israel?” (Journal of Discourses 20:179, General Conference April 1879)
Now before you are tempted to say, “Well, that was back then. Times have changed”, I would like to remind you that this was not taught in the vacuum of the 19th century. This exact phrase was quoted and taught again in General Conference of April 1958, and the principle continues to be taught today.
Not only are our children to be taught by Latter-Day Saints, President Taylor questions our ability as parents to enter the Celestial Kingdom if we deprive our children of that blessing;
“I am told in the revelations to bring up my children in the fear of God. Now we are engaged in building our temples that we may become united and linked together by eternal covenants that shall exist in all time and throughout eternity. And then when we have done all this go and deliberately turn our children over to whom? To men who do not believe the Gospel, to men who, according to your faith are never going to the celestial kingdom of God. And you will turn your children over to them. And you call yourselves Latter-day Saints, do you? I will suppose a case. You expect to be saved in the celestial kingdom of God. Well, supposing your expectations are realized, which I sometimes doubt, and you look down, down somewhere in a terrestrial or telestial kingdom, as the case may be, and you see your children, the offspring that God had given you to train up in his fear, to honor him and keep his commandments. And supposing they could converse with you what would be their feelings toward you? It would be, Father, Mother, you are to blame for this. I would have been with you if you had hot tampered with the principles of life and salvation in permitting me to be decoyed away by false teachers, who taught incorrect principles. And this is the result of it. But then I very much question men and women’s getting into the Celestial kingdom of God who have no more knowledge about principles of life and salvation than to go and tamper with the sacred offspring, the principle of life which God entrusted to your care, to thus shuffle it off to imbibe the spirit of unbelief, which leads to destruction and death.” Journal of Discourses 20:107
Elder Boyd K Packer pointed out the effects government schools have had, and the “why” he gives seems to add a lot of credibility to the words of President Taylor.
In 1996, President Packer said,
“In many places it is literally not safe physically for youngsters to go to school. And in many schools (and its becoming almost generally true) it is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools. Look back over the history of education to the turn of the century and the beginning of the educational philosophies pragmatism and humanism were the early ones, and they branched out into a number of other philosophies which have led us now into a circumstance where our schools are producing the problems that we face.” -Charge to the David O. McKay School of Education, December 1996
When we reject the words of the Lord, what else should we expect?
I haven’t heard this before
Why are the Prophets not so bold on this topic anymore? Why do they no longer speak out specifically against education through taxation? President Benson gave a talk in General Conference April of 1965 that answers this question perfectly. He said,
“Usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but he expects us to work out most of the details and methods… Sometimes the Lord hopefully waits on his children to act on their own, and when they do not, they lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let them suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail.”
Based on the scriptures, the Saints should have known and acted. However, they did not so the Prophets had to spell it out in greater detail. We ignored their council demanding the proverbial “King” in educating “us like all the nations” and the Lord has now almost completely dropped “the entire matter” and is allowing us to “suffer the consequences.”
And so, let’s act
It is time to repent of the sins of the past and no longer partake in a system of theft, unrighteous dominion, and spiritual starvation. It was the call for a “King” from the people that got us in this predicament; let us now change the call to a call for obedience to the King of Kings.
The methods may change, but the principles do not. Whether the method is home schooling, private schools run and taught by Latter-day Saints, or a return to Church run schools, I don’t think it will initially matter.
To restore what the Lord has planned for us, we must reject what took us away from that in the first place and then earnestly seek to follow the will of the Lord to the best of our ability.
As we share this information with others and gain in numbers, we could start LDS based private schools. There have been many attempts at this but, without a growth in the number of informed and motivated Latter-day Saints, interest, involvement and therefore viability is too sporadic to provide new comers with any dependable recourse.
Short term, it appears that those outside of Utah have few options outside of home schooling. This just isn’t always a viable option for everyone. Therefore, we must shed our selfish tendency to want to avoid contact with people outside of our comfort zone. We should reach out to others, help them understand these principles, and then help them to act.
When education is solidly based on gospel principles; faith, spirituality, and inspiration increase, leaving us in a better position to fulfill the Lord’s will for us individually and collectively.
Together we can help restore what was once lost through disobedience and accomplish the miracles originally intended for generations past.
This is by no means an exhaustive work on the subjects covered. For more details on these, I recommend “Revealed Educational Principles & the Public Schools” by Jack Monnett, “The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil” & “Many Are Called and Few Are Chosen” both by H Verlan Anderson, & “Seek Learning by Study and Also by Faith” Address given by Boyd K Packer to instructors of religion at BYU April 1974 also available as chapter 5 in his book “That All May Be Edified”. These provide in-depth coverage of the principles discussed.