Education for Real Life
By Elder Henry B. Eyring
From a talk given on the 75th anniversary of the Institute of Religion program at a Church Educational System fireside in Moscow, Idaho, on 6 May 2001. Putting spiritual learning first gives our secular learning purpose. Conversion brings a drive to learn. From the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ in the time of Joseph Smith to our own day, you can see evidence of this. Joseph Smith, as a very young man, translated the Book of Mormon from plates inscribed with a language no one on earth understood. He did it by a divine gift of revelation from God. But he later hired a tutor to teach him and other leaders of the Church ancient languages. Joseph Smith had essentially no formal schooling, yet the effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ on him was to make him want to learn more so that he could be more useful to God and to God’s children. When the Latter-day Saints were driven from Missouri by mobs, they built a city on the banks of the Mississippi River. They named it Nauvoo. In their poverty and on the western edges of the country, they formed a university. “In 1840, Joseph Smith sought the incorporation of the City of Nauvoo, Illinois, and along with it authority to establish a university. The Nauvoo charter included authority to ‘establish and organize an institution of learning within the limits of the city, for the teaching of the arts, sciences and learned professions, to be called the “University of the City of Nauvoo’” [quoted in H. S. Salisbury, “History of Education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Journal of History, July 1922, 269]. “The first academic year in Nauvoo was that of 1841–42. The university probably was among the first municipal universities in the United States [see Wendell O. Rich, Distinctive Teachings of the Restoration (1962), 10]. … The curriculum included languages (German, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew), mathematics, chemistry and geology, literature, and history. … ‘The faculty represented considerable scholarship [compared with what you would expect to find in a frontier city in those early days]’ [Milton Lynn Bennion, Mormonism and Education (1939), 25]. … “The charter of the University of the City of Nauvoo served as the foundation for the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), established by Brigham Young in Salt Lake City in 1850. ‘Education,’ he once told this school’s Board of Regents, ‘is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world’s work, and the power to appreciate life’ (Bennion, p. 115). He advised: ‘A good school teacher is one of the most essential members in society’ (JD 10:225)” (in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. , 2:442–43). When the Saints in Utah were still struggling to produce enough food to live, they started schools. They felt driven to lift their children toward light and to greater usefulness by education. That drive is more than a cultural tradition passed on through the generations. It is the natural fruit of living the gospel of Jesus Christ. You see it today across the world in our missionaries coming home from their brief service in the field. Those who have planted the good word of God and have served faithfully invariably have awakened in them a great desire for self-improvement. And with that comes a desire to learn more and to gain greater skills. The purpose of God’s creations and of His giving us life is to allow us to have the learning experience necessary for us to come back to Him, to live with Him in eternal life. That is only possible if we have our natures changed through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, true repentance, and making and keeping the covenants He offers all of His Father’s children through His Church. So the leaders of the Church have always known that the drive for learning among our people must have a powerful spiritual component. That spiritual element, when it is effective, refines and...
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