Written by: Brent DeGraff
Liahona Preparatory Academy
Under the current pressures of bi-culturalism, agnosticism, secularism, and humanism which diminish and deny the influence of God in our educational system, our society seems to have reached a station more dangerous than any of the above “isms”. We find ourselves in an era of compromise in our content and approach to education. This “lukewarm” approach denies the teaching of man’s divine origins and erases the hand of Providence in order to make our schools more harmonious and homogenous with popular opinion. The results, however, have weakened the influence and forfeited the moral leadership of those in position to assist with the teaching of our children. This compromise has left our children to flounder as they attempt to determine the role of God and religion outside of the conventional Sunday School arena. Just how serious is this floundering for moral and spiritual anchorage? In one of his notable addresses, Robert Gordon Sproul, past president of the University of California, said:
There is a great need for some directive force to rally the recuperative powers of mankind and win the race with catastrophe. Education cannot provide such a force, important as it is, because it is not the minds, but the souls of men that must be regenerated if catastrophe is not surely to come . . . Our American heritage cannot long endure without a firmly grounded religious faith.
We are now bordering on the third generation of Americans who have had nothing even remotely adequate in the instruction and blending of religion into their daily academic curricula. There are those who would argue that this compromise approach to education has not affected the academic integrity of our schools. The evidence would beg to differ. While spending more than $400 billion annually on public elementary and secondary education the present academic and moral state of our educational system is frightening.
1. In a ranking of students in 21 industrialized countries, American 12th graders ranked 19th in math and 16th in science in 1995. In physics, American students ranked dead last in the industrialized world.
2. In 2001, the average SAT combined math and verbal score was 1020, down from 1059 in 1966.
3. On a test of general knowledge, 2002 college seniors scored 17.5 percent lower than college seniors in 1955, while outscoring high school seniors from 1955 by a mere 3.2 percent.
4. The national high school graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 71 percent. For white students the rate was 78 percent, for black students it was 56 percent, and for Hispanic students the rate was 54 percent.
5. On the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress American history test, “36% of fourth graders scored below basic; only two percent were advanced. By eighth grade, 39 percent were below basic and only one percent advanced. For seniors, a depressing 57 percent were below basic, with one percent advanced.
6. In other recent NAEP data: “Less than half the 16,000 high school seniors tested recognized Patrick Henry’s defiant challenge, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Even fewer teenagers knew of the existence of the War of 1812, the Marshall Plan that saved Europe, or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”
The Religious Illiterate
The prevailing educational philosophy in recent years has been one of education upon a broad cultural base. The rationalization has been that the school should be a community in miniature and that every legitimate community interest: civic life, industry, labor, social work should find a place in the program. Accordingly, the curriculum should be built out of normal experiences in community living. There is however one very conspicuous exception—religion. Any reputable educational system or school would be chagrined if its graduates were not at least competent in their understanding of government, industry, math or the sciences. How then, can our current government controlled schools be not only complacent but also defensive about graduating students who are religiously illiterate?
As Latter-day Saints, we believe in a God who is not only the Creator, but who is also the Ruler of the universe. He intervenes when His plan is in jeopardy and His divine purposes are threatened. In the great scenario of America this divine intervention has been systematically eliminated from our textbooks and curriculum. Here are just a few examples:
We no longer are allowed to include the words of the participants themselves if those words are religious in content. When was the last time you read in a current history text Christopher Columbus’ own words wherein he acknowledged the source of his motivation and inspiration?
Our Lord opened to my understanding, I could sense his hand upon me so it became clear to me that it, the voyage, was feasible.
Significant phrases from documents such as the Mayflower Compact, which include religious references, have been excluded. The following segment is often not included because it unabashedly states the religion and purposes of the early settlers of God’s promised land.
... having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith...
What textbook demonstrates the Hand of Providence in events such as the answering of Lincoln’s prayer in the great Civil War battle between the Goliath Merrimac and the disadvantaged Moniter? As the panicked citizenry turned to Lincoln out of fear that the nation’s capitol would be destroyed in the upcoming confrontation between the two battleships, Lincoln responded with this calm reassurance,
God will not permit it. This is his fight.
He then went on to say,
I have been driven to my knees with the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.
Or how about the intervention of our Father in Heaven during the calamitous days of Dunkirk? With three hundred and fifty thousand British soldiers backed to the sea by the Germans, it looked like annihilation, capture, or defeat for the British army, but at the crucial moment when Britain’s soldiers needed help, God intervened. What happened? At that moment, a dark, black mist settled down directly over the narrow canal. All visibility disappeared and military operations ceased. How long? Just long enough for Britain’s soldiers to escape and make their way across the channel to English shores.
The list of interventions by Providence is endless. We recognize these historical events as having been directed and influenced by the Hand of God. However, if we stop at this point in the teaching of our children, we are essentially giving them a “Reformation” education. Albeit an education better than the accepted norm, but one still lacking the content of whole truth.
The question LDS parents must ask themselves, as they strive to restore God to His rightful position in the educational learning of their children, is whether we are merely giving them a Reformation education based on partial truths, or if there is still something more. Let me illustrate this idea by sharing the following story related in “The Bruce R. McConkie Story,” written by his son, Joseph Fielding McConkie.
Bruce R. McConkie
In the spring of 1984, Elder Bruce R. McConkie was invited to speak to a group of faculty members at BYU who would be teaching the Book of Mormon in the fall. The first thing Elder McConkie did was to reach into his briefcase and bring out a computer printout.
“I have something here which, when I first saw it, about bowled me over,”
he began. He had our attention.
“I have here the results of a “testimony survey” that was conducted at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. Elders, sister, and older couples were surveyed as to the depth of their testimony in regard to certain doctrinal matters.”
Elder McConkie indicated that the missionaries were asked to respond anonymously to ten statements of fact, statements such as the following:
1. God is my Father, the Father of my Spirit.
2. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
3. Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.
4. The Book of Mormon is the word of God.
5. There is a prophet of God today.
The missionaries were asked to respond in one of four ways:
A. I know this to be true because I have received a spiritual witness of its truthfulness.
B .I believe this to be true, but I have not received a spiritual witness
C. I do not know whether this is true.
D. I doubt whether this it true
In a very sober tone, Elder McConkie asked:
“Would you be interested in knowing which of these areas was the lowest in terms of testimony?”
Everyone nodded. He said: “The lowest areas of testimony across elders, sisters, and couples were these:
3. Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.
4. The Book of Mormon is the word of God.
We were stunned, shocked, for these matters were fundamental to what the missionaries would soon be proclaiming. Elder McConkie raised his voice and said:
“Something’s wrong. Something’s terribly wrong! Maybe it’s something the Brethren have done wrong. Perhaps it’s something we’ve done wrong here at BYU or in our Church Educational System, but clearly something’s wrong.”
And then, as though he were reasoning the matter as he stood on his feet before us, he added,
“Maybe in our efforts as a Church to ensure that everyone knows we’re Christian, we have gone too far. A while back we changed our missionary discussions to make our first discussion a message about Christ. It seemed at the time a good thing to do, given that Jesus is the Head of the Church. But what was the result? A decrease in convert baptisms and a decrease in the number of copies of the Book of Mormon placed by full-time missionaries from one million per year to 500,000. We are not teaching the Restoration as we ought to.”
What Elder McConkie said next changed the way many of us who were present now teach. He stated:
“We will never achieve the quantity and quality of converts that President Kimball and the Lord have envisioned as long as we continue to stress the similarities between us and those of other faiths. It is only when we stress the differences that we are able to make our distinctive contribution in the world and thus make our influence felt.”
Elder McConkie charged us, with great power and persuasion, to view all things through the lens of the restored gospel and he promised us that greater outpourings of the Spirit would accompany gospel teaching that was Restoration-based and Restoration-centered.
Reformation vs. Restoration Education
Therein lies the answer and the challenge for Latter-day Saint parents. This challenge is twofold. First, we must as Elder McConkie admonished, “view all things through the lens of the restored gospel”. In other words, we must recognize and teach how all things previous to the Restoration laid the foundation for its return. Second, we must inculcate in our children the understanding of how all things since the Restoration have been affected by that momentous event.
Most of us became home educators and intimately involved in our children’s education, because of a recognition of the deficiencies in our public school system. Unfortunately, many of the solutions available to us have been Reformation based and not Restoration based in content. Again we must follow the admonition of Elder McConkie wherein he counseled that we must “stress the differences”. If we do not, the results will be the same for our children as that which the missionary program suffered.
What is Restoration-based education? It is too comprehensive to cover in one short article, but there are some basics that it must include:
The Standard Works
Words of the Prophets
Inclusion of talks by LDS authorities about academic topics.
Recognition and instruction of God’s intervention in historical events.
Recognition and instruction in how the great events in history have all been part of God’s plan i.e. the Great Discoveries, Reformation, Reformers, Pilgrim Ministers, Founding Fathers, Great Awakening, etc.
The reading of principled works of literature by LDS writers.
The reading and confrontation of accepted scientific doctrines by leading LDS scientists and general authorities.
There are those who believe that combining academics and religion will cause one or the other to suffer. Some believe secular knowledge should carry more importance than religious knowledge. Others would concentrate solely on the religious aspects. We respectfully disagree with both views. If taught correctly, a Restoration approach to education will blend the two disciplines together in such a manner as to give the student a complete education. While simpler and less challenging, the current homogenous approach will result in a “one-eyed” education, one that touches the mind but not the heart. When pure truth is taught then the spirit can enlarge our minds and allow the Holy Ghost to testify to our souls, thus turning knowledge into motivation and action.
Brigham Young expressed our end goal:
Learn everything that the children of men know. Every true principle, every true science, every art, and all the knowledge that men possess, or that they ever did or ever will possess is from God. We should take pains and pride to rear our children so that the learning and education of the world may be theirs. Teach the children, give them the learning of the world and the things of God.
The purpose? Quite simply, our purpose is based upon divine covenant. A covenant to teach our children correct principles, so that they might “walk in the ways of the Lord”. The generations we teach were chosen for these latter days, with all its corresponding privileges and responsibilities. One of the great spiritual, as well as academic leaders of the church, Ernest L. Wilkinson, gives us the following insight concerning the role of this generation in the unfolding future:
Students should be taught how to think, encouraged to actually do some thinking, and inspired to take action on the results of their thinking . . . Above all else, we must remember that the youth we teach here will be the future leaders of the Church, the nation, and the world. We must not fail them! Let us provide them with the intellectual tools they will need to meet the test of their times.
We must also always keep in mind the caution given by President Spencer W. Kimball to the faculty of Brigham Young University:
While all universities seek to push back the frontiers of knowledge further and further, this faculty must do that and also keep new knowledge in perspective, so that the avalanche of facts does not carry away saving, exalting truths from the value systems of our youth.
In our search for better ways to instruct our children we must be careful not to get caught up in the ways of the world. There will always be a new trend or approach to education, some of these worthwhile, others not. As we test these new methodologies, may we be mindful that any approach that does not include the scriptures and the words of the prophets is just
another version of Reformation education: partial truth mixed with the philosophies of men. Many of us in our search are like ancient Israel as they cried, “Now make us a king.” And when Samuel asked of the Lord, he was answered, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (I Sam. 8:5-7). Samuel then pointed out to the people some of the hazards of having a king. They would lose their sons in battle. Their daughters would end up as servants. A king would take their vineyards and olive yards to feed his servants and he would place heavy taxes on them. In spite of these warnings, the people still proclaimed, “Nay; but we will have a king over us...like all the nations.” (I Sam. 8:19-20).
In our search for more effective ways of instructing our youth, we must be careful not to become like Israel of old as they clamored to have a king, “like all the nations”. As we see the approaches of the world, we must not grab hold of the newest educational styles or fads simply because we want to be like everyone else.
Again we turn to the words of Spencer W. Kimball concerning this danger:
It is interesting to note that most of us have a tendency to want to ape the ways of our neighbor, in styles of curricula or universities. If New York or Paris speaks, the dresses are lengthened or shortened; if San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury speaks, men’s hair grows longer, beards appear, and baths are less frequent. If the Joneses have a Cadillac, all want Cadillacs. If a nation has a king, all want a king. We seem reluctant to establish our own standards, make our own styles, follow our own patterns, which are based on dignity, comfort, and propriety.
We are told by the Lord as he spoke to Nephi, “To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi. 9:29) We are a peculiar people and we must remember our foundation as we search for the best way to teach our youth. In our search may we keep in mind this counsel from President Ernest L. Wilkinson:
Our roots spring from Palmyra rather than Cambridge.
Register for classes at:
Liahona Preparatory Academy provides Home-schooling families with the ability and means to teach their children based on principles of the restored gospel through Restoration Education.
Liahona Preparatory Academy
2464 W. 450 S. Pleasant Grove UT 84062 U.S.
Copyright Jordan Long.
All Rights Reserved.