38) PRACTICAL AND PRODUCTIVE: What should be the place of manual labor and practical life skills in a valuable and successful education? What are the most critical skills to acquire?

Prophetic Statements

Joseph F. Smith


I have often thought of the undesirableness of the young men of our community seeking for light employments, and lucrative positions, without regard to manual and mechanical skill, and knowledge and ability in agriculture.

None can deny that there is too great a tendency among the young men, especially in our larger cities, to seek the lighter employments. Politics, law, medicine, trade, clerking, banking, are needful and good in their place, but we need builders, mechanics, farmers, and men who can use their powers to produce something for the use of man.

Salaried positions, in which little responsibility is required, are well enough for young men who are making a beginning, but it should be the ambition of all to get out and take upon themselves responsibility, and to become independent, by themselves becoming producers, and skilful workers.

If life is valuable in comparison with the experience we obtain, every youth will increase the worth of his life in proportion to the new obstacles that he is able to conquer. In a routine, there are no difficulties to encounter; neither is there profit to the mind or body in the sameness of dependent positions. But let the man who would grow and develop, go forth into the practical and productive ways of life. These will lead to broadmindedness and independence, while the other road ends in narrowness and dependence.

And here, also, a word to parents who have daughters. Are you fitting them for the practical duties of mother and wife, that they may in due time go out and make homes what they should be? Or are you training your daughters to play the lady by making them accomplished in flourishes, and expert in ostentatious embellishments? Is mother doing all the work? If you say yes to the last two questions, you are not doing your full duty to your child. For, while accom- plishment and polished grace, attainments in music and art, and a knowledge of the sciences, are good and useful in their place, it is not intended that these shall replace the common labors of life. Where children are so trained, their parents have done them a positive injustice, of which both the children and the parents may live to be ashamed.

While we are educating our children in all that may be termed the beautiful in science and art, we should not fail to insist that they shall learn to do practical things, and that they do not despise the common labors of life. Any other course toward them is an injustice to the boys and girls, as well as to ourselves and the community in general.

I believe the morals of the people will improve as skill in work- manship and productive labors is acquired. Parents, too, will find it easier to govern and control their children, if these are trained in useful manual labor. We shall not then witness the sad spectacle of young men loafing about our cities hunting for some easy place that just suits their notions of work, which, if they can not find, they will not labor at all, but go without in idleness. Mischief and devil- ment, frequently so common because the hands are unemployed, will decrease and better order will prevail.

Thus, while not decrying education in the aesthetic sense, I think it is a serious duty devolving upon parents and those who have educational matters in hand to provide a supplemental if not a co- ordinate course in practical labor for every boy and girl, which shall make them proficient in handiwork, and enable them to expend their powers in the production of something for the material use and benefit of man.1


I desire again to say that I would be pleased to see more of our young men learning trades instead of trying to learn professions, such as the profession of law, or of medicine, or other professions. I would rather a man would become a good mechanic, a good builder, a good machinist, a good surveyor, a good farmer, a good blacksmith, or a good artisan of any kind than to see him follow these other kinds of professions. . . .  I would like to see the giving of proper instruction to those who are seeking education, as well as the creating of facilities in our midst for all who desire not only the common branches of education, but the higher branches, that they may obtain these privileges and benefits at home instead of being compelled to go abroad to complete their education.

. . .   I still advise, the young men of Zion to become artisans rather than to become lawyers. I repeat it; and yet I would to God that every intelligent man among the Latter-day Saints was able to read law and to be his own lawyer. I wish that every young man could and would study and become familiar with the laws of his state and with the laws of his nation and with the laws of other nations. You cannot learn too much in these directions . . .

My young friends, learn to become skilful in the arts and in mechanics and in something that will be material, useful in building up the common- wealth where we live and where all our interests are centered.  2


One of the things that I think is very necessary is that we should teach our boys mechanism, teach them the arts of industry, and not allow our sons to grow up with the idea that there is nothing honorable in labor, except it be in the professions of law, or in some other light, practically unproductive [employement] . . . .  But what do they do to build up the country? What do they produce to benefit the world? There may be a few of them who have farms; there may be a few of them who have manufactories; there may be a few of them who may be interested and engaged in other productive labor, some- thing that will build up the country and the people and establish permanence, stability and prosperity in the land; but the vast majority of them are leeches upon the body politic and are worthless as to the building up of any community. There are a good many of our boys who feel that they could not be farmers, and that the pursuit of farming and stock-raising is beneath their dignity. There are some who think it is menial and low for them to engage in building enter- prises as masons, carpenters, or builders in general.

There are but a few of our boys who take to the hammer and to the anvil and to those pursuits of labor that are essential to the permanence of any community in the world and that are necessary to build up the country.

I say that we are remiss and slack in relation to these things, that we are not instilling them sufficiently in the minds of our children, and that we are not giving them the opportunity that they should enjoy of learning how to produce from the earth and the materials that are on the face of it or in the bowels of it, that which is necessary for the advancement and prosperity of mankind. Some of us have the idea that it is degrading for our daughters to learn how to cook, how to keep house, or to make a dress, apron or bonnet, if necessary. No; daughters in families that are blessed with plenty of means are taught to play the piano, to sing, to go out in society and spend their time in idle, useless pleasure, instead of being taught how to be economical, industrious and frugal, and how to become good housewives. That is degrading! I would like to say to this congregation, and to the world, that if I possessed millions of dollars I would not be satisfied or content in my mind unless my boys knew how to do something that would bring them in a living, how to handle a pitchfork, or to run a mowing machine or reaper, or how to plow the ground and sow the seed; nor would I be satisfied if my daughters did not know how to keep a house. I would be ashamed of my children if they did not know something of these things.

We need manual training schools instead of so much book- learning and the stuffing of fairy tales and fables which are contained in many of our school books of today. If we would devote more money and time, more energy and attention to teaching our children manual labor in our schools than we do, it would be a better thing for the rising generation.

There are many subjects of this character, in addition to the principles of the gospel of eternal truth and the plan of life and salvation, that can be dwelt upon with profil by those who may speak to us.3


We want to make these valleys of the mountains teem with the products of our own labor, and skill, and intelligence. I believe it to be suicidal for us to patron- ize those who are at a distance from us, when we should and could go to work and organize our labor and produce everything at home; we might thereby give employment to everybody at home, develop the intelligence and the skill of our children, instead of letting them hunt after these fancy occupations that so many young people desire above manual labor. The schools of the Latter-day Saints and some of the state schools are beginning to introduce manual labor. Some of our boys are learning how to make tables, chairs, sofas, book-cases, bureaus and all that sort of thing all good as far as it goes; but if we want a mason to lay brick, we have to look mostly to some man who has come from England or Germany, or from somewhere else, to lay our brick. Why? Because our boys do not like to lay brick. If we want a good blacksmith, we must hunt up some foreigner who has learned the trade in his mother country, and who has come here with a knowledge of blacksmithing; we must find such a man before we can get blacksmithing done, because boys do not like to be black- smiths. They don’t like even to be farmers; they would rather be lawyers or doctors than to be fanners. This is the case with too many of our boys, and it is a great mistake. I hope the time will come when the children of the Latter-day Saints will learn that all labor that is necessary for the happiness of themselves and of their neighbors, or of mankind in general, is honorable; and that no man is degrading himself because he can lay brick, or carry on carpentry or blacksmith- ing, or any kind of mechanism, no matter what it is, but that all these things are honorable, and are necessary for the welfare of man and for the building up of the commonwealth. 4


We have sought to encourage in our Church schools the establishment of departments of mechanic arts and manual training; and, so far as I know, everything possible is being done, at least in the principal schools, for the training of our youth, not only in the regular me- chanic arts, but also in the art of agriculture. An agricultural course has recently been started in the Brigham Young University, and one of our most proficient scientists has been called to take charge of the class. I am happy to say that some of our oldest farmers are delighted with the information that they have obtained by attending this class. I heard a brother who had been farming for many years say that he had always been under the impression that when a man could not do anything else, all he had to do was to turn his attention to the plow and cultivate the soil, for anybody could be a farmer, but he had found out since attending this class that it required intelligence and intelligent application to be a good farmer, as well as to be a good artisan. In connection with this I may state a circumstance that came under my own observation years ago. A certain brother had lived upon his farm for some fourteen or fifteen years* He had cultivated it every year the best he could, but it had become so impoverished that he could not make a living off it any longer, and he became so disgusted with the country, especially with his farm, that he concluded, if he could only trade the farm off for a team and wagon that would take him out of the country, he would be glad to go. By and by, his man came along, and he sold his farm for a team and wagon, in which he put his wife and children and moved to some other country. The purchaser took possession of this worn- out farm, and within three years, by intelligent operation, he was able to gather from that farm forty bushels of wheat to the acre, and other products in proportion. The nutriment of the soil had been exhausted, and it needed resuscitation; so he went to work, gave it the nourishment it required, and reaped a bountiful harvest as a result of his wisdom. There are too many of our farmers who think it does not need any skill to be a farmer; but this good brother in Provo, to whom I alluded, found it did. So we are teaching agriculture in our schools, as well as the mechanic arts. The Brigham Young College is putting up a building now wherein are to be taught all sorts of industries; where our youth will be able to learn carpentry, blacksmithing, domestic arts, and other trades that will be useful to them. 5


In connection with this matter, I think it is wisdom for us, as agriculturists, to study agriculture and to become able to produce out of an acre of ground as much as . . . any other people can produce from the same ground. I do not see why we cannot learn to cultivate the soil as intelligently and as profitably as any other class of people in the world; and yet it is a well known fact that up to the present we have not devoted that attention, care, thoughtfulness, or that intelligence to agriculture in our country that we should have done and that we are now learning to do, by the aid of schools where men who desire to follow agriculture may learn the nature of the soil and all the other conditions necessary to produce the largest results for their labor. 6


It does not matter how wealthy the Latter-day Saints become; so long as they are worthy of that name they will teach their sons and daughters the dignity of labor and how grand it is to be practical in the duties and responsibilities of life. One of the speakers during the general conference remarked that if his children could not cultivate but one set of faculties, rather than theoretical, he would choose practical labor. 7

Ezra Taft Benson

There is something basically sound about having a good portion of our people on the land. The country is a good place to rear a family. It is a good place to teach the basic virtues that have helped to build this nation. Young people on a farm learn how to work, how to be thrifty, and how to do things with their hands. It has given millions of us the finest preparation for life. 8

  1. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine pp. 343-344; Improvement Era, Vol. 6, January, 1903, p. 229
  2. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 344-46; October Conference Report, 1903, pp. 5, 6
  3. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 346-47; April Conference Report, 1903, pp. 2,3
  4. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 347-48; October Conference Report, 1909, p. 8
  5. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 348-49; April Conference Report, 1906, pp. 5, 6
  6. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 349; April Conference Report, 1910, p. 4
  7. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 352; Young Woman’s Journal, Vol. 3, 1891-1892, pp. 142-144
  8. Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 647.
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