Joseph Smith Jr. – America’s Greatest Educator?

A Monograph Commemorating His Bicentennial Birthday

Neil J Flinders
Brigham Young University
Joseph Smith Academy
Nauvoo, Illinois

Table of Contents

Part I Page
What is Education? 3
Who was Joseph? What Have Others Said About Him? 4
Part II
Joseph Smith as a Minister of Education 7
Part III
Authority 8
Part IV
Historical Options 13
Part V
From There and Then, to Here and Now 15
Part VI
Joseph Smith’s Tutors 19
Part VII
Fundamental Propositions 20
The Creation, Distribution, and Implementation of Restored Education 25
Part IX
The Temple as a Sacred School 29
Part X
Building on Foundations Laid by Joseph Smith 33
Assessable Values compared to Worldly Views 34
Goals Established to Serve Children—ages 3-12 35
Goals Established to Serve Young Women—ages12-18 36
Goals Established to Serve Young Men—ages 12-18 37
Goals Established to Serve Adult Women 38
Goals Established to Serve Adult Men 39
Goals Established to Serve the Family 40

This essay was written for all those who might find interest in exploring the relationship between American education and Joseph Smith the American Prophet. It is addressed to anyone who loves education and finds interest in the thoughts and writings of Joseph Smith, as well as to

those who love Joseph Smith and also find interest in the theory and practice of education. My general observations are expressed in the text; more detailed connections to various aspects of

Joseph Smith’s ideas can be found in the footnotes and their references. As the reader may

recognize, the breadth and depth of these two topics far exceed adequate treatment in a limited document by a single author. But what can be accomplished, hopefully, is to present enough of

the story to demonstrate value in considering Joseph Smith as an educator worthy of critical

study. The footnotes will signal to the serious reader, the pervasive and extended nature of this subject matter. I begin with a brief commentary on two topics— (a) education and (b) Joseph

Smith Jr., the person. It is vital to understand both the definition of education used in this

document, and to sense the way this man’s reputation spread throughout the world in such a rapid and remarkable manner. This phenomenon remains a mystery yet to be fully explained.


Joseph Smith Jr., the American prophet, and education are a natural fit. Like a hand in a glove, the two combined become an instrument of extraordinary potential. Serious students of either education or Joseph Smith will recognize both subjects are much discussed, but seldom comprehended. I readily acknowledge these topics are challenging, but that seems to be a common ailment in the human condition. Life itself is challenging, but life is also larger than its challenges. Like all children, each of us is worth far more than we realize and we realize far less than we ought to—as we play out our days in this sandbox of mortality. So, with the obvious limitations clearly in mind, I will try to sharpen and deepen our understanding of Joseph Smith as an educator. Whatever else Joseph Smith might have been, he was first and foremost an educator—a leader-like stewardship he shouldered with vigor and enjoyment, clothed in the mantle of prophet, seer, and revelator. This fact alone tends to set him apart.

What is Education?

First, a word about my view of education: Studying the history, philosophy, and definition of education is something like studying the weather. It is certainly important, but seldom understood and hardly predictable. There are many theories why this is so; far more than can be addressed in a simple essay. What I will say, with some degree of confidence, is that education in its broadest sense is the acquisition and appropriate application of the truth. This is the sense in which I use the term. Further, it seems self evident that learning and teaching are universal attributes. Professional educators have no corner on this market. Everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. Our social world is shaped and driven by how each person packages, delivers, and makes use of these functions. It is this universal personal agency that causes most of the fuss and a lot of the furor in our lives—at home, at work, and at play. Obtaining, organizing, and applying information or knowledge seems to be the basic function of human life. When this complex process ceases, what is left? Education has to be a core consideration in every person’s life. This was the platform on which Joseph Smith based his life.

Who Was Joseph? What Have Others Said About Him?

Second, a brief comment regarding Joseph Smith Jr. the person. His name is well-known to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; others may be more or less familiar with the man and his mission. In terms of notoriety, however, his name is extraordinary; it pervades every continent. Joseph Smith Jr. is a man whose name is spoken in tones of both good and evil throughout the world. The number and the variation of these descriptions are exceptional and informative. There is a sizable library of books, pamphlets, and articles written about him; perhaps as many, or more, than any other American. Consider the range in perception of just five selected excerpts from recorded observations by his contemporaries. Then, ponder the question: Why did this young man from such obscure origins, who lived just thirty-eight years, evoke such an immediate and widespread interest—a fascination that continues to expand with time? The answer to this question could illuminate the title of this presentation and help frame the relationship between education and Joseph Smith, the person.

Selection One. Thomas Hamilton, a writer from England visited America in 1831. He published a travelogue entitled: Men and Manners in America (1833). Mr. Hamilton never personally met Joseph Smith but willingly expressed his opinion as if he had. He relates his own experience of traveling toward the Ohio frontier in the early 1830s. He describes the village of Canandaigua at the edge of a beautiful lake, viewing Niagara Falls where the eccentric Sam Patch jumped 125 ft. to his death from a rock below the Horseshoe in 1829, and notes in detail the variety of human traffic he encountered while moving along the Erie Canal.

He writes, “We passed also several parties of . . . Mormonites, going to a settlement established by their founder, in Ohio.” Hamilton acknowledged he had never heard of this sect before, but willingly passed on considerable imaginative, here-say commentary such as,

I gleaned the following particulars from one of [my fellow] passengers. A bankrupt storekeeper, whose name I think was Smith, had an extraordinary dream. It directed him to go alone to a particular spot . . . where he was to dig to a certain depth. This dream was of course treated as a mere delusion, and, as is usual in such cases, was thrice repeated . . . Having dug to the requisite depth . . . he found a book with golden clasps and cover, and a pair of elegantly mounted spectacles . . . astonishing magnifiers . . . . Smith had some difficulty in undoing the clasps of this precious volume, but on opening it, though his eyes were good, it appeared to contain nothing but blank paper. It then occurred to him to fit on his spectacles, when, lo! The whole volume was filled with certain figures and pothooks to him unintelligible. Delighted with his good fortune, Smith trudged home with the volume in his pocket and the spectacles on his nose, happy as a bibliomaniac . . . lucky enough to purchase a rare [document] dog cheap from an ignorant proprietor.

In the same vein Mr. Hamilton continues his explanation of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which he attributed to “a converted Rabbi, who flourished in the days of our Saviour . . . that continues to puzzle theologians” (pp. 310-313). This is one view of Joseph from the perspective of a rather flippant wayfaring soul intent on entertaining his readers.

Selection Two. A second, more serious view of Joseph Smith appears in the Dublin University Magazine of March 1843. This article from a venerated Old World academic institution is entitled, “Mormonism; or, New Mohammedanism in England and America.” The treatise begins,

We are accustomed to boast of the intelligence of the nineteenth century. . . . Mormonism is a bitter reply to our self-laudation; . . . it exhibits to us a convicted swindler received as a prophet by thousands in both hemispheres—a literary forgery so thoroughly absurd . . . yet recognized as revelation, and placed on the same level of authority as the Bible itself. . . . Hundreds of our countrymen annually quit their homes to join the ranks of the impostor in the wilds of Illinois. . . . We have conversed with these deluded men; on all subjects, save religion, we have found them shrewd, clever, and well-informed; but, when reference was made to Mormonism, they at once became insensible to reason and argument; neither clergymen nor layman could turn them from their error, or convince them of the absurdity of their proceedings.” p. 283.

Consider the overt implication of these two accounts. They demonstrate that in both hemispheres, less than 20 years after he became known beyond his hometown village, people in very common walks of life as well as highly esteemed social circles, felt compelled to say something about Joseph Smith—whether they had met him in person or not. And this was in a day when communication was very slow, sometimes dangerous, and often difficult and expensive.

Selection Three. A third observer, Samuel A. Prior, a Methodist minister, visited Nauvoo, Illinois in 1843. Reverend Prior writes that he “left home with no very favourable opinions of the Latter-day Saints,” thinking of them “as being of quite another race from the rest of mankind and holding no affinity to the human family.” He speaks of his disappointment when he arrived in Nauvoo in 1843. Instead of finding a few “miserable log cabins and mud hovels,” as he expected, he was

surprised to see one of the most romantic places that I had visited in the west. . . . I heard not an oath in the place, I saw not a gloomy countenance; all were cheerful, polite, and industrious. I conversed with many leading men—found them social and well-informed, hospitable, and generous. 1

Nowhere, reported Reverend Prior, did he find evidence of the deprecation and villainy he had heard applied so often to this people.

Selection Four. A fourth witness was Josiah Quincy, a well-educated attorney from Massachusetts, who served as the mayor of Boston (1845-1848). Mr. Quincy, in company with Charles Frances Adams, made an unintended visit to Nauvoo, Illinois in May of 1844. Josiah was impressed with what he saw and marveled that a frontier city of 15,000 or more, could be built in less than half a decade. The location and setting was striking; a mile long Main Street that began and ended on the same river—a fact as unique as the city’s name. These two visitors saw a university in the making, a large imposing temple under construction, and some 2,500 log, frame, and brick buildings on the edge of a wilderness. Mr. Quincy said he felt the energy of a peculiar people. The site and the circumstances amazed this politician, a man very familiar with America in her infant state. But, more than anything else, he was struck by the founder of this unusual enterprise. As viewed by Josiah Quincy, Joseph Smith was an admirable mystery.

Four decades later, after due reflection, this prominent legislator was still inclined to write: “Joseph Smith . . . a rare being” has exerted a “wonderful influence” and notwithstanding unsavory criticisms, he is a “phenomenon to be explained.” The mayor went on to project that the day may come when Joseph Smith, the American Prophet, could be recognized as the historical figure of the nineteenth century that “exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen.” Mr. Quincy asserted that “the most vital questions Americans are asking each other today have to do with this man and what he has left us . . . [and admitted that] a generation other than mine must deal with these questions. Burning questions they are.” Mr. Quincy noted that Joseph Smith “talked from a strong mind utterly unenlightened by the teachings of history.” Though not always complimentary of the Mormons, Josiah was careful to state, “I have no theory to advance respecting this extraordinary man.” (Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past: From the Leaves of Old Journals (pp. 376-400).

Selection Five. Finally, an observation from a man who, in June of 1844, shared the tiny room in Carthage Jail where Joseph and his brother Hyrum were murdered by an angry mob. John Taylor testified of the victims’ innocence and proclaimed: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” (The Doctrine and Covenants 135:3)

So, here we have a range of views—the ridiculous to the sublime. At one end Joseph is disparaged and on the other he is eulogized. It is the making of an enigma; a puzzle caused by an inscrutable and mysterious personality. Why is Joseph not just summarily dismissed by his peers? Why, after 200 years, is America’s Library of Congress now co-sponsoring a symposium in honor of his bicentennial birth? These are among numerous questions that have yet to be adequately resolved in the minds of many people. Perhaps these and other questions, if we had appropriate answers, could shed some light on this quandary. Consider just these six selected from an extended parade of legitimate queries:

Why did this young, unschooled, energetic, frontier boy, who grew to be such a charismatic man, attract so much positive and negative attention?

Why did his notoriety spread world-wide in less than two decades?

What did he do or say that impacted so many individuals so deeply?

Why did the established social order react so violently toward him?

Why did the Church he founded evolve from a small persecuted band to a major religious influence in the United States and the world?

What did Joseph Smith learn and teach that has had such a powerful impact?

This list of questions could be expanded many times over. My immediate interest, however, is the central element of the last question. Does what Joseph Smith learned and taught qualify him to be considered America’s Greatest Educator? In response, I propose that Joseph be viewed as a Minister of Education and let his record speak to the question. No other educational title seems to better describe his mission.


Joseph Smith as a Minister of Education

Joseph Smith fits well the definition traditionally applied in many lands to Ministers of Education. Socially, a minister is one who attends to the needs and wants of others. He looks, sees, and then does what is necessary, considering available resources, to respond to the welfare of those whom he is appointed to serve. Legally, in the historical sense, a minister is a person responsible to the King who appoints him. He is the highest officer over the stewardship bestowed upon him; he represents the Sovereign and is invested with the authority to implement the benefits of his ministry among the people.

Joseph Smith certainly fits both the social and legal descriptions of a Minister of Education. His appointment came from a Heavenly King.2 He worked with the resources at hand and carefully bestowed them for the benefit of the people he served. His entire life was devoted to learning, teaching, ministering, and organizing others to do the same. He did what he wanted others to do. He was what he wanted others to become. He never compromised his mission or violated his office.

As a minister of education, Joseph Smith can be defined and ranked both in terms of (1) the propositions he espoused, and (2) the ongoing consequences of what he initiated. These matters may be compared to a variety of elements associated with educational endeavors in human society. This task is a little spongy because education is such an amorphous subject; it is real but it has no definite form. People view education in a wide variety of ways. There are remarkable degrees of difference. Nevertheless, some common categories exist. Among these, would be:

History: How education came to be and what it is
Authority: By what power education functions
Philosophy: What education entails
Nature: The quality and design of educational experience
Purpose: The general intent of educational effort
Focus: The specific point of the effort
Scope: The breadth and depth of the effort
Sequence: The order of the process
Method: How education is implemented
Location: The place of delivery
Results: The outcome of the investment and labor

Every family, church, and school has its own version of these elements. But the extent to which they become formal and explicit varies dramatically. Nevertheless, these are among the fundamental criteria by which one can assess an educator and his or her educational efforts. It is with these elements in mind that I make a few cursory comparisons. A book or several books would be required to treat all the relevant topics as they might apply to Joseph Smith. What follows is only a snapshot of Joseph Smith as a minister of education; it is a brief description of his ideas and performance compared to some other beliefs and practices. The contrasts are rather stark, but they help illustrate the uniqueness of Joseph’s educational thought.

In order to appreciate the significance of these contrasts, it is necessary to recognize two or three of the most fundamental assumptions driving educational thought in western society—particularly as they are manifest in America. Several basic educational squabbles have been etched on the American scene since the birth of Joseph Smith. They each emerged from serious questions about what is real, who should be in charge, and why people act like they do. Joseph had considerable to say about such notions. His views were often at variance with what was commonly accepted at the time, and they remain so today—notwithstanding how the popular options change from time to time. His insights are unique and sometimes disturbing to the status quo. To some people they may appear uncomfortable, if not heretical; for others they can be considered standards for evaluation, foundational elements on which to build.



At the very root of all educational processes lies the question of authority. When authority raises its head all other issues tend to pale into insignificance. The presence and acceptance of power is essential to the longevity of any educational effort. The modern world cites a variety of “authorities” for its educational programs: the individual, the family, a particular group, the state, society at large, a governing person—king, ruler, and magistrate have all been mentioned. The person or group that fashions the critical decisions in an educational endeavor is central to nearly all the other functions that could or do occur. Authority is the fuel that sustains the function of education in human society. Where there is no authority there can be no formal, definitive education—there can only be confusion and chaos.

Western culture can be viewed as generating four general responses to the question of authority. These perspectives are like platforms upon which people have stood to launch their respective programs and proclaim the reasons for pursuing education the way they do. The basic assumptions people make regarding education are not in agreement. Education in America has been and still is shaped by four rather distinct approaches. Each of these views can be easily envisioned in principle by considering two basic axes of concern.

The first axis contrasts the view that there is a supernatural and a natural dimension to reality, with the notion that there is only a natural domain and nothing else. In other words, there are people who believe the universe is composed of two building blocks—spirit stuff and physical stuff—to put it bluntly. Then, there are people who believe there is no spirit stuff, only physical stuff. The result is somewhat like the two ends of a teeter-totter, there is a continuum along which degrees of differences have been strongly expressed. But at center point the issue shifts, the basic assumption changes, and the difference is exclusive.

Supernatural No Supernatural

and a _________________________________________ only a

Natural Domain Natural Domain

Second, there is another axis of belief that views the individual as the primary authority in educational matters, versus the notion that the society or the group is the primary source of authority in these endeavors.

Individual ___________________________________________ Society

When these two axes are diagramed to intersect at the center, one vertical and the other horizontal, four quadrants—directions or domains—for the development of contrasting educational programs emerge. These quadrants of belief in differing assumptions drive people in different directions. It doesn’t require a great deal of probing to discover a person’s preferences. Although these mutually exclusive domains vary by degree within each quadrant, the views between the quadrants are markedly different. They do drive people in different directions. Where a person stands on these matters largely determines what type of educator he or she will endeavor to be.

It makes a difference if a person believes there is a supernatural domain or there isn’t. It makes a difference who one believes authorizes and is fundamentally in charge of education—the individual or the society—regardless of whether that society is a church or a secular institution. Proponents and opponents to these differing views have been very active in the history of American education, as well as in other nations.3Notwithstanding a considerable variety of programs may appear in each of the quadrants, the basic premises are easy to discern.


1. The lower left quadrant of authority sponsored the traditional form of schooling in early American history. It was religious or parochial in nature. Those who favor this realm believe there is both a natural and supernatural dimension to existence. They also presume the authority of the church or some similar social institution takes precedence over the preferences of the individual. These assumptions are manifest in the organization, implementation, and methodology of instruction that is created, promoted, and utilized. Hence, authority is manifest in a hierarchal pattern:

God (empowers the church or social order)
Church (empowers the school, selects curriculum and teachers)
Teacher (teacher directs and evaluates the student)
Student (student is accountable to the line of authority

2. In the lower right quadrant, people reject the notion of a supernatural dimension to existence and presume reality is simply a natural or physical domain. The assumption is clothed in a purely secular, naturalistic wardrobe. In this realm society also prevails over the individual as the primary source of authority. The society controls education, not the individual.

Society (empowers the government and the school)
School (selects the curriculum and the teacher)
Teacher (teacher directs and evaluates the student)
Student (student is accountable to the line of authority

3. In the upper right quadrant, people also reject the notion of a supernatural dimension to existence and presume reality is simply a natural or physical domain. In this realm the individual, not the society, is the primary source of authority. The individual dictates education. The function of the child is to live his or her own life, not the life that his government, anxious parents or some teacher who thinks he knows best, feels the child should live. The teacher, school, and government exist to serve the individual’s desires. Autonomy and self determination reign supreme. This type of education is often discussed, occasionally pursued, but seldom established.

Student (directs his or her own learning)
Teacher (serves and enhances the students interests)
School (provides teacher facilities and resources)
Society (endorses and supports the educational program)

4. In the upper left hand quadrant, people accept the reality of both a supernatural and a natural domain. They may also acknowledge that each individual is composed of both a spiritual and physical dimension. In this realm, primary authority and responsibility for personal education resides with the individual, but there are limitations and external expectations that need to be acknowledged. The individual is subject to and has an imperative interactive relationship with God. The individual may also have a vital, interactive, and responsible relationship with other persons who may assist in the teaching/learning process. Individuals also may have an interactive relationship with society—but society exists to serve and support rather than dictate in educational matters. Authority is derived from and manifest through each of these relationships. The family institution may play a vital role in this approach to education. (D&C 68:25-34)


In this quadrant, the individual is viewed as an agent with inherent freedoms for self- determination. But he or she also acknowledges a supernatural influence that gives context to his or her actions. Individuals are not autonomous; they are independent but have a shared relationship with authority. An individual in this domain also accepts and honors the fact that others who may be the teachers also are accountable as individuals to the superior influence of supernatural authority. Therefore, all individuals stand on equal ground; each perceiving that social institutions exist to serve the interests of the individual and not the other way around.4

A third axis could be added to this pattern for thinking about education. It would be the Nature versus Nurture axis. The question underlying this axis is: Are individuals basically determined by their nature to become whatever they become, or are they basically nurtured into what they can become with wide and varied possibilities? Are people basically formed by some genetic or an acquired functions? Where one positions himself or herself on this third teeter- totter, which also intersects the previous two concerns, does influence the kind of educational path one will travel. But I will forego adding that visual complexity in this discussion; it would be a great topic in another forum. Suffice it to say, there are fundamental questions that affect educational practice. Recognizing the different and often conflicting answers to these questions helps one understand Joseph Smith’s views of education and the foundations upon which these views rest. He was aware that no educational enterprise can safely extend beyond the foundation upon which it is built. And the foundations of an educational program do invite unavoidable consequences; the influence of foundations is significant. It is folly to assume otherwise.


Historical Options

The foregoing issues generally shape the educational efforts of humankind. What people believe about God, Nature, and Man dictate in one way or another how education is perceived, designed, and delivered. The consequences are numerous and significant. Three historical examples that have influenced American society illustrate this point. (A) The ancient Hebrews had their views, as did (B) the Greeks, and so does (C) our Modern society. The differences in these three world views are fundamental and often dramatic. Western culture is now a social conglomerate of all three vying for attention and allegiance. Some people would say our contemporary society is a hodge-podge of various combinations of these three intellectual tributaries. American education did emerge from this multi-dispensational drainage of ideas—in Joseph’s day as well as our own. This flood of conflicting notions has washed over but failed to erode the premises held by Joseph Smith.

It is helpful to understand the basic ideas underlying these three divergent traditions of belief, as they have tumbled down through time. Such a perception sets in relief and highlights the unique significance of Joseph’s view of education. A brief summary of the conflicts could read like this:

The Hebrew premise is that God created (1) man, (2) the world on which humankind lives, and (3) the universe in which Earth is situated. Contemporary Western culture has now essentially rejected these premises because the referent is God. The path leading away from this world view, which envisioned God as a person, offered several evolving options: (a) from God is a mystery to God is an un-embodied force; (b) then toward God is nature; (c) a current notion that perhaps Man is god—if one has to apply the title. The educator John Dewey expressed the latter view as, “god” is the power to create mental images and convert those images into action 5. Whatever path was followed, modern American education no longer holds that the prime educational value is to become like God is, by doing what God says and does. Many people still favor this view, but it is no longer acceptable as a national ideal or an educational objective in the public domain.

The ancient Hebrew notion that God is a person, an immortal being, our Father, the same yesterday, today, and forever—has now been replaced with secular humanistic policy. The old Hebrew view was significantly blurred; first, by the people’s rejection of authorized prophets and apostles, then by substituting a merger of Christian theology with Greek philosophy during the early centuries A.D. The Hebrew/Christian concepts of Sin, the Fall, a need for a Redeemer, an Atonement, a physical Resurrection, or God as a person with body parts and passions, all became debatable. These topics were repeatedly fashioned and refashioned over the centuries. Subsequently, such doctrines have essentially been set aside in American public discourse. Court rulings during the 20th century separated religious doctrines from government related practice.

America’s “Christian” heritage is now increasingly disavowed in public education, state, and federal institutions. It is an old story with familiar outcomes. Today’s social secularization of education would have troubled Joseph as deeply as did the conflicting creeds of the religions during his day.6 Joseph saw education as a way to honor, not avoid God’s role in human affairs.

This modern transition from a sacred to a secular perspective in western culture was a rerun of a similar change in ancient Greek society. However one may view the imperfect supernatural characters described in the Iliad and the Odyssey—Zeus, Hera his wife, and their twelve children, the gods of Mt. Olympus—they did represent a cultural image of supernatural authority; an image that was ultimately rejected by the intellectual community. The philosophical ideal expressed in Plato’s Republic and the works of other Greek enlightenment theorists moved people away from the concept of Deity as a person. The Golden Age of Greece embraced a new view of authority, a type of secular psychology founded on reason and rhetoric. Basically, it was the notion implied in the Greek word encyclopedia: put your foot in the center of the universe and seek knowledge, in order to admire, appreciate and celebrate the Cosmos. Knowing became the prime educational value. The Sophists, a new vocation of teachers, made a profession of promoting this emerging society. The celebration and appeasement of the traditional anthropomorphic “gods” faded. The idea of “God” was no longer conceived as a person. Greek culture was “modernized.” And the concept of human destiny changed. The new idea of the individual becoming a disembodied transient intellect, capable of fusing with the Cosmic Mind, rather than an eternal embodied personality, flourished.7

Society changed because basic beliefs and education changed. This seems always to be the case.

The new view was exhilarating; secular excitement in Greek culture stimulated admirable temporal achievements that dazzled not only Rome, but ultimately modern Western education. Science, art, music, and a great variety of divergent schools of thought flourished. The power and the fruits of the human intellect were compelling. As a consequence, influential people reveled in the idea that man’s ultimate positive destiny was to abandon his or her personal identity and become one with the Cosmic Mind. It was the Cosmos that was eternal—the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, not the individual. This fit well with the secular mood of that day. It sustained the Platonic notion of philosopher/kings and complemented the science of the day. Knowledge based on reason was the key to this eternal connection; everything else seemed temporary. Crime was possible. People could commit errors. But there was no word for Sin. The idea of a Fall, a Redeemer, an Atonement, or physical Resurrection, simply didn’t fit into the mindset of Greek education or the Roman version that followed (see Acts 17:16-21). The merging of this Greco-Roman perspective with early and late medieval Christianity was indeed philosophy mingled with scripture. The transition from the past to the then unforeseen future was set in motion. An influence that was to tantalize modern education was born.

The seemingly random merging of these two old contradictory world views with the conflicting perspective of the modern post-industrial world has created an indescribable tangle of educational ideas. An intellectual trip through modern educational thought for many, if not most people, creates a distinct feeling. It is akin to viewing an old house composed of multiple and indiscriminate add-ons—a room here and room there. There is a sense of ongoing striving to assemble something from a loose assortment of rather jumbled factors. The clearly documented history makes it evident why such could be the case. The traditions from which most aspects of contemporary education are formed constitute a jumble of ideas and practices that were not derived from, or even associated with, the same basic assumptions. Little wonder that today’s educational edifice looks like it does—a structure without an architect. The resulting sense of existing uncertainty alone, offers a fairly compelling reason for one to wonder how we got from where we came from to where we are now. At least it seems so to me. That is one good reason to consider Joseph Smith’s views.


From There and Then, to Here and Now

The larger historical path that led from the ideological conflicts of antiquity, to the perplexity in Joseph Smith’s day, and on to present-day educational concerns is quite clear. The trek was away from (a) revealed doctrine, principles, and practices through (b) philosophy, logic, and rhetoric, to (c) hypothesis, experiments, and scientific theory. The intellectual divide over which education passed was precarious; it traveled through deep canyons between three great peaks: the Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment. These three monuments to change emerged from the landscape of Western culture during the 15th through the 18th centuries. These striking alterations in the cultural landscape, the results of socially seismic activity, helped fashion the formation of modern education. Reasons for sending children to school changed and changed and changed. So did the nature of their schooling. The various developments created an exciting epoch of both positive and questionable outcomes. Certain basic issues born long ago, however, lived on.

Many positive results appeared. For example, these three great movements sufficiently uprooted autocratic and dictatorial rule, to lay a foundation for individual freedom and a democratic social order. This was new. The leverage for this change was provided by a spirit of personal exploration, a remarkable increase in literacy, and an advanced vision of human transportation. The printing press was invented, explorers seemed to go in every direction, and individuals flexed their capacity to decide for themselves in both religious and secular matters. The real but battle-scarred result was the discovery of a new world, new opportunity for individual growth, and a redistribution of governing powers. A major impetus for these activities seemed to be a pervasive spiritual exhilaration not associated with any particular religious organization.

The Greek influence, among others, was evident; an ancient pattern apparent. It was like a larger than life rerun of her Golden Age (@ 5th century B.C.) As it had before, an energetic Enlightenment gave forth a modern science; an exhilarating Renaissance provided a new humanities; the liberation of a Reformation of protest in personal belief gave birth to a multitude of new religious sects and a powerful urge for civil freedom. Elements of the past became deeply entwined with concepts of the future. The tension lines escalated and vibrated with violence when plucked. Education was hardly equal to the task of establishing order, equity, or justice. The gateways to greater civilized conduct burst open, but people were hardly prepared to do unto others as they would have others do unto them. Temporal prosperity over-ran moral discipline. As it had been, so it was again; flooding freedom carried with it a significant amount of chaotic debris and confusion. The social order grew and expanded as the moral order wobbled with a new form of dizzy indifference. The fresh options in religion, professions, and social relations seemed to invite new forms of apathy.

This was the world into which Joseph Smith was born (1805)—19th century America. In his day the great shift, that moved people away from a belief in a universe created from two building blocks—spirit and matter—to a belief that all reality is simply physical matter, was just an embryonic image in the New World. It was still in incubation. But the stage was clearly set in American culture for the birth of secularism; a monumental transition in the power structure was about to occur. Religionists in Joseph’s day could not explain what spirit was and they did not agree on how to define an abstract God. This deficiency was to prove indefensible in the face of a rapidly changing scientific and technological world. And so the shift occurred during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, first among the academic intellect and subsequently on Main Street U. S. A. Between 1880 and 1920 the transition in thought became comfortable among a critical mass of intellectuals. Control of higher education changed hands. It was now convenient to believe and to teach that creation could be viewed as spontaneous, accidental, evolutionary, or benevolent chance. To the skeptical mind this view was more persuasive than belief in a mysterious, incomprehensible power that fashioned the universe out of nothing.10

Religious instruction and belief in Joseph’s day was poised on the edge of this turmoil. He lived on the cusp of the great change that was destined to spawn a full-fledged secular society in America—a society based on what has been called the secularization hypothesis: the more we learn about the secular, the less need there is for the spiritual. And this brings us back to the issue of authority, which can now be considered within a context that displays greater clarity and appreciation for what Joseph Smith espoused as a Minister of Education. His views were radical to the educators and religionists of his day. Now, two centuries later, they appear even more sweepingly prophetic and perhaps to some frustratingly enigmatic—hard to understand, difficult to ignore. Today’s theory and practice of education is considered by many to be a quivering structure. When placed next to the propositions Joseph Smith put forth, this enterprise fades in comparison, seemingly ignoring crucial issues. Both in its scope of purpose and its vision for learning and teaching, contemporary American education falls dramatically short due to one major flaw: Current educational methods, media, technology, and achievements, admirable as they may seem, increasingly appear out of touch with a viable moral order.11 This breeds uneasiness.

Ironically, much of the good gained by modern society has been lost and remains in jeopardy because moral imperatives were exchanged for ethical relativism. In street language that means there are no absolutes, anything goes if it feels good or if the group says its okay.

Ease of life and a number of positive benefits (motor-driven machinery, the waning of official oppression upon women and children, movement away from politically endorsed slavery, and increased longevity among other things) have been accompanied by various moral cancers. Dramatic and disturbing statistics tell the story. It seems the better off society has become temporally, the worse off it has become morally and spiritually. Overtly manifest in her schools, America is increasingly turning away from God and his purposes. At its core this is the classic educational issue. Does man need God to help him define and sustain a viable moral order? Or, can man do this by his own power? In light of current evidence, the question returns, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) Joseph Smith offered a clear and simple solution.


Joseph Smith’s Tutors

No person can become a truly great educator, without first becoming an effective student worthy of becoming authorized. Joseph learned this lesson early. And the quality of a student’s education is significantly related to the teachers under whom the individual studies—those who empower his or her qualification. Joseph Smith was a focused learner; his deepest desire was to become qualified and perform well. He had an extra-ordinary preparation, as well as remarkable and continuous in-service training. This exceptional instruction is obviously the key to the unique educational enterprise he initiated. In just twenty-four years he laid the foundations and sketched the future pattern for a remarkable teaching/learning institution upon which his successors have built. This was no ordinary venture; it was an endeavor that not only spanned the continents of this world, but extended into eternity. This is why he needed a special faculty to prepare him to be a minister of education—a minister who perceived and pointed toward an expanding program of education as:

  • An Individual Function
  • A Family Obligation
  • A Church Responsibility
  • A State Interest

Joseph was born into a supportive family. Whatever his native talents, they were enhanced by the love and emotional support of his immediate family. The social and financial circumstances of his parents, however, restricted his exposure to formal education. His boyhood schooling was limited or shielded, which ever one chooses to believe. But during his teen-age years, the desires of his heart led him into an unusual and unique personal experience. He sought and received an audience with God the Father, his Son, Jesus Christ, and felt the influence of the Holy Ghost. This experience was followed with numerous tutorials by former prophets and servants of God who had long since passed beyond the veil of mortality. This cadre of teachers constituted the faculty from which he obtained his knowledge and direction. They were individuals with divine commissions to prepare him for his work. Though Joseph sought no personal recognition by identifying himself with his teachers, the records of their influence remain.

Among the additional personalities mentioned who enriched his knowledge were Adam [?Eve]; Seth, Enoch, and Noah; Moses, Elias, and Elijah; Peter, James, and John; John the Baptist, others of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles in the Holy land, and the Twelve appointed Disciples in the New World; Paul the apostle, Moroni, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and apparently many others. These were instructors who understood humankind. They knew the origin, nature, and destiny of God’s children and all that pertained to them. A primary result of this process of preparation was, as Joseph Smith could say to his earthly associates, “I have the whole plan of the kingdom before me, and no other person has.” This was not a statement of braggadocio, it was for him simply a statement of fact. Not only did it reflect his knowledge, it revealed the authenticity of his authority.12 It was an authority he seldom referred to but always seemed to emulate. He didn’t flaunt his credentials, he simply loved and served the people because of them.


Fundamental Propositions

The uniqueness of Joseph Smith’s view on education is rooted in the dramatically different perspective he expressed on the nature of God, spirit, matter, space, and light. His proclamations on these fundamental issues struck like lightning through a dark sky. They still do.

Who or What is God? The discussion of God in America has flourished under a canopy of abstraction. Amidst the conversations appear such phrases as:

  • Unmoved Mover
  • Undefined being with certain described qualities
  • A Mystery
  • Nature
  • The Universe or Cosmic Mind
  • A transcendent influence that created the world but does not intervene
  • Incomprehensible perfect being
  • The human power that transforms thought into action
  • Love
  • A spirit, an essence, without body parts or passions
  • An absentee Landlord

Most of these ideas had been circulating for hundreds of years. None of them were really definitive; applied to God, they are mental abstractions. The terminology offered word symbols but nothing concrete and unifying. They were naming explanations, not explaining explanations. People talked about God. They gave him descriptive names, but who claimed to know who he was or what he looked like? God was a mystery—even to those who proposed to represent him. If there is an eternal God and if it is the key to eternal life to know him, that must be important.

Joseph Smith erased this quandary in simple, straightforward language. He had the answer. He taught what he knew by his own experience: God is a person; he is our Father, the literal father of our spirit bodies. His name is Elohim and he has a resurrected body of flesh and bones as tangible as man. Jesus Christ is his Son, who also has a resurrected body just like the Father. The Holy Ghost is a person, but he does not have a body of flesh and bone—he is a personage of Spirit. They are all separate beings; they constitute the Godhead and all share in the same purpose—bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of all who reside on this earth which they created and maintain for us. Humankind existed as individuals in a pre-mortal estate with God. This information sent shock waves through the theological world that continue to this day. “It can’t be,” the critics cried. Why not? It was only what sacred scripture had proclaimed from the very beginning. (Genesis 1, 2; D&C 130:22-23) “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God” (TPJS, p. 345), said Joseph. This should be the most treasured knowledge of all. What could be of greater value?

What is spirit? The term spirit, frequently used by theologians and early philosophers also come trailing conceptual uncertainty. Spirit is mentioned in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Thought
  • Air set in motion by breathing
  • Conscience, fellowship, and intuition
  • Life, living substance
  • Immaterial, immortal part of man
  • A disembodied soul A supernatural being
  • Energy
  • A disposition of the human mind
  • An organ that receives and contains God the spirit
  • Principle of conscious life
  • The incorporeal part of humans as opposed to matter

Again, there was and is an intellectual reach, but little or nothing to grasp.

Joseph answered the question simply and directly. He said “All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure” than physical matter “and can only be discerned by purer eyes . . . We cannot see it, but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” (D&C 131:7-8, italics added). This concept alone would revolutionize most contemporary education; the implications for perceiving the student and constructing curriculum are immense.

Along with the fundamental questions about God and spirit, Joseph also spoke out on the ambiguity associated with matter, space, and light; issues that also relate to deeper educational concerns. He explained that light from God’s presence fills the immensity of space. And all existence is subject to law. There is no space in which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified. He was given to understand by his teachers that only that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. (D&C 88:34-39) Light is a necessary companion to the truth, and truth is a knowledge of things as they were, as they are, and as they will be. To seek the truth without the light is folly. Light enables a person to understand the proper application of knowledg— which is the beginning of wisdom. (D&C section 93) Concepts like these could and should influence how one views education.

Such thoughts, which were understood by Joseph, could also make the minds of the most gifted physicists and mathematical theorists tremble with curiosity.13 He was taught how God governs and what we should do in response to that divine governance. He revealed how God speaks, what constitutes his voice, how we may hear that voice, and what impact this can have on our personal being. (D&C 88:66-68) Joseph did not proclaim himself an elitist in his educational thought. What he was given, he offered freely to others. All who were willing to qualify themselves could know what he knew. This knowledge was not his creation; it was given to him and his ministry was to share it with all who would accept. In fact, he said this was the purpose of education on this mortal sphere— “to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another,” because “when we understand the character of God, and know how to come to him, he begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to him, he is ready to come to us.” (TPJS pp. 345, 350) His view of education was not restricted to this exalted realm; he connected that lofty view to this earth and the issues of everyday mortal life. In addition to the eternal designs, Joseph proclaimed to his community the purpose of education was to “diffuse that kind of knowledge, which will be of practical utility, and for the public good, and also for private and individual happiness.” 14

Man is Eternal. Joseph was taught not only that God was a person, the literal father of our spirit body—a being we can know and converse with—but that each human being is eternal. Death will not cause us to cease to exist; it will not result in our losing personal identity; rather, it is a doorway to a more exalted sphere of personal opportunity. Not only is this to be the case individually, but it also comes with an invitation to preserve family relationships—husband and wife, parents and children, generation to generation. That which is on earth in its pure and undefiled pattern is and will be in heaven. This was the grand purpose that comprehended the aims of education. Education was to be a means for perpetuating the existence of family relationships in the eternal context. Such vision puts the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic into an entirely new role and elevates the significance of learning to a whole new level. It was an extraordinary perspective then and remains so today.

Man is an agent, free to choose. In the face of “doctrines” that maintained humans were not independent agents free to choose right from wrong such as:

  • Man is a fallen creature, predestined to either heaven or hell by an arbitrary God.
  • People are essentially products of their environment.
  • Humankind is shaped and controlled by genetics, which may be engineered.

Joseph proclaimed another view. He had learned that humanity was, at its very core, unique from the rest of creation. People did not belong to the (a) kingdom of minerals, (b) kingdom of vegetables, or (c) kingdom of animals. Humans were of divine origin, children of God, inherently members of the kingdom of God and potential heirs to all its rewards. Joseph knew there were “things that act and things that are acted upon;” that humanity was created to act, not to be acted upon”—[except] by the law of justice according to the commandments of God. (2 Nephi 2:26.) People are free to act; God has given humankind to know good from evil and has made them free to act according to their own desires. (Helaman 14:30-31) Hence, the most important of all education, was the education of a person’s desires.

Joseph Smith’s doctrine of human agency and freedom can be summarized in eight fundamental statements: (see D&C 93:29-31)

  1. Man was in the beginning with God.
  2. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made.
  3. All truth is independent in that sphere where God has placed it.
  4. All intelligence is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it. We are to act for ourselves in the sphere in which God has placed us.
  5. Our capacity to choose within the sphere in which we are placed to act, constitutes the agency of man; here is where our exaltation or condemnation will be determined.
  6. The condemnation of man is to reject “the Plan” which was plainly manifest from the beginning.
  7. The application and fruition of each of these elements are connected to the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

The attribute and realm of human agency was established to help us develop and fulfill our divine destiny. In a very practical sense, the attribute of human agency trumps everything except eternal Justice (2 Nephi 2:26). For Joseph Smith, these concepts should shape the structure and the function of educational endeavors. All other true educational principles are designed to complement these fundamentals about human nature. They form the very backbone of education, of learning and teaching. Educational strategies and policies that ignore these propositions are destined to produce only a shadow of what otherwise could be. They are the foundation of all other principles and practices of effective education. And they are the framework upon which Joseph built and upon which he instructed his followers to build.

Joseph Smith’s premises flew in the face of the powerful, contradictory, and confusing doctrines regarding human nature prominent in his day: One view proclaimed man to be a fallen creature, evil by nature, and predestined to an awful destruction unless the Creator, by grace, arbitrarily plucked a sinful person from his or her otherwise inevitable destiny of eternal punishment. The opposite view of this dark, human condition was that humankind are intrinsically and inevitably good—because they were God’s creation, and God does not create evil. Any natural human activity, therefore, may be condoned; evil is not a product of nature, it is simply an unexplainable perversion. A great variety of enticing speculations arose between and among the proponents of these two diverse theological propositions. Debates were common.

Joseph addressed the confusion and contradictions with a simple proposition: Mortals are neither inherently evil nor patently good; they are born innocent and become either good or evil by the choices they make and the actions they initiate. He recognized that “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the fall of Adam, and will be, forever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, . . . and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” (Mosiah 3:19). “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). He saw clearly that everyone stands in need of God’s grace. But there are specific obligations connected to that unearned, universally available, but conditional help; we are recipients of God’s grace only as we comply with the requirements prescribed by him. Yes, man’s divine origin was good, but that was not sufficient to overcome the inevitable consequences of personal choice in a mortal estate. It was a matter of freedom and grace, faith and works—not either/or.

In brief, Joseph’s explanation might be summarized in the following manner. Said he, “We know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name to the end, or they cannot” fulfill their promised destiny. The opportunity to accept or reject is before each person, or will be at some time before the final judgment. “We know that justification”—the instruction from the Holy Spirit that enables a person to acquire the characteristics of Godliness, comes “through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ [which] is just and true. And we know also, that sanctification”—the purity necessary to qualify for the Holy Ghost to be our instructor and companion, comes “through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ [which] is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, mind, and strength.” (D&C 20:29-31, italics added).

Joseph knew, as Moses knew, that by the “water [of baptism] ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified.” It is in this manner, according to these witnesses, that people “obtain the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; . . . this is the plan of salvation unto all men.” (Moses 6:60-61, emphasis added.) Just as each individual, in his or her pre-mortal estate, had to meet the conditions established to obtain God’s grace to have the privilege of coming to this earth, so it is necessary to seek, knock, ask, and do what is required in order to enter back into his presence. The issue over grace and works vanished. These fundamental ideas formed the backbone of Joseph Smith’s perspective on education. Every means of education that would contribute to this defined end was enveloped in his perspective of the purpose and nature of education.

One illustration of this practical application is the way Joseph dissolved another common educational disparity of his day. What is social refinement? Sophisticated Europeans viewed Americans as crude, coarse, and vulgar—sorely lacking in social graces. Protestant preachers in America, on the other hand, condemned as vulgar, sinful, and evil much of what Europeans hailed as cultural refinement—dancing schools, romantic literature, and flaunting opulence.

Americans on the Eastern seaboard considered those on the Western frontier as woefully lacking in domestic civility, manners, and education. The division seemed closely related to whether one earned their living by laboring with their mind or with their hands. Joseph avoided these extremes. As a person he was neither crude nor polished. In his view refinement was not centered in external appearances or social graces. The taproot of refinement in human personality was internal desires. Proper qualities of character were the true source of cleanliness, beauty, and deportment in daily life. His exhortation to the Saints was this: “Let honesty and sobriety, and candor and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and meekness, and simplicity crown our heads in every place.”15 This is what fosters propriety in a society. This is the bulwark against hypocrisy that should be built into the curriculum of education at every level.


The Creation, Distribution, and Implementation of Restored Education

Joseph’s initial assignment, once his call to serve had been extended, was to create—to prepare and organize a curriculum.  The sequence went something like this:

  1. He was tutored and then assigned to translate the Book of Mormon. Questions that arose were answered by revelation. The revelations were generally recorded.
  2. He was given authority to organize a Church, receive and administer sacred ordinances, and distribute priesthood keys for others to assist in the work.
  3. He was admonished to clarify the biblical record by restoring many of the plain and precious truths that had been removed by previous generations. This included the translation of some writings on Egyptian Papyrus—the Book of Abraham; and receiving by revelation, a more accurate account of antiquity in writings from the Book of Moses—including an extract from the Book of Enoch.
  4. He was instructed to build temples, keep sacred records, and publish selected revelations that were given to him pertaining to this enterprise.
  5. He felt an increasing responsibility to organize and implement ways to (a) proclaim the truths he received, (b) prepare and improve the circumstances and qualifications of his people, and (c) assist in sharing the knowledge and the ordinances with his followers, their progenitors, and their posterity.

Joseph’s personal possession of this information, plus the command to share it with the world, posed a significant challenge. By 1840 he clearly understood that the Bible, as it had been preserved, was an inspired and powerful moral treatise. He learned much from the Bible and used it to teach his people. It was a very useful instrument to train and sustain good and honorable people; a way to prepare and qualify them for a spiritual, terrestrial lifestyle. This sacred record was a witness that Jesus is the Christ and there is a Gospel, good news for mortals that will guide them to happiness in mortality. It is a record that proclaims the necessity and defines the moral order required to prepare a person for life beyond the grave. It is a marvelous double testament to what is good.

But the Bible without the doctrinal clarification provided by the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the collection of revelations Joseph placed in The Doctrine

and Covenants, and priesthood ordinances applied with proper authority, could not enable people to obtain a celestial lifestyle, the apex of human destiny. There was more to the story than what appeared in the sacred biblical record as it survived through many hands and centuries. Joseph was told by divine messengers, that too many “plain and precious” parts and covenants had been changed or removed (1 Nephi 13:26-29, 32, 34). The Bible in its present form, could only hint at the “mysteries of godliness” (Matt. 13:11; Deut. 29:29). It did not explain these mysteries and their attendant ordinances, or provide the means for man to profit from them. Such authority and information had vanished from the earth. They had to be restored by those persons who last held the keys for the administration and dissemination of the doctrines and ordinances of exaltation. God’s kingdom is indeed a kingdom of order and power. (John 15:16; Titus 1:5; D&C 13:1; 27:12-13; 65:1-6; 132:8)

The burning question for Joseph seems to be, how can I distribute and implement this great Plan of Happiness among the people now that it has been restored? Certain fundamental challenges were evident:

(1) Possessing knowledge is different than sharing knowledge.

(2) The desired learning and teaching must be consistent with revealed content, principles, and practices.

(3) Whatever the course of action, it must be realistic and fit current circumstances.

Joseph knew he had the authority to share the knowledge he had received. The intended scope required to deliver this information to the world, however, far exceeded any process to which he had been exposed in his humble origins. His instructional challenge was how to adapt his efforts to the circumstances at hand, while at the same time continuing to plow new ground— to organize, expand, and refine an ever expanding population. His audience was unable to grasp all he had to offer. His approach of necessity had to be “line upon line, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30; D&C 98:12; Isaiah 28:9-10). People had to be prepared in order to perform and achieve. This required both insight and patience. It was an educational challenge. He had to avoid the temptation of “looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14). He had to honor the very truths and principles he was commanded to share.

The need to educate a very diverse and ever-increasing membership—perhaps 20,000 in just over a dozen years—was an ever-present reality. But this extraordinary growth rate was not the only difficulty. Joseph’s followers suffered extreme persecution. They were driven from three states, New York, Ohio, Missouri, and into Illinois, in less than a decade. Of necessity, the setting in which he had to perform his task was both physically and socially primitive and antagonistic. Such trying circumstances were hardly conducive to formal and systematic learning and teaching. Joseph remained undeterred; he retained his practical unwavering convictions. He spoke with confidence to his people, citing the seemingly “insurmountable difficulties that we have overcome in laying the foundations . . . of a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.” 16

His immediate strategy was simple: teach those who worked the closest to him how to teach others—every needful thing. He organized conferences to discuss issues and establish policies of order. He identified, refined, and created appropriate curriculum. He ordered a printing press and set in motion a flow of information to people inside and outside his organization. He, and those whom he sent forth, sought audiences through other available media —using newspapers, cottage meetings, lectures in rented halls, and lyceum-like instruction. He organized leadership training schools for adults, classes to prepare missionaries, encouraged public and private schools for children, and supported the establishment of a university. He recognized the family as the most fundamental institution.

He organized quorums of teachers to instruct and assist fathers in their homes to foster better training of their children. He created a women’s Relief Society to support the women in serving both spiritual and domestic needs. Youth groups were encouraged to seek moral and character education. He stressed the importance of connecting the strength of families by linking generations and he identified the family as the primary center for fundamental education. Leaders were exhorted to set a proper example of furthering education in their own homes. However modest the extent of these early innovations may seem by today’s standards, they were not common on the American frontier. But these principles and practices were uniquely foundational. They provided an invaluable basis for the mammoth educational enterprise that would follow; an expanding organization rendering service to millions.

The schooling entrusted to this “Minister of Education” had to accommodate interested learners from every dispensation of time—from Adam and Eve to his own day and beyond. True, he had been carefully informed that this task was not his alone. There were multitudes who would participate. Consider the responsibility, however, to establish foundations of both structure and function that could accommodate all who were or would be involved. This task must have seemed ominous to a young man on the frontier of 19th century America. It enveloped all the people who ever lived—included every mortal living upon the earth, all who had suffered physical death but now existed in another spiritual domain, and all those who were yet to be born. Imagine the student body; imagine the faculty; imagine the curriculum he had to consider. The purpose, scope, and location are immense. He was serving as an educational architect of singular significance.

Two major challenges from the very beginning were (a) lack of resources and (b) the educational readiness of the participants. Just because Joseph had the vision, it did not mean the new converts were prepared and ready to understand and recognize how to appropriately fulfill their respective roles. The material resource issue was difficult because of continuous persecution and frequent changes in place of residence. Most of the participants were poor as to the things of this world. Cultural diversity was often an obstacle; newer members came from a variety of cultures and native tongues. The majority had received limited formal education. Many lacked the training and literary skills to make learning easier and faster. Joseph’s people were physically persecuted to such an extent, it was very difficult to acquire the physical and financial means to provide for their own livelihood, let alone generate what most educators would feel were sufficient rudimentary facilities and instructional materials.

Joseph encouraged a basic education for all, particularly in those areas that would increase the people’s capacity to understand and fulfill their personal missions in this life.

Evidence clearly suggests he envisioned the need for five basic elements in the curriculum: (a) the hub of the wheel was moral and spiritual education. Extending outward from this core was a common curriculum: (b) language and the expressive arts, (c) mathematics, (d) social studies, and (e) science. Basic literacy, skills in computation, a knowledge of people, places, and periods of life, as well as the insights to understand the world in which people live, eat, drink, and create was an obvious necessity. The various schools, halls, shops, and skills apparent in Nauvoo demonstrate that this type of education, in a very broad sense, was a central value. He and his people had a mission to perform. This mission demanded the training of hearts, minds, and hands; an objective that demanded persistent and diligent effort. His vision reached far beyond what the world was seeking.

How to respond to such an enormous task with such limited resources became a difficult challenge for Joseph. The pattern he established under these circumstances appears to be twofold:

(1) Do what you can with what you have. This fit the economic realities of a frontier people who understood well the adage, they must learn to make it do or do without, use it up and wear it out, in many aspects of their lives. From the beginning, the basic solution to the problem of resources was defined in the form of a principle: the participant’s voluntary consecration of time, talent and material wealth. It was a gradual compliance, however, based on learning correct principles and allowing individual agency to prevail—not by some compulsory means. And it was the organization and function of the family that formed the center for all the other organizational elements in these educational endeavors. Like a seed, this impetus for learning in order to do what God desires, not just learning for the sake of learning, or making for the sake of gain, grew and continues to grow. He was building an educational philosophy on Hebrew, not Greek or Modern assumptions.

(2) Do what you do with integrity to the truths being shared—not after the manner of the world. This premise was clearly expressed as early as 1831 when Oliver Cowdery and W. W. Phelps, two of Joseph’s more educated associates at the time, were instructed by revelation from God to select and write “books for schools in this church, that little children also may receive instruction before me as is pleasing unto me.” (D&C 55:4). The sharp focus of this task remained intact following Joseph’s death. Minutes of a conference in 1845 show the ongoing concern for developing proper educational materials. The same delimitation set in place a decade before in Kirtland was applied in Nauvoo. The curriculum had to be consistent with the mission—even in the face of another exodus. As the Saints prepared to move west, W. W. Phelps raised the concern in a conference. He said: “There is another piece of business of great importance to all who have families; that is, to have some school books printed for the education of our children, which will not be according to the Gentile order.” (Times and Seasons Vol. 6, No. 16, Nauvoo, Ill., Nov. 1, 1845. p.1015.) Again, the premise is clear; curriculum to support the educational aims revealed to Joseph must be distinctly different than those of the world. Integrity and clarity between educational means and ends is essential and should not be compromised.

Joseph’s vision of an educated people was contagious and many caught this spirit. The local paper in Nauvoo, citing evidence back to the Kirtland era, was comfortable with printing the positive declaration that “the day is not far distant when all nations will marvel at the knowledge and wisdom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . To this end let the Elders that go to the nations prepare accordingly.” (Ibid. p. 1079). Those sent forth were to gather knowledge they felt was useful, as well as to teach a message that was essential. As Joseph’s educational efforts developed, so did the people. Indeed, it was as if a stone had been cut out of a mountain and was rolling forth. (Daniel 2:34). And at the very center of Joseph’s educational vision was the temple—The House of the Lord. It was this structure that was to provide and symbolize the fundamental views, commitments, and expectations of education.


The Temple as a Sacred School

Unique to Joseph’s educational enterprise was the Temple. Here was the point of institutional connection between earth and heaven—both symbolically and actually. Joseph established from the very beginning a hierocentric society—a temple-centered mindset among the adherents, a physical dwelling place for God and his sacred works on the earth. The central idea was that truth and light comes from God, is manifest through individual personalities, and requires individual covenant-making in order to lift man from earthly ways to heavenly ways. Husbands and wives, parents and children are prepared for eternal relationships, associations that will exalt them above the carnal, sensual, and devilish natures so prevalent in a fallen earth and its corruptible societies. At every location where Joseph settled his people, the spiritual order of business was to identify a site and begin to build a temple—a House of the Lord—a place of learning. It was essential that people understand the temple was the center. The circles of learning and teaching implemented must draw people toward—not away from—the temple.

Joseph sensed a fundamental and practical association between the family and the temple that needed to be recognized and established. This connection might be reduced to a simple observation; something like this:

The kitchen table is the symbolic center of the civil order. What happens or doesn’t happen at the kitchen table, will dictate the type of temporal society in which we live.

The temple is the symbolic center of the celestial order. What happens or doesn’t happen at the temple, will dictate the type of eternal society in which we live.

The family, guided by temple instruction and covenants, was the center from which education was to flow. The institutional scaffolding was to sustain and enhance these family- centered efforts. Schools were important, Church organizations essential, and government agencies helpful. But these secondary institutions would be valued according to their capacity to support and protect the family unit. It was the family that had an eternal role to play—not the educational programs established to serve its members. The temporal educational scaffolding was destined to fulfill an important but temporary role. The importance of the family and parental responsibility is critical.17

For Joseph, the Temple was the foundry in which eternal links are forged and tempered. Without temples and the ordinances and instruction that occur therein, the exaltation of individuals, the preservation of eternal family units, and the linking of these units to generations of extended family is not possible. It was necessary, Joseph taught, for people to understand an ultimate aim of education was that

a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times. (D&C 128:18.)

He was adamant about the context in which these marvelous things were to take place and indicated that though the nations of the earth may be at war, the servants of the Lord would lay the foundation of a great and high watch tower. This would be a vantage from which humanity could be viewed from an eternal perspective. It would enable the Saints to recognize that in spite of outside persecution, and some difficulties with certain attitudes of a few Church members, the work would progress. Then he made this statement:

Even this nation [the United States] will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the Constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the staff upon which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction-Then shall the Lord say: Go tell all my servants who are the strength of mine house, my young men and middle aged etc., Come to the land of my vineyard and fight the battle of the Lord-Then the Kings and Queens shall come, then the rulers of the earth shall come, then shall all Saints come, yea the foreign Saints shall come to fight for the land of my vineyard, for in this thing shall be their safety and they will have no power to choose but will come as a man fleeth from a sudden destruction. (Joseph Smith, July 19, 1840, Ms D 155 Box 4, Church Historians Office. Bold print added; source also cited in Glen Leonard Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise (2002), p. 303)

Joseph also mentioned that some of his friends would turn against him and seek his death. He exhorted the Saints to build up “cities of the Lord” and invited them to join him in constructing a temple at Nauvoo, expressing the hope that he would live to see its completion (a desire not fulfilled in mortality). The focus on a temple, as it had been in Ohio and Missouri, was now launched in Illinois July 19, 1840—only months after the Saints began to arrive on a swampy peninsula at a bend of the Mississippi river. These physical circumstances punctuate this view of Joseph’s conception of education. It was fundamental, extraordinary, and temple- centered.

Now brethren, I obligate myself to build as great a temple as ever Solomon did if the Church will back me up, moreover, it shall not impoverish any man but enrich thousands . . . and I pray the Father that many here may realize this and see it with their eyes, [stretching his hand towards the place on the brow of the hill] and if it should be the will of God that I might live to behold that temple completed and finished from foundation to the top stone I will say-Oh Lord it is enough, let thy servant depart in peace which is my earnest prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus, Amen. (Ibid.)

In the same discourse, Joseph addressed additional educational matters, suggesting that although the temple was the center of his thoughts there was more; “school houses shall be built . . . and high schools shall be established . . . and many . . . even noble men shall crave the privilege of educating their children . . . with us, which hold the keys of entrance into the Kingdom.” (Ibid.)

Homes, schools, and universities offered preparation in temporal skills and knowledge. But the education which linked families together, generations to each other, and earth with heaven was to be obtained in the Temple. All roads that lead to the life God lives, goes through the doors of His Temples. There are no exceptions. He has many other kingdoms for those who choose a different life, as Paul the Apostle stated and as Joseph Smith was taught. (I Cor. 15:40- 42; D&C 76:89-92.) Jesus shared this same observation with his disciples while he was on the earth (John 14:2). It was this perspective that pushed Joseph to pursue the educational paths that he did. His effort was to bring to pass the purposes that had been placed before him. And, in the final weeks of his life, he passed the responsibility and the authority to build on the foundation he laid to those who would follow in his stead. In March of 1844, Joseph conveyed full authorization to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles to lead and direct in the affairs of all he had initiated. Prior to his death, he said, “I roll the burthen and responsibility of leading this Church off from my shoulders on to yours . . . for the Lord is going to let me rest awhile.” Collectively, the authority then resided in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they held the office next in succession to care for all matters pertaining to the Kingdom after Joseph’s death. (Glen M. Leonard Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise (2002), p. 260)

It was no accident Joseph Smith was born at second light—during the sunrise of American freedom.18 Through him, a shining light now filtered slowly over the shadow-land of a largely incarcerated world. Under the favorable conditions of this free nation; he struck the burning flame of restored truth, an act destined to illuminate a millennium with miraculous education. In Joseph’s mind, the future was not in mortality; the future is through mortality into eternity. His labors represent a work in progress. So, what educational actions due to his initial efforts have transpired since Joseph’s day? A few examples of such activities would be a fitting way to conclude this essay.


Building on Foundations Laid by Joseph Smith

Much has been written and much more could be written to describe what has transpired in the two centuries since Joseph Smith Jr., the greatest American educator, established his mark. This monograph cannot envelop so large a task; the volume of information is far too immense. The very nature of the project would require multiple volumes and a great deal more talent, time, and resources than this writer possesses. What is doable is to illustrate, with the briefest outline, the nature of the superstructure now operating on Joseph’s foundation. Of necessity this, too, will be limited. There is much more to the story than the time and space allotted this essay permits me to review.19

The selected outline that follows does not provide information regarding extensive international programs now functioning in the form of week-day religious education programs, colleges, a university with multiple campuses, and a multitude of auxiliary organizations servicing a wide range of humanitarian concerns. Likewise, it does not mention the thousands of wards and stakes, hundreds of missions, and numerous welfare operations based upon Joseph Smith’s foundational principles. But an insightful illustration of Joseph’s influence is depicted in the attention now given to the educational needs of the various age-groups drawn to the message Joseph Smith delivered. His educational doctrine and aims are clearly reflected in the mission statements or goals established for each age group. When one compares these aims or goals with the worldly educational enticements currently marketed in our culture, the validity and wisdom of Joseph’s work is evident. The stark differences appear in all forms of media, malls, and texts. Documenting this rather well-known story is a topic for another discussion. Here, the focus remains on the ongoing influence of Joseph Smith’s efforts to guide his people through a confused and disorderly world.

Assessable Values

Joseph was a great educator because of the breadth and depth of his vision, and the integrity and practicality of his approach. His form of education is uplifting, motivational, and life changing. It has endless scope and cohesiveness. The breadth of his curriculum is simply extraordinary—addressing physical, mental, moral, and spiritual needs. The activity required is empowering to those who sincerely participate. The nature of the entire enterprise is ongoing and not subject to a single personality for its continuation. The curriculum makes sense to those who embrace it and gives people a structure of knowledge that transcends the highs and lows of mortal life. And Joseph’s educational impetus is withstanding the test of time and relevance. The foundation of Joseph’s teaching now sustains succeeding generations with an uncanny form of protection against the pitfalls of life. The system is self sustaining and offers both rebirth and renewal to anyone who wants to learn, feel and do.

Assessable Values compared to Worldly Views

The following charts depict how the Church Joseph organized now acts to protect the family and each age-group connected with it. Each chart identifies specific goals, values, doctrines, and principles relevant to a particular age-group or audience. Opposite each of these statements is a brief description of precepts now promoted in the counter-culture that lead people in a different direction than the one Joseph Smith was taught to proclaim. The differences are self evident.

Chart # 1: Goals established to serve children—ages 3-12

Chart # 2: Goals established to serve young women—ages 12-18

Chart # 3: Goals established to serve young men—ages 12-18

Chart # 4: Goals established to serve adult women

Chart # 5: Goals established to serve adult men

Chart # 6: Official Declaration on the family

The cumulative message of these outlines is clear. Discussion can illuminate the circumstances, but the point to be made is simple; reflected in each of these programs is the genius of an educational vision and footprint established nearly two centuries ago. Consider the scope of this type of schooling that today remains remarkably relevant and incredibly expansive —all by a young man who carved out of a crusty frontier environment an intellectual and spiritual blueprint that is still developing. The positive consequences initiated by this young man are difficult to overemphasize; the number of individuals whose lives that have been impacted are nearly impossible for a person to enumerate. When one considers the evidence, it is easy to recommend an answer to the question in the title of this essay. Surely, Joseph Smith Jr. deserves the recognition of being recognized as the greatest American educator.


Children-Ages 3 to 12

Church Instructional Focus Alternative Views
Teach children they are children of God. Teach children they are the sole product of biological evolution.
Help children learn to love Heavenly Father & Jesus Christ. Help children learn to love toys, parties, possessions, recreational activities, and popular electronic games
Help children grow in their understanding of the gospel plan of happiness. Help children grow in their desire to be socially popular, successful at school, and accepted in the neighborhood.
Help boys prepare to receive the priesthood & be worthy to use this power to serve others. Help boys obtain physical and intellectual skills that give them access to recognition, possessions, power, and leisure.
Help girls prepare to be righteous young women who understand the blessings of the priesthood, temple, and service to others Help girls prepare to attract the attention of boys and to use that attraction to fulfill their desires for love and security.
(Church Handbook of Instructions, Bk. 2) (Popular Culture and Marketing Concepts)

Young Women

Ages 12-18

Church Instructional Focus Alternative Views
 Faith Embrace the Atonement of Christ. Embrace the popular culture; have high expectations; hope to be lucky.
Divine Nature Develop God-given talents and qualities.  Seek admiration, acceptance, and control by emphasizing physical and psychological attributes.
Individual Worth Use personal talents to fulfill your divine mission. Experience popularity and a sense of importance; emphasize sexual attraction; exhibit personal superiority-not inferiority.
Knowledge Seek knowledge by faith and by study. Achieve in school and at work in ways that generate wealth, power, and control.
Choice and Accountability Do what God wants and accept the consequences.  Do what you want-regardless-and if its legally wrong, don’t get caught.
Good Works Build the kingdom of God by obeying his commandments; willingly serve others. Do whatever brings personal benefits, rewards, power, and gratification.
Integrity Act consistent with right, not wrong, as revealed by God and his servants. Act consistent with right and wrong as determined by your personal desires or your peer group.
Home & Family Develop the disposition and commitment to strengthen the home and family.  Ignore the home and family whenever they interfere with personal desires, pleasures, or goals.
(YW Values)    (Popular Culture and Marketing Concepts)

Young Men

Ages 12-18

Church Instructional Focus Alternative Views
Become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Become converted to objectives and activities that bring recognition from peers and personal gain to your-self and selected associates.
Magnify the Aaronic Priesthood and its callings. Improve your acceptance, influence, and security; find a satisfying niche among your peers, male and female, whatever the cost.
Give meaningful service to others. Provide service to those who serve you and who can benefit your personal interests and goals.
Prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Prepare to receive the rewards and benefits that come from increased recognition and influence; exercise the power necessary to retain control of these advantages.
Commit to be worthy of and serve an honorable full-time mission. Commit to those activities that sustain your personal interests and make your life more comfortable, pleasurable, and secure.
Live worthy to receive temple covenants and prepare to become a worthy husband and father. Live in a manner that commands respect and attracts those who can gratify your social appetites and physical desires.
(Mission of the Aaronic Priesthood) (Popular Culture and Marketing Concepts)

Relief Society

Adult Women 

(Church Handbook of Instructions, Bk. 2)(Popular Culture and Marketing Concepts)

Church Instructional Focus Alternative Views
“We are beloved spirit daughters of God, . . . women of faith . . .” who: Women are oppressed . . . they should recognize:
“Increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.” Christianity is folklore, prayer is psychological, and scripture is myth.
“Seek spiritual strength by following the prompting of the Holy Ghost.” The physical body generates all mental energy; it is simply physical matter acting on matter.
“Dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.” Marriage is optional, families are temporary, and homes are incidental to personal desires.
“Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.” Motherhood is a burden; womanhood is defined by maximizing personal pleasure.
“Delight in service and good works.” The value of seeking self-satisfaction, gender privilege, and combating male chauvinism.
“Love life and learning.” The power and significance of fashion, personal recognition, and equality.
“Stand for truth and righteousness.” Keys to success are self-assertion, social tolerance, and situational ethics.
“Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth.” Authority resides in the individual; group demands may be honored as necessary.
“Rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation.” There is no scientific evidence of life after death; eat, drink, and be merry is the pathway to happiness.

Melchizedek Priesthood

Adult Males 

Church Instructional Focus Alternative Views
We are sons of God, our eternal Father– invited participants in the blessings and responsibilities of the Abrahamic covenant who: Men are confused about their proper role in a changing society. They must strive to be politically and socially correct and recognize:
Seek to worthily hold and exercise the Melchizedek priesthood and uphold the oath and covenant associated with that priesthood. Power and authority are fleeting; it is necessary to compromise and learn to work the system in order to be successful.
Strive to become self-reliant sufficient to provide for a wife and children-physically and spiritually; by precept and example share righteous instruction, support, and refuge from harm and evil. Temporal success comes sooner by learning to share in the wealth and power already possessed by others; this is accomplished faster and easier by avoiding legal or contractual family obligations.
Build the kingdom of God on the earth by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ-including personal temple covenants. Building a large estate, becoming wealthy, and achieving early retirement requires total personal dedication; get whatever you can, from whomever you can, as cheap as you can, as soon as you can.
Sacrifice for and serve those in need by following the Lord’s plan and the leaders he calls to preside. The objective of power, wealth, and possessions is for pleasure, leisure, and personal gratification. Marriage and families are optional and secondary.

Honor all women as sisters of divine origin; assist them in righteously fulfilling their purposes on this earth and in eternity.

Women are biologically necessary; they may be useful, and can contribute either success or failure depending on their interests, attitudes, disposition, and talents.

Engage in redeeming those who died without a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Life beyond death is questionable; do not let myth interfere with logic and reason.
 (Church Handbook of Instructions, Bk. 2)  (Popular Culture and Marketing Concepts)

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

The statements in column one are quoted from the Proclamation.

Column two cites views strongly advocated by many in contemporary society.

Proclamation Statement Alternative View
Marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God. Marriage between “consenting adults” is both traditional and optional. It is a personal matter.
The family–father, mother & children–is central to human destiny. The family–“a group of people living together”–can be socially convenient but it may also be supplanted.
All human beings–male and female– are created in the image of God. All human beings are mammals that evolved by natural selection from simpler life forms and are formulated by chemically based genetic codes.
Each human being is a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and destiny. Each human being is a physical organism–the sole product of genetic and environmental histories.
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. Gender is an arbitrary characteristic derived from biological urges and socialization.
In the premortal realm spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their eternal Father and accepted his plan of progress and fulfillment. There is insufficient consensual evidence to support the premortal existence of human life. “Science affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces.”
The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. There is no personal life beyond one’s mortal existence. “We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. . . . Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful.”
Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be reunited.  “We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfillment of the human race. . . Institutions, creeds, and rituals often impede the will to serve others.”
We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. “. . . orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized.” “There should be no criminal restraints on any homosexual behavior or public solicitation for private sexual behavior between or among consenting adults of the same sex.”
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Cohabitation without legal ceremony, responsibility or the encumbrance of children is valid and useful; it is an expression of personal rights that may foster optimum satisfaction.
Husbands and wives–mothers and fathers will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these duties (i.e. to provide for their [children’s] physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens. Parents or the government should provide children with food, shelter, clothing and education sufficient to make them contributing members of the society.
The family is ordained of God. Families are temporary social conveniences.
Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Matrimony is a social tradition and children may be conceived and given birth with or without this tradition depending on individual choice.
Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Happiness in family life is relative and is most likely achieved when the needs of each person is met in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity.
Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. Successful marriages are based on mutually accepted patterns of communication, sexual activity, division of labor, and sufficient financial resources to satisfy personal values.
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. There are no set gender roles in families; it is a matter of personal preference, mutual acceptance, and convenience. To stipulate specific roles for the man or woman is unacceptable.
Extended families should lend support when needed. Once children become of age or leave the home they are on their own. The government is responsible if they need assistance.
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. There may be some social standards but these are relative, not absolute. There is no supernatural dimension to life. “There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body.” “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society. “To enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies.” “The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized.” “A civilized society should be a tolerant one.” We should “not prohibit by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults.” “The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered ‘evil’.” “Short of harming others . . . individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their life-styles as they desire.”
  1. Samuel A. Prior, “A Visit to Nauvoo,” Millennial Star IV, #7, (Nov. 1843), pp. 105-108
  2. See Joseph Smith’s History in the Pearl of Great Price. This account describes in his own words his appointment to teach the people. There are many volumes written about the subsequent evelopments that followed this initial commission.
  3. Shown below are examples of educators who have adopted different positions along these divergent continuums and the four flex-models of education they represent. It is evident to those who work in the field of education that fundamental assumptions influence how people view learning and teaching and how they structure the schooling that will occur. (Additional explanation is available in N. J. Flinders Teach the Children chapter 7 and Appendix A.)
  4. Joseph Smith endorsed the belief that, “We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. We believe that no governments can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” (D&C 134:1-2). It is evident that Joseph believed institutions exist to serve the individual; people are the end, organizations are the means to that end and care should be taken not to confuse the two.
  5. John Dewey A Common Faith, pp. 48, 51
  6. Joseph Smith clearly understood the warning that was issued by God regarding America as a land of promise. “And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fullness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fullness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity. . . .And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fullness come, . . . Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.” (Ether 2:9-12)
  7. The story of the Greek influence on early Christianity and later western education is long and tangled. It involves the shifting views attending the Greek Enlightenment (500-300 B.C.) and the merging of Greek philosophy with a struggling Christian population following the death of Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles. An extensive examination of these matters can be found in: History of the Church, vol. 1, Introduction (written by B.H. Roberts); Friedrich Solmsen Intellectual Experiments of the Greek Enlightenment in which he notes that “The result was a psychology established on a purely secular basis, with no need for divine causation.”; all of Werner Jaeger’s Early Christianity and Greek Paideia, 1961, particularly pp. 30, 90; Augustine’s Confessions and On Christian Doctrine; P.E. More Hellenistic Philosophies, 1923; The Anti Nicene Fathers (9 volumes); W.H.C. Frend The Rise of Chrisitanity, 1984; J. L. Barker Apostasy from the Divine Church, 1960; Edwin Hatch The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, 1957; Hugh Nibley The World and the Prophets, 1960.
  8. Medieval Christianity developed a philosophical theory of creation known as ex nihilo, meaning out of nothing. The popularity of Greek Platonic philosophy in the schools of the third and fourth centuries created a number of serious doctrinal conflicts. Among these were (a) The nature of creation, (b) God not having a physical body, and (c) the impossibility of a physical resurrection. Consider three examples: (1) Because matter was considered corrupt (imperfect), it was unthinkable that God would have created the world from physical elements. Thus Augustine would write, “God made all things which he did not beget of himself, not of those things that already existed, but of those things that did not exist at all, that is, of nothing . . . For there was not anything of which he could make them.” (St. Augustine, Concerning the Nature of God, ch. XXVI.) (2) Because matter was considered corrupt, it was unthinkable that God would take upon himself a physical body. Therefore, the early church fathers would write, And if God is declared to be a body, then He will also be found to be material, since every body is composed of matter. But if He be composed of matter, and matter is undoubtedly corruptible, then according to them, God is liable to corruption.” (Anti-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 277.) (3) Because matter was considered corrupt it was unthinkable that God would provide that man be eternally united to a resurrected body. So, Celsus would argue, “Who beheld the risen Jesus? A half frantic woman, as you state, and some other person, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion, who had either dreamed so, owing to a peculiar state of mind, or, under the influence of a wandering imagination, had formed to himself an appearance according to his own wishes, which has been the case with numberless individuals.” (Celsus, see Origen, “Against Celsus,” ii 55, A.D. 170) Note also that “Many who reject the traditional belief in a corporeal resurrection . . . find a mediating position . . . [in the] theory . . . of a ‘spiritual resurrection’.” (J. R. Dummelow Bible Commentary, p. cxxvi).8 Joseph’s position confronted both of these options with a viable alternative. And he states this position with an incredulously simple clarity.9In contrast to these three positions, Joseph Smith wrote: (1) Regarding creation, “We [the gods] will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these maydwell.” (Abraham 3:24) “Now, the word create . . . does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; . . .God had materials to organize the world . . . which is element . . . which can never be destroyed; they may beorganized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.” (Teachings of theProphet Joseph Smith, pp. 350-352; see also D&C 93:33.) (2) Regarding God having a physical body, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.” (D&C 130:22). (3) Concerning the resurrection,” . . . notwithstanding they shall die, they shall also rise again . . . [and] receive the same body Joseph Smith, pp. 350-352; see also D&C 93:33). (2) Regarding God having a physical body, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.” (D&C 130:22). (3) Concerning the resurrection, “. . . notwithstanding they shall die, they shall also rise again . . . [and] receive the same body which was a natural body.” (D&C 88:27- 28).
  9. The popularity of modern secular philosophy in today’s schools has, like those in medieval times, created equally serious but almost opposite doctrinal conflicts. Three examples are:

    (1) Because modern thought defines existence as monistic—that physical matter is the only building block in the universe, it is unthinkable that man also has a spiritual body. The psychologist John Watson, arguing against man having a supernatural dimension, wrote, “One example of such a [false] concept is . . . that every individual has a soul which is separate and distinct from the body. . . .[but] no one has ever touched a soul, or has seen one in a test tube, or has in any way come into relationship with it as he has with the other objects of his daily experience.” (John B. Watson Behaviorism, 1924. p. 4).

    (2) Because modern thought defines existence as monistic, it is unthinkable that “God” can be anything more than a property of physical matter, or that a spirit demon (the Devil) could exist. John Dewey, the famous American educator, explained “God” in these words, “What I have been criticizing is the identification of the ideal with a particular Being, especially when that identification makes necessary the conclusion that this Being is outside of nature, and what I have tried to show is that the ideal itself has roots in natural conditions; it emerges when the imagination idealizes existence by laying hold of the possibilities offered to thought and action . . . . It is the active relation between the ideal and actual to which I would give the name ‘God.’ I would not insist that the name must be given.” (John Dewey A Common Faith, 1934. pp. 48, 51). Albert Einstein added his supportive perspective when he said, “The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events, the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him [the informed thinking person], neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events. . . . In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God.” (Albert Einstein Out of My Later Years, 1950. pp. 29-33).

    (3) Because modern thought defines existence as monistic, it is convenient to attribute to physical matter (and the social environment derived from it) the responsibility for social evil. The psychologist B. F. Skinner taught, “In the traditional view a person responds to the world around him in the sense of acting upon it. . . . The opposing view—common, I believe, to all versions of behaviorism—is that the initiating action is taken by the environment rather than by the perceiver. . . . the environment stays where it is and where it has always been— outside the body. . . . There is no place in the scientific position for a self as a true originator or initiator of action.” (B. F. Skinner About Behaviorism, 1974. pp. 72-73, 225). “After the reign of Henry VIII in England many sinful acts were formally declared to be not only immoral but illegal . . . Making what were once dealt with as sins into crimes rendered the designation of sin increasingly pointless . . . . Gradually the effects of ‘the new psychology,’ . . . began to be apparent . . . some crime was being viewed as symptomatic. Sins had become crimes and now crimes were becoming illnesses; in other words whereas the police and judges had taken over from the clergy, the doctors and psychologists were now taking over from the police and judges.” (Karl Menninger Whatever Became of Sin, 1973). The results of this transition is obvious; you do not punish people for being sick because of exposure to a faulty environment or a malfunctioning nature—even their own nature. Morality was redefined as ethical relativism. The environment or genetics became the cause of behavior; the individual was deemed legally less and less responsible for his or her behavior.

    The teachings of Joseph Smith reject the foregoing propositions. He taught, (1) the universe is composed of two building blocks—spirit stuff and physical or temporal stuff. “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy.” (D&C 93:33). (2) Regarding God and the Devil, Joseph foresaw the time when people would ” deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel, and [would] say unto the people; . . . hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men.” (2 Nephi 28:5). Likewise, he noted, concerning the Adversary, that “he [the Devil] saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none. . . . thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence, there is no deliverance.” (2 Nephi 28:22). (3) As to the moral consequences of these doctrines, Joseph proclaimed “The children of men . . . are redeemed from the fall, they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.” (2 Nephi 2:26). “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (2nd Article of Faith). Morality is doing what God says is in the best interest of his children.

  10. See HC 5:139; Joseph Smith History; John Taylor JD 21:94; D&C 128:20-21; 110:1-16; Truman Madsen, Joseph Smith The Prophet, p. 44; D&C sections 13; 27); H. Donl Peterson in his article “Moroni,” cites 59 different personalities who appeared to Joseph Smith or were seen by him in vision. 
  11. Joseph’s view of reality, knowledge, and value was not of the academic variety. He observed through the medium of revelation how the seen and unseen dimensions of existence function. He reported on what he saw, described aspects of these operations, and used that knowledge to discern truth from error without presuming to proclaim these insights as a vocation to be marketed. Divine revelation is not bound by the limitations of reason and empirical experiment and Joseph did not subject his knowledge to those forms for the purpose of gaining acceptance. Modern theorists continue to wrestle with the enigma: What is real? How do we know? This search, understandably, goes on. Contemporary views of the macroscopic and microscopic domains of existence have emerged through many participants seeking the truth. Historical figures like Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Maxwell, Einstein are familiar names to those who strive to obtain a theory that explains everything. Astronomers and Astro-physicists now speak and write of planets, solar systems, galaxies, and meta-galaxies. They talk of Black Holes and Dark Matter, Light Years and Cosmic Webs, and Novas and Super Novas. Others who probe the tiny building blocks called cells, speak and write of molecules, atoms, neutrons, electrons, quarks, and now strings that presume a multi-dimensional—six or more—existence in which people and things may dwell. As we pass through the pre-modern, modern, and post-modern epics of man-made theory, it is apparent that human knowledge is soft and every changing. We would like to know and know for sure, but that security seems to be just out of reach without divine assistance. Joseph Smith bridged that gap and invited others to follow. The more people understand what he proclaimed, the more intriguing his knowledge becomes.
  12. Times and Seasons, vol. 2, January 15, 1841, p. 274.
  13. Dean C. Jesse, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p.397. 
  14. Times and Seasons, vol. 3, May 2, 1842. p.776. emphasis added.
  15. The day the Church was organized the basic principles and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ were introduced. As early as 1831, less than two years after the Church was organized, Joseph made clear the basic unit of the Church was the family. He recorded and proclaimed the will of the Lord pertaining to parents: “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.” Also emphasized in the same instruction was the fact that parents were accountable not only for teaching their children (1) faith in Christ, (2) repentance, (3) baptism for remission of sins, and (4) the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost, but they were also to (5) teach their children to pray, (6) walk uprightly before the Lord, (7) keep the Sabbath day holy, and to do this (8) while accepting and magnifying their callings in the Church. (D&C 68:25-30.) This information was delivered with an admonition to the leaders in the Church to set their own houses in order by complying with these instructions. (Ibid. vs. 31-35.) Fundamental as the doctrines of faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands are in the Bible, it seems that no other single denomination in Joseph’s day believed in and practiced all these principles. Some sects embraced one or more but not all. See also, THE FAMILY: A Proclamation to the World issued by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Sept. 23, 1995) for a statement re-affirming Joseph Smith’s teachings.
  16. The First Great Awakening (1735-1743) is well known. The trigger that released the American Revolution could well have been the impetus of this period of religious revival. American colonists were motivated to establish their right to separate the Church and State sufficient to allow the citizenry to create or embrace the church of their choice among other issues related to individual agency. The Second Great Awakening (1815- 1830) is also well known. This revivalist fervor spawned an intense debate over Free Will and Predestination (Determinism). The Bible emerged as being more fundamental than church structure and a sense of an immanent Millennium emerged. The stage was set for the impending battle between traditional Christian belief and modern secular philosophy, which flowered during the 20th century and rages on to the present day.
  17. What one must not lose sight of, is that Joseph Smith’s educational influence moved West with the Saints. His foundational principles and policies nurtured in Nauvoo continued to shape the nature of educational goals wherever the Church has been established. A lucid, explicit example is manifest in the Articles of Incorporation written for the Association formed to build the Manti, Utah Temple. This document of June 26, 1886 was signed by John Taylor, George Q. Cannon and forty eight other men from the Temple District. Article Two in part reads: “The objects of said incorporation, are religious, scientific, social and educational, as well as for the practice of religious ceremonies and sacred ordinances, and not for pecuniary profit. It being the purpose of the incorporators to found and maintain a place for the administration of religious ordinances and a school of science in a Temple at Manti, Sanpete County, Utah Territory, for the practice of religion and for the promotion of learning and scientific knowledge, said school to include departments devoted to Theology, Astronomy, Mathematics, History, Languages, Laws, Natural Science and all other principles of true knowledge pertaining to the growth of infidelity which pervades so many departments of science as now taught, we enter into this agreement with the distinct understanding that nothing shall ever be taught in said school of science which will throw doubt upon the existence of the Supreme Being, or that will detract from His glorious majesty, or that will lessen in the least degree most exalted faith in His divine doctrines.” Although subsequent growth and development in the Church permitted the building of educational facilities separate from the Temple, the principles and philosophy established by Joseph Smith has remained foundational in the Church. Sometimes a few members struggle with his premises due to their excessive allegiance to secular influences. Most, however, resonate with John Taylor’s revealed witness, that it is “in these houses [temples] which have been built unto me” that I the Lord will reveal “. . . those things pertaining to the past, the present, and the future, to the life that now is, and the life that is to come, pertaining to law, order, rule, dominion, and government, to things affecting the nation and other nations; the laws of heavenly bodies in their times and seasons, and the principles or laws by which they are governed, and their relation to each other, and whether they be bodies celestial, terrestrial or telestial, shall all be made known, as I will, saith the Lord.” (Revelation given to President John Taylor, Logan, Utah May 16, 1884. Church Archives.)
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