FYS 100, section 50
15 December 2015
“How did the early Mormon leaders, such as Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, emphasize the importance of education in their society?”
Fred Smoot, a United States Senator, provides an account of his Mormon upbringing in Utah, which reveals that the early Mormon leaders emphasized the importance of education through their teachings and through the establishment of schools. Early Church leaders, such as Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, sought to educate the Mormon faithful on both religious and nonreligious subjects because they believed that this type of education best prepared their followers to achieve success in their secular jobs and in the Mormon community. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints, often spoke about the relationship between faith and intelligence. The Church of Latter-day Saints established and maintained schools throughout Utah and other western territories that had considerable Mormon populations. The early Mormon leaders emphasized religion through the their message and the construction of schools in order to create a community that could prosper in both secular and religious matters.
Mormon leaders, such as Joseph Smith, taught that intelligence was a necessary component in salvation and in faith (Smoot). Smoot quotes Joseph Smith’s various teachings on the connection between education and faith. In one teaching, Smith proclaims that an ignorant person cannot attain salvation, and in another teaching, Smith states that a man who acquires a great amount of knowledge on earth will have a significant advantage in the afterlife (Smoot). These teachings emphasize the importance of knowledge in the Mormon faith. Smoot also cites the fact that Utah, which has a large Mormon population, was one the best states educationally in the United States as evidence of the Mormon’s emphasis on a well-educated society. Smoot noted that a Mormon education creates people who are knowledgeable on both religious and secular matters, which allows the Mormon society to be able to function with the rest of the citizenry of the United States; Mormons could succeed at both their secular jobs and their religious responsibilities. Smoot claims that early Mormon leaders emphasized education and its importance in Mormon society through their teachings (Smoot).
The early Mormon leaders also emphasized the importance of education in their society through the construction of schools that taught Mormon theology as well as secular subjects. Smoot writes that the Church of Latter-day Saints established and funded multiple schools throughout Utah and other territories with Mormon populations in the mid to late nineteenth century. He states that his father helped Brigham Young establish the Brigham Young Academy, now known as Brigham Young University, in Provo Utah in 1876 (Smoot). In Smoot’s opinion, the schools were a manifestation of Joseph’s Smith’s teachings on the importance of education on earth and in the afterlife. Smoot recounts his experiences at the Brigham Young Academy during the 1870s where he studied ordinary branches of learning in addition to Mormon theology. Smoot states that he and his classmates examined the Gospels of Christ and the Book of Mormon, which, in his opinion, contributed to an atmosphere of religious zeal at the school (Smoot). He believes that his education provided him with various advantages in his professional and religious jobs; therefore, he proclaims that his education has reaffirmed his Mormon beliefs. Smoot’s profession as a United States Senator serves as evidence that a Mormon education prepares students to not only be leaders in their religious community but in the secular world as well. Smoot’s account of his Mormon upbringing suggests that the establishment of Mormon institutions ensured a well-educated and highly religious population that could flourish in both secular and religious settings.
The actions and teachings of Church leaders like Brigham Young and Joseph Smith demonstrate that they believed that education was an essential part in establishing and maintaining a utopian society. Smith and Young’s sermons on the importance of education in achieving salvation motivated their followers to ensure that they would receive an education and would support the construction of schools. A religious education was especially important in the Mormon community because their society was built around the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If members of the community were not well educated on matters of their faith, it would be easier to persuade them to leave the community and renounce their faith, which would jeopardize the community’s existence. Their religious beliefs provided them with a common identity that could cause them to unite in the face of adversity. A secular education was also essential in ensuring the success of the Mormon community. Mormons needed to be able to establish businesses and farms, so they could maintain a sense of independence and not have to rely on the rest of the United States for all of their goods and services. Economic struggles could have motivated members of the community to leave and could have caused the society to collapse. As more non-Mormon settlers arrived in Utah, the Mormon community needed leaders who could appeal to not only the Mormon community but to the rest of the population in order to maintain the Mormon’s political power in Utah. Smoot serves as an example of a leader who was able to prosper outside of the Mormon community; in the article, he attributes his success as a politician in the federal government to the education he received at the Brigham Young Academy (Smoot). Brigham Young and Joseph Smith’s actions and words revealed that a religious and secular education was indispensable for their society’s survival.
Smoot’s account of his Mormon upbringing demonstrates the methods the early Mormon leaders used to ensure that their society was well educated on both religious and secular matters. The Mormons needed to be educated on both secular and religious in order to guarantee that their society could survive. Through their teachings and the construction of schools, Mormon officials were able to maintain an educated faithful that helped preserve the Mormon community.
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Smoot, Reed. “Why I am a Mormon.” Forum, October 1926.