From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Cranney, A. Garr
LDS theology places great importance on the acquiring of knowledge. This knowledge includes not only religious truth but truth in the sciences, arts, and humanities as well (TPJS, p. 217; D&C 131:6). Congruent with that value and throughout its history, the Church has established and operated numerous schools and universities to provide educational opportunities for its members.
Comprehensive higher education is offered at Brigham Young University (campuses at Provo, Utah; Laie, Hawaii; and Jerusalem, Israel) and Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. Correspondence study is also available at the secondary, college, and adult education levels through Brigham Young University. The LDS Business College in Salt Lake City offers postsecondary instruction in business and related fields. Full-time primary and secondary schools currently are owned and administered by the Church in the South Pacific and Mexico, providing education to approximately 10,000 students.
In the Pacific islands, two high schools, one large elementary school, and four meetinghouse elementary schools are operated in Samoa, two high schools in Tonga, one technical college and one elementary school in Fiji, one high school in Kiribati, and the Church College of New Zealand in Hamilton. Initially established to provide an educational opportunity for the Maori people, the college in New Zealand presently is a high school with college preparatory courses. Local teachers are hired on a full-time basis, and in a few cases full-time missionary couples with educational experience also provide instruction.
In Mexico City, the Benemerito campus offers secondary education (the last two years are college preparatory) and is the largest of all primary and secondary schools in the Church (2,300 students). The Juarez Academy in Juarez, Mexico, provides a high school education, and is the only remaining academy of those established between 1875 and 1911 (see Academies).
The Church's schooling enterprises arose in response to concerns over the secularization of the schools, the need for trained teachers for public schools and trained leadership in the Church, LDS youth's participation in other denominational schools, and youth leaving home for their schooling. The establishment of schools, and subsequently an educational system, drew the Church into a relationship with state public school systems in the United States. This relationship divides into five periods:
ORIGINS (1830 - 1846). Educational efforts were hampered by frequent and difficult moves from New York to Kirtland, Ohio, to Missouri, to Nauvoo, Illinois, and finally, to the Great Basin. As was customary in the frontier, most education was provided at home by parents teaching their children the basic skills of literacy and a general understanding of the scriptures and religious values. As early as 1831 efforts were made to collect and write books for schools (D&C 55:4); subsequently, some formal schools were established. Most prominent among these was the School of the Prophets, established first in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1833, involving fewer than twenty-five adults in instruction intended to prepare them for religious missions and other assignments. Subjects taught included geography, English grammar, Hebrew, literature, philosophy, politics, and theology. Later, in Illinois in 1841, a system of LDS common schools and the University of the City of Nauvoo were established under the direction of the University of Nauvoo Board of Regents. Tuitions and a basic child and adult curriculum were established, but the program's objectives were largely unrealized as persecution forced the families to move to the West.
EARLY UTAH PERIOD (1847 - 1869). The first schools in Utah were conducted in tents and log huts. At the outset, schools were taught by private teachers who advertised, charged fees, and gathered a few students around them. The university of Deseret was established in 1850 in Salt Lake City to train teachers for schools; however, it survived only two years because few could afford to pay tuition. For the next twenty years, schools throughout the state were held primarily in Church meetinghouses, loosely organized on ecclesiastical lines, sparsely financed by member tuition, and sometimes by Church supplements, or local tax funds in the late 1860s. Church leaders encouraged parents to send their children to school and pay the tuition, usually a few cents per week. The children, however, often worked with their families on farms and ranches and could attend classes only intermittently. Church-state relationships were not an issue because no government-sponsored territorial school system existed at the time. The curriculum reflected Church belief. Most materials, however, had to be imported from the East, and teachers generally lacked formal credentials. Often they were only slightly more knowledgeable than their students.
PROTESTANT-MORMON RIVALRY (1869-1890). The period was initiated with the establishment of St. Mark's Episcopal School in Salt Lake City in 1867. Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and Congregationalists soon followed with their own schools, especially after the completion of the railroad in 1869. Their object was not only to serve their own people but also to convert the Latter-day Saint children attending their schools, although few were converted. Many LDS students did attend, however, because the quality of education they offered was often superior to what Latter-day Saint residents could provide in their own schools. The establishment by non-LDS territorial school officials of a tax-supported public school system in 1890 with its prohibition of sectarian religious teaching and administration initiated the demise of de facto Church influence in most of the schooling. For a time afterwards, the Church sought to maintain its own school system by establishing secondary school academies modeled after the Brigham Young Academy. Eventually, however, other sources of education became available, the expense of providing education became prohibitive, and the Church relinquished its efforts to provide a comprehensive system of education for all its members.
ESTABLISHMENT OF SUPPLEMENTAL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION CLASSES (1890 - 1953). The Church initiated a policy of providing released time religious instruction concurrent with the regular offerings of the state public education system. Beginning in the 1920s, Church academies, or high schools, were either discontinued or turned over to the state. Some academies that had achieved junior college status were sold to the state in the 1930s.
GROWTH AND EXPANSION (1953 - 1990). During this period, seminaries and institutes were established in all fifty states and many foreign countries. Much of this growth was realized because of decisions not to build additional universities or junior colleges, and to endeavor to establish schools where educational opportunities could not be provided by the local government. Currently owned schools were maintained only until the time that local government could assume responsibility. Schools in Indonesia, Chile, Tahiti, American Samoa, and Mexico were closed as improved public school programs became more available to members of the Church in those countries. In 1965, the Church schools outside the United States administratively became part of the Unified Church School System. Presently, the schools are administered separately from the institutions of higher education.