By DAN DELLENBACH
From its humble beginnings, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s education system has developed into the world’s largest adult education curriculum.
In the 1913 General Conference, Nephi L. Morris said of the LDS Church’s programs, “It is primarily a system of education. ‘Where ignorance abounds, Mormonism thrives?’ It is exactly the reverse. The main strength of Mormonism lies in the intelligence of its members, and every institution in the church aims at their education.”
Since its restoration, the LDS Church has developed many programs to educate members.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, Education, outlines the history of church education: “In the early pioneer days, most schools in Utah territory were LDS Church schools, and religion was an integral part of the curriculum.
“With the increasing diversification of Utah’s population and the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, which had the effect of prohibiting the teaching of religion in public schools, the church looked for other means of assuring spiritual instruction for its young people.”
The LDS Church responded by forming its own educational systems, separate from the state.
Between 1890 and 1929, the church sponsored special religion classes conducted in ward meetinghouses for children in the first to ninth grades in a movement that was the “first effort of the Mormons to supplement (but not to replace) secular education;” it was “America’s first experiment in providing separate weekday religious training for public school children.”
The first Church Educational System program was organized in 1888 with Wilford Woodruff as its president.
In 1890 John Taylor and George Q. Cannon said, “Our children should be indoctrinated in the principles of the gospel from their earliest childhood. They should be made familiar with the contents of the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.”
“As an increasing number of LDS youth began to attend public secondary schools, church leaders recognized the need to provide a religious curriculum to complement regular secular studies. In 1912 the church began building seminaries on church-owned property adjacent to public high schools, where students could take a daily class in religion,” according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Church Educational.
Three paragraphs from Volume 2 say, “This endeavor grew into the Church Educational System, which consists of several levels.
“First is seminary; a daily religious education program held in a seminary building near the school for grades nine through twelve that provides for the study of the Book of Mormon, Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine and Covenants/Church History.
“Second, institutes of religion adjacent to campuses serve students enrolled in post-secondary programs by offering religion classes, usually scheduled twice a week to fit in with college schedules.
“Third, the church sponsors four institutions of higher education: Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah; Brigham Young University in Laie, Hawaii; Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho; and the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. In addition, in Mexico and the Pacific, the church sponsors seven elementary schools, 13 middle schools and nine secondary schools that provide both secular and religious training.”
The LDS Church reorganized the CES in 1970, naming Neal A. Maxwell, former political science professor and current apostle, as the commissioner of education.
Elder Henry B. Eyring now serves in this capacity.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Today we sponsor education through a vast Church Educational System — seminaries, institutes, colleges, a university and one of the largest adult education programs in the world,” in his book, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson.
President Benson then quoted Joseph Smith’s dedication of the Newel K. Whitney store, saying, “We maintain this worldwide educational program for the all-important purpose of preparing ourselves ‘as messengers of Jesus Christ, to be ready to do His will in carrying glad tidings to all that would open their eyes, ears and hearts.'”