Lighting Fires in Flandreau
March 1973

“Lighting Fires in Flandreau,” Ensign, Mar. 1973, 60

Lighting Fires in Flandreau

The inscription on the main entrance to Brigham Young University reads: “The World Is Our Campus.“

To Carol Herrick of Flandreau, South Dakota, those words are more than idealistic etchings on an ivory tower. Jillian Woodhouse from England agrees. So do Navy submariner Robert McAllister, Salt Laker Dee Smith, American housewife Mary Lichfield, who is with her husband in South Africa, and RaNae Baros, a Page, Arizona, mother of five.

Some 75,000 other people can be added to this list—people who perhaps have never been to Provo, but who have been inspired by the testimony of a dynamic BYU religion professor, or have heard lectures by a teacher of child guidance who bases his opinions on gospel principles. Add these people and you have the difference between a world campus and a walled college, the difference between influence and isolation, and, most important, that elusive but vital substance that gives significance to our slogan.

Taking the intellectual and inspirational resources of BYU to places like Page, Arizona, and South Africa, and to people like Miss Herrick is the prime responsibility of the Department of Home Study at BYU, a division of continuing education that has been serving students on and off campus since 1921. The home study program offers more than 400 college and high school-level courses by correspondence. General subject areas include such diverse subjects as accounting, agriculture, art, biology, business, child development, communications, English, literature, foreign languages, teacher education, math, history, sociology, youth leadership, religion, and drafting technology.

University-level courses may be taken on a credit or noncredit basis, and credit may be earned toward graduation at BYU or at most other accredited institutions. High school courses are also accepted by most high schools for graduation credit.

A student may register at any time by mail or in person and may take up to one year to complete each course.

Even with the geographically limitless potential of the home study program and its present measure of success, it would not, by availability alone, insure the indelibility of the university’s “world campus” inscription. Other schools offer correspondence courses; other colleges promote extension classes and off-campus opportunities. But at BYU there is a difference: few schools, we suspect, receive responses like the following:

“I took Religion 211x (the New Testament) from you last summer,” Carol Herrick wrote from Flandreau in her own distinctively youthful vernacular to her BYU instructor. “I really grooved on it! The comments you wrote on my corrected lessons were really helpful and I was super-impressed with the spirituality that came through all the way from Provo to Flandreau! That’s 1100 miles!”

Some may contend that when the recipient is an enthusiastic young Latter-day Saint who “misses BYU” and the course is religion-oriented, it might be relatively easy for the “spirit” to travel 1100 miles. Enthusiastic response to BYU home study courses is not, however, limited to the young nor to members of the Church. Two years ago a 70-year-old nonmember in Maine enrolled in an art course and became so impressed with the kind manner, genuine interest, and concern of her BYU instructor that she asked that LDS missionaries be sent to her home.

Even more dramatic is the story of the young prison inmate who, by his own admission, nurtured a bitter grudge against society and believed the world owed him a living, so that when he burglarized, he was merely taking what belonged to him. Studying by correspondence from behind bars, this man received new insight when he enrolled in a BYU course in drafting technology.

“I had worked steadily on correspondence courses for several months,” he later recalled. “Occasionally I would be working on two at the same time, but there was one certain course that I never wanted to end. … The professor under whom I was taking the course from BYU was such a nice guy. We really got to know each other with lessons to and from. … I had no resentment toward this man, but rather admiration. …

“The thoughts of this man were very warming to me. I was extremely impressed. But what was this? How could I strike back against this? How could I justify this? What kind of people were these?”

This seemingly unlikely candidate for conversion, prompted by the kindness of a man he had never seen, eventually found the answers to his questions and continued to study after his release from prison and was later baptized.

In 1876, when President Brigham Young charged Dr. Karl G. Maeser with the responsibility of establishing a church school, he phrased the monumental statement that has become the keystone of Brigham Young University’s instructional policy.

“I want you to remember,” he said, “that you ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.”

Nearly one hundred years have elapsed since Dr. Maeser went to Provo to implement President Young’s charge. Critics may question the practicality of placing spirituality first in the space age. Many of those who view the system with doubt do so, not because they disagree with the Church’s teachings, but rather with its timing. They see something incongruous about test tubes and testimonies.

Perhaps the key difference between BYU and its critics is perspective. For the university, it extends to Mary Lichfield in Africa and to RaNae Baros in Arizona, or to anyone else who will take the opportunity. The Savior said: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.)

Brigham Young University focuses on that goal, and through programs like home study its effectiveness is multiplied. “It extends the teaching privilege,” says Dr. Roy W. Doxey, dean of the College of Religious Instruction at BYU, a man who has taught literally thousands by correspondence.

If the teaching privilege is extended, so is the learning privilege—all the way to Flandreau, South Dakota, a distance of 1100 miles. It can also penetrate prison walls, and that’s sometimes a lot farther!

Parents, teachers, and persons in all walks of life throughout the world can obtain a free catalog and enrollment information by writing to the Department of Home Study, 210 HRCB, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84601.

  • Sister Larson is an editor-writer for the Department of Home Study, Brigham Young University.