“A Message from the Commissioner,” New Era, Oct. 1973, 6
A Message from the Commissioner
In the academic year 1973–74, the Church Educational System will, in nearly 50 countries, serve 305,000 individuals in regular instructional programs, plus thousands more in continuing education, education days, Know Your Religion series, etc. Since the enrollment in the Church’s university and colleges has largely stabilized, most of the numerical growth in the system is now occurring in the realm of religious instruction. Indeed, the Church board of education has encouraged a heavy emphasis on religious education in view of the unique contribution the Church can make in this regard without, of course, diminishing from the academic programs that have served so many so well over so many years.
If one were to look at the major indicators of what is underway in the Church Educational System, he would see in the home study seminary program a rapidly growing new delivery system or approach to religious education. This program emphasizes individualized study of the gospel assisted by volunteer tutors with periodic meetings with student peers. One of the long-term advantages of this approach to gospel learning is the increased probability that students will continue the pattern of individualized study of the gospel throughout their lives. Now, alongside the home study seminary program, there will be the self-instruction institute program. This, too, is a low cost, highly effective, and highly portable program that is adaptable to the varied and scattered situations in which college and university students find themselves, providing yet another link between these individuals and the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ.
Another major development is the increasing number of non-American Church members who have assumed leader and teacher roles within their own cultures in the Church Educational System. A global gospel makes this development not only desirable, but necessary.
In tandem with the aforementioned indicators is the increased effort to customize the curricula in the Church Educational System to meet the needs of those in the cultures being served, including a heavier emphasis on education that is related to the world of work as well as to the life of the mind.
Even though no expansion is contemplated in post-secondary institutions within the Church Educational System, increasing efforts are being made (with some significant success) to serve more students more effectively by better utilizing faculty and facilities. Notable among these efforts is the new academic calendar at Brigham Young University that will permit thousands more students to be served there, and yet with an overall enrollment limit of 25,000 students as set by the First Presidency. A similar adjustment in the academic calendar has been made at the Church College of Hawaii.
Carefully arranged pilot programs are under way at Ricks College in an effort to increase student skills in the use of the English language, involving students who are below average but who are well above average at the end of their involvement in this pilot program. At the same college another pilot project, featuring the application of the gospel to daily life and to the world of work, shows similar promise.
Of importance, too, is the increasing link-up between the Church Educational System and the many Latter-day Saint scholars who serve with distinction outside the System. These talented individuals are important just as are the 90 percent of the Latter-day Saint collegians who are enrolled in colleges and universities outside the Church Educational System.
The system is moving in the direction the Brethren have approved. It is not likely, for instance, that very many more elementary or secondary schools will be constructed, and such few as may be will be established only where adequate and accessible schools are not available to Church members. The Church Educational System does not desire to duplicate existing systems of education.
In 1879, on the occasion of laying the foundation stone of the Manti Temple, President John Taylor said:
“You will see the day that Zion will be as far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters. You mark my words and write them down and see if they do not come to pass.”
One expression of the distinctiveness that President Taylor foresaw could be the extra value attached in the Church Educational System to key truths. The gospel of Jesus calls our attention to the reality that there is an aristocracy among truths; some truths are simply and everlastingly more significant than others! In this hierarchy of truths are some that illuminate history and the future and give to men an illuminated view of themselves—a view that makes all the difference in the world. This distinctiveness can be achieved without diminishing from the important search for truth in the traditional patterns of scholarship.
The secularism that touches so many in western civilizations and elsewhere constitutes one of the major challenges to which the Church Educational System seeks to respond. Secularism tends toward hedonism; it emphasizes a life-style focused on me and now, whereas eternalism focuses on us and always. The gospel of Jesus Christ also provides purpose and motivation as well as truth for one’s life. Sincere secularism can sometimes move men from heroin to methadone, but eternalism can move men to abstinence. Surrounded as we are by a sea of secularism we must look to the gospel of Jesus Christ to supply answers concerning what have been called the why and why not questions concerning human behavior. Without proper moral education, as one writer has observed, “… ‘Why not?’ ceases to be a question at all. It is becoming a kind of answer.”1 In such a setting the wisdom of our modern prophets in stressing religious education makes celestial sense.