Schoolchildren in England and Wales are required to study history up until the end of “Key Stage 3″ (age 14). They can then choose to study history as an optional examination subject at GCSE (16) and A-level (18).
One of the GCSE courses in history (there are several run by different exam “boards”) includes the study of Mormon history. As part of the “History A (Schools History Project)” syllabus, OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations) offers a component on “The American West.” Mormon history is treated alongside the Indians, the pioneers, homesteading, and the railroad.
Here are some sample examination questions for the Mormon component, with examples of high-standard answers:
(a) What were the main beliefs of the Mormons?
Valid points include: the gold plates tell the true story of the lost tribes of Israel, Mormons was (sic) descended from the lost tribes, Smith was led to the plates by God, God told him to start and lead the Mormons, the Mormons were the chosen people of God, polygamy, gentiles were inferior, only Mormons would be saved.
(b) Why were the Mormons so unpopular when they lived in the east of America?
“The Mormons were unpopular because a bank they owned collapsed. Lots of people who were not Mormons had their savings in the bank and they lost all their money. It was not the Mormons fault, lots of banks were collapsing but the Mormons got the blame.” [Extra points for more specific reasons: “polygamy, their success in business, … they kept themselves to themselves, they looked down on gentiles and disapproved of how they lived, Smith planning to run for President.” ]
(c) The following were all equally important reasons why the Mormons were so successful: (i) the leadership of Joseph Smith; (ii) the leadership of Brigham Young; (iii) polygamy.’ Do you agree with this statement? Explain your answer, referring to (i), (ii) and (iii).
“I think it is impossible to say who was the more important out of Smith and Young. Young started the movement and was responsible for it growing very quickly. He gave the movement its basic beliefs and was an inspirational leader. However, he made the mistake of introducing polygamy which did the Mormons a lot of harm. So Young’s influence was not all good. Also when he died the Mormons were in crisis in Nauvoo. They were under attack and were being hunted down. It was Young who saved them by coming up with the idea of moving to the Great Salt Lake where they would be away from everybody and would be left to themselves. So both Smith and Young made important contributions. The Mormons needed both of them.”
I imagine most Mormons will be delighted that Mormonism receives a treatment in English schools. Note, however, that certain “errors” seem to have crept in to the examiners’ marking scheme:
- “the gold plates tell the true story of the lost tribes of Israel” — Not quite right: only the descendants of a few bands of Israelites who came to the Americas (plus the earlier “Jaredites”) are described in the book.
- “Mormons was (sic) descended from the lost tribes” — Does this mean Mormon was descended (sort of), or Mormons were descended (wrong).
- “gentiles were inferior” — This is a loaded statement with some truth in it, but there needs to be some nuance.
- “only Mormons would be saved” — Saved from what? From destruction at the Second Coming? From hell? Again, a strong case can be made that Mormons have never believed in such an absolute doctrine.
- “Lots of people who were not Mormons had their savings in the bank” — Weren’t the Mormons themselves the main investors in the KSS?
- “Young started the movement” — I think this is a typo, or a student mistake that was sensibly ignored.
- “However, he made the mistake of introducing polygamy which did the Mormons a lot of harm” — Not so much an error, but a statement that is crying out for further evaluation. One should note, however, that this is something a 16 year-old student is supposed to come up with. Grumble not .
 History A (Schools History Project), Specimen Mark Scheme Paper 1 (component 13), Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations
An account of how Mormon history ended up on the curriculum was told by a British teacher, Bryher Pennells, at the Vermont MHA conference. I am not yet familiar with the whole story. Were these sessions recorded?