Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
This lesson is all about the value of education, both secular and spiritual, a duality suggested by the key phrase “by study and also by faith” (which also happens to be the title for the two-volume Nibley Festschrift). Certainly translating that duality of approach into practical terms would be one possible approach to take in this lesson.The Olive Leaf (D&C 88) famously called for the building of a temple in Kirtland:
119 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
Note the anaphora (rhetorical repetition at the beginning of successive clauses, in this case “a house of X”) suggests a progression: prayer, fasting, faith, learning, glory, order, God. Learning was to be an integral part of worshiping God at this House of the Lord. And it is in this very context that this institution, that is to play this role of educational arm of the temple, the School of the Prophets, is chartered.
The salutation for members of the School has always reminded me of the Priestly Blessing (cf. Number 6:22-27):
132 And when any shall come in after him, let the teacher arise, and, with uplifted hands to heaven, yea, even directly, salute his brother or brethren with these words:
133 Art thou a brother or brethren? I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant, in which covenant I receive you to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever. Amen.
Members of the School also received the ordinance of the washing of feet.
The idea of a “school of the prophets” had ample precedent, both in the Old Testament itself and among the leading universities of the day, such as Harvard and Yale. The Mormon version of such an institution (sometimes called by the alternate name “school of the elders”) began in Kirtland in 1833. This institution would have various iterations in Kirtland and Missouri, and would be resurrected in the west, continuing until 1884.
One of the things that has always fascinated me about the school is the fact that it included secular, academic subjects, and not just theology (or what we would think of as missionary preparation). I in particular am interested in the Hebrew School taught by Joshua Seixas. I have hanging in my den a poster put together by Ron Romig, which on one side has pictures of the books used at the school, and on the other has an actual Hebrew worksheet completed by the Prophet. (Here is the certificate Seixas gave him upon completing the class.) Joseph had had very little formal education–even less than Jethro Bodine’s famous sixth grade schooling. This is not surprising, given that in his youth his family were poor, itinerant farmers, but it was a lack in his life that Joseph felt keenly. My (subjective) impression is that the time Joseph was able to spend in actual learning in the Kirtland school represented the happiest time in his life. He was passionate and motivated in his studies; his desire to learn and joy in the results were palpable.
My father was a professor of education, and education was very important to him, a value that I absorbed from his influence. I love that the Church formally places a high value on education. (Commentary on the Perpetual Education Fund might be an appropriate angle for this lesson as well.) But here we return to the duality we started with: by study and also by faith. How do we negotiate that in practice? What about our legion of graduate students in various religious studies fields in the academy; how does faith enter into their work? That is a big, big topic, and I’m going to encourage you in the comments to tell us what that means to you.
Another topic broached by the lesson is the idea that we should continue to learn throughout our lives. Most of us are beyond our university educations; how do we continue to make ongoing learning a meaningful part of our here and now? Again, I am going to pose the question here and ask you to respond it it in the comments below.
 Joseph F. Darowski, “Schools of the Prophets: An Early American Tradition,” Mormon Historical Studies, Spring 2008, vol. 9 no. 1, pp. 1–13.