Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Too much education damaging

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Did Brigham Young think that too much education was damaging?

A FAIR Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims

One Nation under Gods, page 271 (hardback and paperback)

  • Did Brigham Young state that too much education would be damaging to children? Young had stated:

We should never crowd and force the minds of our children beyond what they are able to bear. If we do we ruin them for life."

Author's Sources

Endnote 55, page 572 (hardback); page 570 (paperback)

  • Brigham Young, cited in Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 5:536 (journal entry dated 1 January 1861). ISBN 0941214133.

Question: Did Brigham Young claim that too much education was damaging to children?

Brigham was giving instruction on the building of schools

Brigham said:

Concerning the Education of Children I will say that not withstanding the drivings of this people I do not believe that you can go into any City in the world & pick up 100 Children promiscusly and put them by the side of our Children that are as well educated as the same number of our Children gathered up promiscusly in the Territory of Utah. There are some people & Countries who force & whip their Children into an Education but we should never Croud & force the minds of our Children beyond what they are able to bear. If we do we ruin them for life. I would rather my children would spend their Early life sliding down Hill, skating, riding Horses till they were 20 years old & not go to school one day than to clog & force the mind while young with intricate studies. It strains & cripples the mind for life & ruins the man. You never see a child that is Confined while young to Close rooms & hard study & followed up to manhood that ever becomes a master spirit or qualifyed to transact difficult business in after life (emphasis added).

Brigham was highly in favor of education; he was not, however, in favor of "whipping," "forcing" or "confining" young minds and bodies "beyond what they are able to bear"

In this sense, he was well in line with what educational thinkers and reformers of the 19th century were saying: the historian Kenneth Gold has pointed out, the early educational reformers were also tremendously concerned that children not get too much schooling. In 1871, for example, the US commissioner of education published a report by Edward Jarvis on the "Relation of Education to Insanity." Jarvis had studied 1,741 cases of insanity and concluded that "over-study" was responsible for 205 of them. "Education lays the foundation of a large portion of the causes of mental disorder," Jarvis wrote. Similarly, the pioneer of public education in Massachusetts, Horace Mann, believed that working students too hard would create a "most pernicious influence upon character and habits....Not infrequently is health itself destroyed by over-stimulating the mind." In the education journals of the day, there were constant worries about overtaxing students or blunting their natural abilities through too much schoolwork.

The reformers, Gold writes:

strove for ways to reduce time spent studying, because long periods of respite could save the mind from injury. Hence the elimination of Saturday classes, the shortening of the school day, and the lengthening of vacation—all of which occurred over the course of the nineteenth century. Teachers were cautioned that 'when [students] are required to study, their bodies should not be exhausted by long confinement, nor their minds bewildered by prolonged application.' Rest also presented particular opportunities for strengthening cognitive and analytical skills. As one contributor to the Massachusetts Teacher suggested, 'it is when thus relieved from the state of tension belonging to actual study that boys and girls, as well as men and women, acquire the habit of thought and reflection, and of forming their own conclusions, independently of what they are taught and the authority of others."[1]

For an extensive analysis of Brigham's positive views on education, see Hugh W. Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints (Vol. 13 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by Don E. Norton, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994), chapter 15-16. ISBN 0875798187. direct off-site direct off-site


  1. Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008), 253–254.