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For week ended February 06, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Utah history always involves Mormonism
Ogden UT Standard Examiner 5Feb00 N6
By Loretta Park: Standard-Examiner Davis Bureau

OGDEN, UTAH -- In 1948 the Supreme Court prohibited the teaching of religious courses in public schools. Mike Barton is a seventh grade history teacher at Kaysville Junior High, who believes teaching just about any event in Utah history forces religion into the classroom. "But teaching 'about religion' and its role in history is permissible," Barton said.

His recent course of study, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, has caused many parents to speak up about religion and history in the classroom. The Mountain Meadow Massacre occurred in 1857, when 120 Arkansas and Missouri immigrants arrived in Utah when local residents were preparing for battle with Albert S. Johnston's Army of 2,200 soldiers. There was a report of a Mormon leader who was killed in Arkansas at the time. Rumors that the Arkansas immigrants were bragging about the murder and also treating local Paiutes and Mormons with contempt sent tempers raging.

While Mormon leader Isaac Haight dispatched a horseman to Salt Lake City to seek advice from Brigham Young, Haight, John D. Lee and other members of the militia joined the Paiute men at Mountain Meadows. Tricking immigrants into believing they would be escorted out safely, all of the men, women and children were killed, leaving 18 children orphaned. Barton is aware that his students may not be comfortable with the topic of massacre, but teaches that it was something that shaped Utah. He discusses it without sugar-coating it, avoiding it or discussing LDS doctrine.

Diane Grisby of Syracuse has a seventh grader, a black student, who does not talk much about what she is learning in her Utah history class. Grisby, who grew up in Utah, knows her daughter is getting a heavy dose of Mormon history.

"I don't think you always have to bring up Mormonism. There were all kinds of Utah pioneers...there is a lot of Utah history that isn't taught from other ethnic perspectives. I'd love Erica to know what roles other races played in Utah history and I know that's not covered. I'd like her to know what her race contributed to Utah history," Grisby said.

Deanna Hardison of Layton says she has no problems with what her seventh grader is learning in her studies of Utah history. "In Utah the history is based on the pioneers. They established the communities," Hardison said. Hardison is aware that teachers need to be sensitive of those students not from an LDS background. "They are teaching respect as well. They are very cognizant of the fact there are many backgrounds in their classrooms," she said.

Students watching the video of that terrible day 150 years ago, learn that it wasn't just the Mormon's fault or the people in the wagon train's fault. A combination of factors brought about the terrible events at a time when Mormon's feared the outside world. "Everybody blames everybody. It happened. It embarrassed us. It was a stain on Mormons for years," Barton told students. Proving his point, he shows students a cartoon drawn on April 27, 1904, labeled Mountain Meadows Massacre. It depicts one of the reasons to be different groups wanted to keep Utah senators out of Washington, D.C., in the early part of the 20th century. Barton knows that some students would rather he didn't discuss polygamy, but "it's history. It's the main reason why it took Utah so long to receive statehood."

While Barton was a teenager in 1964, his Utah history teacher refused to talk about the Massacre. "He said, 'There's been too much said about this. I won't teach it.'" Dr. Gene Sessions, a professor at Weber State University, remembers his own junior high history class resembled "a Sunday School class." "I have seen a dramatic change in the way Utah history is taught. We are much more sensitive to other groups." Sessions, a university professor for 25 years, explains to his students that they will examine Utah's history "agnostically."

Clara Bigler, a recently retired teacher from North Layton Junior High, told students that just because they talked about Mormons didn't means she was trying to convert them. "You just can't skip parts of it, like Joseph Smith and his vision. You have to understand what motivated people to walk, 1,000 miles and endure hardships to get to Utah," she said.

Two-thirds of North Layton's students are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kaysville Junior High has the majority belonging to the LDS Church. Winnie Lippold and Sheryl Goodrich, fourth grade teachers at Centerville Elementary School, said that when teaching Utah history, they try to teach about the historical events with tolerance for everyone. Goodrich was challenged only once when a parent requested she teach Utah history without mentioning the Mormons. Goodrich asked the parent to review the curriculum and that helped the parent change their mind.


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