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
"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
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