January, 22, 2016

Fostering Self-Governance


By Anna Hawkes

A defining feature of Karl G. Maeser’s teaching and administration was the concept of self-governance. He wanted to emulate the prophet Joseph Smith, whom he said “taught his people correct principles and they governed themselves accordingly.” He put this into practice by following the idea that “whatever can be done by the pupils, the teacher should never do himself.” Students helped with many things, including establishing order in the classroom and assisting in religious learning.

It was a senior student’s responsibility to prepare the class for the teacher’s lecturing. Some of the tasks associated with the responsibility were to organize the desks, call role and announce the subject of that day’s lesson. Before beginning his lesson, the teacher would ask, “Class in order?” to which the student would respond as appropriate. Only after a response to the affirmative would the formal learning begin. The role of the senior student was fundamental in creating a successful classroom environment.

Students were also selected to act as “repetitors”. Once a week the students of Brigham Young Academy would meet to discuss what they had been learning in their theology classes. The repetitors would facilitate the experience, allowing it, as one BYA teacher observed, to become “a free-for-all discussion . . . which did more to arouse interest and rivet conviction than ten times the amount of passive listening would have done.” The repetitors were expected to exemplify BYA standards and be able to identify and meet the needs of the students in their groups. These students played an important role in facilitating spiritual growth and finding ways to help students meet their needs.

The students who attended Brigham Young Academy were driven and determined to make the most of their time there. With Maeser’s focus on self-governance, those students found greater success than most. I hope we can follow that example and be more self-motivated in our own progress as students here at BYU. We have all the resources we need—let’s use them to make a difference!

(All citations are from the gallery)

“The Brigham Young Academy,” Deseret Evening News, April 25, 1879, 2.

Mary John’s record of Maeser’s remarks in “Minutes of Priesthood Meetings Held in Brigham Young Academy, 1879–1881,” typescript, October 19, 1880, 24, in Priesthood Records of Brigham Young Academy, 1879–1881, UA 70, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

  1. Karl G. Maeser, “The Monitorial System,” Juvenile Instructor 36, no. 5 (March 1, 1901): 153
  2. Karl G. Maeser, quoted in Alma P. Burton, Karl G. Maeser: Mormon Educator (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1953), 54–55,[link] paraphrasing John Taylor’s quotation of Joseph Smith in “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star 13, no. 22 (November 15, 1851): 339: “ I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”[link] See also Jeffrey R. Holland, “Nailing Our Colors to the Mast,” devotional address, Brigham Young University, September 10, 1985, 3.[link]