This article originally appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of Pioneer Magazine.
By Mary A. Johnson
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
And drinking largely sobers us again.
The above quote from Alexander Pope in his An Essay on Criticism reminds us that learning is an ever-growing search if we want to become truly learned and that there is danger in settling for little bits of knowledge.
The folk adage, “Too soon old and too late smart,” expresses this idea in another way. Then there are those who say that when they were 18 years old, they wondered how their parents could be so ignorant. However, by the time they reached age 50, these same folks marveled at how intelligent their parents had become. Perspective on knowledge and ability is a changing factor, depending upon the situation at hand. It seems that one generation looks back on another as if the earlier one lived in the dark ages and the present one is fully informed. In reality, however, a trip through the Pioneer Memorial Museum can make one realize just how intelligent and capable the generation of Utah pioneers were and how informed they were about every facet of life.
A visit to the manuscript room in the museum shows the value these early settlers placed on religious learning. The pages of the religious texts are well worn. Truly, the knowledge and dedication these people had concerning the relationship between God and man was great.
Also in the manuscript room are maps and plats of the Salt Lake City area, laid out in its well-ordered way People educated in city planning marvel at Brigham Young’s ability to create such a well-ordered plan. Then there were the artists, the makers of furniture, the photographers, the musicians, the seamstresses, and others who were the learned people of the day It’s evident from the works left behind that they were extremely knowledgeable about their fields of expertise.
A study of the pioneers reveals the importance that they placed on education. Wherever a community was established, one of the first things organized was a school. There was night school for men; there were afternoon gatherings for women; there were formal classes for children. Schools were established in Nauvoo, in Council Bluffs, in Garden Grove, and every community settled in the territory. There were schools to study religion, schools to study languages, schools to study medical- related subjects, and training sessions for other subjects.
Yes, there is greater knowledge about many subjects today than there was in the days of pioneer. In fact, there has been such a proliferation of knowledge in the past 50 years, it is almost impossible to comprehend the new things that have come forth. Yet, while the scientific age has exploded, the moral education has in many ways declined. One of the responsibilities of our organization is to help those coming after us to reach back to those same moral codes practiced by their ancestors and live lives of integrity as the pioneers did while gaining a knowledge of new things that are coming forth today
Knowledge is power. Knowledge brings freedom. Knowledge is that understanding that comes from education. Education is information—information learned from formal instruction or from observation or experience. People of all ages have sought education to prepare them for a better life. It is important that we who have such an educational heritage pass on this desire for knowledge to those coming after us and that we continue to seek out those truths that will bring us greater understanding, freedom, and wisdom. We cannot settle for a little learning; we must drink deep of that Pierian spring.