Monday, June 2, 2014

Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser

Called to Teach:  The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser
by A. LeGrand (Buddy) Richards
Religious Studies Center, BYU/Deseret Book, 2014.  618 pages.  Biography

Most Provo residents have at least a passing knowledge of Karl G. Maeser, the man who essentially created the Brigham Young Academy which would become Brigham University.  But in Buddy Richards' magisterial new biography of not only a master teacher, but of an extraordinary man.  At an early age, Maeser rejected the life of a lawyer, doctor, or businessman but take up the much less prestigious and less financially secure path of attending the Friedrichstadt Teachers College. While there, he adopted the methods of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi who advocated for a freer, fuller education that would allow all children to attend school and then to be taught using a more loving, more practical, learning-from-experience approach to education than the rote learning with rod in hand that was common in German schools at the time. The rest is history, as they say.  Maeser was essentially driven out of Germany by a government crackdown on new teaching methods, was converted to the LDS church after reading an anti-Mormon tract, and went on not only to establish BYU, but much of the LDS school system in Utah and adjacent states. In between the beginning and the end, the details of his life are fascinating:  just as Karl and his wife Anna arrived in America, their newborn son died on the ship and is buried in a small cemetery in Philadelphia; Karl taught music lessons to former President John Tyler's daughter while living in Virginia; Maeser was never the principal in the BY Academy building which now houses the Provo City Library; the University of Utah tried to prevent the Academy from conducting university level schooling--they wanted it to serve as a prep school to funnel students to them (phooey on that).  Underpaid and grossly overworked (Maeser and his fellows often had to collect their school fees in kind, in wheelbarrows) Maeser held always in mind the good of his students and his teachers. Late in his life, he spent long and grueling hours on the road in a buggy, touring the schools he then superintended, traveling from Idaho to Arizona and everywhere in between.    
He also spent a fair share of his time begging for money and support from his sponsoring institution and from the legislature, which he didn't get (some things never change). Called to Teach . . . is a long book, but it is so well-written, so well-researched, and so interesting you will have no trouble making your way quickly through it to its deeply satisfying conclusion.  So well done.  Don't miss it.


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