Neil J. Flinders, emeritus McKay School professor and author, has written, “That which transcends mortality is that which is of greatest worth.” He has spent the major part of his life in the field of education, teaching and demonstrating the concept that divine revelation can and should be a frame for reason if we want the best kind of education. His doctoral dissertation and one of his books, Teach the Children: An Agency Approach to Education, illustrates that point. He further states that we can be a valid witness only to the truths that we strive to live.
Born in Ogden, Utah, he was reared on a farm by loving, hard-working parents struggling through the demanding life of the Great Depression. After graduating from high school, Flinders attended Weber College for two years and served a stake and later a full-time mission. After his mission he transferred to BYU, but the Korean War interrupted his schooling. For over a year he served in Korea with the U.S. Army Medical Corp. Back at BYU he met and married Joan Robertson.
Flinders thought a lot about life and priorities during his mission and army service. He felt a strong affinity to the gospel and to education and decided he would enter the seminary and institute program. One of his heroes was David O. McKay, who became a major influence in shaping his ideas on education.
At BYU Flinders trained under Boyd K. Packer and others to become a seminary teacher and teacher trainer. His first assignment was in the Utah Uintah Basin. Every summer he returned to BYU for more training, eventually earning both his master’s and doctorate degrees. His career and opportunities changed as the Church Educational System (CES) grew. For one decade of his 19 years with CES he served as director of research under Neal A. Maxwell and Joe J. Christensen in Salt Lake City.
In the 1970s Flinders transferred to BYU, where he spent the next 19 years researching and teaching courses on foundations of teaching. To answer the question “Can two teaching programs— religious and secular—be combined and teachers trained for both?” he helped develop the courses Religion and Education 491 and 492 and initiated the Laying the Foundations Symposium. He also researched and published with Paul Wangemann the basis of a Hebrew psychology for educators of the latter days. During this time he also served as president of the Far Western Philosophy of Education Society. He retired in 1998.
Flinders and his wife are the parents of seven children, 37 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. In the Church he has served as a member of the Sunday School General Board, bishop, stake president, temple ordinance worker, and missionary in the Nauvoo Mission simultaneously with work as a faculty member at the Joseph Smith Academy. His latest book is Joseph Smith: America’s Greatest Educator.