Who is Stephen Pratt?
The dusty old concrete block garage behind a home in Lehi, Utah was one of those places where my life took a turn forever. A friendly neighbor had invited us to attend a series of lectures titled: The American Heritage and the Constitution. The dialog with the man went something like this:
Him: “This is a great class! You will really enjoy it!”
Me: “I’m too busy.”
Him: “Every citizen should learn more about their heritage.”
Me: “How much does it cost?”
Him: “Only $35, BUT it includes thirty-three hours of classroom instruction and two textbooks.”
Me: “We can’t possibly afford it.”
Him: “I will pay the tuition for both you and your wife and will be over at a quarter to seven to pick you up.”
It was July of 1974 as we walked beside our host down a worn gravel driveway, past the house, dandelions and cheat grass to the ancient garage out back. The home owner who had volunteered the floor space had moved the ping pong table to set up a few cold steel folding chairs on the bare, oil- stained and cracked concrete floor. It wasn’t much of a classroom; no flashy visual aids, not even a dusty chalk board; hardly a setting for an earthshaking event. Our friend paid the fee and we were each given a copy of the Federalist Papers and a thick three ring binder with the title “Constitutional Study Course” on the front.
The introduction was brief and our speaker began to teach the lesson: “From its earliest beginnings, America was expected to be something great. And not just for Americans but for the whole human family.” Our aged teacher went on: “Modern Americans seldom speak of it today, but originally this nation was considered the ‘hope of the world’.” With a brief rest pause mid-evening, the presenter spoke for three hours. The evening in the old block garage was a new experience. It was history taught at the “feel” level.
At the end of the first evening I went up to the old gentleman and said: “I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but what do I have to do to teach for you?” His cheerful response was, “Do your homework!”
Please, dear reader, understand that I was considered from the viewpoint of some of my peers to be an educated man. I had a bachelors and a masters degree from a leading university and had done further graduate studies at another leading university. I had served successfully as a college teacher for six years. I had been raised by good parents in a Christian home. And yet with all that, I realize now that like most other Americans I was completely, totally, functionally illiterate when it came to a working knowledge of the principles and practices of freedom. I had no knowledge that I had no knowledge.
Twelve weeks passed quickly attending classes in the old garage. The course was advertised in another town nearby. I registered and took it again. After about two years in close association with the old professor, one day he said to me, “I’m getting too many requests to speak and can’t keep up with them all, would you be willing to accept some of those speaking invitations?” I said, “I can’t!” Somewhat surprised he asked, “Why not?” “Because I don’t have a suit,” I replied. He pulled out his check book and signed a blank check, handed it to me and said, “Go and buy the suit of your choice and come to work.”
For the next seven years I did research, traveled from coast to coast and taught literally hundreds of classes called, “The Miracle of America.” In my former employment I had served as a corporate pilot. This skill was immediately put to use when a supporter gave us full unlimited use of two excellent aircraft. The old professor had unbelievable stamina and an iron will. We often taught five nights a week in scattered cities and did research during the day. I remember returning one night after teaching in two cities in southern Idaho. When we taxied the aircraft to parking at Salt Lake International Airport and shut the engines down at 2:00 a.m. my dear old friend turned to me and in a strong voice said, “It’s good to be your missionary companion!” And that is just what it was for my aged mentor, a mission to teach as many people as possible the GREAT IDEAS THAT CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
5000The first book he completed after I joined the team was this book, THE FIVE THOUSAND YEAR LEAP. One of the very memorable research assignments was the day he called me into the office and said, “Find out everything you can about what Thomas Jefferson meant when he wrote of the ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’ in the Declaration of Independence.” Between teaching assignments, during the coming months I read all the references on the topic in two major law libraries and submitted a single spaced type written report of about 170 pages. With the guidance of this marvelous teacher, I was beginning to recognize the nuggets of knowledge that could change the world. The old professor had redirected the course of my life.
Now I am the same age as he was when we first crunched through the gravel past the dandelions and cheat grass to sit on the cold steel chairs in the dusty old concrete block garage. Today younger faces look up into mine and their eyes say, we love you, we trust you, and what should we do? When I search my heart I must reply, that before answering “what should we do?” we must confront our history and determine from whence we came. What are the principles that allowed us to become the greatest free nation in the history of the world? A good beginning to launch this discovery can be found in the following pages.
The suit my dear mentor gave me grew old and thin in his service. I started saving it for special occasions and finally hung it in a suit bag in the back of the closet. Other suits came and went. Years past. I was scheduled to make a major presentation in the Old St. George Tabernacle on January 13, 2006. Word came that my dear friend and mentor had passed away. The funeral was to be held on January 14th. And so in honor of Dr. W. Cleon Skousen, I donned the old suit once again to teach the GREAT IDEAS that produced the miracle of America.
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Stephen Pratt grew up on a backwoods ranch in the State of Washington. His family was still using draft horses until he was about twelve years old. Steve graduated from Brigham Young University with a master’s degree in education. He did further post graduate studies at the University of California at Berkley in the 1960’s. He taught full- time in the public school system for six years and then taught for one year in a private school. Seven years were spent working for the National Center for Constitutional Studies under the direction of renowned historian, W. Cleon Skousen, where Pratt devoted his time to research and teaching in many locations in the United States and two foreign countries.
During the spring of 2005 Stephen was urged by friends to teach a class devoted to American principles and problems. The very successful 16 week course has developed into a program called “Liberty and Learning.” The lessons focus on understanding our history and how it relates to current events. A web site has been established under the name “libertyandlearning.com.”
With his wife, Belva Gae, they are the parents of four children and reside on a sixty acre “ranch” at Cove Fort, Utah. Stephen Pratt is an accomplished craftsman and for the past 20 plus years has earned a living with his hands in a family business called Pratt Wagon Works, where he with his son, Ben, build historic wagons, printing presses and other old fashioned reproductions.
Richard Stephen “Steve” Pratt passed away on December 28, 2012.