Saturday, December 25, 2010

Teaching uncorrelated lessons

I live in a quiet residential neighborhood, speed limit 25. Let's imagine that a teenage boy drives past my house every day doing at least 40. Because I want to slow him down, I plan to paint a crosswalk in front of my house with stop signs facing both directions. But even though it's the street where I live, it's not really "my street," so I'll need approval from the city.

Let's now suppose the Church's priesthood manual contains a lesson I view as deficient. Because I'm the high priests group instructor, I plan to teach my own lesson instead. But even though it's the Church I attend, it's not really "my Church," so I'll need approval from the bishop — at least that's what the latest Church handbook says.

Handbook 2: Administering the Church.

"Church-approved curriculum materials are to be used in classes that are held during the Sunday meeting schedule. These materials include Church-produced manuals, magazines, and supplementary teaching resources. New manuals and courses should not be developed at the local level.

"Bishops and branch presidents may occasionally teach or authorize a special priesthood or auxiliary lesson when they feel there is a need." (Section 17.1.10.)

"Leaders ensure that teachers use the scriptures, the teachings of latter-day prophets, and the approved curriculum materials as outlined in the current Instructions for Curriculum. They help teachers understand how to supplement the curriculum with Church magazines, particularly the general conference issues of the Ensign and Liahona." (Section 5.5.3.)

"Teachers and leaders use the scriptures, the teachings of latter-day prophets, and approved curriculum materials to teach and testify of the doctrines of the gospel. Approved curriculum materials for each class or quorum are listed in the current Instructions for Curriculum. As needed, teachers and leaders supplement curriculum materials with Church magazines, particularly the general conference issues of the Ensign and Liahona." (Section 5.5.4.)

"Leaders ensure that teachers use Church-approved materials for quorum and class instruction. The publication Instructions for Curriculum provides information about how to organize Sunday classes and which materials to use for lessons." (Section 21.1.13)

The handbook says nothing new. It merely formalizes what the apostles and prophets have previously taught.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, 1983.

"Teachers would be well advised to study carefully the scriptures and their manuals before reaching out for supplemental materials. Far too many teachers seem to stray from the approved curriculum materials without fully reviewing them. If teachers feel a need to use some good supplemental resources beyond the scriptures and manuals in presenting a lesson, they should first consider the use of the Church magazines.

"Teachers can stay on safe ground when they use the standard works, the approved manuals, and the writings of the General Authorities." (Ensign, May 1983, 68.)

Elder M. Russell Ballard, 1993.

"Those who teach must make sure the doctrine remains pure and that it is taught. Teach by the Spirit, using the scriptures and the approved curriculum. Do not introduce or dwell on speculative and questionable topics." (Ensign, Nov. 1993, 76.)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, 1999.

"As I have visited in quorums and Relief Societies, I have generally been pleased and impressed at how these Teachings of Presidents of the Church are being presented and received. However, I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable. A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified. Gospel teachers should also be scrupulous to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects. The Lord’s revelations and the directions of His servants are clear on this point. We should all be mindful of President Spencer W. Kimball's great instruction that a gospel teacher is a 'guest':

"'He has been given an authoritative position and a stamp of approval is placed upon him, and those whom he teaches are justified in assuming that, having been chosen and sustained in the proper order, he represents the Church and the things which he teaches are approved by the Church. No matter how brilliant he may be and how many new truths he may think he has found, he has no right to go beyond the program of the Church.'" (Ensign, Nov. 1999, 78.)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, 2007.

"In the past, some teachers have given a chapter of the Teachings manuals no more than a brief mention and then substituted a lesson of their own choice. It may have been a good lesson, but this is not an acceptable practice. A gospel teacher is called to teach the subject specified from the inspired materials provided." (Ensign, Nov. 2007, 104-8.)


Uncorrelated lessons, such as those discussed by Dave Banack (click here) and Ben Spackman (click here), are appropriate in any setting except "in classes that are held during the Sunday meeting schedule." And such lessons would also be okay there, if authorized by the bishop or branch president.


Blogger R. Gary said...

Now that all of our nine children are adults, it gets kind of boring around here. So last night we invited one of our sons to bring his family and join us for dinner. It was a joy to watch the children, ages 7, 4, and 2. They were so excited about Christmas. This morning we went to their house and watched them discover the results of "being good." This afternoon, we'll visit more of our grandchildren and this evening, we'll have a meal with one of our daughters and her family. I hope all of you have a wonderful, merry Christmas!

12/25/2010 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't help but think that your attitude, when carried too far, is responsible for religion's slide into irrelavancy. Though you mean well, your attitude ironically is killing the church that you so wish to protect.

12/26/2010 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

You are welcome to your opinion. But I disagree with you. The attitude (my attitude) of following apostles and prophets is not "killing the Church." On the contrary, the strength of the Church lies in the hearts of millions of Mormons who literally see the power of God resting on the First Presidency and Twelve and who are therefore willing to do whatever they ask.

12/26/2010 10:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

I modestly propose the following:

You forgot to mention that the questions are inspired too. That is why when one is teaching one should read the questions verbatim and if the response is acceptable, proceed to cover more material or proceed to another verbatim question. One should not deviate from the questions. Teacher inspiration can result in asking some questions in different orders or omitting some of them, but never in asking a non-verbatim question that was not assigned that week. If someone does not respond with a correct answer, the teacher can lovingly say, "That is not correct doctrine, my brother (or sister)." But don't address why unless you can quote a recent conference talk that explains why. You can share your testimony of the manual, but don't offer your own opinion on any of the particulars unless you agree 100%.

12/27/2010 01:07:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Paul, you are correct. I did forget to mention that. Your point is illustrated in the Church's teaching resource, "Teaching, No Greater Call," where the following story is told by a former mission president in Eastern Europe:

-------------- quote --------------
"During the summer of 1993, I visited one of our newly created branches. Sunday School was taught by a newly baptized member. She clearly felt uncomfortable standing before the group. Rather than risk making a mistake, she read the lesson word for word. As she kept her eyes riveted on her book, the class members shifted uncomfortably.

"After the lesson I complimented the teacher on the doctrinal accuracy of her materials and, as tactfully as I could, asked if she had considered asking a few thought-provoking questions in order to stimulate class discussion. She replied that in Europe teachers do not ask questions. I left, wondering what we could do to help her and many other new teachers like her in a country where the Church had been established only a few years.

"In August of that year a couple was assigned to begin the Church Educational System programs in our area. We asked them to conduct what were then called teacher training sessions. One of the teachers they were to help was the teacher whose class I had visited.

"Four months later, I returned to her branch. A miracle had taken place. She stood in front of the class transformed, poised, and confident. Her carefully prepared questions elicited interested responses. She commented encouragingly on each class member's contributions. She had arranged for one class member to share a personal experience on the lesson subject and then invited others to share. Near the end, a new member bore her testimony. The teacher stopped and quietly asked, ‘Did you notice the Spirit when Sister Molnar was speaking? That is the Spirit of the Lord.’ As we basked in the calming and enlightening feeling we had experienced together in that rented classroom, I thanked my Heavenly Father for the couple who had taught the principles of gospel teaching to a frightened new member and helped her become one who truly deserved to be called a teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
-------------- end quote --------------

12/27/2010 04:20:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Paul, another story that illustrates your point was told by Young Women General President Susan W. Tanner in the General Young Women Meeting held March 29, 2008:

-------------- quote --------------
This is the story as told by a senior missionary at the MTC.

She said that years earlier she was at home one day ironing, watching a soap opera, and smoking a cigarette when there was a knock at the door. When she opened it, there were two men in white shirts and ties, and one of them introduced himself as her bishop. He said that as he was praying, he had felt inspired to ask her to teach Young Women. She told him that she had been baptized at age 10 but had never been active. He seemed undeterred as he showed her the manual and explained where they met on Wednesday night. Then she emphatically said, “I can’t teach 16-year-olds; I’m inactive, and besides I smoke.” Then he said, “You won’t be inactive anymore, and you have until Wednesday to quit smoking.” Then he left.

She said, “I remember shouting in the air in anger, but then I couldn’t resist the urge to read the manual. In fact, I was so curious, I read it from cover to cover and then memorized every word of that lesson.

“By Wednesday I was still not going to go, but I found myself driving to church, scared to death. I had never been scared of anything before. I had grown up in the slums, been in detention once myself, and rescued my father from the ‘drunk tank.’ And all of a sudden there I was at Mutual being introduced as the new Laurel adviser. I sat before two Laurels and gave the lesson word for word, even the parts that said ‘Now ask them …’ I left immediately after the lesson and cried all the way home.

“A few days later there was another knock at the door, and I thought, ‘Good. It’s the bishop here to retrieve his manual.’ I opened the door, and standing there were those two lovely Laurels, one with flowers, the other with cookies. They invited me to go to church with them on Sunday, which I did. I liked those girls. They began by teaching me about the Church, the ward, the class. They taught me how to sew, read scriptures, and smile.

“Together we started teaching the other girls in the class who weren’t coming. We taught them wherever we could find them—in cars, in bowling alleys, and on porches. Within six months, 14 of them were coming, and in a year all 16 girls on the roll were active. We laughed and cried together. We learned to pray, study the gospel, and serve others.”
-------------- end quote --------------


Your hyperbole is effective, Paul, and your point is well taken. Thanks for your participation.

12/27/2010 04:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Gary, why have my Bishops and Stake Presidents never said anything to me about my lessons?

12/28/2010 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Don't know, Ben. The handbbook is pretty new.

12/28/2010 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

R Gary, in the final paragraph of your post you are implying that I am calling for LDS teachers to set aside the manuals and teach their own lessons. That misrepresents what I said and makes it sound like I am telling teachers to ignore the counsel they receive from their leaders. I am not sure why you would want to misrepresent me in that way.

In the linked post, I suggested the LDS curriculum be updated to include coverage of some topics presently glossed over and to go into some topics in more depth. Calling for needed changes to the existing (and dated) manuals is an entirely different thing than calling for teachers to do their own thing in class.

12/29/2010 06:23:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Dave, the words "uncorrelated lessons" in my title came from your post. It seems to me like you said something about teachers slowing down once or twice a year and devoting a full lesson or two to an "uncorrelated lesson." I'm sorry if that's an inaccurate interpretation of your post.


Paul asks: "The output is a function of the makeup of the [curriculum] committees and the church likes autonomy of non-GA committees that do the work. Does this affect how correlated lessons should be viewed?"

It doesn't make any difference how the correlated lessons are viewed. In the imaginary example at the beginning of this post, I viewed the Church's priesthood manual as deficient. No matter how you or I view the manual, no matter who was on the writing committee, it's still not really "my Church," so I'll need approval from the bishop to teach an uncorrelated lesson.

12/29/2010 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Alexander, John C., DavidH, and Anonymous, I've posted and responded to your comments (click here).

12/29/2010 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger DavidH said...

I think I know your answer, but to be sure, would it be appropriate in a lesson on the creation for the teacher to quote from Elder McConkie's or Joseph Fielding Smith's books negative comments about evolution. I say that because, even though the manual does not touch on evolution, I have been in more than one class on the creation in which teachers have read such quotes. My assumption is that you would agree with me that if the manual does not call for discussing evolution, the teacher should not raise the issue. And if the subject comes up raised by a student, and a teacher wishes to address it, only conference talks or Ensign articles should be referred to. I just want to be sure I am understanding you correctly. By the way, whenever I teach that lesson, I never mention evolution one way or the other, and if someone raises the issue, I direct the lesson back to the points in the manual. Same on things regarding section 132 lesson--I do not address much about plural marriage, and focus the lesson (as the manual does) on the sealing power.

12/29/2010 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

DavidH, in the past ten years, I can remember teaching two lessons when the subject of evolution came up. In 2002 I was the high priests group instructor who taught Chapter 3 in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee. President Lee is very clear about no death before the fall in that chapter. Again in 2004, I taught Chapter 8 in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff. President Woodruff states in Chapter 8 that death came to all living creatures through the fall of Adam.

In both cases, the implications of NDBF on evolution seemed like an appropriate observation. But I did not quote from Bruce R. McConkie or Joseph Fielding Smith on evolution in either of those two lessons.

12/29/2010 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous B.Russ said...

This explains why I can't sit through Sunday School. . . . at least I'm in good company. I'm pretty sure Brigham Young (and most 19th century saints) would walk out on lessons like this too.

12/30/2010 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous John C. said...

It wasn't much of a response, but beggars can't be choosers, I suppose. I wonder what you think of the final suggestion on that post: Prepare the lesson without the manual and then use the manual to make sure you haven't missed anything you should bring up?

12/30/2010 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger DavidH said...

Gary, I think your comments in those lessons were perfectly fine, even though there was no specific question on the subject of evolution suggested by the manual. Depending on the class membership, I might have asked them too (and I am a believer in evolution). (But as noted, when I teach I do not answer questions, I ask them only.)

12/30/2010 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

John C., my post was aimed at bloggers who encourage others to teach uncorrelated lessons. I don't understand why anyone thinks I care what he or she teaches in Church.

DavidH, I wasn't seeking your approval. Like I just told John, my calling is my business and yours is yours. But that's not to say I don't appreciate your approval. Thanks.

12/30/2010 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous John C. said...

You do realize that your response to me is self-contradictory, right? If you didn't care what people taught, you wouldn't care if what they taught was correlated nor would you argue that it should be.

12/30/2010 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

John C., let me say it again.

My post was aimed at bloggers — not Sunday class teachers — bloggers who encourage readers to depart from the approved manual while teaching classes on Sunday. I am pointing out to the readers of LDSBlogs that handbook instructions discourage such departures. Readers can then make their own decisions about how to teach and I don't consider that any of my business.

12/30/2010 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Hi, R Gary. As usual, your posts make me think carefully, and that's good. (I'm a different Paul from your earlier commenter, by the way.)

I wasn't crazy about the crosswalk example in your OP, mostly because a lesson taught differently than outlined is not necessarily intended to stop a speeder in the classroom (metaphorical or otherwise).

I was intrigued by Dave B's orginal post at T&S (though I didn't comment on it at the time) because my initial thought was that personal study is the place to take off the cruise control, to slow down and to study individual topics in depth. At least that's my recollection of counsel I've heard.

Similarly, it would be a mistake to think that your post encourages a teacher to touch on every point in every correllated lesson, regardless of the promptings of the spirit to focus on one item or another from the lesson for his or her particular class.

12/30/2010 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Jettboy said...

I want you to know that I have enjoyed reading your blog and have included it in My personal list of Faithful blogs. Thank you.

1/02/2011 08:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize I'm a latecomer here, but here goes:

I agree that we should use sources that are somewhat correlated and under control by the Church leadership. Otherwise our intellectual speculation would run wild.

OTOH, we aren't actually supposed to "teach" as much as direct the discussion on the scriptures we are supposed to have read in preparation for the class.

If you look at the new Gospel Principles manual, that we're studying in RS/Priesthood for two years, it contains very little doctrinal teaching. Read scriptures, pray, ponder.

That's the key, and I didn't invent that formula.

1/19/2011 05:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always too quick with the "Publish" button:

Forgot to say, that the sister in the story by Pres. Monson(?) was wrong about teachers asking questions in Europe.

I went to school in Europe, and I certainly had many teachers who liked to lecture, but mostly they did ask thoughtful questions all the time. Maybe it's just because I was interested in learning that I felt so?

1/19/2011 05:39:00 AM  

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