Monday, January 11, 2010

Everything we need is in our manuals? Seriously?

My friend BiV's blog tipped me off to an article appearing in the Church News that counsels teachers to not rely on outside sources or websites, but to stick to the approved and correlated manuals. Including the quote, "Everything you need — and more — is in your manual."

Since we might be one of those websites the article alludes to, obviously this concerns us greatly. It's an issue that both Jeans and I have wrestled with, sometimes even publicly in this space. Wanting to be obedient, wanting to follow the direction of Salt Lake, but also finding such a huge discrepancy between what the teaching materials offer and what our girls need.

Of the two of us, I have always been the most vocally critical one, but in case I haven't been plain enough, let me say here: I really dislike these manuals. I almost always love the topics chosen, with the occasional eye roll when we have four priesthood lessons in a row and a longing for more lessons addressing Christian virtues, and there are occasionally some truly profound gems to teach, but on the whole they are dated, vaguely sexist, and totally out of touch with our modern girls. These manuals were written pre-Internet for goodness sakes! With extremely few exceptions, I almost always have to teach around something that makes me cringe.

I have also spoken with people who have worked in correlation, and the picture they paint of their work is far different from this vision of inspired from the voice of the Lord dictation. I had one friend tell me of including jokes in the lessons to tease the reviewers, and he had to yank the manuscript back to remove them before they were sent to the First Presidency because no one had caught them yet. I don't mean to deny the moments of inspiration that have occurred in the production of all our manuals, but they are not scripture.

I really don't think the article was written with us at Beginnings New in mind. Over at some other Bloggernacle sites there have been some interesting tales of people correcting historically inaccurate information included in the manuals while they were sitting in Gospel Doctrine. There are a *whole lot* of troublesome things in our past that the Church has historically brushed aside, and the internet really makes that strategy unworkable. And of course there's always the problem of misinformation - just because you read it on the internet, doesn't make it true of course, and there are loads of people with motivation to spin things in an unfavorable light. So maybe there are a lot of GD teachers out there expounding on the sad facts of polygamy instead of the other aspects of Joseph's life.

But nevertheless, we are definitely a website offering lesson helps to supplement the correlated manuals.

What do you guys think about this? Could you bring yourself to teach straight from these manuals? And what would you do with all the rest of your class time?


  1. The first time I read this Church News article, I immediately thought of the YW manuals, which had these appalling "datedness" issues when I was teaching from them 10 years ago.

    My only hope is that new manuals will be forthcoming so that YW and their leaders won't have so much trouble finding the hidden gems.

  2. If you include the Resource Guide (a list of General Conference talks and added discussion questions for each lesson) as a "manual," then there is enough information there. My YW lesson today was almost entirely taken from one of the General Conference talks listed, with a very few supporting scriptures and ideas from the lesson in the manual.

    My personal policy is that substituting more modern Gen. Conf. quotes for the 1960's/70's quotes and substituting stories from my personal life for the awful case studies is perfectly in line with SLC.

    But the main manual on its own is truly not feasible to teach from.

  3. I'm with Jen H.
    I use what I can from the manual, pull from the Resource Guide, include my own personal experience and testimony, and rely on scripture.
    I do believe we should stick to the manuals. Too many people teaching the gospel according to themselves is a dicey matter when it comes to youth, or anyone. But sticking to the manuals doesn't mean we have to use every portion of it. Though, sometimes we use a case study just to see the YW chuckle.
    I am also ready to see new YW manuals. With the newly updated Personal Progress (now with more recognitions for the girls!) I am hopeful. I do believe the church is making the effort to be current with our youth. Who knows, maybe they're working on it right now. Fingers crossed.
    In the meantime, the Lord gave me a manual, but he also gave me a brain. I have found that you can teach a meaningful lesson with these manuals, but you have to be willing to work for it.

  4. Authenticity is really important when we teach the youth--they detect insincerity every time. (Not to mention that integrity is one of the YW values.) So when I teach the youth I focus on the parts of the lesson I can bear a sincere testimony of and leave out the rest.
    And I try to make it relevant to them because it's a big fat waste of time if I don't. The manuals rarely present lessons in a way that applies to actual young women in 2010, so although I do believe we should teach the principles the manuals contain, rigidly sticking ONLY to what's in the lesson isn't effective at all.

  5. To echo what others have already said... The way I read both the CN article and the Oaks quote it references: the subject matter, the topic, the core gospel principle is the thing from which gospel teachers shouldn't stray. Amen to that.

    One of the reasons for correlation is to standardize what is being taught across the church so that everything in a year's curriculum gets taught and nothing gets dropped or overemphasized based on local preferences/prejudices. I think the theory is (and whether this is true or not, I love the idea) that a person could travel from ward to branch to ward throughout the church and never get the same lesson twice in one year. Now, the system isn't perfect because there is some local discretion, but in general, both people on the move and people staying put and going to the same ward week after week will get the full range of topics and lessons intended.

    That said, in defense of our project here, I will say that what we do is not to rewrite the schedule or the curriculum, but to open conversation up among teachers about the principles, topics, and--yes--presentation in our approved sources. It's not that we're trying to provide a substitute lesson, although we have created some lesson plans for Christmas and Easter and other unscheduled things that may arise in the calendar. It's that I believe leaders and teachers need to bring their discernment, their "anxious engagement" and their brains to their callings, and that it is sometimes helpful to knock ideas around behind the scenes before teaching a lesson to the tender spirits in our care. I think of this site as the YW teacher's lounge.

    I think there would be a huge difference in the quality, spiritual value, and relevance of two YW lessons, both taught directly from the manual, but one by a teacher who had put a lot of thought and study into the topic on her own and the other by one who just assumed that since it was "all in the manual" she wasn't permitted to look at anything else all week. While I agree that we shouldn't be bringing a lot of "outside" material (and I think that's a VERY slippery phrase) into a lesson, I think even a straight-up lesson can be enhanced by judiciously consulting it yourself during your preparation, in which you connect the given lesson topic to things you've personally read, experienced, studied, etc.

    I will also say I think it's a bit unfair of the CN to trumpet the inspired and reworked manuals as the be-all end-all for all teachers, when the youth materials are so egregiously the product of another century and are coming up on 2 generations old. I think the intent of that article is to smooth the wave of panic that seemed to go across the Bloggernacle when faced with the new RS/PH manual and "how to teach from it" - I saw a lot of internet chatter about that (so, presumably, did the CN editors). I frankly think that our issues in YW and with our materials are not the ones that the article is intended to address.

  6. Wow. I'm glad this is an anonymous Church news thing. I know exactly how much authority to give it :)

    This reads like a mid-management Marketing statement about a failing product.

    I teach volunteer Institute, and I expressed frustration over this to my Mom (who also teaches Institute and happens to be married to the Stake President.) She pointed out that a few months ago, the RS president had taught a wacky lesson she pulled off the internet, and that this may be aimed more at that kind of thing.

  7. Here's my two cents, for what it's worth. I use your blog as sort of a discussion, or think tank for myself and the lesson. I think of the same way as if we were actually people who knew each and had the same calling in different wards. How are you going to teach this? What do you think of that? Admittedly, the post is one-sided dialog because you are writing it, but it always makes me think. And thinking is a good thing. I've never read where you suggest going out of the doctrines.

    Usually I have a friend with the same calling as me, but right now I don't so I really appreciate a place to get some thoughts and self conversation (ever it's only in my head.)

  8. anonymous #3 (the one right above this) - that's exactly what I'm hoping for when I write about the lessons. I hope that you'll feel like making comments now and then, so it's not such a one-sided dialogue - bring the conversation out of your head now and then, we will all benefit!

    Just as a reminder - you can easily comment with a madeup name, it helps if there's not so many comments from "anonymous" - just click on the "Name/URL" and put in something so we can tell you all apart. No sign-in required. Love the comments, keep it coming.

  9. will use Liz this timeJanuary 11, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    This is an interesting topic for me. About 4 years ago I was in the RS presidency in our ward and we were really struggling with keeping our teachers on topic/teaching doctrine from the manuals. We had a few that loved to share "inspirational stories" that someone forwarded them on the internet, etc. At that time there was a similar article or maybe it was instruction from our Stake that said we were to only teach from the manuals. Not only that, but our Stake President wanted us correct teachers (or the Bishop to correct speakers in Sacrament) when incorrect statements were made. That got kind of awkward a few times!! So we held quite a few Teacher Development classes on how to properly teach from the manual.

    I found it frustrating that these women were taking the good info in the manuals and chopping it down to silly stories and hearsay. It got to the point that we had to release one of them because she just wasn't getting it.

    Now I am a teacher in YW and wow, you CANNOT teach a lesson using only the manual. If you do, you have lost the girls. The language, the examples, everything is so outdated and it was 12 years ago when I was last in YW.

    Like another commenter, I use this website as a think tank. I find I'm not really on the same page as the other women in our YW group and have found that some of my commentary has not been appreciated. So, they do their cute handouts and share their sweet stories in their classes and I do my own thing. I realize that I'm sounding bitter here but I'm not (mostly). I just know that without using outside sources, I would not be able to teach YW in a way that I felt comfortable. The curriculum is just not good enough, although the Resource Guide does help.

    And I fully agree with RachL, authenticity is so important. So to answer your question, no I absolutely could not teach straight from the manual. I would ask to be released before I could do that. The girls can sniff out a fake a mile away and I think we all owe them more than what the manual can provide.

  10. This is a bit of a touchy subject here and I did not read all the comments before making this one. So sorry if I'm just making the comments here more redundant.

    1st- I do enjoy your blog and have gotten some nice suggestions from it.
    I do however feel uncomfortable when I can sense what seems like you've got some underlying resentment (for lack of a better word) towards the Church over various issues; mostly because I endorsed your blog to my YW Board and I hope it doesn't bother them. In general I have no issue with using blogs as a source of help in a calling. To me that is no different than what people serving in the church have done since probably day 1, and asked for advice and suggestions from friends. But we do need to be careful not to take anything as doctrine...
    2nd- The YW lesson manuals are very outdated. What I did as YW pres. and setting this year's lesson schedule was actually toss some of the lessons and combine others. I know-- I can hear a virtual gasp from you through my computer. But do we really need to devote an entire lesson to "Letters to Missionaries"? Isn't that something that could be discussed in like 2 minutes? And these days don't many missionaries use email now too? Also many of the lessons are repetitive. 3 weeks on the topic of Priesthood blessings. Really? So what I did was replace some lessons with the Preach My Gospel Manual lessons. Which are Church approved and excellent. They are current and awesome lessons about the basics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having said that, I do believe we should be ever so careful not to be critical of the Church and what they produce. The Church has also started to let go and emphasize that people in callings have ability to receive guidance and direction in their callings and how to carry them out. There are just some crazies out there that mess things up for the rest of us. Like my daughter came home from Primary yesterday telling me that she learned what Satan looked liked. As she proceeded to describe him to me, she was WAY off. I wont begin to tell you what she said, but it was pretty laughable. I know that those teachers were for sure not using their manual for what they taught her. In such a case, I would say to them, USE THE MANUAL AND DON'T STRAY FROM IT AT ALL, rather than what they were doing.
    Anyhow, this has gotten long and I could say much more, but I'll leave it at that.

  11. For last week's lesson, I mostly worked out of the scriptures, used the girls' and my own experiences with gifts of the spirit as examples, pulled a lot from the supplemental talk by Elder Uchtdorf and looked at one of the goals from the PP book. This is typical for me--I use the manual simply as an outline and then pull most heavily from all of the approved supplements to create my lesson. (Key word--approved) The result was relevant, loving and spirit-filled.

    When I was 17, my class had a Sunday School teacher who looked at us the first week he was called and said, "You guys are too mature for this stuff. Let's talk about some other things." He was only a few years older than us and we felt very mature and trusted. One of my friends finally (thankfully) became very uncomfortable with his philosophy teaching after some weeks and "tattled" to her mother. Our teacher was released, causing no small amount of argument among our class between those who had supported his methods and those who had been uncomfortable with him. As I've matured in the gospel, I see how truly dangerous his teaching was. Yes, dangerous. Our testimonies were fledgling and he was messing with our salvation by subtly convincing us to believe things contrary to gospel teachings. He left the church about 18 months later.

    So this long comment is to say YES! We should teach from the manual, but also that YES! use your the personal revelation you are entitled to for these girls in order to give them the lesson that best suits their needs.

  12. And OH! I have to second the comment about the stupid forwarded Internet stories. I heard a member of a stake presidency give one in a ward conference once, trying to indicate that the story (which I'd had forwarded to me at least three times over several years with slight details changed) happened recently at the local high school. I sat there praying that one of my kids would cry so I could go out in the hall.

  13. Amen and Amen! I for one, would like to see correlation go away all together.

  14. A few years ago I attended an institute class by a seasoned teacher. He made a comment that has stuck with me since. After 30+ years of teaching within the Church in a variety of callings he said that he only recently realized that the primary purpose of GD class was to inspire students to read and study on their own. I often look back to that comment and realize that with the limitations placed upon GD, there is much truth to that statement.

  15. I have a feeling that the church news article was meant more to address the new priesthood/relief society manuals. I'm afraid by "going back to the basics" as the new manual seems to do, will have some instructors looking for more advanced material.

    Regarding the YW manual, I agree they are in need of an update. I have a feeling that is in process. The resource guide that we have gotten the last two years seems to be the begin of a new manual. But that is just my speculation.

    I agree with most of the commenters. I use the manual, the scriptures, the resource guide, and my personal experiences when I prep a lesson. This may be a weakness on my part, but I figure if I stick to those materials then I will be teaching the girls the correct doctrine.

  16. Think of what is taught in the church as the milk that is for all. If you want the steak you are going to have to work for it on your own time. The essentials are in the milk (which is what is taught). God isnt going to have you just be force fed the finer details of things because he wants you to work for them so you appreciate them more. In addition the spirit is a greater teacher that expounds upon the "milk" to our greater understanding.

  17. I, personally, really struggled after about the first half of the last manual last year until I found this site and it gave me a wonderful way to present the lessons in a spirit-filled manner. I wish I had commented after each time I was approached by one of the YW presidency or one of my laurels. It was often- almost weekly.

    I feel that the last manual- and this one- is very outdated, boring, trite, and this site has helped tremendously.

    I do not feel a tone of resentment at all. I feel the desire to make real, lasting, spirit-filled lessons a part of our Young Women's time every Sunday.

    The Magi lesson a couple weeks ago was PERFECTION and just the latest example of how awesome this site is and how tremendously it has helped.

    I understand words of admonition, but we are adults with a calling. If we prayerfully prepare a lesson, relying on the Spirit, we are all going to be fine...

    Now... dont get me started on the "I was asked to speak on _________ and Wikipedia says _________ is ________ " talks... those are a WHOLE different level...

  18. In preparing lessons, especially from the incredibly dated YW manuals, but really for any group in the church, I have found that it's vital for the teacher to learn as much truth about the topic as possible. Of course, there's no way to include everything in the lessons and it's really not necessary. But I believe that having that background information in mind will help the teacher keep the lesson in the greater gospel perspective.

    Youth today are very savvy. They will ask insightful, probing, thoughtful questions, whether or not the manual specifically addresses them. What message does it send if all we can say is, "Well, that's not in the manual, so I can't discuss that." We're doing ourselves and our students a disservice if we limit our preparation to the manual. The manual simply can't anticipate every single question that could possibly come up, and that's not it's purpose, anyway.

    That being said, there are sources and there are sources. Some are reliable and some, while well-intentioned, are speculative at best. Sites like this one provide wonderful discussions on the lesson topics, bringing out points that are relevant to today's young women. There's absolutely nothing wrong with discussing the lesson materials with others and nothing wrong with focusing the lesson on areas of which you can personally testify. It's part of our stewardship as teachers to exercise our gifts of discernment and make wise decisions regarding what will best help those we teach. And that's not going to be the same for every single group of students, hence the importance of personal revelation and stewardship.

  19. We should never "cringe" about things that we have to teach from the manual.

  20. Oh, OK. Since you said so, Jen. I'll stop.

    I kid you, but that comment doesn't really tell me much about where you're coming from.

    Have you been teaching long? Because I know that I can tend to be a little on the liberal end of the devout scale, but there are quotes and stories throughout these manuals that make even my most orthodox of iron rod friends uncomfortable.

    Do you agree with the church news article? Do you think any criticism is unwarranted or do you just object to my use of the word "cringe?"

  21. I think this site is fantastic. I consider my self much like you sound: completely faithful and trying to do the best with what we've been given.

    Remember that the manuals themselves give us something besides the lessons, if that makes sense. Read through the introduction, and it opens up a lot for us.

    For one, the lessons are "suggested". Anyone who just reads from the manual is not actually following the manual's instructions! I take the objective statement as my goal for the lesson, and then teach what will accomplish that. And that seems to be exactly what the manual itself is telling you to do: DO gear it to your girls!!

    Two, the lessons are supposed to come from the scriptures (as it says in the introduction). If you spend most of your time there, you are following the directions of your manual!

    Three, they do have that resource guide, which is how they are trying to update it while they wait to do real updates. Consider that part of you manual, and I think we're good to go.

    And of course, use the Spirit. If in the middle of a lesson they have a question and you feel like following that out instead, that IS what the apostles are telling us to do. The teaching and learning worldwide broadcast was fantastic on that point.

    When you put all the info together, I think you can justify them in saying we should stick to the material - but if that means just the suggestion lesson outline, then I'm going to hang my head and cry! But if it means the scriptures and conference talks, then hallelujah! I loved giving the girls straight doctrine, and they do very well with it.

    Congrats on a site, than can provide just what we need: a place to discuss, without trying to "prop" up the doctrine with clip art and fluff. The doctrine is sufficient, even if the lesson outline may not be.

  22. I sincerely hope they are working on an update to these manuals, but they started publishing the resource guides in the Ensign the first time I was called into YW ten years ago and I took that as a sign they were working on an update then. Hasn't happened yet. But hope springs eternal!

    As for "cringing," the pure doctrine itself isn't cringe-worthy. Jen. It's the trappings: the improbable, unrelatable, and dated stories the lessons include, the quotes that are selected from talks in the 1950s and 60s, and many times simply the cultural and generational differences evident in a manual thirty years old. I almost threw my manual across the room after the reading the "additional suggested activity" on the Group Dating lesson in Manual 1. Basically, get a group of young men together and ask them if they like girls who talk a lot, if they want girls to call them on the phone, etc. Yes, the principle is sound (group dating is good), but that particular suggestion in the manual was very much a product of its time and culture: condescending, insulting, and encouraged girls to worry more about what boys think (with the implication not to talk as much because boys wouldn't like them???).

    The online versions of the lesson have updated that particular suggestion so it's somewhat less offensive and they have changed all the references in the manuals from "girls" to "young women," which is progress. But the print manuals haven't changed yet - and, yes, there are parts that are absolutely cringe-worthy.

  23. I often cringe – and it’s not because the Gospel isn’t correct, or that I’m unrighteous, it’s because the manuals are often goofy. Yes I said it. The doctrine is good, but please, you cannot convince me that every story that is included is “Divinely inspired.” These stories and anecdotes, and yes, sometimes even the selected quotes, are the best that an individual group of curriculum committee members could find at the time (often in 1970).

    One of things I loved about last week’s lesson was the emphasis on spiritual gifts – revelations being one of them – one of the big ones. I am totally on board with curriculum guidance but reading straight out to the manual without any personal stories or application is simply poor teaching. And the best part about this life is that the Lord lets us practice on one another  and one of the best parts of the Gospel is the ability to get personal revelation for our stewardship and to think for ourselves.

    The ability to choose what’s applicable or not. Case in point: The Drug Abuse lesson from manual 1 last year. These stories were not applicable to the Beehives in my ward (or any girl in 2010 since no one uses this language anymore and I doubt they did even in 1972)
    “About this time a year ago … I was somewhere … stoned out of my mind on something or other. I was living away from home in the fabricated world of a drug freak, filled with illusions. What was around me was not what I was looking for. …
    “One night as I walked the streets under the influence of only-my-pusher-knew-what, I made a discovery. In the midst of this freedom the only thing I was acquiring was death. And I stood alone, suffocating in my solitude” (Charleen Hurson, “Start the World; I Want to Get On,” New Era, Apr. 1972, p. 12).

    I love this site – I do not like feeling that I am unrighteous because I sometimes questions the applicability of 30 year-old simplistic analogies that are provided in the manual.

    This blog is my weekly affirmation and sanity check!

  24. I absolutely agree with the drug abuse lessonS! from last year- had I taught from the manual for those, particularly, I would have alienated every young woman in the room and probably, I am BETTING the adults would not have had much to say.

    What we did was talk about what was relevant- prescription drug abuse- like adderal, and issues of body image. I let the young women take the lead on that one and it was amazing.

    Anyway. I was relieved to realize "I am NOT the only one!" when I found this site. If you disagree, I do not think anyone would mind if you did not frequent the site, that is super for you.

  25. If you really want to get through to young people you have to make the lesson relevant to their lives, you have to relate it to what is going on around them, to what is coming down the road that is real to them. I've never seen a manual yet -- and there are some pretty good ones -- that does that. I've always brought in books or newspaper articles that were relevant, or talked about movies or tv shows, or getting ready for college -- anything that will engage them. If that's wrong, I get paid the same amount for not teaching.

  26. Served a number of years in YW in two states. Seriously those manuals stink.

  27. I totally agree with Reese that there ARE several things in these old manuals that are cringe-worthy. I'm really hoping there is an update soon!

  28. I'm with Anon #3. I love this site and have used it as a think tank and sanity check. And I can definitely tell you that my girls have benefited from the additional insights I have gained. Thank you.

  29. THanks so much for your blog- I get wonderful lesson ideas and things to think about! I do have a confession though. On the drug abuse lesson, I did share a story of someone who did mess up their life because of drug use. I am a nurse and I told a real life story of a patient who did have it all---and then she got bored and tried crystal meth and it did ruin her life. She is now a prostitute---so I guess I'm just as guilty as the manual, but it was real and sure scared me into hoping my children don't ever go that route. I do often share stories of patients with my girls because I do see the extreme and it is scary. It is real. There are people who experiment with sex and drugs and do live a pretty normal life, but as a nurse- that's not what I see. Okay, I know this is an old post, but I guess I keep thinking about it. Keep up the great work. We're going to make those adorable headbands for an activity!


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