Thursday, January 5, 2012

A tangent from the lesson on "Jesus Christ, the Savior" - Lesson 2, Manual 1

(A similar discussion is now taking place at Feast Upon the Word.)

Okay I always tell myself I won't criticize the manual, I'll just explore scripture and have fun, but then I read these things and see how it's normally played out, and I just have to share my concerns anyway!

There's a section titled "Scripture Discussion" under the second sub-heading. The instructions are to
Ask for a volunteer to recite the third article of faith. Discuss with the class what the atonement of Christ is and what it means to us. Your discussion should include the following points:
So, ask them what they think, and then instead of learning together, tell them what to think. I hate seeing these things played out. Girls can give awesome answers, or ask good questions, but the teacher says, "Okay, that's good too but here's the answer..." and writes that on the board. That stunts learning, stunts the Spirit, and communicates to the girls that they can't learn on their own. It tells them the answers are facts from a manual. They don't really come from the scriptures, or even if they do, someone else has already mined them all out of there for them anyway. And if the girls think they can learn on their own, well, now we've shown them that they'll probably not get it quite right anyway.

Why don't we instead TRUST the girls to be intelligent thinking people, TRUST the scriptures to have something to say, and TRUST the Spirit to open our minds to learning? Elder Bednar just published a book titled Increase In Learning. He says over and over again (in what I've read so far) that we should be "agents" in our learning, and not "acted upon." We shouldn't wait to be told the answers, we should actively seek to understand. That is using our agency and the gifts of the Spirit we have been given.

Remember how we all take the sacrament just hours before going to class? Remember how we are promised that the Spirit will always be with us? It seems that promise is so timely when we go straight from sacrament meeting to our classes. What a great time to petition God for the Spirit and get to work learning!

Okay, so rant aside, if I were teaching I would definitely, definitely..., yes, DEFINITELY pick a scriptural text on Christ and then see what we all learn together, in the moment, by asking questions and talking. If you trust the YW to be intelligent they'll have things to say, I promise. Or questions. And you don't have to have the answers! It's okay to have more questions than answers - it keeps us thinking and seeking.

2 Nephi 9 is one of my favorites, as is Alma 12:20-37 (nice outline of temple themes, no?), and Alma 36. I think it would also be fun to just open up the topical guide and decide on one together as a class.

I feel like after that rant I should step back and hear what you have to say. I wish we could all be in the same room together, instead of at computers across the globe. Sigh.


  1. First comment. I love the blog. I don't teach in the YW auxiliary, I teach Sunday School. Your comments are applicable to any class in the 12-19 range and probably beyond. The YW, AP and SS manuals are of a very similar type and format, there was probably a required format when they were written.

    To the point of this posting, you are absolutely right that we on one hand tell our youth (and general membership) to seek out and use the Spirit, prayer and inspiration to liken the scriptures to our lives while on the other hand delivering set-piece standardized lessons apparently planned to restrict the discussion to a narrow range of interpretations. (this is reflective of a train of thought running through the membership/leadership concerning the relative priority of obedience and principles-based "governing ourselves", i.e. accountability. Currently obedience is winning over accountability.) I've struggled with the same issues as you. My solution is to remind myself each Sunday that I am in a room of spiritually developed souls who may less accomplished by worldly standards but may be more capable spiritually. These students are celestial order candidates equal to me. My calling is not to train them but to help them and me grow spiritually. That may involve false starts, struggling with meaning, lots of pondering beyond what fits in 30 minutes and becoming comfortable with the principles of godliness. This necessarily goes way beyond canned lessons, obedience audits (have I obeyed all the commandments) and an attitude that authority figures are the source of the "right answer".

    The meaning of the Atonement is plainly personal and evolves as we converse with the Spirit.

    Keep up the good blogging. Courage!

  2. Hello. I'm a YW president in my ward (will be 2 years next month). I've been reading for awhile (can't remember how I found this blog) and have gotten some good ideas.

    I see your point about encouraging the YW to think and give their own answers, and for all class members (leaders included) to learn together and let the Spirit teach.

    I also think that by including the "your discussion should include the following points" items, we can point out thoughts, situations, etc. that might not have come up during the discussion that are still important to know. For example, when I taught my last lesson last year about Preparing for Change, I asked my YW to suggest changes that happen in their lives. They gave some awesome answers that were certainly relevant in their lives at that point that were not listed in the "points to include". After all the ideas had been expressed, I suggested some of the other items that they might not have thought of simply because it wasn't relevant in their lives at that point or they had not experienced it yet.

    I think it all depends on how the topic is approached, what words are used and how we say things. Yes, we can "stunt" learning, spiritual inspiration, etc. by saying something blunt like "Ok, that's good too but here's the answer" or we can encourage further discussion by saying something like "Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Those are all great ideas. (On the subject of lesson 2) We learn from the 3rd Article of Faith that Christ paid not only for Adam's sins but for ours as well--IF we obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Why do you think it is important that we obey the laws and ordinances? Why can't we just let Christ pay for our sins?" That could open up even more great discussion as well as ensure that the points the lesson wants covered are covered.

    Hope to be a more active participant on this blog. Thanks for all your hard work in keeping it going.

  3. Merilee- thanks for pointing that out. I've had several (online and in person) mention to me that they see that list just as you do, more ideas to bring up after they talk. Thank you. I have seen it played out the other way so many times that I made a generalization. And I suppose it was just a jumping-off point into something else I like to talk about. :)

    Glad you enjoy the blog! And I hope you comment again!

  4. I love the idea of a scripture read, but the truth is in my group of young Beehives, many of whom are converts or come from families who don't study scriptures at home, really aren't suited to a long scripture read because they are so untrained in the scriptures! So for this lesson, we focused on the three topics -- the nuts and bolts of the atonement itself, what it means to be "christian" and how the atonement manifests in our personal lives.
    We spent quite a lot of time on a simple chart I used on my mission to teach the fall and how the atonement helps us overcome physical and spiritual death through resurrection and the principles and ordinances of the temple. We used the Alma 11 scriptures to discuss.
    I stretched the lesson out two weeks because we were interrupted by a set of settings apart the first week. The second week we discussed what it means to be Christian and why some people think Mormons aren't Christian. We discussed the great apostasy and how the church fell away into disagreement, and then later met during the great councils to create the creeds that now distinguish modern Christendom from our church. They girls seemed flabbergasted and very, very engaged in the history aspect of it. One girl looked at me with round eyes and said SO THAT IS HOW IT HAPPENED?!?!? So fun! I hope we will have more discussion of the apostasy and restoration in the future. The girls enjoyed this discussion quite a bit and many had experiences to share (since we live in the Bible belt.) I feel like many have been taught to be acrimonious towards other churches, or at least defensive, and I tried to focus the discussion and presentation on how we have different perceptions of "Christian" and that is ok -- then we discussed some more appropriate ways to deal with members of other faiths when they bring up this topic. Given the current media coverage of "The Mormon Moment" our discussion felt timely and appropriate.
    Then we watched the Mormon Messages video "Lifting Burdens" (oh, how I love that one!) and I read and discussed the story about gratitude that Elder Eyring told in the Dec. 2011 Ensign regarding hope and joy through the atonement in the face of adversity. We read from Alma 7 to illustrate.
    I LOVED this lesson, and the absolutely greatest part was feeling my own testimony of Christ grow and overflow as I spent several weeks studying and preparing for it. What a blessing to serve in YW!

  5. Thanks for sharing your classroom experience, NessaAnn! Sounds like you found what was just right for your girls! That's what this is all about, isn't it.. listening to the Spirit and connecting with what will teach and bless our individual YW the most. So great that you knew the history well enough to teach it, too! Sounds like you were prepared for what needed to be done! I'm happy you had such a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing it with us!


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