Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Only What You Take With

First of all, bonus nerd points for anyone who picks up on the movie reference in the post title.

Second of all: I love the new Sunday School/YW/YM format. I love nearly everything about it. After teaching there for nine or ten months I can give some reasons for why I think it is far superior to the previous situation.

1.  There is much variety in what I can choose from each week and each month. I can pick the topics and talks that I feel the most inspired to teach, as well as materials that I feel the most strongly about. We have spent the last couple of weeks talking about the importance of life-long learning, both in the spiritual and in the secular sense. We talked about truth and how the Holy Ghost can help us with all our learning. We talked about wisdom versus facts. We talked about preparation to bring both ourselves and others joy. I testified to my class of all boys about the importance of supporting girls in their educational endeavors. Oh! There was so much to share!

2.  If the kids are involved in the teaching, there are many chances for them to gain testimony and to practice for their own missionary experiences. This is a big "if," obviously, and has been challenging, but the kids are getting more used to these experiences and getting better at them.

3.  It is light on scriptures stories, and heavy on practical applications of living the gospel. Don't get me wrong, I think that even young children can be taught to mine the scriptures for doctrine, and stories that can serve as metaphors in our own lives. But this new program uses the scriptures as a tool rather than as a focus. These teachings seem to be attempting to make a clear distinction between a seminary-type experience (gaining a knowledge of the scriptures) and practical religion (gaining a testimony that becomes a touchstone for a life of service to others). 

In all the love, there are cautions however. My group is young, and the lessons seem ready to jump to "how do I teach others about the gospel" mode without pausing to consider that many (if not most or all) of these kids still have fledgling testimonies of their own. Sharing is definitely a way to strengthen and grow testimony, but a testimony also helps with the sharing. We have to be careful that we aren't putting the cart before the horse.

As mentioned above, the scriptures are given a supporting role and used equally with (or less than) prophetic teachings from recent conferences. While I think the balance is good, I think we also have to be careful not to make our children lazy students of the scriptures. I've been surprised by how unacquainted the children in my class are with all but the most basic scripture stories. Whereas Sunday School used to once emphasize these, it doesn't anymore. And a last caution that also matches a point above--because teachers now have so much autonomy over what is being taught, a large part of what is presented to your children is what the teacher brings with them. Emotionally. Spiritually. Intellectually. Teachers are encouraged to share experiences and ask class members to do the same. If your teen's teacher is somebody you aren't sure about (you know, the sister in your ward who prayed to find out if her canned green beans were as healthy as her home grown fresh ones and recieves inspiration that YES! They ARE!, that kind of person) then those same doctrines that make you squirm when they open their mouth in Relief Society or Sunday School are being passed to your kids. 


Melanie said...

Interesting points about the pros and cons of the new system. I think it's too bad that there are no longer teacher development classes with the excellent Teaching, No Greater Call manual offered during the Sunday School hour. I learned a ton from that manual and the classes (based on the manual) that a BYU ward offered to anyone in the ward who had a teaching calling.

Sherry said...

I have been thinking about your very last point the last few days, particularly in light of the excellent Times and Seasons post called, "Men, Women, and Modesty." While I think that the author was spot on in a lot of ways, I thinks he failed to draw the line between doctrine and what is generally taught. That is, the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet has excellent guidelines for modesty. But individual members frequently teach their own brand of modesty, particularly with the idea of being modest for the sake of men. So I think the new youth Sunday School curriculum can be so awesome with good teachers. But we have to watch out for those crazy ones who see a lack of specific lesson manual as license to preach their own version of doctrine.

Also, I worry for converts who may be called to teach Sunday School. Most converts have little to no teaching or public speaking experience and they rely heavily on the manuals that tell them everything they are supposed to teach. I think this new structure could be particularly challenging for them.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

Title Reference = Star Wars, Episode V. A quote from Yoda it is.

It's exciting to see the Church move away from rote memorization toward personal involvement in teaching. I wish they'd had Preach My Gospel when I was a missionary.