Primary Was Intended for Boys

(and always has been).

Primary was born out of the need to civilize little boys; girls were included as an afterthought. Its founder, Aurelia Spencer Rogers, described its origins this way:

In August, 1878, I was called upon to preside over a Primary Association in Farmington. … And for some time previous to the organization of the children, I had reflected seriously upon the necessity of more strict discipline for our little boys.

Many of them were allowed to be out late at night; and certainly some of the larger ones well deserved the undesirable name of ‘hoodlum.’ …

The query then arose in my mind could there not be an organization for little boys wherein they could be taught everything good, and how to behave. …

Sister Rogers spoke to Eliza R. Snow, the doyenne whose ideas, support and influence were vital to any widespread enterprise. “Could there not be an organization for little boys, and have them trained to make better men?”

President John Taylor was consulted, and plans went ahead to organize what became the Primary Association.

Up to this period the girls had not been mentioned; but my mind was that the meeting would not be complete without them; for as singing was necessary, it needed the voices of little girls as well as boys to make it sound as well as it should.

After Sister Rogers sought permission to make this modification to original plans, girls were brought into Primary – not chiefly for their own benefit, but to improve the program planned for the boys.

So Primary proceeded with both boys and girls. Lessons were developed, the Children’s Friend was published, charity fairs were organized, children’s hospital wards were established, and Primary became an established institution within the Church for children from ages 3 to 14.

Then along came Boy Scouts. The program was established in Britain in 1907, came to the United States in 1910, and entered the Church in 1911 with the organization of the first LDS-sponsored troop in Salt Lake’s Waterloo Ward. The Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association adopted Scouting as its recreational program in 1913. Because the national Scouting program involved 12- and 13-year-old boys, LDS boys of that age were transferred to the MIA program.

The girls were not. The 12- and 13-year-old girls were left in Primary. With the little children. Singing the same songs and watching the same flannelboard stories with the little children in the afternoon. Watching their brothers go out to evening activities with the teens and adults. Watching the boys do all the things Scouts do. While they sang songs. With the little kids.

These conditions continued for nine long years, until 1922 when the Church organized the Seagull program for 12- and 13-year-old girls. They remained part of Primary, not MIA, but the Seagulls were a sort of junior Beehive Girl program, with the girls learning to conduct their own sub-meetings within the Primary, preparing lessons for each other, teaching younger classes, and engaging in service projects. The girls existed in some sort of limbo, no longer lumped with the small children, learning new skills, but without the variety and scope of the Scouting activities provided to boys the same age. Only in 1934 were the 12- and 13-year-old girls transferred to MIA, over the very strong objections of the general Primary board, and permitted to participate in some of the same social and recreational activities that had been open to the boys for an entire generation.

Probably no other individual has had a greater influence on the overall Primary program as we know it today than LaVern Watts Parmley, called to the Primary general board in 1941 and Primary general president from 1951-1974. She presided over the Primary three times longer than any president since her time, and successfully transitioned the Primary from a program chiefly of the intermountain west to one that serves children worldwide, as well negotiating the move from a mostly autonomous auxiliary to one that functions in coordination with all other facets of the Church.

Sister Parmley was born on 1 January 1900 – I know that’s not really the first day of the new century, but the date is still symbolic of her outlook, her construction of Primary to suit the needs of the modern era rather than strictly maintaining the habits of the old.

Importantly, she considered herself to be, in her own words, “a leader of boys.” She loved boys, considered them her “speciality” (also her own word), and devoted her life to meeting their needs. She spent time with boys, beginning with her eight brothers (she had two sisters, too, but those were much younger than she). She was something of a tomboy, playing football, basketball and handball, and working as farm labor as much as assisting her mother in the house. Her own children were two boys and a girl, whom she raised to be just as active as she was, playing basketball and volleyball and cheering for the University of Utah sports teams.

Her first assignment on the Primary general board was to revamp the boys’ program. Her next call was as the counselor over the boys’ program in the administration of then-President May Green Hinckley. She retained supervision of the boys’ program under the presidency of Sister Hinckley’s successor, Adele Cannon Howells. Heavily involved in Scouting, Sister Parmley became the first woman to serve on a national Boy Scout committee, and the first woman to receive the Silver Buffalo award. She served on the National Council of Boy Scouts and as a member of the national Cub Scout Committee. LaVern Parmley loved boys, and boys’ programs.

Her first great challenge after her call as president in 1951 had to do with Scouting. In 1950, the national Boy Scouts had lowered the age of joining Scouts to 11. The Cub Scout program was also becoming wildly popular in the United States. Both facts negatively impacted the Primary – at first, 11-year-old boys were expected to attend Primary on a weekday, and Scouts with the MIA on a week night. The double meetings were a burden on the boys and their families, and too many 11-year-old boys opted to attend Scouts and dropped out of Primary. Younger boys joined the Cub Scouts in droves. Since most packs were sponsored by community groups, there were conflicts between Primary and Cubbing schedules. Cubbing usually won. In some cases, Cub packs were also the boys’ choirs at non-LDS churches, and a surprising number of boys skipped not only Primary, but Sunday School as well in order to participate in choirs with their friends.

Sister Parmley’s solution to the conflict was to incorporate Cub Scouting into the Primary program. This not only eliminated competition with other community groups, it also gave her the clout needed with the national Boy Scout program to win their permission for women to serve as Scout leaders for the 11-year-olds who remained in Primary. Den and Pack meetings, Pinewood Derbys, Pack-o-Fun, skits, blue-and-gold uniforms, badges and day camps and awards ceremonies, cool initiation rites – all the activities and goodies that I remember peeking longingly at from the hallway as I grew up (my own mother was an avid Den Mother and Primary worker) entered Primary under Sister Parmley.

There was no comparable attention to the girls’ programs. The girls’ class names were changed (girls became “Lihomas” or “Little Homemakers”), but a review of their lesson manuals and leadership books reveals no substantive alteration of their lesson topics or recreational activities.

Sister Parmley was responsible for other major developments in Primary (transforming the Children’s Friend into a magazine for the children themselves instead of an inservice magazine for teachers, and transitioning to The Friend; building a new Primary Children’s Hospital, then assisting in the Church’s divestment of all hospitals; instituting teacher training after discovering how many Primary teachers were converts without sufficient knowledge of basic gospel tenets). She popularized the song “I Am a Child of God” and oversaw the development of CTR rings and other lasting symbols of modern Mormon culture. Her greatest efforts and greatest love, however, was unashamedly reserved for the boys and their activities.

It was Sister Parmley’s vision of Primary, her goals and designs and priorities, in which all recent and current Primary presidents were raised. Later presidents have tweaked the program during their brief administrations, but none has made a major overhaul of the program as Sister Parmley did. Her model of Primary, with minor modifications, remains their model of Primary.

True? or no?

71 comments for “Primary Was Intended for Boys

  1. Fascinating history, Ardis, thank you for this post.

    What I find ironic is that the history, as you have set it out, shows a program designed and modified almost entirely around the needs of boys. But to look at Primary now (esp. the Sunday part, maybe not so much the mid-week part) is to see a program that in fact is designed almost entirely around the behavorial/pedagogical/social needs of (most) girls, not (most) boys. What I almost always see in Primary (particularly among the older children) is boys who do not hide the fact that they detest it: no singing, no (serious) participation, lots of behavior problems.

  2. Excellent report, Ardis. The problems we see in Sunday Primary have mostly to do with the fact that it *is* on Sunday. As a church, we no longer see the connection between Primary and Scouting (too many people seeing only the expense in time and dollar, and not the underlying purpose), and between Primary and socializing little boys. The behavioral expectations of Sunday Church limit what can be done.

    It takes a special heart to see boys through this age (just like it takes a special heart to take girls through the young women age). Sister Parmley is my hero.

    (says someone who usta be a bobwhite . . . )

  3. Ardis, I’m picking at a nit here — I apologize in advance.

    The Scouting movement is traditionally held to have begun in 1907 when Robert Baden-Powell held the first encampment at Brownsea Island in England. Your article has it as as being established in 1909.

    Again, sorry for straining on this gnat, but I know how much you love historical detail, and as a Scoutmaster, I am duty-bound to help other people at all times. :)


  4. And by the way, thank you, Ardis, for the insight into the Church/Scouting program. It’s a challenge to mesh the Church’s expectations with those of the Boy Scouts of America, and this historical background gives me a better perspective of what I’m working with. Well done.


  5. Thanks, Jon, I’ve corrected the date. You’ve helped this little old lady across the muddy street of historical error.

    Most of my Primary teaching experience was pre-block meeting days. I tried teaching one year on Sunday and was thankful not to have to continue — Primary ceased being Primary and became Sunday School, which I think has always been geared toward girls, what with pretty little recitations and pretty little ribbons and cards for prizes and pretty little songs and sitting still with hands folded while wearing one’s best pretty little clothes. I think all that survives of real Primary is the weekday activities, and watered down names of the Sunday classes. But what do I know — we don’t even have a Primary in my ward for me to watch from a distance!

    With my outdated understanding of Primary, Julie, I suppose you should read this with the midweek activities in mind, mostly ignoring Sundays, as outlining the historical accidents of personnel and timing that have led (in my best guess) to what so many see as disparities between the boys’ and girls’ activities.

    J., Aurelia isn’t very explicit about what she means by hooliganism … leaving us free to imagine all kinds of mischief on the part of our great-grandparents. Hmmm …

    And Coffinberry, it *does* take a special kind of woman to work that well with boys. I had a brother who needed that kind of attention, and I can still list the three women in various wards whom my mother thanked over and over for being the kind of woman who could reach boys like my brother.

  6. Ardis, I always appreciate your posts.

    I dunno. I still get a bad vibe from Sis. Rogers, with her desire to impose “strict discipline” upon all those “hoodlums”. She comes across to me as crabby and schoolmarmish. Times were certainly different then and maybe it is just a failure of imagination on my part, but I simply cannot envision her original plan, which called for teaching boys to march and sing, doing any good whatsoever. Had I been in her primary, I can guarantee I would have been even more of a hoodlum and exhibited even more rotten behavior after being subjected to her ministry than before. But maybe I’m wrong about her, and I actually hope that I am.

    Sister Parmley, on the other hand, sounds like somebody I would have loved as a young boy.

  7. OK, this seems to me to beg the question: Did/do the need something structured like scouts to help them not be such ‘hooligans’? I know people bristle at the suggestion, but the fact that only the boys were sticking out to the leaders back then sticks out to me. It makes me wonder about today. I wonder if a program like scouts for girls would have (or would now) accomplish the same thing for girls that it does for boys. Are their needs really the same? Should we treat them as if they are?

    This post, to me, is also a reminder of how things are often a process, and sometimes that process moves slowly. It also is hard to know whether things took a course because of the personality of the leaders at the time, or if the leaders’ personalities were what the Lord wanted to be in place to accomplish certain things. Was Sister Parmley focused on boys just cuz that was her thing and we have to sort of put up with that fact (that she didn’t give the girls the same energy), or was she placed there in that day and time to focus on boys (for some reason…again, the boys obviously were concerning lots of leaders, and the girls weren’t) because that is what the Lord wanted done at that time? Don’t shoot me…I think it’s a question worth at least considering.

    I will say, though, I’m grateful that our leaders today care about both boys and girls. I know not everyone thinks that is true, but I don’t think that we should measure worth by programs, and I get the sense that the focus and concern has evened out, even if the programs still are different in the US and Canada. (That, to me, is also interesting. Is the program kept for the Church’s sake, or is it as much for the BSA’s sake, to influence the boys outside of the Church where the program exists? Might it be a little of both?)

    I also think it’s worth celebrating that the Church’s involvement with Boy Scouts initially opened up the chance for women to be involved in scouting. I know some people are disappointed that girls don’t have a program like scouting, (and maybe some women are disappointed to be involved in scouting at all {grin}) but I think it’s pretty cool that because of the Church’s involvement in scouting, women have a voice in that program, and can (and do!!!) have a significant impact at many levels, including in the lives of boys in and out of the Church.

  8. Ker-POW!! (That’s me shooting m&m so that nobody else has to.)

    Good questions, m&m. My questions: if the girls didn’t need attention, why not? If they didn’t need attention in 1900, or 1950, is that still true in 2007?

    The only possibilities I have boil down to “girls get what they need within the family” (but even if that was true a century ago, is it still true?) or that “girls are naturally better than boys” (the juvenile version of “women are more spiritual than men”) — those are my only possibilities because, like you, I can’t accept as realistic a suggestion that girls don’t matter as much as boys.

    I admit freely to being out of touch with the current Primary program. I know it only from the artificial world of the blogs, where women tend to complain about a disparity between programs (not that they should be the same programs, but that girls need some of the same fuss that boys get). Are girls missing out on anything they need? Are boys being given unneeded fuss? Or is everything more or less just about right?

  9. “My questions: if the girls didn’t need attention, why not? If they didn’t need attention in 1900, or 1950, is that still true in 2007? The only possibilities I have boil down to “girls get what they need within the family” (but even if that was true a century ago, is it still true?) or that “girls are naturally better than boys” (the juvenile version of “women are more spiritual than men”) — those are my only possibilities because, like you, I can’t accept as realistic a suggestion that girls don’t matter as much as boys.”

    Isn’t it noteworthy that it was a woman who was worried about the boys? Isn’t it question provoking that two women had so much to do with shaping programs for boys? So here’s a different possibility for why girls didn’t get the attention. Boys have always been inconvenient for many women, they’re just so unlike girls, which is what all women have intimate knowledge of and what many women assume should be the ideal child. The girls didn’t get the attention from these women because they were already girls, and unfortunately the boys weren’t.

  10. Weren’t young men and women in their early twenties part of the the early 20th Century MIA? I’m not clear on the history of M-Men and Gleaners. The age groupings of nearly a century ago may have made sense at that time.

  11. To add on to what m&m said:

    Are the girls’ needs (now, then, whenever) less/different than the boys’ needs, or are boys just more of a pain when their needs aren’t met?

    (In other words, if we could peer into the souls of boys and girls today, what would we find about whether church programs are meeting their needs? We know boys act up more, but is there any relation to that acting up and their actual needs, or do girls just sit quietly and fantasize about [–please insert teen heart throb name–complete lack of pop culture knowledge here] when they are bored while the boys pull chairs out from under other kids so the leaders notice their boredom more?)

  12. I’m trying to follow the logic here. Because the Primary existed to benefit boys, the Primary organization fought to keep older girls under their supervision after the older boys had already been handed over to the MIA?

  13. Fascinating post. I remember when I was in Young Women, I noticed a marked disparity between the attention and money the scouts got and what we received. They would go on all sorts of camp outs and other fun activities, while we would tie quilts for charity. There is nothing wrong with making quilts, but it was the norm for us. They also called YW leaders who had many young children to take care of. Our leaders understandably didn’t have much time left over for us.

    I complained about this to my mother. Her response was something like, “It is really hard to be a boy. . .they have a lot of temptation. ..they need extra attention that they get in scouts. . .” My mother meant well, but I did not agree with her. I saw the majority of the young women fall away from activity in the church. Many of them ended up pregnant without the benefit of marriage among other things. Girls may not act out in the same way that boys do, but they have needs that are too often ignored.

  14. Julie, I like your formulation, at least for my personal behavior.

    KLC, the boys in question really were children, preteen children, who have always, to the best of my knowledge, been the responsibility of women. Maybe I don’t understand your comment.

    John, the logic is that when a cool community program for boys became available, the church restructured itself so that the boys could be given that opportunity. The Primary didn’t fight to keep the older girls; they were left there by default. The Primary adapted itself to meet the needs of the boys, which in this case created a very visible disparity by treating the boys as adventurous young men moving into older society and preparing for adulthood, leaving the girls behind with the small children.

    rk, your statements are similar to the ones that got me wondering about the roots of the differences between the girls’ and boys’ programs. I would prefer, however, to keep this particular discussion focused on Primary because I’m not yet equipped with anything but anecdotal experience to carry the discussion forward to the youth programs. Sooner or later, we’ll get a good discussion going on Young Men/Young Women, I promise.

  15. My observation (as someone still in the Primary trenches–CTR8 teacher at the moment, but also multi-decade experience in Primary, as primary music leader in 5 states, and as cub scout leader & leader trainer) is that boys AND girls both have huge needs, that begin to diverge at about age 9 or so, and which few adults (any more, maybe ever?) are able to fill. If I were to cast a vote as to why “boys” are seen as needing special treatment, it would be in accord with the idea that most people called to work with the under-12 set are female, and hence boys are “other” that requires something more to understand and work with.

    I doubt that I could accurately express an opinion about the girl programs in the church. I didn’t think much of ’em when I was a teen (count me in the ‘how come we don’t get to…’ group–the only redeeming feature of YW was girl’s camp, otherwise I hated it), but as an adult I see that the limitations on the girls programs seem to stem not from institutional issues per se, but on the imaginations of (some of) the leaders and the attitudes of (some of) the girls themselves.

    Which makes me wonder… are the women who are drawn to the boy-side of things (ie, to be cub scout leaders, etc.) the ones who thought girl-things are uninteresting?

  16. Ardis, is there an emoticon for “yeah, I know I’m painting with a really wide brush”?

    But I have worked in Primary, where a good child is one who can sit still for hours on end, listen carefully for hours on end, talks only when spoken to, obeys instantly and doesn’t cause trouble. I don’t know about you but in my experience, many little girls approach that ideal while most little boys don’t. And who is in charge of Primary? And as you point out, who started Primary in the first place and then shaped it into what it became in the 20th century? Women. And my experience has been that while most women give lip service to the difference between boys and girls, they try their darndest to change little boys into their vision of an ideal child, which just happens to be very close to a little girl. Thus my comment about why girls were overlooked by these women, the girls didn’t need help becoming more like little girls, they already were little girls, but the boys? Man did they need some stern guidance and focused programs to also become more like the girls they never will be.

  17. KLC, ah, I understand.

    I had originally titled this post “Primary was designed for boys” until my cobloggers pointed out that, much as Julie pointed out in #1, the “design” tends to fit girls, not boys. especially as it has morphed into a Sunday spiritual program instead of the recreational program it was when it was held after school on weekdays.

    You’re right, too, that even when Primary was an afternoon recreational program, the behavior expected by the Primary’s *women* leaders was geared toward modifying behavior of boys to be nearer to that of girls — throw beanbags instead of rocks, sing a song about springtime and flowers instead of a naughty parody. Still, boys were treated more like boys and less like girls on weekdays: the boy’s program involved doing and moving and competing and making, while the girls sat and listened and sang and discussed.

  18. Great insights, Ardis, as I have had 5 boys and only one girl go through Primary, and it was not obvious to me that the program was mostly for the boys. That’s the need that Cub Scouts filled, or so I was taught.

    My wife served as a Blazer Leader (think old-school 11 year old scouts), in four different wards, and loved it, but under current policy, can’t do that anymore.

    I will note that there has been a steady effort at leveling the playing field between Scouting and Young Women/Activities Days and Cub Scouts in the last couple of stakes I have lived in. Scouting is supposed to be covered under the standard budget plan, just like Young Women, and when I served as bishop, I could not in good conscience see allocating more money to the YM/Scouting side of things as opposed to YW. I still see some local disparities here and there, but it’s not supposed to work that way anymore. The boys get one fundraising project a year for Scout Camp, and the girls get one fundraising project for Girls Camp. One year, we got an extra $500 allocation for youth activities from our stake, and we put it to having a weekend “High Adventure” experience for our girls in addition to regular Stake Girls Camp.

  19. Today I wonder to what extent the actual practice of (Sunday) Primary manages to meet *anyone’s* needs. In my fantasy church world I’d go back to the old model of Sacrament on Sundays plus weekday activities: the fact that the kids are being asked to sit quietly for an hour while adults talk puts the Primary at a serious disadvantage, and the reverence requirements, combined with the number of adults (as compared with the number of children,) don’t help with learning. At least, not when you’re seven and sitting still for ten minutes is a real challenge. I consider it a major victory when I can get any one of the seven girls in my class to actually pay attention to what’s going on in Sharing Time: this is one of the reasons I love singing so much; participation is easier to encourage and monitor. And my class is nothing but girls — they have just as much trouble as the boys, in my experience, though the boys are louder and more active in their teacher-ignoring habits.

    Note that when it comes to weekday activities, you don’t need to worry about any girls under 8 at all. They, as well as non-cub-scouting boys under 11, will be at Primary activities on four non-Sundays a year, and that’s it. Oh, and maybe one or two Saturday Sacrament meeting program rehearsals.

    (Randomly: I’m not sure what the actual goals of Primary are. The website says we’re supposed to “help children learn and live gospel principles; remember and keep their baptismal covenants; and build strong, enduring testimonies.” I think we might be doing okay on the second of those, but we don’t have nearly enough time to do a good job at number one, let alone number three. And it’s all non-measurable, which drives me nuts. I think this is probably why so many Primaries devote so much time to memorizing and reciting the Articles of Faith.)

  20. I’m digging out an old post of mine on M* that relates to this:

    Besides that post, in my experiences as a Primary teacher, and it seems quite clear that (in my limited experience) the current primary structure is antagonistic towards boys, and is designed to ignore and/or turn them into girls.

    I was once assigned to teach the “problem child” class in Primary, but it turned out that the definition of problem child was “boy” and it was de facto gender segregation – the other classes were suddenly all girls, and I had boys of mixed ages. The other teachers just did not want to deal with boys at all. After a few weeks, the bishop noticed this and ordered to Primary presidency to change the policy.

    I fear though, it will only get worse, as every ward and stake I’ve visited or lived in has recently adopted a “no male teachers at all” rule – which goes well beyond the actual church rule that male teachers should never teach alone. The boys are going to suffer.

  21. Ivan:

    Our ward has (I think) a two-deep-whenever-possible rule, and my favorite part about it is the resulting increase of married couples teaching Primary classes: sometimes we have two men teaching together, but most of the time, especially in the Senior Primary, we have married couples. I think it’s an awesome way of making sure both sets of needs are met — and as a bonus, allows the children to see a glimpse of a hopefully-functioning adult relationship (not between their own parents) on an ongoing basis.

    Anyway, come to Ohio, we’ll make you feel better.

  22. Are the girls’ needs (now, then, whenever) less/different than the boys’ needs, or are boys just more of a pain when their needs aren’t met?

    Great additional question, Julie.

    I also want to make explicit one of my questions about why Scouts stay as part of the program for US and Canada. Since it doesn’t exist elsewhere (which suggests it isn’t essential for our boys to make it through life), isn’t it possible that we stick with it as much for the boys outside of the Church as inside? If the Church was not a part of BSA, would it still thrive in the way it does because we are involved? Would it be the program it is for boys who often have no other program to help shape them in any way? In short, is there a bigger picture in this regard to consider?

  23. Besides that post, in my experiences as a Primary teacher, and it seems quite clear that (in my limited experience) the current primary structure is antagonistic towards boys, and is designed to ignore and/or turn them into girls.

    Hm. As a parent, I don’t see that, but I’m not a Primary person, so what do I know?

    Or maybe I should ask what you think a boy-friendly Primary look like? Is this possibly some of what Scouts wants to help with? Are scouting activities only boy-friendly? Would they turn girls into boys? What does that all really mean, anyway? What does it mean to ‘turn boys into girls” for those who feel this way?

    What is interesting about comments like this, though, is that they still underscore the concept that girls and boys are different, no? As such, if they really are different, can we expect that the programs will be just the same? If so, ok, why? If not, then what differences should be there? I hear people say that they worry that boys aren’t getting enough spiritual training. But the comment above seems to want to suggest some other concern. Opinions are all over the map, and I think it’s all more complex than sometimes we want to think.

    So, anyway, I am just thinking out loud, because with all the possible facets of this issue, I feel like we can’t really address the ‘shoulds’ simply by comparing the money spent, or the awards that can be received, or other disparities that are sometimes mentioned when talking about girls’ vs. boys’ programs in the Church (in US and Canada). I wonder if 50 years down the road we will look back and still see our time as a work in progress, or how much closer to an ideal (if there is one) we are when compared to 150 years ago. I can’t imagine that we have ‘arrived’ yet if simply because of the fact that the programs for boys are not the same all over the world (but again, should they be?). I wonder what the ideal would look like, for a worldwide church that believes in gender roles and with general growth and needs that are constantly changing. I wonder if there is a set ideal at all.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to be a fly on the wall at general-level meetings on these topics? I imagine there are other issues that we aren’t as aware of, and perspective that we might not have given the worldwide nature of the church.

    Sorry…this is just something I have thought a lot about and haven’t really had much opportunity to talk about it with anyone.

  24. #23 – I believe so. In all honesty, I am not and have never been a big fan of Scouting ***for Mormon youth*** (although I recognize that it can be a wonderful program when run well, but I am and always will be (unless changes are forced by the courts) a HUGE fan of Scouts for “the world” in general.

  25. Ardis, just one small point on which presidents effected major change. I think it’s probably important to look hard at Dwan Young’s term–she presided over the switch to the Sunday block, and she also had very strong opinions about the amount of doctrinal complexity that one ought to attempt with children. This is when nursery kids started having lessons and the manuals started to include fewer stories and more doctrinal abstraction. The songbook also underwent a major revision during that time, and the standardized Primary Sacrament Mtg. programs became more specific and SLC-directed (which, as anyone who does Primary music or Sharing Time will tell you, has a dramatic impact on what gets focused on in Primary).

  26. Re #23: that’s an interesting question, certainly there is financial support there, but I’ve seen cub scouts from the non-LDS standpoint (my sons are in a non-LDS pack) and I think there also exists the sentiment that Mormons are a pain: half (more?) of the LDS kids and adults don’t want to be there which means everything from having a hard time getting adults to training meetings to kids who would rather goof around than complete activities. I imagine that there are some scouters who would claim that the church’s presence in scouting does more harm than good. I can see the argument going either way.

    ‘Or maybe I should ask what you think a boy-friendly Primary look like? ”

    You didn’t ask me, but I’ll answer. For Sunbeams, it means crawling around on the floor pretending to be the animals getting onto the ark. For 7yos, it means doing a beatitudes treasure hunt around the Primary room–finding your “gems” and putting them in your “treasure chest.” For 10yos, it means that singing time is a football game. (This last done by the mother of a herd of boys; posterboard was football field, don’t ask me all the rules, but it is the only time I’ve ever seen senior primary boys sing.)

    I tell you that just to say: I don’t think there are institutional barriers to making Primary boy-friendly–I think the barriers are tradition and laziness and lack of creativity. I also don’t think that “boy friendly” is really the right term for it. I think that when boys are bored, they misbehave. When girls are bored, they zone out. Most teachers aren’t nearly as bothered by zoning out as by active misbehavior, so we focus on ‘getting the boys to behave.’ But I bet the girls would rather do the treasure hunt than read from a wordstrip, too.

  27. I think there also exists the sentiment that Mormons are a pain: half (more?) of the LDS kids and adults don’t want to be there

    I was just talking recently about this problem with someone. I was hoping it was more localized to their area. That kind of thing doesn’t do much for the ‘witness at all times’ thing, either. I’m saddened to hear that that person’s experience is not unique in this regard. Add this as another facet to the complexity to this whole issue.

    You didn’t ask me, but I’ll answer.

    I actually was hoping you would, Julie, so thanks. And I agree that if there is a place to improve, it is in overcoming “tradition and laziness and lack of creativity” that hinders coming up with enough variety like this. Fun ideas, by the way–LOVE ideas like this. And I think your thoughts about how children respond to boredom is interesting. ((Although I have a daughter who would be an exception to your genderized characterizations. {grin})

  28. “Are the girls’ needs (now, then, whenever) less/different than the boys’ needs, or are boys just more of a pain when their needs aren’t met?”

    This was my thought also. There are many girls that are dissatisfied with Young Women programs and probably aren’t crazy about Primary either, but sit quietly and go along with the program. Since the sqeaky wheel gets the grease, much time and energy has been expended to improve the boys programs, but the girls still sit through lessons and singing because they don’t complain about it, but would probably much rather be doing more engaging things like the boys do.

  29. I personally think that the current Primary format is geared towards girls. Or at least they seem to cooperate better and actually learn something.

    My wife recently as chorister admin. a test to our senior primary on the songs they were learning and basic gospel knowledge.

    15 questions. 50 kids

    The top 20 tests or the best scores were all girls. The first boy was #21 and then the next one was like #28. The girls got what was actually being taught in Primary.

    It sure opened our eyes and we started hitting gospel topics even harder at home since we have 4 boys.

    #22 Ivan

    School is the same way. There is not a single male teacher in my kids entire elementary school. there are 8-10 classes in each grade K-4. My oldest says that almost every kid in the remedial classes and in detention is male.

  30. A fascinating history, Ardis. I’m not close enough to the program to comment on the modern applications as others have, but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading the original post.

  31. Sister Parshall, you wrote in that “[o]nly in 1934 were the 12- and 13-year-old girls transferred to MIA, over the very strong objections of the general Primary board,” so that is why I thought that the Primary organization fought to keep older girls under their supervision. But then in comment #15 you wrote that “[t]he Primary didn’t fight to keep the older girls; they were left there by default.”

  32. Since the sqeaky wheel gets the grease, much time and energy has been expended to improve the boys programs, but the girls still sit through lessons and singing because they don’t complain about it, but would probably much rather be doing more engaging things like the boys do.

    The problem with this is that this means that either the leaders aren’t involving the young women in planning as they are supposed to and/or the girls (esp. the class leadership) are choosing not to give input as they should be doing. Again, the problem is not institutional as much as personal. There is definitely room for creativity. No one has said that girls can’t do ‘engaging’ things. For each group, what is engaging might vary. That is why local leadership is supposed to lead and has been given authority to make decisions that meet the needs of its members! (Similar arguments could be made about activity days, although the girls won’t be involved in the same way. But there isn’t anything keeping an activity day leader from asking girls for input on things that interest them, is there?

  33. Julie #27

    –I think the barriers are tradition and laziness and lack of creativity.

    I agree.When I served in the Primary about 2/3 of the primary were boys. I loved teaching them. Some of the recommended sharing time lessons seemed very boring and watered down to me and I am not male. With a little creativity some lessons could become good. I found that acting things out could be really fun. I had some fake fur and cut out some beards and tied strings on them. I also made some bible styled hats. I had the kids act out the parable of the unjust servant while it was being narrated. The boys loved it and were begging to participate. With effective lesson planning and good props and other visual aids older children both boys and girls can enjoy primary. There are a number of church publications out there that have some good ideas.

    I have also observed that older boys and girls seem to enjoy singing hymns over primary songs. I would accommodate them. I have also found that many older children enjoy reading from and hearing explanations from the scriptures in lessons. Often times we underestimate how well children can understand fundamental doctrines of the gospel. Some lessons I’ve seen just seem to frilly to me and they seem designed to occupy time rather than teach effectively.

  34. John — Fair enough. When I said the girls remained in Primary by default, I was thinking of all that time between 1913 and 1934, after the boys went into MIA and the girls were left behind. Nobody faught to keep them in Primary during that generation; they were just left behind. But you’re right, in 1934 there were objections to having the girls follow the boys into MIA, and I’m not entirely sure why (a continuation of the thought that girls that age shouldn’t be going out to evening activities? I’d hate to think it was a turf war between Primary and MIA administrations). Sorry for my misunderstanding of which period you were talking about.

  35. 1. Am I understanding this correctly in thinking the early Primary originally was what modern Cub/Boy Scouting now is? Roughly speaking, anyway? Was it originally activities, games, and singing, with moral/gospel lessons and such sneaked in (like spinach and zucchini in the lasagna)?

    2. So what are we to make of modern Primary for boys (and girls), then? Is it simply a rowdy baby-sitting hour so the parents can teach the teenagers? (My little boy is making the jump from Nursery into Primary in the new year, and I don’t think he’ll be able to sit in his chair for more than a minute. I can see it now — he’s going to go running and screaming back to the Nursery so he can play with the trucks.) What is the purpose of the modern Primary? (Asking out of honest ignorance and inquiry, not defiance or arrogance.)


  36. 27,
    Julie, I am going to backpeddle a little on my response to this comment. I have been thinking about it more, and I worry about this idea of making Primary only boy-friendly. I know that was the question I asked, so I got what I asked for, and I’m sure you are a bigger-picture person in practice (I have heard how much you put into Primary, and what a good teacher you are) but for the sake of discussion, here are some thoughts.

    I’d like to see if we can take a step back and articulate really what a Primary that cares about the needs of boys AND girls looks like. Especially when it comes to Sunday meetings when boys and girls are always together, perhaps it’s wrong to think about it in terms of boys’ needs vs. girls’ needs at all?

    If I were a sensitive-to-the-differences-between-boys-and-girls-at-church kind of girl (this awareness can begin at a young age…I have watched it with my daughter), and I saw the focus of activities on things like crawling on the floor and playing football (both more boy-friendly to be sure), I would feel slighted. I can’t very well crawl like the boys in my pretty little dress from Grandma, and football is something my brother and Dad get into (for illustration’s sake…that’s not how it is in our home.) {grin}.

    So, do we think we really need to go so far as to use activities that have a gendered nuance to keep the boys’ attention? Isn’t there a risk of losing the girls, then? I really believe there are differences between boys and girls, but I’m not convinced that we have to play into them that much at church. I think there are many ways to give children (boys and girls) a chance to move around some and to be involved and to have a fun time without obviously playing to either the girls or the boys.

    Also, as a more general comment: I still can’t quite get past this notion that somehow sitting and singing and participating and being respectful is considered by some ‘acting like girls’ (or did I misunderstand?). If this is the perspective, how can we ever expect to socialize boys to learn how to sit and sing and participate and show respect (I’m thinking about sacrament meeting when they are old enough to pass the sacrament in particular, and don’t sit with mom and dad for nearly half of the meeting)? There won’t be any games or activities then to keep them from misbehaving, so how do we help them learn this along the way? (I know what we do at home, and we are anything but just sit and fold arms kind of learners in my house, but there is a time and place, ya know?…I’m just interested in other’s thoughts about how this can happen at church to brainstorm that balance in a general way.)

  37. “I can’t very well crawl like the boys in my pretty little dress from Grandma”

    Grandmothers can be induced to give clothing that is both presentable and comfortable for girls. And even the froofiest dresses are machine washable these days–I know because I have a girl who loves ruffles AND mud. Little girls should not be made afraid of playing for the sake of their clothes, ever.

  38. #38–Well, it’s decided then. I’m dressing my 2-year-old in nice pantsuits for church from now on! If we didn’t think gambling was a sin, I’d say we should start up a bloggernacle office pool on how long it takes for the powers that be to send me sleeping with the fishes or something. ;-)

  39. My girls always insisted on wearing bike shorts under their dresses to Primary. (and with some of them this continued all the way through YW!) One must always be prepared for the occasional treasure hunt, crawling on the floor, or a surreptitious cartwheel on the front lawn.

  40. 35 — Perhaps were older girls retained for the reason girls were included in the first place — to contribute something that helped the program deliver what boys needed? Particularly, strong behavior modeling in a female-dominated environment, where the biggest and strongest are all female.

    I’m also thinking that it would be useful for girls to be around younger children when they would be raising their own not too many years hence.

  41. as singing was necessary, it needed the voices of little girls as well as boys to make it sound as well as it should.

    Sister Rogers had clearly never heard of the Vienna Boys Choir; perhaps if she had, girls would have been left out altogether.

  42. m&m (#23),

    Scouting was certainly part of the young men’s program in Korea in the mid-1980s. The young men program for Koreans. I don’t know if there is any LDS sponsorship of Scouting in Korea any more though. I would be surprised if the English speaking ward didn’t still have a BSA troop though.

    Sponsorship or not, Scouting is a pretty big deal in Korea. Take a look here and here.

  43. The conversation is spiraling in so many directions that I can respond to only a few comments that are historically based. (But do keep up the other aspects, if you want — I’m especially interested in the ideas for boy-, girl-, generic-kid-friendly Primary.)

    26: Thank you, Kristine, for pointing this out. I’m sure that the move to Sunday meetings was as dramatic a shift as anything in Primary’s history for the nature of the meetings themselves. I wish I were more aware of the development of the activity days and their evolution, too.

    36: Jon, the activities and games and parades and treasure hunts were always, in my personal experience and in the historical manuals which I have seen — I can’t vouch for the earliest years — tied in very closely to the theme of a lesson. You didn’t march just because marching was a way to work out the wiggles and have fun; you had a mini-parade because the lesson was about how Heavenly Father had given you a body that moves and grows, and let’s see how good it feels to take deep breaths and swing our arms and move our feet, and just look at how much better we can do those things as 5-year-olds than we could when we were just 3-year-olds like the Moonbeams over there. And I hope Primary in your ward is far more than babysitting — it should be, with teachers who put in the effort and use the resources that Julie always seems to come up with.

    41: If so, not very fair to the girls, was it? A lot of girls that age *do* like babysitting or playing school teacher, but to restrict 12-year-old girls to taking care of younger kids all the time, without other enriching experiences, because they will eventually be mothers, is hardly the way to train mothers who will be worth a dime, and when the Primary leadership had finally thought it through they did come up with activities more suited to developing healthy, happy young women. (Besides, how many boys grow up to careers that involve hiking and basketball and racing toy cars?)

  44. I don\’t remember the university that did the study but I recently saw a study that examined the gender differences of children. They found that the \”needs\” of boys and girls are not very different at all up until the age of about 9-10 years old. It is at this age that their needs begin to fork off in different but overlapping paths. However, the key difference between little boys and girls was in the way they reacted to not having those \”needs\” met; i.e. aggresive and obnoxious vs passive and disinterested. Granted as is anything dealing with gender there is a great amount of overlapping but IMHO I see this study as a source of hope for those who are working in the primary because it shows that boys and girls can be taught using similar methods. In fact, in this case the outward rebellion of the boys might be a blessing in disguise because it is showing us that maybe we need to try something different.

    I will look for a link to the study but I thought it was interesting and very applicable to the topic being discussed here.

  45. m & m,

    I think the key to engaging children is variety so, on that idea alone, no, it shouldn’t be football every week. But it should be something different every week and if half of the room is wiggly (regardless of the gender of the wigglers), then the activities should skew towards the active. And I don’t think that strongly gender identified activities should be ignored, but that there should be balance: make tissue paper flowers in the Spring, play football, do it all.

  46. To Julie’s comment “But I bet the girls would rather do the treasure hunt than read from a wordstrip, too.” I say, “Amen.”

    Though it’s definitely easier to get boys to do jumping jacks when they need to take a quick refocusing break. The girls just want to talk about what they did this last week, at least after the age of 7 or so (I can get boys to do jumping jacks and stretch and stoop and dash across the room to express their opinion on a yes/no question through at least age 10.) None of them go for the “stretch because you’re happy to have a body” thing, though — I’m glad that stuff isn’t in the Junior Primary manuals. I have a hard enough time with the “awww, we heard this story already!!” stuff. I don’t think I’ve met a (non-convert) Mormon child who hasn’t heard the story about the little boy who had to go to church in nurse’s shoes.

    And girls absolutely disengage quietly. The most I get is begging to be allowed to sit with an older sibling in the room, or turning around to look at the kids (usually boys) behind us, or fiddling with jewelry and markers or unraveling their hems or making the holes in their tights bigger… the boys jump on top of chairs and write nasty things on their knuckles (to show to the kids coming back to their seats) or shout comments that should be whispered. Note that my class actually meets with the *senior* Primary, by the way.

  47. In the experiences I have had as a leader of youth and sometime primary teacher, I have found that USUALLY the male leadership paid more head to trying to get the youth to plan their own activities while women wanted it to go right and therefore did more of the planning. My daughter felt her role in a YW class presidency was window dressing–she had nothing to do that was meaningful. I know she could have done more, but she wasn’t one to buck the trend and make her own place, yet neither was she one to be content in an adult domminated program. The results were not good. It is very hard to get the balance right, but it seems to me that Primary and YM/YW are a structured well enough as a continuum from adult controlled nursery/Jr Primary, adult directed Sr Primary/Cub & Blazer Scouts/Activity Girls, and transitional YM/YW child planned/adult supervised activity. Execution is hindered however by our difficulty in training adult leaders to manage the transitions.

  48. I enjoyed the history of primary and the discussion. Thanks Ardis!

    It seems like prior to this time, society was largely agricultural and boys would have had a lot of work: chopping wood, milking cows, learning all the farm routines. Does the shift to providing structure / entertainment for the boys trace a decline in agriculture as the primary occupation in Utah?

    If that’s the case, it would explain why they might not have seen a need to occupy girls. Their job description hadn’t changed significantly (the major thing that had happened in centuries was the invention of the wood stove) and there was no expectation that it would change: girls were still expected to be homemakers (the term “Lihomas” gives me the heebie-jeebies – – eew! it’s awful!) and they were still receiving on-the-job training.

    Also the implementation of child labor laws would have had an impact on the needs of the children.

    I thought Sarah’s comment was great. I can’t count the number of times that a small snag in tights has come home as a large hole. I never recognized it as a symptom of disengagement before! It makes sense though, even as an adult it has been all I can do to sit on the stand (as ward organist) during sacrament meeting with a polite, interested look on my face and not have my eyeballs roll back into my head with boredom.

  49. Thanks for the great post, Ardis. As someone who was recently called to teach Primary for the first time, and as a new cub scout leader, I’m finding the subject matter especially interesting. I’m personally not a huge fan of having scouting be a church activity, and I appreciate the historical perspective you give. I had no idea cub scouts became a church activity so that the boys would actually stay involved in primary rather than ditching it for cub scouts.

    The disparity between girls and boys programs is something I was thinking about just last night as I drove to cub scouts. As much as I sometimes dislike “teaching to the book,” or trying to get all the scouting requirements done at activities, I realized it’s really nice, sometimes, too. If I have a busy week and don’t want to come up with something fun or creative to do at scouts that week I can just open the book and figure out some requirements that the boys haven’t done. One week we talked about making correct choices, and they had to write what they would do in certain situations. Other than providing pencils, there was really no preparation involved. And even though the boys didn’t love it, I just had to point out that they had to do it in order to get their next bead, and eventually their patch, to get them to sit down (mostly) and do it anyway.

    The girls leaders are disadvantaged in that they have to come up with fun and creative activities on their own every single time. And if the girls don’t like it and complain, it’s entirely on the leaders’ shoulders. There’s no appealing to the girls to do it anyway so that they can get a patch. Also, in my ward at least, there are way more boys leaders than girls leaders. This is partly because of scouting requirements (2-deep leadership), and partly because the cub scouts is divided by ages and each age group has different requirements, and therefore needs different activities. In my ward there are 7 leaders for the 8-11 year old boys — a wolf leader, a bear leader, 2 webelos leaders, and 11 year old scout leader, a den leader and an assistant den leader. There are two women called to do activity days for the 8-11 year old girls, even though there’s a roughly equivalent number of boys and girls. As much as people say “well, the girls programs can be just as good as long as you have good leaders,” those leaders are certainly at a huge institutional disadvantage.

  50. Interesting post, Ardis! I had no idea! But John Taylor needed some exposure to the Vienna Boy’s Choir if he thought the boys just needed girls so their singing would sound pretty ;).

    Too sick to read all the comments, but I’m excited to do so when I’m feeling better. I love how you provide historical evidence for intriguing stuff! (p.s.–did my emails ever get through?)

  51. Wonderful post Ardis. Just a thought to go along with that:

    Sis. Parmley had a big influence in the BSA as well as the primary. At the time, she was one of the longest serving national leaders, much like President Monson is today. I can see her influence on cub scouting and boy scout programs for new boy scouts even today. (The BSA ‘First-Year’ scout program is directly derived from the programs of the Church.)

  52. As far as I know the ‘sit still and pay attention while I lecture you’ method of teaching was invented and administered by men long before women were even allowed in a schoolroom. So I find myself a bit incredulous at the idea that women were, and are just trying to make little boys act like little girls by forcing them to sit still and pay attention.

    Sitting still and paying attention is not really a gendered activity, but is a crucial life skill in our current society. As others have said It may be more noticeable when boys are bored because they stop sitting still, but the girls are probably just as bored and inattentive as the boys. (I vividly remember practicing figure eight knots with the ties on my coat during sharing time while I was in primary, I was quiet and still so no-one noticed that I wasn’t interested.)

    I think letting anyone, male or female, get away with quiet inattentiveness does them a great disservice, and can prove to be an impediment to their ability to do well in boring school, or work environments later on in life.

    And just to add something else, I’ve noticed that some kids can pay very close attention to everything you say while they’re rolling around on the floor in the back of the room.

  53. 38,
    Kristine, I think you missed the forest for the trees in my comment. The clothes aren’t really the point, my concern was how a girl might perceive things if the deliberate focus is on keeping boys happy and activities are then obviously boy-centric. (That said, in many homes, whether you would like it or not, girls are taught not to rough and tumble in their dresses so that would be a barrier, a conflict for them if their teacher was encouraging them to do something their parents don’t like. I would rather see an activity that didn’t risk this kind of conflict, even if the teacher disagrees with the parents’ approach. You can still do a fun and participative Noah’s ark, for example, without having to crawl around on the floor.)

    Thanks, Julie. That is a fair response, although I would hope that leaders would be aware of all of the needs, not just of the wiggly ones. I suspect you would agree with that, too, so I think we are fundamentally in agreement. The key is really to keep a good balance.

  54. No, m&m, I didn’t miss the forest–I chose a tree that is representative of the forest. How attached we are to worldly notions of gender-appropriate behavior has *everything* to do with how Primary works, with whether we are concerned with girls and boys becoming whole, healthy human beings or just getting the boys to sit quietly and bringing the girls along to improve the singing. There are plenty of things parents may teach children that the church ought to countermand, including the notion that looking good is more important than having fun or participating in opportunities for learning. If gender is essential and eternal, we ought to be all about figuring out what it really is and means, instead of reinforcing whatever ridiculous falsehoods Satan has managed to cement into post-Victorian Western culture.

  55. Girls don’t just improve the singing for boys, they improve the entire classroom experience. I recently read a paper looking at peer effects associated with gender in mixed- and single-sex classrooms. The researchers found that boys benefit from being in a classroom with girls, but girls do not benefit from being in a classroom with boys—for a menu of rather predictable reasons. (The paper is summarized here, including a link to the working paper which for some reason I can’t access now: )

    This doesn’t mean that teachers want to turn boys into girls. They want to turn them into workers in a modern industrial state. This requires socializing children to cooperate in a disciplined environment: concentrated, standardized, distributed, ordered and productive. (Women would probably have an evolutionary advantage in the modern industrial state, were it not for their unfortunate tendency to get pregnant and then invest massive amounts of time and energy in their offspring rather than their work.) For several centuries now the challenge of pedagogy has been to socialize boys in this way, and for just as long boys have been forced to sit still, memorize, recite, etc. This is not, as is often asserted, a female or feminist conspiracy to emasculate our wee warriors. According to some cultural theorists, we’re moving away from a industrial discipline society toward a post-industrial control society, where individuals are monitored in open environments rather than confined and surveilled in closed environments. Perhaps pedagogy will adjust in due time, and learning environments will shift to favor boys—or neither boys nor girls, who knows.

    I’ve been the music leader in our MASSIVE primary for almost a year now, and I really love it. My observations support the suggestion above that boys and girls show similar behaviors and engagement in activities until about age nine (senior primary), where they diverge sharply. Among those changes is the boys’ increasing resistance to female authority figures; my ten- and eleven-year-old boys now relate to girls and women in an entirely new way, one that is largely incompatible with submission and obedience. ;) Plus they’re not so thrilled about singing. These are challenges, but they’re good kids and I think I’ve been successful in reaching them as well as I can reasonably expect.

    I’ve made one big gender-related error during the last year: I planned one activity around a sit-n-spin, not realizing that 1) this would be immodest for the big girls in their dresses, and that 2) the big girls are way too tall for the sit-n-spin, anyway (they’re much taller than the boys at this age). They gamely gave it a try, but in the end I had to scramble to substitute something different for them.

  56. including the notion that looking good is more important than having fun or participating in opportunities for learning.

    I agree, but looking good is not the issue that I had in mind when responding to you. Girls are often taught to not get on the floor for modesty’s sake. (I think no toddler should wear a dress that you actually CARE about! And neither should her momma, for that matter!) But you know, modesty would be a threadjack of gargantuan proportions, so let’s not go there, -k-?

    But, even with that, I think I can go back to my point: I think we can come up with plenty of healthy, fun, participative, activity-oriented, attention-getting chances for learning that don’t require us to take on societal or cultural or whatever-else-one-thinks-they-are norms that are embedded, such as girls wearing a dress to church (which by default will bring with them issues like modesty and yes, even parents who think dresses are more important than learning).

  57. Ardis, thanks for the history on the Primary and scouting.

    After reading all of these comments, I am even more grateful that I live in my ward! We have 6 kids, ages 19-5, so we’ve experienced YM/YW/Primary over many years, with both genders and with various personalities. As a general rule (there are exceptions, of course), this ward has been fantastic at focusing on the needs of the members — such as not ignoring the girls in Primary in favor of keeping the boys “under control,” balancing the “sit still and listen” with “get the wiggles out” needs of kids, creating a budget that is based on organizational needs and not just a blanket “scouts need tons of money” view, having well-prepared and interested activity day leaders, training youth leaders to be shadow leaders and let the youth plan and run the program as it should be done, balancing the needs within an organization, etc… Our ward had had some amazing Primary and youth leaders, particularly lately. In the 10 years we’ve lived here, we have seen slow yet unmistakable progress as the org. and ward leaders have learned to truly work together and balance the needs of the members and the organizations — and the fruits of the efforts to be loving and effective are self-evident.

    When it is well-run, it is incredible to see this Church in motion! I wish every ward I’ve lived in could have been like this one!

  58. I don’t want to threadjack, but Sarah #22 — what part of Ohio? I am in SW Ohio.

    Eric #48 — “…continuum from adult controlled nursery/Jr Primary, adult directed Sr Primary/Cub & Blazer Scouts/Activity Girls, and transitional YM/YW child planned/adult supervised activity. Execution is hindered however by our difficulty in training adult leaders to manage the transitions.”

    You have hit it right on the head! In general, women want things to go well so we tend to micro-manage. Adults need to learn to teach and guide and direct based on the ability and level of those they are called to serve. It should be “adult controlled to adult directed to child planned/adult supervised” as children grow in accountability, maturity, and understanding.

    I sympathize with your daughter. I hated being in youth class presidencies. I explicitly remember as a Laurel being told we needed to plan our activities, but when we did we were told we couldn’t do any of them so “we’re just going to do this instead” or (worse) “we already have this planned; we can do that later.” It is easy and natural to just give up trying to lead as a youth if the message is always that it doesn’t matter what you do, the adults are going to do it all their way anyway. When I was first called as YW pres. about 4 years ago, that was my biggest fear — whether I had learned enough to guide the YW and let them plan their own activities/etc within the program guidelines and not take over and do it all myself. Based on reactions last spring when I was released, I am confident I did better than my own youth leaders (though I made *plenty* of mistakes).

    Hopefully, my experiences as a youth help me teach my daughters how to be more confident, vocal youth leaders when they are in that position — as well as give them some perspective on the good intentions of youth leaders.

    And hopefully, each of us learns over the years how to train for and handle all of these transitions better…

  59. #56 – “This doesn’t mean that teachers want to turn boys into girls. They want to turn them into workers in a modern industrial state. This requires socializing children to cooperate in a disciplined environment: concentrated, standardized, distributed, ordered and productive. . . . For several centuries now the challenge of pedagogy has been to socialize boys in this way, and for just as long boys have been forced to sit still, memorize, recite, etc. This is not, as is often asserted, a female or feminist conspiracy to emasculate our wee warriors.”

    The ability to sit still, listen and follow direction is also a military virtue, one which was most often enforced by a male schoolmaster with a switch well into the 19th century. The schoolmarm was a new phenomenon at the time and at first the role was tightly cast into the mold of male teachers, much as women penetrating new fields of endeavor have often had to prove themselves by out doing the men in emphasizing traditional male traits.

    The stern schoolmistress image is now iconic but rarely found in the teachers I have known. She is Athena with the cool steely-gray eyes, left brained and martial in her manner. She had no trouble enforcing discipline or imparting wisdom. She would open the universe to her students understanding and grade them with a razor, uncaring of their feelings. She is a woman you met with fear and trembling as a child then look back upon as your dearest friend as you reach elderhood. I had a few teachers like her and can only wish I had had more.

    Of course we now lampoon this type of teacher. I think of Roald Dahl’s _Matilda_ with Ms. Trunchable as Nazi principal and the “good” teacher as the bright, witty and kind Ms. Honey who is unable to face her own past or present with any strength until a child frees her. Adults, I think we have lost control here!

    Do I want my children to be kind and compassionate and to feel good about themselves? Yes. Do I want them to be able to grit their teeth and get the work done despite it being boring and hard to do? Yes. Both my sons and daughters need this range. I hope their teachers in Primary and in school contribute to the entire range of virtues.

  60. #60 – Michelle, Thank you for your kind words. I am sure that with your attitude that the girls in your program were well served.

  61. 61: Eeek!! The stern taskmistress has no place in Primary. Neither does force, fear and trembling, razor-grading, cold eyes, martial manners, switches, teeth-gritting, or boredom. I’m having a hard time rationalizing the necessity of any of those elements in any setting for 3-12-year-old children, but certainly not in Primary!

  62. Re: #49 (East Coast) – I spend at least five minutes a week trying to convince one or more little girls to stop ruining her clothes and pay attention to what is being said. It’s pretty hilarious, and I’ve learned to stop whispering things like “What will your mom think when she see this,” because they usually whisper back something like “She won’t care!” This is probably mostly due to the fact that I kept confiscating anything small that they were playing with, by the way. Before, they’d be ripping apart jewelry or chewing gum with their fingers instead of their teeth. It’s easier to confiscate a bag of toys than the clothes the individual is wearing today.

    Re: #60 (Michelle AM) – I’m in the Columbus area. A long long time ago, I lived in Bucyrus, home of the Bratwurst festival.

    Re: #63 (Ardis) – I agree in general, but there are times when that range of skills can come in handy. There are times when the children *have* to be quiet and stand up against the wall (usually in the context of “we got kicked out of our room and can’t go into Sharing Time yet, so we’re in a busy corridor with the Teachers running past pretending they’re in a shoot-out”) and if I can accomplish that with a firm look instead of pleading or rationalizing (which never works with more than one or two kids at a time anyway,) I consider it a win. Especially in the classroom setting, someone is in charge, and that someone has been designated as me, and the kids need to know that. I mean, I still regain quiet (and their attention) by dramatically pounding my head against the wall sometimes, too.

  63. #63 – Ardis- I think with Sarah that a there is a useful skill set in there. I was talking of an iconic teacher, not the flesh and blood. But as I said, in looking back my favorite teachers were those that made me learn – no excuses. Think Mary Poppins: “spit spot and on you go.”

    What prompted me to write was more the idea that teaching children (boys) to sit still and listen was to feminize the “little warriors.” I’m just saying that there are more reasons than that to teach children to behave.

    p.s. “Grading with a razor” was intended as a metaphor for un-inflated accuracy and fairness in grading, not violence.

  64. Well, I didn’t think you were actually going to start slashing, Eric! /g/ With you and Sarah, I recognize the importance of order and the occasional need to command instant obedience (“Stop! don’t run into traffic!”) I just suspect that both of you administer and respond to discipline that is not as harsh as the actual words used (as you say, “iconic”), because I can’t imagine a Primary teacher inspiring actual, real, literal “fear and trembling”.

  65. Ardis, I am usually very laid back, but there have been a very few times as both a parent and as a Primary teacher (4 different stints as a Primary teacher) that my kids have experienced “fear and trembling” – even though those times were calculated to invoke those feelings. They are justified *rarely* in a setting like Primary, and MUST be followed by an increase in love, but they can be legitimate.

  66. Really, Ray? Fear, as in threat of imminent physical, spiritual, or emotional injury? Fright? Dread? Alarm? Panic? Terror? Horror?

    I don’t think so, either that you stirred such a reaction, or that deliberately doing so is ever appropriate for Primary. Or for a parent, unless the immediate consequences for disobedience (“Stop! don’t run into traffic!”) are more of a threat than parental fear-followed-by-an-increase-in-love.

    This is all getting so very far from the point of this post that I’m preparing to close down comments. Any last relevant ones?

  67. Thanks for the history, Ardis. So very interesting.
    Nothing relevant to add, unfortunately. Just that after working in Primary under different presidencies, I have felt that it is a difficult balance to try and maintain reverence and use creativity and fun to engage both boys and girls in lesson and sharing time. I think a lot of our expectations are unrealistic, especially regarding behavior.

  68. No fear of injury, Arids. I would never threaten a child with injury of any kind. I didn’t mean to imply that, at all. There are times, however, when generic fear and trembling are necessary to gain control of a situation – although such times happen VERY rarely.

  69. Re: Primary as a vehicle to teach boys not to be \”hoodlums\”:

    Perhaps that\’s why this song was published in the Friend (Aug-Sept. 1979, p. 16):

    “Don’t Kill the Birds”

    1. Don’t kill the little birds,
    That sing on bush and tree,
    All thro’ the summer days,
    Their sweetest melody.
    Don’t shoot the little birds!
    The earth is God’s estate,
    And He provideth food
    For small as well as great.

    2. Don’t kill the little birds,
    Their plumage wings the air,
    Their trill at early morn
    Makes music ev’rywhere. …
    Think of the good they do
    In all the orchards ’round;
    No hurtful insects thrive
    Where robins most abound.

    Here\’s the link to the sheet music if you\’re dying to know the tune! (Or if you think this song could be just the little boost your ward\’s Primary program needs next year… It\’s on the \”approved\” list since it was published in the Friend, after all…)

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