The New Book

There’s an interesting article by Peggy Fletcher Stack about some of the changes in the revised _Gospel Principles_ manual. Among other things, references to _Mormon Doctrine_ have been removed. T&S’s Julie Smith asks some good questions —

“Over the years, I’ve heard many, many people express that the Teachings of the Prophets books were very difficult to teach from, so I’m sensing some relief with the shift to the new manuals,” says Julie M. Smith, a stay-at-home mom with a degree in biblical studies. “At the same time, there is a new concern: How does a teacher make a lesson on a very basic topic interesting and relevant to the class?”

And a quasi-historian labels the prior manuals, “quasi-historical.”

Check the entire article out — it’s a good read, and raises interesting points about the new book.

25 comments for “The New Book

  1. I was browsing through the manual when they passed them out. All I could think in my head was that I was hoping that I get called to the primary after I move to California next week.

  2. First lesson of the new decade: For enlightening, quotable real-time commentary on any Mormon issue, turn to the Bloggernacle.

  3. The comment by Steve Evans that no manual is a cure for boredom is spot on. As much as can be said about the Correlation Commitee I don’t see that Salt Lake is trying to dictate every word being said in our classes — quite the opposite I think. Stimulating discussion and edification can never come from a top-down corporate-style approach. I like that the lessons are short which essentially calls for class members to fill in the blanks. Lessons can be more intimate and applicable to the congregation.

  4. “Quotes were updated to reference materials that are more accessible to members of the LDS Church worldwide,” church spokeswoman Kim Farah explains. “For example, the series, Teachings of Presidents of the Church , is referenced because it is available in 28 languages, while Mormon Doctrine is only available in a few.”

    I’m disappointed with this explanation–as if the only difference between the TP series and Mormon Doctrine is accessibility to members. There are better things that can be said here: The TP series is concerned with the words of church presidents, whereas Mormon Doctrine was written by an assistant to the Twelve. Or, the TP series is officially endorsed by the Brethren, whereas Mormon Doctrine is not. This is hardly a controversial statement.

    There, of course, several other good reasons for why removing Mormon Doctrine references is a good thing, but I wouldn’t expect the church spokesperson to say them.

  5. Thanks for the post. The removal of references to See Mormon Doctrine (there were only four) is probably less significant than might appear. The text preceding the citation remains unchanged, and it’s not clear the original citations were intended to support a particular doctrine in the first place.

    I agree with Evans. Ultimately the quality of teaching will be determined by “an engaged and prepared teacher in front of a engaged class.” The factors that make great teaching will continue to be the same.

  6. I don’t think the members are off the hook with this new book. Several comments have been made about teaching from this manual. But I am wondering about the learning that will take place. Or are these synonymous terms for most or all of you?

  7. I’ll just flit in to say I’m very glad to have a gospel principles class for all of us. I was another who didn’t like teaching from the TP manuals. A good deal of the time the title didn’t even reflect the material in the lesson, and the compilers seemed to try to gerrymander a lesson topic around some pulled quotes.

    If you want to teach a topic (which I think is generally the idea of Sunday School), teach the topic and pull quotes from ANY authoritative sources that fit.

    Haven’t seen the new book, but look forward to it.

  8. I’m going to disagree with Evans: I think it _is_ possible for a manual to cure boredom. A book that contains thought-provoking questions would allow even a weak teacher to lead an interesting class discussion.

  9. I also think the right questions can make the lesson. It seems that there’s enough collective experience and wisdom in any given church class that eight good questions could make for a useful hour.

  10. I enjoyed Julie’s recommendations in the old post. But I am left wondering why the manual has to provide the thought-provoking questions, or why the teacher has to be the one who asks most or all of the questions. Am I naive in thinking that we should try to invite diligent learning?

  11. I thought there was another post specifically on questions, but the illustrations in that one are what I remember, Julie.

    Sterling, everything in the lesson you link to starts with the teacher asking a question, inviting a class member to do something specific, or otherwise sparking a contribution by class members. Do you have some example to offer of how a teacher can conduct a class without asking for something from the class? How is the teacher’s asking thought-provoking questions NOT inviting diligent learning?

  12. We have a new priesthood and Relief Society handbook, and we have a new Young Women’s personal progress workbook — I haven’t seen either yet, but to the persons or committees who prepared them, I say thank you. It must be so very hard to do anything when you have others pointing the finger and mocking and laughing and scorning — but I appreciate your efforts and hope to enjoy and use your products. Like me, you have an assignment within the church — mine isn’t producing a lesson book, thankfully — but within my own little sphere, I hope I can fulfill my assignment without the pointed fingers, mocking, scorn, and laughter that you draw as you fulfill yours.

  13. It looks like you are right. The chapter I cited was more about inviting than inspiring diligent learning. I apologize if I left you with the impression that teachers can succeed without asking any questions. And I agree with you that questions from a teacher can do much to invite diligent learning. Perhaps these two paragraphs from the _Conducting Discussions_ chapter will do a better job of illustrating what I was trying to say:

    Teachers who lecture most of the time or answer every question themselves tend to discourage learners from participating. You should be careful not to talk more than necessary or to express your opinion too often. These actions can cause learners to lose interest. Think of yourself as a guide on a journey of learning who inserts appropriate comments to keep those you teach on the correct path.

    Your main concern should be helping others learn the gospel, not making an impressive presentation. This includes providing opportunities for learners to teach one another. When an individual asks a question, consider inviting others to answer it instead of answering it yourself. For example, you could say, “That’s an interesting question. What do the rest of you think?” or “Can anyone help with this question?”

    Does this help you to better understand my reasons in asking “why the teacher has to be the one who asks most or all of the questions”? Perhaps I am idealistic, but I really think using the new manual will provide us with an unprecedented opportunity for placing teachers and students on a more equal footing. I hope there is a greater chance that our students will view their teachers less as experts and find the lesson material less intimidating. And I pray that our teachers, once they realize they have less material in each chapter at their disposal, will become better at facilitating discussions and promoting diligent learning. If done in the right spirit, we may be surprised by the questions our students formulate and the answers they have for each other.

  14. Oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense, Sterling. A good teacher is one who inspires? provokes? intrigues? class members into doing their own thinking and study.

    Like you, I’m one who hopes for better teaching with this manual, partly because newer or younger teachers have been intimidated by the large blocks of text in the TP manuals and haven’t really known how to teach with that material. This manual demands more discussion … as long as inexperienced teachers don’t fall into a pattern of having class members read scripture verses and then asking catechistic questions about what was just read. Real questions without simple, obvious answers, is what we need. The best teachers will be prepared with some of those to initiate a discussion, but prepared class members can also have some in mind before going to class.

  15. While I absolutely agree that the TP manuals were a poor attempt at gerrymandering (I conscientiously refused to read the section titles), I think they’re the best thing to come out of correlation in a long time – in part because the substance and eloquence of the prophets reveals higher than a fourth grade education; and for most of us, reading the words of our prophets is akin to (or perhaps the same as) reading the scriptures, allowing for a similar sort of spiritual study. Sub-par teachers were able to default to merely reading the words, which at the least was worthwhile.

    The same can certainly not be said for the GP manual. I feel a profound disappointment. The language and presentation are often cartoonish, demand very little of the audience, place the entire burden of a healthy meeting in the hands of lay instructors and attendees, and are bound to perpetuate generic and unreflective discussions on precisely the same material that we’ve been recycling since we were 12. I believe in ritual, in repetition, but there’s absolutely nothing sacramental about the content of the GP manual.

    It’s silly to suggest that a committee whose job is to produce the best materials possible for our weekly meetings have no obligation toward improving the caliber of those meetings. All manuals are not created equal. The only silver lining I see is Nietzsche’s suggestion that what won’t kill me will make me stronger. Perhaps, as he suggests, we can come to see the beautiful in the necessary, and somehow learn to endure nihilistic meetings with style.

  16. Thank you, Ardis, for reminding us of what typical teachers and students often experienced with the TP manuals. I thought the archaic language that appeared at places in the TP manuals sometimes presented obstacles to learning, especially when members got tongue twisted trying to read run-on sentences or embarrassed trying to pronounce words that have largely fallen into disuse. It is probably hard for those of us who are well read or well educated to realize how unfamiliar some of our fellow brothers and sisters in the gospel can find the language of a century or two ago.

    I have been ecstatic ever since hearing we would be using the revised Gospel Principles manuals. Finally we will no longer be largely limited to what one particular prophet happened to say about particular topics. Instead we will be much more free, and we will likely find it necessary if we intend to fill the time, to search the scriptures and prophetic teachings for elucidation of the doctrines. As I see it, we will have a greater chance to explore aspects of the gospel in a more comprehensive (and possibly systematic) manner, examining the interconnectedness of our doctrines and exploring their facets.

  17. What would make a difference is to require all teachers to take the course found in “Teaching No Greater Call” before they teach. The problem is that most teachers will not follow the Julie Smith approach, above, but will resort to the type of questions typified by “I’m thinking of a number between one and ten, now tell me what the answer is?”

  18. Ahhh Julie, you nay-sayer! Those questions would have to be REALLY good to make up for a poor teacher.

  19. I think us teachers may be afraid/lazy because there is now more responsibility on us and we can’t just rely on quotes most of us haven’t heard before. And I think that’s a good thing.

    “The comment by Steve Evans that no manual is a cure for boredom is spot on. As much as can be said about the Correlation Commitee I don’t see that Salt Lake is trying to dictate every word being said in our classes — quite the opposite I think. Stimulating discussion and edification can never come from a top-down corporate-style approach. I like that the lessons are short which essentially calls for class members to fill in the blanks. Lessons can be more intimate and applicable to the congregation.”

    ^ Exactly!

  20. I can’t believe what I am hearing. What about having faith and relying on the Spirit? I am not an ‘well educated person’ but I have taught enough to know when the Spirit is speaking and when he is not. What about relying on the class to paricipate in the teaching? I have learned that no matter what format the lesson is in I am a better teacher if I begin a discussion and we all learn from each other’s testimonies. The D&C tells us that we should appoint a spokesman and then all teach together. I know that asking the right questions makes you a better teacher. How do you know what the right questions are? If you know your class you know what they need and the Spirit will inspire you to what the right questions should be. There is nothing so boring as a lecture. Make your class time a discussion and you will become a great teacher.

  21. I served as ward mission leader a few years a while back. We rotated among ourselves (5 or 6 ward missionaries) the teaching of the Sunday School gospel principles class. (I inherited that pattern from the prior leader, and I liked it, because it mixed up teaching styles and kept all of us on our toes).

    In all honesty, I did not find the gospel principles lessons to be any more basic or difficult to teach than the regular priesthood or Sunday School lessons.

    My style, of course, is to ask questions (and decline to give answers, if asked). (That way no one can accuse me of heresy, because I don’t express my opinion on things. I just ask.) That style worked as well in the investigators class as in Sunday School or Priesthood.

    On what I think are the core teachings of the gospel–loving God and God’s creations–I do not think the knowledge or expertise level in an investigators class is particularly different from a long time members class. I enjoyed teaching (and participating when I did not teach) because the discussions were pretty open and frank. There were not a lot of “primary”/Sunday School answers and quite a few unique and provocative insights offered by class members.

    One challenge for teachers in RS and PH will be to undo the assumptions of class members that this is an “elementary” class. I honestly don’t think the lessons are elementary–again, at least no more elementary that the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church has been.

    For example, in the gospel principle lessons about God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost, I think discussions of social trinitarianism, modalism, Monarchianism, Tri-theism would all be appropriate. Or discussions of what importance or significance of the embodiment of God might have (if it has any). As long as teachers and class are sharing openly and honestly, I do not worry about Sunday School/primary answers making discussions pointless.

    On the other hand, someone who teaches the Presidents’ teaching class in a boring way will probably teach gospel principles the same way.

  22. If I were revising the Gospel Essentials manual, I would add in some context, to contrast and compare LDS doctrine with basic doctrines of other Christian churches, as has been done in talks in General Conference on topics like the Trinity. I would also add some statements and questions about the implications of LDS doctrines, such as the difference it makes in our prayers, and when we face difficulties in life, when we understand the nature of God the Father as our literal Father in Heaven who has known us for countless ages and hopes to be reunited with us for eternity.

    If I teach from this manual, I will add those aspects to my lessons, but it seems it would not have been difficult to add a page to each lesson to provide that context and to stimulate consideration of the implications of each doctrine. It is my perception that many theologians who take a fresh and honest look at the Bible are being drawn toward concepts that are similar to LDS doctrine, because those concepts offer hope and understanding that sustain us in our mortal journey. This includes concepts like ancient Israel’s worship of the Son of God (Margaret Barker), the openness of God, and post-mortal evangelism. It is necessary to understand the Restored Gospel, but it is even better if we appreciate how it is superior in so many ways to traditional Christian teachings, over and above simply being true.

  23. I always thought the church’s class study materials were not particularly insightful. I found them rather routine and not very penetrating, especially since the involvement of the correlation committee. It’s like elementary school, it doesn’t make you a scholar, but it does contribute to later interests in making learning an avocation.

    My “Urim & Thummim” is the new [now old] King James bible with all the bells and whistles. I am usually perusing it, while I sit through the class. It is the most comprehensive, organized, resource of knowledge made available by the First Presidency. I just love to sit at my computer reading and following up on the myriad of references, etc.

    You know what I get . . . mental stimulation. Knowledge that remains in my mind. Faith is not the traditions of the fathers, which these lesson books are.

    Faith is knowledge or learning line upon line and precept upon precept. Now, if you’ve worked on a Master or PHD, you will likely be experienced in that process. What you retain is your vocation and professional reputation.

    It was written of Jesus of Nazareth, that He spoke with authority and not as the Scribes.

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