Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Another Gift Taken

Years ago at a women's retreat Sister Aileen Clyde was invited to be the featured speaker. In the course of her remarks she told the story of how the Prophets manuals came to be the course of study for the Relief Society. Previous to 1989 the Relief Society had been responsible for their own Sunday curriculm and manuals. Sister Clyde said that the RS Presidency and their board were in the process of preparing new manuals when they were approached by the First Presidency asking them to read the new Brigham Young manual and approve it for use in Sunday meetings. After reviewing the manual, they reported that they did not feel this should be the new course of study for the women of the Church. The First Presidency asked them to take the material back and pray about it again. Their answer was the same. They rejected the material a second time, but were told to go back and read it again. As the disheartened Relief Society Presidency met together, they realized that their efforts to stop the correlation of Sunday lesson material were fruitless. They must accept the inevitable with good grace. Sister Clyde's point in sharing this story was that sometimes things don't go the way we would like them to, and how to make something good out of a disappointment.

To me, however, the knowledge of how this shift in control of RS curriculum came about is important. Does it make you as furious as it does me? Just as I mourn the loss of women's privilege to perform blessings of healing and comfort, I mourn the loss of women's autonomy to create lesson manuals specific to their needs. I do this without hope that the current policies regarding these issues wil change.

I do see that the leaders of the Church and the writers of the Prophets manuals have been cognizant that the manuals could use some improvement with regard to their relevance for women. Over at VSOM I have posted a review of my thoughts on the upcoming manual containing the teachings of Joseph Smith and it's relevance to it's woman readers.


Melanie said...

I'm really sorry that you find the change in curriculum such a disappointment. I have been in a number of classes, both at church and in other settings, where my needs and perspectives were marginalized, and it was a painful disappointment.

On the other hand, I'm inclined to give the curriculum committee a break--surely if RS and Priesthood still had separate manuals, they would be fielding complaints that one or the other manual wasn't as good in some way, or didn't take one gender or the other seriously. That's not to say the current manuals are perfect--I just think that designing curriculum is nearly always a thankless task.

I have taught RS for many years, and I have to say I absolutely love the Teachings of the Prophets series. I've never taught out of the old manuals, so I can't compare, but I have had wonderful experiences using the current books. I love that for the most part, we get the prophets' words directly rather than an oversimplified paraphrase or other take on what they've said. I realize the focus on the prophets does come at the expense of a more direct focus on female leaders, but I have to say, if I have a choice between the words of a faithful church leader and the words of a faithful church leader who also has a prophetic mantle and vision, I'll take the prophet any time. (Of course we're free to study up on Emma, Eliza, et al as well, and I hope we do when we can...but I can understand that with less than an hour for class on Sunday, the curriculum has to stick to the most crucial prophetic teachings.)

Kalola said...

I miss the old RS manuals. Back in the 70's, I was the RS Social Relations instructor. That was my favorite calling. I can remember Cultural Refinement lessons as well. I know there were other lessons, but I cannot recall what they were. My memory is fading. If anyone remembers what was contained in those early RS manuals (besides Social Relations and Cultural Refinement), please refresh my memory.

What I find interesting about studying the teachings of the prophets is how it is often said members should adhere only to what the current prophet says. Is this something I have misunderstood? If so, please enlighten me as to why it is important to study past teachings.

Bored in Vernal said...

Kalola, When I first attended RS we had spiritual living, cultural refinement, mother education, social relations and compassionate service. In the mid-1980's the cultural refinement lessons were taken out, mother education was renamed to home and family education, and the social relations and compassionate service lessons were combined. Many teachings of the prophets and current leaders were included in these manuals. Melanie, I think my biggest problem is not the focus on the prophets, but the shift in direct control by the RS sisters themselves to a nameless correlation committee under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve. Direct control of their curriculum was almost the last thing the RS had power over. I think this was a great blow to the Relief Society.

SilverRain said...

I don't even have a problem with the shift in curriculum as much as it bothers me that we are so "strongly encouraged" to use no other teaching materials and to diverge from the words therein not at all to tailor the lesson to the listeners. I can understand where that is coming from, but at the same time it is a tragedy that it has birthed a number of dry, only-read-from-the-manual lessons. So many of our teachers just read from the manual, trying to get all the words in before the time is up. It defeats most of the purpose of the lesson, in my opinion.

Thank you, but I'm literate enough to read the manual on my own.

m_and_m said...

So many of our teachers just read from the manual, trying to get all the words in before the time is up. It defeats most of the purpose of the lesson, in my opinion.

Sounds like time for some teacher training. These manuals really can be used for wonderful discussion, but the teachers have got to get out of the mode of teaching and instead step into discussion moderator. Quotes and concepts are springboards for discussion, not ends in and of themselves. The more we get this, the better our classes will be, if it's all done with the Spirit, of course.

Janell said...

I dislike that canonized scripture is being marginalized in favor of the prophet manuals. By theory, Sunday School is focusing on scripture study, but in my experience its not. Just another problem because no manual can cure a failure to train teachers :(

SilverRain said...

I don't think our ward (read: bishopric/RS presidency) believe there is anything wrong with that method, therefore no teaching of teachers will be done.

It's the same old, tired "Teach by the Spirit" argument I spent my mission on. I just don't care enough anymore to fight it.

littlemissattitude said...

m&m...Yeah. When I was teaching Relief Society (not long before I left the church, and some of the things that came out of the manual I had to use were sort of the final straws that led to my final break with the church) I tried the "discussion moderator" mode because that had become my preferred method of teaching. I was working as an assistant to a professor at my university at the time and was doing a lot of large and small-group tutoring and found that to be the best way to facilitate learning because it is active rather than passive.

The first time I asked the women in the class to break up into small discussion groups that would then bring their conclusions on questions gleaned from the manual back to the class as a whole, I was faced with a "deer-in-the-headlights" look from a fairly large proportion of the class. I suppose this was because any kind of participation beyond "read the scripture" requests was so far out of their experience as to feel threatening. But then, my experience of the church (and I realize that it isn't everyone's experience) did not include a lot of discussion of anything.

Petra said...

I'm with you, BiV--I'm not old enough to have experienced the old curriculum, so I can't accurately compare the two, but I'm disappointed to see power taken away from the RS Presidency so obviously, and, what's more, under the aegis, which I suppose I could otherwise term pretense, of letting them decide. If the First Presidency was so determined to use the new manuals, why even bother asking the RS to review them?

I'll mourn with you. Can we sit shiva for RS autonomy?

Dr. B said...

I think you miss the point here. First we save millions of dollars on publication since we only have one. Second we establish orthodoxy since we have a consistent set of statements on which to indoctrinate our members. I realize that few even read the manuals before coming so at least every four years they are exposed to the words of the living prophets. The teacher has the right to have the Spirit and and class has unique prospectives so I don't see what the big deal is since I have never known most women not to express themselves. I don't disagree we can better train teachers but in most places I have lived they have conducted the usual teacher training class. I have attended three times in thirty years. This is nothing more than feminist blathing.

What is done is done. It is not going to change. Hold to the rod, endure to the end. Once a decision is made we support it not criticize the brethren for making decisions. Even the former leader showed you a good example. I suggest you repent and get on the straight and narrow path by not taking down others with negativity or giving those who left the church another bandwagon for rationalizing.

ME said...

That Eileen Clyde story reminds me of Martin Harris and the lost pages from the BOM. In both cases, there was a reason the initial answers were NO.

Not that the previous manuals were problem-free. The RS lessons covered heavy topics such as abuse and addictions while the PH manuals covered doctrine and rarely mentioned family/domestic/social problems, even though one would hope men/fathers would be concerned about these things, too. I do like that we're all using the same manuals instead of sex-segregated ones, but I'm sad that women's voices/perspectives are absent.

IMO, one of the problems is the instruction to use nothing but the manuals in preparing lessons. For inexperienced/untrained teachers, this seems to be the death knell for creativity, too.

In my old RS, we had panel discussions, games, small discussion groups and lessons that focused on concepts in interesting and applicable ways.

In my current RS, 2 of the 4 teachers read the manual at us. Maybe that's the best they can do, bless 'em. I listen and contribute, but for me the spirit often doesn't break through the boredom and I leave RS feeling like it was a lamentable waste of time.

stacer said...

Was it really all that different before, though? I remember the old manuals, and I remember just as many boring read-from-the-manual lessons before the change as after. It was actually refreshing to have the new manuals, I've always felt, because it forced the teacher to create a structure. And we are allowed to use the scriptures in addition to the manual--so to the commenter who said that the manual is to be used *instead* of the scriptures, that doesn't ring true to me.

Bored in Vernal said...

Well, yes--the scriptures are approved for use along with the manuals. Just in my own experience, though, with the old manuals teachers were much more free to bring in their own teaching techniques and outside materials. I valued this approach as a teacher and as a learner. But as Dr. B says, it is not as conducive to establishing orthodoxy (if that is the goal!) Which, I am afraid, it is--since teacher training seems to be focused on admonishment not to stray from the lesson material.