Are My Preconceived Notions Blinding Me?

By: Jake
August 23, 2012

It is not often that I am prone to blog about scriptures and how they can inspire us. I generally find blogs that are a form of scriptural exegesis rather dull. If I want insipid spiritual thoughts full of sentimentality and devoid of substance I have the Ensign for that, or if I want to reinforce a smug sense of superiority then I can go read Meridian Magazine.  However, today I feel like sharing what I learnt a few months ago whilst teaching my Sunday School class.

It still baffles me that I was called to be a youth sunday school teacher given my numerous heretical, critical and somewhat agnostic beliefs that I don’t hide. The fact I am a Sunday School teacher leaves me questioning the inspiration/desperation behind the call. Either God has a sense of humour or the leadership didn’t realise what was going to happen.

The first week I taught, we discussed Nephi. However, we did this using a critical historical methodology. We discussed Nephi’s reliability as a narrator, the biases that might have impacted upon his writing, and how it is convenient that Nephi was always the most righteous given that he was the author.  He also exhibits younger brother syndrome, moaning about his older siblings and claiming that they are so mean and pick on him all the time.  This distorted perspective is not unique to Nephi but is a common family dynamic.  My class all left saying, “Nephi isn’t reliable.” The Sunday School President spoke with me later that day.

Sunday School president: The kids have told me that you taught them that the scriptures aren’t always reliable.

Me: Well, I simply taught them how to treat the Book of Mormon as a historical document and asked them to what extent Nephi is a reliable writer.

Sunday School President: I don’t think that is a good thing to do. You’re teaching them to question the scriptures.

Me: Hey, I am just saying that if it is really a historical document then it should be put through the same scrutiny as any other historical text. If anything I am increasing their faith because I at least assumed that Nephi was a real person. Teaching them to question him makes him more real. You should thank me for that as I could have treated the Book of Mormon as if it was inspired fiction and asked why Joseph Smith made Nephi so self-righteous.

Despite this initial policing I have been given free reign, and the classes have generally continued this unorthodox approach.  We continue to have discussions about the scriptures using critical thinking rather than the prescriptive rehearsal of set questions and answers that the manual gives us to perform – you know, the same as always:

  1. Read Scripture.
  2. Ask Generic Question.
  3. Acceptable answers: Read Scriptures, Prayer, Follow the Prophet.
  4. [Repeat ad nauseaum]

Instead, in my class, we discuss what the class wants to learn from the passages.  I find this approach more interesting and more engaging.

We looked at the wicked King Noah. The one who built expensive spacious buildings, that probably was an ancient form of a shopping mall in Salt Lake City, wasted his energy on harlots, attending lavish parties and general extravagant living.  Usually he is only studied as the killer of Abinidi.  However, in my class we looked at how we were like King Noah. We compared ourselves to King Noah by focusing on the fact that he surrounded himself with priests who reinforced his beliefs and got rid of those who disagreed with him. The Book of Mormon states that :

5 For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new aones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.

6 Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.

7 Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them.

As a class we discussed how it is human to want to find people who support you in your opinions and the ways in which we are like King Noah. We all want to think we are right. By surrounding ourselves with yes-men (and women) it certainly helps us to feel like that we are right because everyone agrees with us, even though we could all be wrong. We feed of each other to become more secure in ourselves with no one to challenge us. Whilst discussing this one of the members of the class (my sister) asked if members who all hang around each other then are being like King Noah, in that we find people who give us the advice that we want to hear by only associating with members it reinforces our sense of being right as they all agree with us. Another said that testimony meeting sometimes was like this in that it is people all reassuring people about their beliefs being correct and right as they are shared amongst each other.

We often assume that associating with people with the same beliefs is a virtue, but King Noah did the same. Was he virtuous in surrounding himself with people with the same beliefs?  Maybe in both cases there is a downside. As Andrew S has said, we need a plurality of voices in both our online and personal discussions to challenge our views and prevent us from living in an echo chamber. It may be flattering to have everyone agree with you, but it also stifles creativity and personal development. We need opposition and different voices to refine our ideas.

As a class we thought about how we create friendship groups.  We considered the following passage from Samuel the Lamanite:

27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: aWalk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a bprophet.

28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh aflattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.

To what extent do I judge the prophets and apostles based on my own liberal views?  Do my prejudices, bias and preconceived notions blind me and cause me to dismiss what I see as bigotry and anti-intellectualism?  Am I quick to dismiss anything by Boyd K. Packer because as a product of his generation his views contradict mine?  The reformer Erasmus said, “the force of preconceived notions is that strong that even in a learned mind; no other factor in the making of judgements has greater power to distract or blind the intellect.” (Erasmus, Collected Works, p88) Are my preconceived notions about equality, respect and tolerance blinding me?  On the other hand, how can I tell if I am simply agreeing with leaders insofar as they agree with me?

As I thought about it I realised that perhaps I am more like King Noah than I thought.  Perhaps I surround myself with other critical thinkers with liberal views to help me feel more secure about my own views and beliefs.  Maybe I am only open-minded to a certain extent, that I only consider views within a limited range of intellectual positions.

Are you also like King Noah?

Discuss.

Tags: , , , , ,

59 Responses to Are My Preconceived Notions Blinding Me?

  1. Frank Pellett on August 23, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    I’m pretty sure I disagree with this. While we should be concerned about surrounding outselves with people who always agree with us, no matter what we say, there’s a large difference between that and having people around you who share some of the same general opinions but are not afraid to speak up when something seems not right to them.

    The first thing that came to mind to me was the story of Korihor. He was certainly a dissenting view of the Church – should he have been welcomed as a dissenting voice to keep the Nephites thinking?

    Ah, there it is. You seem to be likening King Noah to the leaders of the Church, especially with your reference to the mall in SLC. The problem with this is that the GAs hold a number of divergent views, which is obvious from listening to them speak, and the belief that they are working under the direction of God, rather than for themselves.

    It seems to me that you are approaching the BoM as an interesting historical document, which isn’t what it was written to be. Its primary purpose is to testify of Jesus Christ. If your lesson wasn’t geared to this purpose, what was being taught that couldn’t have been taught in any history or writing analysis class?

    Sorry for the rant – several things in this post just rubbed me wrong.

    I know its not a good explanation for those who don’t believe in “The Spirit”, but to me that’s the only way we can objectively know the answer to your question, “do we agree with leaders only if they agree with us?” The knowledge and guidence given by the Spirit is individually tailored for each of us, so it may even give comflicting answers to different people, simply because we are different people.

    Anyway, I need to go find something to do so I feel less ranty. :P

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 7

  2. Glenn Thigpen on August 23, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    My question is why did you accept the calling? Are you being honest in teaching your divergent, admittedly liberal viewpoints rather than the spiritual values and lessons that the Book of Mormon presents?

    So, I would say that you are blinded by your own preconceived notions. Your take on Nephi was totally one sided and did not seem to give any credence to Nephi as a prophet. That point could have been brought out to the class. I.E. either Nephi was a yoinger brother moaning about his older siblings and currying favor with his father, or he was a prophet of God and his narrative was an inspired recollection of the events that led to the exodus from Juda and the travels.

    I think that you mistated the “We often assume that associating with people with the same beliefs is a virtue” bit. That does not appear to be the product of critical thinking to me. That is a broad brush. I don’t think that you would say that thieves, murderers, or rapists associating with each other to further their nefarious agendas is virtuous.

    Glenn

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  3. Glenn Thigpen on August 23, 2012 at 5:11 PM

    Jake, I don’t know if I worded my post correctly. I did not want to come across as judgemental. I was only trying to answer your question honestly.

    The main thing is, you are thinking and questioning yourself and your motives, etc. and that to me is a good thing.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  4. Mike S on August 23, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    I’d go to your class. It would be far more interesting to me than what we normally hear.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 15

  5. Jon on August 23, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    Ditto to what Mike S said.

    Yes, I think most of us like to associate with like minded individuals. Being a programmer in a rural area, I have started up a Meet Up group for programmers, why? Because I would like to associate with people that understand what I’m talking about.

    I think there is some nuance to it, it is good to surround oneself with similar people (like the people of Nephi who separated themselves from the Lamanites) but at the same time it is good to not become insular in ones beliefs.

    The church’s policy on not reading anti-Mormon (or even unfriendly Mormon) literature makes one insular in their beliefs. As Ludwig von Mises said, we must read all sides (with an open and critical mind) in order to come to a good understanding of the world and to understand what we truly believe. How often do we read an opposing viewpoint with the intent of not wanting it to be true? I opine that most of us don’t have open and critical minds, we do not want to think critically because, doing so, might destroy our world view and have negative consequences on our lives.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  6. Glenn Thigpen on August 23, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Jon,
    How does one think critically about a spiritual experience? Does critical thinking deny the possibility that God exists, that there are angels, etc?

    How do you know if you are really thinking critically rather than just negatively?

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  7. Will on August 23, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    I’ll go along with your assessment that the leadership is void of inspiritation or extremely desperate in calling you to teach the youth, or to teach anyone in the church for that matter. It’s a good thing you aren’t in my ward, you’d be fired for sure.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  8. Glenn Thigpen on August 23, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Will, You would fire a good man? Remember, there must be opposition in all things. I think that Jake might need to show both sides of the coin, though.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  9. Bonnie on August 23, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    Jake, this was really interesting. I will admit that as I read I felt that your presentation was a bit one-sided, but I kept checking myself, asking if it was because your questioning was presented from a slightly different angle than I would. It was only when I got to the end and I saw your willingness to ascribe this insular thinking to yourself as well that I could trust your perspective and embrace it.

    I do much the same thing in my class, though slightly differently. I do a lot of questioning, asking why the class thinks the Lord would select this person to speak about this issue, in a document that would be preserved on gold plates for nearly a score of centuries. How does the Lord use this person, with all his (not usually her) foibles to still do this work? For instance, I don’t think most of us would “get” Captain Moroni if he lived in our time. We use this word freedom that he uses, but I don’t think we mean the same thing by it. Would any of us feel comfortable doing the rather extreme things he did to promote peace in his country? It would so not be politically correct. I think those kinds of discussions can be had and remain faithful. But it can only be faithful if I’m willing to question my perspective as well. For instance, who says the modern western perspective on freedom is the best one?

    So thank you for this really fun post. It was more fun for me when I realized I could connect with you, that there was a sameness in our approach. In the end, that’s a benefit of what we’re calling echo chambers. Birds of a feather with something to talk about.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  10. Stephen Marsh on August 23, 2012 at 6:50 PM

    Are my preconceived notions about equality, respect and tolerance blinding me? On the other hand, how can I tell if I am simply agreeing with leaders insofar as they agree with me?

    I can’t say for you, but I know mine often blind me.

    The entire point of my deconstructing the Book of Mormon series, years ago, was looking at it as an historical book, and looking beyond the surface.

    The writers would not go on about their weaknesses if they were reliable narrators. They know that they are not (anything else they would worry about would be washed away in translation, after all).

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  11. Stephen Marsh on August 23, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    I do find this interesting. I’m a life long Republican (with some libertarian maxist leanings), fairly TBM in my doctrinal leanings, but I loved this post.

    I think it is good to take the text seriously and then explore what the text is about.

    What does it say? Why was a story or a narrative included out of all the things that could have been included? What do the details tell us? How do we liken it to our selves and apply it to our own lives?

    What does it mean that it was edited out of about a thousand years of history to provide specifics with meaning for us?

    What does it mean that King Noah was able to hire and fire the priests at his own will (they were not independent of him in any way)?

    Lots of good thoughts in this post. Good work Jake.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  12. Jon on August 23, 2012 at 7:08 PM

    @Glenn,

    What do you think?

    All,

    I am really enjoying the new mormon stories sunday school podcast even with its leftist bent.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  13. mh on August 23, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    Jake, I wish you could teach my class. Those were very interesting insights.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 8

  14. ji on August 23, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    Jake,

    I think you’re looking at the Book of Mormon all wrong. It isn’t a history book. It is a book given to build faith in the Lord jesus Christ. If you were my son’s teacher, I would want you to be building and stregthening his faith. From what I read in the original posting, you aren’t doing that with your ward’s youth. It might be a fun class, and an interesting class, but is it a faith-building class? You’re closer to it than me, so you have to answer this question yourself.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  15. prometheus on August 23, 2012 at 9:02 PM

    I bet you actually have engaged kids in your class, Jake. Catechism is simply not a productive pedagogical technique except when one is teaching a limited number of rote facts. Critical inquiry is far superior, and will fully engage the kids in what the scriptures are actually saying.

    My take on it is that there needs to be a balance. If we never step foot out of the echo chamber, it is bad – we have exactly one viewpoint and we are blind to all of our preconceived notions and blind spots.

    If we never go back in, we can be worn down by a barrage of dissenting and conflicting viewpoints. The echo chamber can be a place of affirmation and unity – people who get you, and who have your back.

    The trick is in finding the balance, and it is probably going to be different for everyone.

    In teaching unconventionally, Jake is providing a door to the echo chamber for these kids, a way out to get that balance in their lives. I have endured and taught in Primary – it is all call and response. We absolutely need a counterpoint of critical thinking in our church and in our lives. We don’t take our scriptures seriously if we aren’t willing to put them to the test, in my opinion.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  16. prometheus on August 23, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    ” It might be a fun class, and an interesting class, but is it a faith-building class? You’re closer to it than me, so you have to answer this question yourself. ”

    ji, I don’t believe at all that there is a mutual exclusivity between critical thinking and faith building. They aren’t the same thing, but they don’t negate each other, either.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  17. ji on August 23, 2012 at 9:16 PM

    prometheus (no. 16) — “I don’t believe at all that there is a mutual exclusivity between critical thinking and faith building.

    I agree. I just didn’t see any suggestion of faith-building in the original posting. That’s why I wrote, “[f]rom what I read in the original posting” and “you have to answer this question yourself.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  18. prometheus on August 23, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    Thanks for the clarification, ji. Appears we got different things from the OP and I wasn’t sure where you stood on that point.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  19. Mike S on August 23, 2012 at 11:07 PM

    For the last several years I have taught Primary (and before that YM president – so haven’t been to my “own” quorum in over 1/2 a decade). When we started BofM this year, we got an overview of 1 Nephi. I put it in “modern” terms to let the kids relate it to them (9 y.o kids).

    What if your dad said that you were leaving all your friends and everything behind?

    What if you had to leave everything behind and take ONE thing – what would it be?

    We talked about how far they actually had to walk back. We talked about chopping off someone’s head with their own sword because they were drunk. We talked about basically stealing someone’s property. We talked about kidnapping someone to cover your tracks. We talked about going back to get some girlfriends. And that was all in the first few chapters. The kids loved it and wanted to keep going but we ran out-of-time.

    Over the next few weeks, we obviously talked about the meaning of some of these things, but I do think putting things in context makes it more sense. They got much more interest out of the Book of Mormon with that lesson than if I pulled out “I will go and do the things…” and asked a generic question about what hard things the Lord could ask us to do.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  20. Wyoming on August 23, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    I have heard that the internet has created the ‘ghettoization’ of thought in the US. We are all subject to cognitive biases and need to acknowledge those biases – even in spiritual matters.

    However, I question parents who fail to teach their children the Gospel because they don’t want them to be unduly bias them.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  21. Hedgehog on August 24, 2012 at 1:22 AM

    Jake. An interesting approach. Whether it is good or bad probably depends on who the students are, and you’re the one with that information. I would think that youth who have gone through Primary (which includes 4 years of lessons on the scriptures in line with the Sunday school courses) and who are doing seminary, which I gather takes a very gospel principles based approach, would welcome something different in Sunday school, rather than more of the same. My now atheist brother would have loved your approach – his was to defend Korihor, which didn’t go down at all well with his then youth Sunday school teacher. I wish I’d had more context in my lessons growing up.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  22. Jake on August 24, 2012 at 3:38 AM

    Frank,

    If the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, then it should be treated as a historical document – written by mortal fallible humans who are wrestling with the same issues of working out what is the spirit and what is their own thoughts as we are. They were just as limited by their own cultural and social context as we are and we should think about how this plays into the writing of the text. I think I am fairly convinced by the argument in ‘The Hand of Mormon’ that the reading of the Book of Mormon as ‘A Testament of Christ’ is a fairly modern scriptural development. Joseph Smith, after all, hardly quoted from it or said that he used it as the foundation for his faith in Christ.

    Glenn,

    I accepted the calling because, even if I do say so myself, I am a pretty dang good teacher. But then I should hope so having spent the past 6 years teaching adult Sunday School with most people really enjoying the lessons. Regarding Nephi, if we are to take him seriously as a prophet then we should remember that the only have evidence we have for it is from what he himself says. That makes him a self-proclaimed prophet, a claim I think if it was to be made today by someone we would hold up to close scrutiny – why should Nephi be exempt? So we should consider into how this plays into his bias in writing his own story so we can consider what was him speaking as nephi, and what was him speaking as a prophet.

    Ji,

    If we want to look at faith-building as being the criteria for teaching then I think compared to how much the manuals build faith I am doing a pretty good job. If anything is a hindrance to building faith it is the framework and manuals the church gives us. I have been to too many sterile and tedious lessons that bore rather then increase faith that it must be the materials used rather then the teachers that causes it.

    Prometheus,

    The Kids are really engaged. They really get into the scriptures and deconstructing them and they all love the class. They get angry at me when I am not there to teach them.

    The thing is they will have a saturation of orthodox teaching throughout their lives. Which is unfortunate so I try and get them to consider the text in as many possible ways so that they can draw their own conclusions on what the text means to them. The church manuals all try and impose a particular way of reading the text, it wants to make us read it in a particular way, and get a particular set of lessons from it. I have an issue with this, so I free the scriptures from the imposition of ecclesiastical censorship in interpretation. People should read the scriptures and be able to find their own interpretation and meaning in it. Otherwise it will never be be truly relevant or interesting to them.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 10

  23. Jake on August 24, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    Will,

    You would fire me? The irony is that generally everyone loves my unorthodox teaching. In my last ward the Stake President and Bishop would go out of their way to attend my class – they loved it even though I used different Bible translations in the class. Perhaps it was because I encouraged diversity of opinions and views and did not attempt to impose a ‘right’ way of thinking on the class. I think deep down a lot of people are tired of orthodox teaching as it simply does not really relate to them.

    Bonnie,

    To be fair I did slant the opening of the post in a very one sided manner for rhetorical effect. I am not in actual fact that one sided.

    Hedgehog,

    Korihor is one of the most interesting characters in the Book of Mormon. Its a shame that his ideas are not actually engaged with fully in the scriptures. I think any teacher prime role is to empower the class to make their own conclusions rather then make them think in a certain way or repeat a certain dogma – so wether my approach is good or bad comes down to if they really feel empowered to think for themselves on the issue.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  24. JSG on August 24, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    Here’s an interesting preconceived notion that keeps showing up both in my life and in this thread: Interesting is better than boring.

    I see a lot of comments along the lines of “learning the same orthodox teachings again and again” is boring and that “hearing something new” would be fun. And I agree. It doesn’t take long before you get to the point where you can recite the church manuals from memory and hearing yet another lesson on faith gets a bit dull.

    But maybe significant portions of the gospel are supposed to be boring. A large part of life seems to be accepting the responsibility of doing boring but important things. We spend hours of our life on cooking, cleaning, accounting, budgeting, house repairs, exercise and millions of other boring but vital upkeep issues. And many people will spend a huge chunk of their lives doing a boring job just to make sure there is always food on the table for their family. Sometimes doing the right thing is boring.

    Fortunately we live in a modern world where its increasingly easy to banish the boring. Specialization means more people doing what they love and fewer people stuck in boring generic jobs. Labor saving technology spares us the pain of a lot of dull house chores and manual labor. And TV and Internet both promise a constant stream of new information. It’s entirely possible we’ve become addicted to being interested. I know I am.

    I’m not saying that boring is a good thing in and of itself. Just that sometimes it’s a necessary part of life that we need to learn to put up with. So maybe we can add it to our list of preconceived pitfalls. “Does this idea interest me because I truly believe it is good, or just because I am bored and desperate for anything new?”

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  25. Bonnie on August 24, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    Wow. Really good point, JSG. Pres. Beck made the point over and over again that we are not in the entertainment business; we are in the salvation business. Something akin to “it’s not romantic, but everyone’s happier when the house is clean.”

    I like your thought:

    A large part of life seems to be accepting the responsibility of doing boring but important things. We spend hours of our life on cooking, cleaning, accounting, budgeting, house repairs, exercise and millions of other boring but vital upkeep issues. And many people will spend a huge chunk of their lives doing a boring job just to make sure there is always food on the table for their family. Sometimes doing the right thing is boring.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  26. Jake on August 24, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    JSG,

    That’s a really good point. I can see what you mean. Its easy simply for novelty and new exciting ideas to be grasped hold of simply because they are a bit more exciting and new. Newness for the sake of newness. However, I guess implicit in this is the suggestion that part of the Gospel is boring which I am not sure should be the case. Surely, it should always be interesting and exciting?

    Personally, I think that because we are not perfect our understanding of the gospel and our interpretation of how to live it is never going to be perfect or complete. Hence, we should always be progressing, refining and improving our understanding both individually AND as an institution. To do so requires new ideas, different perspectives. The problem as I see it is that church is boring because we presume that we have the whole deal, that the correlation committee have got the entire gospel sussed out so there is no need to question our understanding and try new ideas. Its all already worked out we have all the answers we’ve reached the end of progression. We just learn the ready formulated pattern of ideas and don’t bother seeing how we can improve our understanding with new ideas. But yes, we should always question if we are embracing it just because its different.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  27. Jon on August 24, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    “cooking, cleaning, accounting, budgeting, house repairs, exercise and millions of other boring but vital upkeep issues.”

    I find those tasks to be interesting. I enjoy cooking. I enjoy cleaning (but not putting the kids stuff away). I enjoy exercise. I enjoy learning about the gospel (except when it is put in correlation or a boring talk – but even then, sometimes it is interesting). So I don’t know what you are talking about, I don’t understand why things need to be boring. If cleaning is boring, throw on some head phones and listen to some podcasts then cleaning becomes immensely interesting. I get annoyed when someone else washes the dishes, that is my podcast time. So, things don’t need to be boring, we just need a little imagination.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  28. Paul on August 24, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    Jake, interesting post. I’d certainly love your class. I think I understand where your Sunday School president is coming from, but I liked your response to him.

    As for supposedly building faith in our students in classes — that’s an interesting thought. How does one build another’s faith? If I knew that, I probably wouldn’t have three and a half kids who have walked away from the church (the half is still deciding).

    If yours were the only voice your students heard, I suppose it might be a concern, but it seems to me that a discussion at home (where the real gospel teaching should take place) about Nephi’s reliability as a narrator would be interesting, and you teed it up beautifully in your lesson. (I know my Book of Mormon is full of margin notes on that very subject despite my very TBM approach to the gospel.)

    Will, they fire people in your ward? Interesting concept. And when they do so, do they ask for a vote of thanks for their service? A waving of the pink slip, perhaps?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  29. SilverRain on August 24, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    I don’t think the Gospel should always be interesting and exciting. I think that we should always be interested and excited.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  30. Rigel Hawthorne on August 24, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    “Usually he is only studied as the killer of Abinidi.”

    Great point. Was his ambitious building project bad? Downtown Chicago and Manhattan are full of expensive, spacious buildings, so are their city planners guilty of sin? Perhaps King Noah was a darned good community organizer who, once he succumbed to the lavish praises of those who recognized his talents, succumbed to surrounding himself with the celebrity culture of his time.

    I never minded having teachers, as a youth, who presented difficult questions or challenged critical thinking of a scriptural passage. I would not, however, try to have my class look at the Book of Mormon as a historical document because the absence of precise historical correlaries forces us to be agnostic. If God wanted us to have these correlaries, we would have them. Since we don’t, a testimony of the Book of Mormon, if one gains it, is obtained from what we do have and from what gifts of the Spirit we can receive.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  31. prometheus on August 24, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Bad teaching can kill any subject, no matter how instrinsically interesting it is.

    Good teaching can make almost any subject interesting, no matter how intrinsically boring it is.

    Whether interesting is better than boring, or needs a balance, is up for debate, but I think we can all agree that good teaching is always better than bad teaching…. :D

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  32. SilverRain on August 24, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    Ah, but the Gospel isn’t really about teaching, is it?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  33. prometheus on August 24, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    You are right, SR, the gospel is really all about one’s personal relationship with Jesus (something else that gets washed out by the cultural baggage we have accumulated over the years). It is separate from the meetings, classes and teaching.

    All I am saying is, bad teaching practices at church make it difficult to justify spending those two hours there. Especially when such simple changes can make such big differences. Honestly, there are so many teachers who would improve from nothing more than reading and using the teaching tips at the bottom of the GAS lessons.

    No, it isn’t about being entertained, but it shouldn’t be drudgery either (ie. reading verbatim the lesson manual for 25 minutes). The good news that Jesus brings salvation and healing should be deeply and powerfully compelling. Bad teaching hides that and makes it difficult to connect to the concepts and ideas being taught.

    An analogy: you can have the most important, wprld-changing and powerful speech in the world written out, but if you mumble into the microphone and never look at the audience, the message can get lost in the presentation. :D

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 7

  34. hawkgrrrl on August 24, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    I’m with Stephen on this one: “I think it is good to take the text seriously and then explore what the text is about.” That’s also how I teach. I was interested to see that my class had discussed a lot of the same points. To me, that’s what it means to liken the scriptures unto ourselves.

    For example, Nephi is writing essentially his journal, and he is the hero of his own story. He also happens to know how it turns out since he’s writing it later. He (like all of us) is big into self-justification. Do we write our journals in this same way? Is it possible to be objective in writing about ourselves? Do we realize this when we read our own journals or those of our ancestors?

    I’ve taught in the church for my entire life (interestingly, when I was 13 I was substitute teaching my own Sunday School class, and now I’m teaching that same age class again), and there are so many times when I read the manual and I think “Whoever wrote these questions has missed the point of this scripture.” There’s not only cherry picking and proof texting in those manuals, but a lot of stretching and twisting to get things to fit.

    The other issue is that the BOM is written in such a clunky verbose style that the kids just laugh at how horrible it sounds when they read it. They aren’t doing it to be disrespectful, but they aren’t in awe of the text either (which I think they may have been when I was a kid). In order to help them get to the actual meaning and want to read it, you have to make these people in the BOM come alive. And people aren’t perfect. People are only believable because they have flaws and nuances and are like us. Those are the things I am pointing out, and Jake is doing the same from what I can see.

    The only way in which I differ from Jake is that I’m not convinced the BOM isn’t a historical record. I think it’s terrible writing, but people have been sucky writers throughout time, not just in the 1800s.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  35. BrotherQ on August 24, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    I wish you were my Sunday School teacher, Jake!

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  36. Bonnie on August 24, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    31-SR- Well, it is halfway. That both teacher and student are edified … edification leading to a pathway of discipleship and supporting a commitment to covenants … it is kind of.

    33-Hawk- That’s my tack as well. I assume a literal text and go from there. If people want to question the literalness of the text, they can do that on their own time.

    We’ve talked a lot about Nephi even since we’ve moved beyond him, because his record is rather unique. It’s preserved as is (not filtered through the perceptions of a military general) and it’s one of the few that we know for sure was written decades after the events. I have a journal that I call my “small plates” that I started writing just a few years ago, summarizing my spiritual experiences through my life. It’s extremely lean because only the events that proved pertinent after the fact are recorded, and only the details that contributed to the end storyline were included. It’s an entirely different record than my journals. I’m the hero because I make no drastic mistakes that aren’t blithely explained by time and altered perspective. I don’t have a problem with Nephi telling his story this way because I don’t read him as a problematic narrator but a distanced narrator. He’s telling a prophet’s story as a prophet, much as Joseph Smith would have told his story much later. Because I don’t think his primary purpose is to create a historical record, but rather a doctrinal record, I can interpret his telling through that lens instead of as self-justification. I think the record was compelling to Mormon because here is the founder of his people, speaking 1000 years earlier and telling the myth of his people in his own words, a myth that has been passed down for 30 generations. As a historian, what a find that must have been for him.

    I love your way of pointing out the humanity of the people in scripture. I also think I was a bit in awe of the characters and the text as a youth and it took me a bit to see what Moroni was saying about “the gentiles will mock.” And verbosity aside, we do have the Isaiah chapters, and some of Moroni’s stuff (and Mormon’s letters) are divine.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  37. Stephen R. Marsh on August 24, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    I guess I read the style of the book differently. Once you get past the translator’s flattening, there is a lot of poetry and some interesting differences in style.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  38. ji on August 25, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Paul (no. 28) — “As for supposedly building faith in our students in classes — that’s an interesting thought. How does one build another’s faith?

    The purpose of everything we do in our church settings is to build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (our own faith and that of our fellow saints).

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  39. Glenn Thigpen on August 25, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    The question remains, should Jake be teaching his own ideas, or the ideas from the lesson manual?

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  40. Jon on August 25, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    @Glenn,

    Ultimately that is up to his bishop, so I guess the answer is yes!

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  41. mckay on August 25, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    Great post, Jake.

    I especially liked the last two paragraphs.

    “Perhaps I surround myself with other critical thinkers with liberal views to help me feel more secure about my own views and beliefs.”

    This is something that has been on my mind for many months. I have a deep-seated fear that I choose to read and listen only to people who reinforce my already-held views. I want to be “open-minded” but I am never sure how open-minded I really am. Every viewpoint I adopt has already been held by someone else before me, so am I really forming my own opinions? And if I’m right, then won’t other intelligent people also believe the same things I do? And shouldn’t I listen to them?

    Interesting things to think about.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  42. Glenn Thigpen on August 25, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Mckay wrote: “And if I’m right, then won’t other intelligent people also believe the same things I do? And shouldn’t I listen to them?”

    And if some intelligent people agree with you and other intelligent people disagree with you? Or is it only intelligent people that agree with you and all others are not all that intelligent?

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  43. prometheus on August 25, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Glenn,

    “The question remains, should Jake be teaching his own ideas, or the ideas from the lesson manual?”

    The lesson manuals should be pitched altogether, quite honestly. :D

    They are a hedge against the law (quite literally), coming in between us and the scriptures. Studying the ideas from the scriptures themselves is far more worthwhile, in my opinion.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  44. Glenn Thigpen on August 25, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    Prometheus,
    I do not see the lesson manual as a hedge against the law, as coming between us and the scriptures. The lesson manuals, as a whole, are desgned as a guide to teach us the plan of salvation.
    Jake, or anyone else, that is called as a teacher has a trust placed in him (or her)by the Lord to help those he or she teaches to better understand that plan. The manuals are not supposed to be the last and only study that the pupils attend to. The idea is to encourage them to study on their own, to read the scriptures on their own.
    Jake, as an adult, with all of the knowledge and training that he has already, has a great advantage over hus pupils. He can greatly affect the faith and testimonies of his students with his “critical thinking” exercises. If the only thing that his students took away from his lesson was that “Nephi iis unreliable” he has done the his calling and his students a great disservice.

    I read a story once, a long time ago, about a teacher of some youth who was trying to make his lessons more interesting. This was long before the internet or even the CB radio craze. The instructor told his students that they were to take the position as advocates of the Book of Mormon and he would take an adversarial position in one of the classes. The instructor, with his experience and considerable edge in education, was able to pretty well demolish the efforts of his students. The results were some very confused and shaken students. I do not know the final results of that experiment, but the early results were not good.
    What may be critical thinking to one, may be nothing but negativism to another.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  45. prometheus on August 25, 2012 at 6:01 PM

    Well Glenn, we may have to just disagree on this. I find that the lesson manuals are poorly written, rely on prooftexting, and are very clearly slanted to foster obedience to ecclesiastical authority. Follow the prophet, to me is putting your trust in the arm of flesh. Follow Jesus is where we should be, not relying on a mortal human being to get us there.

    And I will add that a teacher who is demolishing their students’ efforts is probably showing off more than educating. Doesn’t sound like good teaching in general to me.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  46. Glenn Thigpen on August 25, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    Prometheus, I have not taught any youth classes for a long time, so I cannot comment informedly on them. However, the adult manuals that I have taught from do not pretend to present a lesson. They present the main themes and ideas that the teacher should be developing to engage the class. The lesson can be made alive and interesting by a good teacher, or the opposite.

    I do agree with your last statement, which I think is on point for this thread.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  47. Stephen R. Marsh on August 25, 2012 at 10:24 PM

    Or is it only intelligent people that agree with you and all others are not all that intelligent?

    Naturally! Unless I’m blinded by preconceived notions?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  48. Jon on August 25, 2012 at 10:33 PM

    Yeah, like the war chapters that we just covered. Clearly they show that going to war in foreign lands is not of the Lord. Perfect application for modern days, unfortunately we worship the “god of steal” and so we did not cover that in class, unless you were unfortunate and had me in that class with you, then you got to hear me “renounce war.”

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  49. Hawkgrrrl on August 26, 2012 at 12:17 AM

    My thought is that we need to create a desire in the youth to actually explore and ponder the scriptures for themselves. The manuals have the opposite effect unfortunately. The answers are rote, making the questions seem rhetorical. Even as adults it can be hard to find unique insights on reading and rereading the same passages. So that’s why I think these approaches are refreshing and effective.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  50. Ray on August 26, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Jake.

    I was bored stiff in most of my Sunday School classes growing up – and in most of my Senior Primary Classes, as well. After you hear the exact. same. lesson. for. the. 12th. time. in. 12.years . . .

    I teach the oldest youth Sunday School class now and love it. I admitted openly to the students the first week that I had been bored in Sunday School, and I promised them it wouldn’t happen to them in my class. I didn’t say I would entertain them; I told them there was plenty of material in the Book of Mormon that is overlooked and misunderstood and that I would make sure they learned something about the book and what it teaches that they hadn’t learned already. It’s what my Bishop asked me to do when he called me to that position.

    For example, when we studied Alma 40-42, the manual said to sketch out the Plan of Salvation (as we teach it now) – but what we teach now doesn’t quite match what he taught to Corianton. Therefore, we sketched out both views of the after-life and talked about “sola scriptura”, continuing revelation and doctrinal evolution over time.

    Next week we are studying the introductory war chapters in Alma, and the lesson mentions talking about what the students can do to fight Satan. We will do that, but we also will talk about how wars should be fought only in defense or protection – and how our modern war rhetoric translates into us instigating fights of all kinds (including verbal fights and interpersonal divisions) with people who really aren’t fighting us. Iow, we will talk about how we often make enemies of people who don’t want to be our enemies, aren’t really attacking us and would be our friends if we only let them.

    That’s all in the Book of Mormon AND the manual (study the assigned material and pray to know what to teach your students) – and I hope my students walk out of class each week having learned something, having been made to think and not having been bored by the same old, same old one more time.

    My Bishop told me the youth have been taught to fly a plane already, so he wants them now to learn to be pilots.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  51. Glenn Thigpen on August 26, 2012 at 1:21 AM

    @Jon, Your answer is perfect. You, as a student, are thinking and providing the class with your own insights, which make for a more interesting lesson.

    @hawkgrrl, The manuals that I have read do not provide the answers. They provide questions. The teacher has a lot to do with how interesting he or she makes the lesson.

    The teacher also has to tailor his or her approach to the target audience. And he or she is also responsible for getting the intended message across to the students.

    That is something that Jake, with his different approach, evidently did not do. As I noted, the only thing that his students came away with, accoe\rding to Jake, was that Nephi is not reliable as a narrator. That approach takes a prophet of God and makes him a whiney, brown-nosing usurper rather than an inspired prophet of God.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  52. Glenn Thigpen on August 26, 2012 at 1:25 AM

    @Ray, I think that you have a good approach.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  53. hawkgrrrl on August 26, 2012 at 3:59 AM

    Glenn: “That approach takes a prophet of God and makes him a whiney, brown-nosing usurper rather than an inspired prophet of God.” Ha! I find your comment hilarious. Jake didn’t do that. Nephi comes across that way when you give his writing more than a passing thought. Ditto Jacob / Israel in the OT – who comes across even worse, a manipulator and a liar as well as a prophet of God. Apparently God likes usurpers.

    The youth manuals do provide some of the answers that they want you to elicit from the class. If the class doesn’t readily identify the correct answer, you are told to tell them what it was. Perhaps Jacob’s manipulation is to be emulated after all.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  54. Glenn Thigpen on August 26, 2012 at 7:15 AM

    @hawkgrrl – Yous said “Jake didn’t do that” in response to my post about the results of Jake’s teaching method.

    Here is the quote from which I distilled my viewpoint: ‘We discussed Nephi’s reliability as a narrator, the biases that might have impacted upon his writing, and how it is convenient that Nephi was always the most righteous given that he was the author. He also exhibits younger brother syndrome, moaning about his older siblings and claiming that they are so mean and pick on him all the time. This distorted perspective is not unique to Nephi but is a common family dynamic. [b]My class all left saying, “Nephi isn’t reliable[/b].” ‘

    That speaks for itself.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  55. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 26, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    Reliable narrator means something different than reliable person.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  56. Glenn Thigpen on August 26, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Stephen M (Ethesis) said: “Reliable narrator means something different than reliable person.”

    The subject at hand seems to have been Nephi’s reliability as a narrator. He seems to anticipate those who would question him.

    “10 And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.
    11 And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.
    12 And I pray the Father in the name of Christ that many of us, if not all, may be saved in his kingdom at that great and last day.
    13 And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come.
    14 And you that will not partake of the goodness of God, and respect the words of the Jews, and also my words, and the words which shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the Lamb of God, behold, I bid you an everlasting farewell, for these words shall condemn you at the last day.
    15 For what I seal on earth, shall be brought against you at the judgment bar; for thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey. Amen.” (2 Nephi, Chapter 33)

    Can we apply our vaunted “critical thinking” skills to the things of God and come up with the correct assessment?

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  57. prometheus on August 26, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    “Can we apply our vaunted “critical thinking” skills to the things of God and come up with the correct assessment?”

    I think we need to dig into what critical thinking is and isn’t here. Looking between the lines, at things not said, carefully parsing what is said so we understand what it is actually getting at – this is critical thinking.

    Critical thinking is not criticizing individuals and calling them on their failures. Critical thinking in fact includes pondering, reflecting, medititating – all the things we are told to do.

    Uncritical thinking leads to excessively literal, black and white approaches, usually based on what an authority figure has said as opposed to even a cursory examination. Uncritical thinking doesn’t grapple with the bits that might be contradictory and assumes that assumptions are true.

    Some people imagine that Adam was literally a Mormon, that Paul’s church was identical in form and function to the modern church, which hasn’t changed since Joseph started it. All uncritical, unexamined, unreflected upon.

    So, as a long winded answer, Glenn, we not only can, but we must apply critical thinking skills to the things of God in order to come up with the correct assessment. :D

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  58. Glenn Thigpen on August 26, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    Pronetheus, I like your characterization of what critical thinking entails. I believe that all too often, negative thinking is mistaken for critical thinking.

    Glenn

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  59. Paul on August 27, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    #38 as for building faith in others — I think the scriptures teach that when we teach then all should be edified. If that’s what you mean by building faith, then I guess we agree.

    Except for all to be edified, each person plays a part — the teacher who invites the spirit and the student who also invites the spirit. A brain-dead teenager responding (or not) to the same rote questions is not likely to listen with the spirit. (I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but that it’s not likely.)

    On the other hand, a provoactive lesson, taught with the spirit (and I’m not making that judgement about Jake’s method either way) can invite a student to be more receptive.

    As for “sticking to the manual”, where does it say that sticking to the manual means asking each question the manual does? NONE of the teacher training materials I’m aware of (Teaching No Greater Call, Teacher Improvement manuals, even conference talks by the Gen’l Sunday School president) advocate this approach. Why should anyone here?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

Archives

%d bloggers like this: