Found this statement on an online forum, talking about the simplification of church curriculum and thought it worthy of a deeper discussion and analysis:
Interesting discussion. As for the simplification of the church curriculum, I would suggest that it has as much to do with the tremendous growth of the church as it does our loss of focus. We have so many members that need the basics because they just joined the church. I just got a missionary letter from a boy in our ward. The bishop in his ward has been a member less that a year. We have stake presidents in Mexico that have only been members three years. With growth what it is, I think the brethren have realized that we have to stick to milk.

One of the downsides of this is that our quorum and SS discussions also tend to be focused on basics. I remember the SS lesson manual written by Nibley titled “Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites.” That was a great year of discussion.

In reading this part of the statement I would like to add a different perspective. I’m constantly amazed at how we say that we need to water things down and teach new members “the basics”, or the “gospel principles” or whatever. It’s a fairly common response to the current curriculum, specifically, and the way we treat all “new” members generally. We’ve done a great disservice in assuming that we need to wait for new members to be “seasoned” in the “doctrine of the church” before allowing them a chance to spread their wings and fly. We, at the local levels, seem to assume that the new gospel principles manual was “inspired” so as to help new members across the world “learn the doctrine” of the church. This is, IMO, nothing more than a condescending attitude which is built around the idea that you either have to “earn your stripes” or be “seasoned” in the church before you can do or, perhaps more correctly, before you can “know” anything. It’d be humorous, if it wasn’t so tragic. We figuratively clip their (and our) wings by assuming that we need manuals for instruction and protocol which needs to be followed before we “know” anything and before we’re qualified to be either advanced in the priesthood or advanced in the church or given an “important” calling in the church or whatever. A common excuse – and we all hear/utter it – is, “Well, they are a new member … ” when holding them back from a calling, a responsibility, a doctrine, a teaching, a principle or whatever. To be sure, the spirit may dictate such a response, but the above line of thinking presupposes that this is what is needed in all cases, and is witnessed by the average member’s reply that this line of thinking is what new members need, to say nothing of their state of mind.

Only 170 years ago people – people who were all “new members” at the time – were experiencing spiritual manifestations, being ministered to by Christ himself, receiving their 2nd anointing, seeing angelic visions and the other “gifts of the spirit” which we haven’t seen used or practiced in nearly a century, if not longer. Without respect to their longevity in the church, their following of a specific “program” or “manual,” they saw into the heavens and learned more in 5 minutes than we have learned in all the books from which we seek to instruct ourselves, including the manuals published through the correlation committee. Today, we’ve got nothing on those who were living in Kirtland and were there for the temple dedication. And yet, we’re happy with where we’re at. We’re happy with the “take it slow and easy” attitude. It pervades our very lives, our words, our teachings, our statements, in fine, everything. The vast majority of us are content living a life that’s lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. We’re content with not failing, for in doing so we don’t get hurt, we don’t scrape our knees on the hard, cold pavement of life. Yes, we’re kept from getting hurt, but we also don’t learn to hear and understand the voice of the Lord to us, individually. In this sort of environment we’re protected from scary endings, but we’re also shielded from growing spiritually.

What we should be asking is what did they do then to have the “gifts of the spirit?” Did they obtain the gifts by installing governors and/or car boots and/or blinders to prevent the members from going too fast and learning too much too soon? Did they obtain those gifts by insisting that we learn only from inside of a manual, or only so fast? How did they receive those gifts? And yet, to use an applicable analogy, we think that we’ll be able to grow and re-ceive gifts by doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again thinking it’ll yield different results each time. We assume way too much when we think everyone must (a) go at the same speed, (b) go through the same classes and curriculum and (c) in the same way everyone else does. That method is nothing more than the same public school curriculum many people readily decry as socialist and communist, which serves to destroy any and all creativity and originality in the child, and yet we accept it and, worse, call it inspired. In reality, all that it really does is create conformity, not spirituality. Conformity of action, conformity of protocol, conformity of holding back the “new members” and the like.  Conformity because we’d become jealous if a “new member” starts having spiritual witnesses that we, “seasoned members” of the church haven’t received.

Sure, with the current protocol we’ll continue to find the classes interesting, fun and insightful, but that doesn’t change the fact (as some of my dear friends have pointed out) that we’re learning the same things today in HP or EQ which were taught to us in primary 20, 30 or 40 years ago. A sort of approved remedial primary for all of us because obviously we didn’t learn what we should have or, if we did, got scared into believing that searching out doctrine and knowledge on our own was bad and frowned upon. And we call that progress. We call that what the Lord wants out of us.  We call that inspired.

We, as a people and as individuals and as a nation and as a world, are nowhere near the people the Lord wants us to be. We call good evil and evil good. We’ve become lovers of ourselves and we’ve got itchy ears – wanting teachers to tickle us with pleasantries and “soft” words. Our paradigms are so screwed up that we don’t even know we’re screwed up – mine included.

In writing this I was reminded of a book I read on public education last year, and found the similarities between this figurative holding back of “new” members (or anyone, really) and public school are striking, if only in my mind. I understand this train of thought isn’t for everyone, but it’s what I see in this discussion. To be fair, this book was written nearly 20 years ago, but is still as applicable today as it was then. Below are a few thoughts from that book, entitled:  Dumbing Us Down:  The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling:


“…Bertrand Russel, probably the greatest mathematician of this century, its greatest philosopher, and a close relation to the King of England to boot, saw that mass-schooling in the United States had a profoundly anti-democratic intent, that it was a scheme to artificially deliver national unity by eliminating human variation … . According to Lord Russell, mass-schooling produced a recognizably American student: anti-intellectual, superstitious, lacking self-confidence, and with less of what Russell called “inner freedom” than his or her counterpart from any other nation he know of, past or present. These schooled children became citizens, he said, with a thin “mass character,” holding excellence and aesthetics equally in contempt, inadequate to the personal crises of their lives.” – p. 77-78.

“…individuality, family, and community are, by definition, expressions of singular organization, never of “one-right-way” thinking on the grand scale. Private time is absolutely essential if a private identity is going to develop, and private time is equally essential to the development of a code of private values, without which we aren’t really individuals at all. Children and families need some relief from government surveillance and intimidation if original expressions belonging to them are to develop. Without these freedom has no meaning.” – p. 76

“The heart of a defense for the cherished American ideals of privacy, variety, and individuality lies in the way we bring up our young. Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important; force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.” – . 76

“There is abundant evidence that less than a hundred hours is sufficient for a person to become totally literate and a self-teacher.” – p. 103

“American education teaches by its methodology that people are machines. Bells ring, circuits open and close, energy flows or is constricted, qualities are reduced to a numbering system, a plan is followed of which the machine parts know nothing.” -p. 99

“In the North American system men and women are subjected from childhood to an inexorable process. Certain principles contained in brief formulas are endlessly repeated by the press, radio, TV, churches and especially schools. A person imprisoned by these schemes is like a plant in a flowerpot too small for it. He cannot grow or mature. .” -p. 99

“Lurking behind … is an image of people as machinery that can be built and repaired; … saying that the world and all its living variety is just machinery. … If people are machines then school [church instruction] can only be a way to make these machines more reliable; the logic of machines dictates that parts be uniform and interchangeable, all operations time-constrained, predictable, economical. … The Civil War unfortunately demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt both the financial and social utility of regimentation.” p. 98-99

“We cannot grow or mature, like plants in too little flowerpots. We are addicted to dependency; in the current national crisis of maturity we seem to be waiting for the teacher to tell us what to do, but the teacher never comes to do that. Bridges collapse, men and women sleep on the streets, bankers cheat, good will decays, families betray each other, the government lies as a matter of policy, corruption, shame, sickness, and sensationalism are everywhere.” – p. 99

“Monopoly schooling is the major cause of our loss of national and individual identity. It has institutionalized the division of social classes and acted as an agent of caste – repugnant to our founding myths and to the reality of our founding period. Its strength arises from many quarters, the anti-child, anti-family stream of history for one – but it draws its great power from being a natural adjunct to the kind of commercial economy we have that requires permanently dissatisfied consumers.” -p. 101

“What on earth is going on? Any genuine debate would have to grapple with the uniform failure of every type of government monopoly school. With the addition of television, the destructive power of schooling is now awesome and thoroughly out of control. The television institution, very similar to the structure of mass schooling, has expanded so successfully that all the former escape routes are now blocked. We have destroyed the minds and characters of the nation’s children by preempting their youth, removing their choices. We will pay a huge price in lost humanity for this crime for another century, even if a way is found to overturn the school pyramid. What to do? … Turn your back on national solutions and toward communities of families as successful laboratories. Let us turn inward until we master the first directive of any philosophy worthy of the name, “Know Thyself.” – p. 102

  1. […] regarding the new “Gospel Principles”[4] manual.  The issues raised tie into the post I did on new members, as well as his general questioning of this manual.  This post isn’t about the manual, it’s […]

  2. Homer says:

    For some reason, I came back to this article today and wondered what role the results of public education have had on what we’re seeing today. Sure, we could apply the above quotes to our educational ideas, but I wonder if our current mindsets are all skewed because of the public school system.

    The Cato Institute, in 1995, estimated that approximately 90% of people attend public school. That would indicate that 90% (give or take a certain percentage who try and shed the “lessons” public school taught them, enumerated in the quotes above) have been indoctrinated in a form of education that creates conformity, that creates machines, parts, people that are easily replaceable. It’s not hard to see how this methodology would work it’s way into religious organizations and their instruction techniques. The natural course of events seems to see movements (i.e. what Joseph Smith started) morph into institutions, much like we see today.

    Denver Snuffer stated this on that idea:

    “Movements are different from organized religion. Movements are disorderly, rapid moving and they change history. … The restoration began more as a movement than as an organization. In contrast, institutions prize order, and generally harden over time, and use other fellow-institutions like governments to help with their development. Institutions want to progress with an imposed order contemporaneous with growth. One of the effects of this approach is to artificially impose limits on growth. For example, an institution might curtail conversions of women and children who have no fathers or husbands because it would want priesthood leadership to be available, and so are unwilling to allow the temporary disorder to prevail. When something like this happens, it is because a movement has progressed into an organization. There is more spontaneity to movements, and less to institutions. Something profound changes at the moment a movement grows into an institution. A full discussion of this subject is beyond the scope of this chapter. It is worth careful consideration, however, as it affects greatly the unfolding history of the Church.”

    And this…

    “Prophets are always questioned about their right to declare things by the priestly traditions of their times. Priests invariably think it their right to control the thinking of people, and attempt to do so through the use of institutional power and status.”

    “Abinadi represents the prophetic tradition. That tradition is unruly, unpredictable, and not capable of institutionalization. Just as you cannot produce genius by institutionalization (if you could, we would), you cannot produce prophets by institutionalization. They either are or they are not. And when they are, they can come from anywhere, bearing no bona fides other than the power of the Spirit which accompanies their message.”

    “For those unfortunate Saints who live at a time when Abinadi’s lesson becomes applicable, they will no doubt be tested to the core.”

    Source: Eighteen Verses, pages 170-179.

  3. […] down the curriculum so that everyone could understand it.  I’ve written about this previously (Taking it Easy on New Members), and my feelings are still largely the […]

  4. Chris says:

    I used to teach public school and a colleague of mine lent me another Gatto book, Weapons of Mass Instruction. Since then I’ve eaten everything up on the subject of education I could find. When I started to wonder if that ought to apply to Sunday School, at first I thought I better keep that to myself. But now I see how, in the name of efficiency or whatever, the homogenization of curriculum (and therefore thought) in the Church.

    You mentioned Bertrand Russell. I like this quote:

    “When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think.”

    Do we want people to think? Or do we want conformity? I doubt the Lord gave us different interests, talents, gifts and everything to make us clones.

  5. Dan says:

    Love that quote. Thanks for sharing it.

    I think it’s no secret that we want conformity of thought and opinion. There was an article I referenced for the post on the church’s new advertising program. In that article the Scott Swofford, “director of media” for the Church offered this insight (emphasis is mine):

    “Swofford: Well, you can go on and on all day long trying to define yourself in the minds of the public, or you can, in fact, connect them to members of the church. When you do that you see the incredible diversity, the various walks of life that Latter-day Saints are involved in, and they see that Mormon thinking can be as diverse as it needs to be to live their life. Yet surprisingly, if you read the 3,000 profiles, you will find those people are very unified in the understanding of what they believe. It is shocking. I expected responses to be all over the place, and they are not.

      People in their own words are articulating their beliefs better than perhaps we could.”

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