Discussions without Destinations: A Tangent From “Jesus Christ, Our Savior” – YW Lesson 2, Manual 1
Posted by Karen on January 6, 2012
(A similar discussion is also taking place at Beginnings New.)
Elder Bednar recently published a book titled Increase In Learning. I received that book for Christmas, and between reading that book, and coming across a certain suggestion in the outline for Lesson 2, I’ve been doing a lot more thinking about methodology than specific texts this week.
One of the suggestions in Lesson 2 is to “Ask for a volunteer to recite the third article of faith. Discuss with the class what the atonement of Christ is and what it means to us. Your discussion should include the following [seven] points:…” But the idea that this “discussion” has a necessary destination point seems to defeat the purpose of opening up a place to discuss “what it means to us.”
This of course is not a problem unique to the YW Program. Whenever any of us gets too concerned about how a lesson outline “needs” to proceed, we will find ourselves anxious that the class give certain “right” answers. There may indeed be a right answer to a particular question, but to open up a “discussion” that needs to hit on the right answer is a bit like playing battleship with the teacher.
It can also have some unfortunate, long-term consequences. With this particular example from the YW manual, what usually happens (in my observation) is after the young women give an answer or two, the teacher says, “Okay, that’s good too but here’s the answer…” and writes that answer on the board. The young women tend to respond in one of two ways. If the young women realize that the teacher is only going to write what the manual says, then sometimes they play along, guessing what the manual is going to say. Unfortunately, this can teach youth that the answers aren’t things we think through and learn, they are facts to be memorized from manuals. And that doubly communicates that answers don’t really come from the scriptures, or even if they do, someone else has already mined them all out of there for them anyway.
On the other hand, if the young women don’t decide to play this game, then they feel like their answers are being rejected as unthinking or simply “wrong.” When a young woman’s answers are repeatedly treated as “not quite right,” the young woman will come to believe that she can’t really learn from the scriptures by herself. The first group grows lazy, and the second group grows uncertain of their ability to think.
About two years ago here at Feast, a group discussed a book called The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. In this book, Ranciere outlines two ways we can teach: one, to stultify, which is to tell the student what to learn in such a way that they also learn that they can only learn if we tell them what to learn (they become dependent on us); and two, to emancipate, which is to tell the student what to learn in such a way that they also learn they are capable and free to learn on their own. As you can guess, my concern about giving the class an open-ended task, but then only approving certain pre-decided answers, is that we create dependent, stultified learners.
Elder Bednar seems to be thinking in much the same direction. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to his new book, Increase In Learning:
Through the Savior’s Atonement, you and I as learners are blessed with the gift of moral agency. Because of that supernal blessing, we are agents with the capacity and power “to act” and are not merely objects “to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:26)…
I personally do not know of a principle more central, important, or essential to spiritual learning than the principle of acting as agents and not being acted upon as objects.
This volume is not intended to be a quick, casual, or relaxing read. It also does not describe or prescribe specific study habits or methods, and you will not find lengthy lists of recommendations on things “to do.” This book does not purport to give definitive doctrinal answers to the pressing questions and issues of our day.
Rather, I invite you throughout the book to engage in various learning experiences so you can increasingly “stand independent” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:14) and learn how to find answers to your own questions. Consequently, as you progress through the chapters you will need to read, study, ponder, search, ask, knock, record thoughts and feelings, link, connect, revise, rethink, ask again, start again, and, most important, act.
I think that Elder Bednar is hoping to emancipate – or free – his readers from the idea that they have to get their answers from someone else’s reading of the scriptures. The scriptures are our text for receiving answers and we have the invitation to find them on our own, through the Spirit and our thinking; to learn “even by study, and also by faith” ( D&C 88:118).
It is interesting to me that Elder Bednar grounds all of this in the atonement. It is our Savior, Jesus Christ, that not only saves us from the negative consequences of the fall, but also opens up for us positive opportunities of learning and growth. Lehi says that “because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon” (2 Ne 26). We have been saved from negative consequences, which sets us free. But, also, it is by Christ we “lay hold on every good thing” (see Moroni 7). Every good thing is possible because of Christ. Ranciere (author of the above-mentioned Ignorant Schoolmaster) wrote something that would fit well here: “This is what opens the way to all adventure in the land of knowledge.” Perhaps our intellectual emancipation comes not just when some earthly teacher trusts us to learn, but when we realize that God Himself trusts us and invites us to act and to learn for ourselves.
As teachers, we can invite this sort of learning by allowing them the room, as Elder Bednar put it, to “rethink, ask again, start again, and most important, act.” We can have discussions without necessary destinations. And we can show them, by our trust in them, that God also trusts them to act for themselves.
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