Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mormon Moment Series - Part Seven - Come Follow Me: New Curriculum

This is Part Seven of my Mormon Moment Series: I will be doing between now and the election, on an occasional basis.

What this series is about:

If you are Mormon, you are probably sick of hearing about the Mormon Moment. There are so many people who are suddenly interested in Mormon culture, and there are lots of Mormon bloggers that are cashing in and sharing their stories. Some of the stories end up being kind of silly, but if you are simply trying to get people to read about what is important to you, the Mormon Moment is one way to draw people in.

I do not want people to think that I don't respect the bloggers whose posts I am sharing. All of them are good bloggers, and most of them write about Mormon topics all of the time. I have no doubt that they would have shared these thoughts and stories at some point, but as one friend told me the other day, "in the race to the election, bloggers are pushing hard to attract new readers before the Mormon Moment is gone." So, to help you, I sifted through hundreds of posts to share the ones that I still remember. (This group of posts are nowhere near a complete view of Mormon bloggers. All of the bloggers are either Mormons, post-Mormons, or write about Mormon issues, even when it isn't election time.)

To see the entire series, click here.

Come Follow Me: New Curriculum - Defining What NEWS is.....

If you haven't been under a rock for the last three days, and you are Mormon, or have good Mormon friends, then you know that the LDS world was rocked last weekend at General Conference. (General Conference is a twice yearly meeting where the General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints address all of the members of the church. Tens of Thousands of people attend the conference in Salt Lake, but millions more watch it in church buildings, homes and places around the world. IT is broadcast on BYU-TV, through Bonneville Productions (the LDS church owned media company) and streamed live and on delay over the Internet. It is also printed in the church magazine for adults, called the Ensign or Liahona, that comes out the month following conference.)

This year's conference started out with the talk by the current prophet, Thomas S Monson. During his talk he announced the dedication of three temples, the for building two new temples, and major changes to the ages at which young men and young women of the church can serve missions. Previously young men could serve after they turned 19, and young women could serve after they turned 21. The changes mean that young men can go as early as 18, provided they have a high school diploma, or the equivalent. Young women are now eligible to leave as early as their 19th birthday, cutting off two years of time, from the first date they previously would have beeen able to serve.

The speculation about what these age changes will mean has run rampant over the Internet, and in every LDS congregation and home, it will be THE topic for the foreseeable future. Some think it is the best thing that ever happened, for lots of different reasons. Others think that it is a bad idea, for lots of different reasons. I will talk about all (or most) of the reasons for and against, in a future Mormon Moment Series post, but there was another announcement that happened during the Sunday afternoon of conference, and personally I think it is WAY more important than the changes in age for missionaries, although it probably is directly related to it.

The church has changed the curriculum for all of the youth of the church, male and female, for their teenage years (12-18) and this is something that impacts EVERY single member of the church!!!! Instead of having different classes and topics for young men and young women, they will be learning the same thing, studying the same topics, and will be learning gospel topics, with a lot less of the cultural bias that has especially plagued the Young Women's curriculum.

I guess I am floored that the new curriculum for YOUNG WOMEN and YOUNG MEN has just been completely revamped, and it isn't the biggest story of in the LDS church. They will be receiving the same lessons, they will all be focusing on the Preach My Gospel* topics, and they will be getting 6 years of religious training aimed at creating good members, and great missionaries. Whether someone goes on a mission or not, they will have a much stronger gospel base than most of our current missionaries have!

(*Preach My Gospel is the church's manual for members to strengthen their knowledge of the gospel, think through how to first understand and then explain gospel topics and principles, and to do the hard, spiritual work, of gaining a testimony each of the principles. There is a focus on living the principles learned, and then starting the process over, each time learning more, and applying it in even more parts of life. It is a great tool to help all members understand and deepen their commitment to living those gospel principles. Using the concepts and ideas in it, allow for both deep spiritual and intellectual thoughts and understanding, and an application of those principles throughout all areas of life.)

I realized that the curriculum changes didn't get a press conference, and that it could have been better explained in the press conference about mission age changes. There was confusion about whether there would be changes in teaching missionaries or young women, because the announcement had not yet been made in the (Sunday afternoon) conference session, when the press conference was held. Even though the curriculum had not been announced over the pulpit, I think the press conference could have included a general description of the new programs and said that the details would be explained the coming next day, and people could have been referred to the letter released on September 12, 2012 to Bishops, Stake Presidents, and the General and Area Authorities. The new curriculum was available at the time of the press conference, and was posted a few minutes after midnight on Saturday morning, on the front page of lds.org. Readers of timesandseasons.org got a sneak preview of where to look. Anyone could have found it earlier by following the Julie's post here.

There were also lots of people in the areas that had piloted the new curriculum, and who were in love with it, who would have been happy to answer questions! These quotes, left as a comment on Bridget of Arabia, reflect some feelings about the change:

"Amen re: the new YW/YM curriculum. As somebody who taught out of the old ones weekly for over three years (and will be holding a celebratory bonfire in December), I COULD NOT BE MORE THRILLED. These new manuals are so good that I could practically make out with them. Principle-based, gospel-based, and focused on the individual's spiritual development. I could not be more excited for our youth." -- Liz Johnson
"Our stake was part of the pilot program in July, Aug, and Sept for the new YM/YW curriculum so I have been teaching from it for 3 months now and it is amazing! We have had some incredible lessons. I've had a hard time keeping my mouth shut about it because it is SO much better than the manuals!" --Jennifer

The YW leaders I know, including my mom, are THRILLED with the new curriculum. My mom is one of the best "not-angry feminists," and devoted church members I know. She lives her life as a feminist, as a day-to-day part of who she is, and right now she is a YW president! She is the one who taught me to be a feminist and a radical Christian/Mormon liberal, while still working from my role and position, to make meaningful change in the areas I can influence, and letting go of the fact that there are areas we personally can't influence right now. Her basic and straightforward joy at having better teaching materials to serve the YW of her ward are a simple anthem that I hope will be embraced by more women, and men, who want to see the roles of men and women to keep moving forward.

"And speaking of a change in emphasis...the incredibly antiquated somewhat dated Young Women lesson manuals have just been replaced! I have been anxious for new teaching materials ever since I started working with the Young Women a year ago. The new lessons are up-to-date and focused on Christ, and they will have the girls helping to teach and testify to each other. I can't wait!"

This new curriculum not only brings the programs for YM and YW in line, but also allows for a much higher level of flexibility for teachers to meet the specific needs of their class members. It is not quite anti-correlation, but there is some of that in the flexibility of the program, and its emphasis on young men and young women playing a much more active role in teaching one another. This is SO much bigger than a BYU class or how to defer a scholarship for college! (Those are important, but not as important as the preparation ALL youth will get!) So many of the topics consuming the Bloggernaccle will only impact students at BYU or other church colleges. Even some of the larger questions will only impact American church members. This is EVERY youth, EVERY Sunday, for SIX years of their lives!

Certainly I got a little choked up at the change to women serving at 19, but the change that is the answer to my prayers, and the prayers of so many feminist Mormons, (male and female feminists) who have LONGED for the day when the YW stereotypes could be left behind, came from the currirulum change. Part of me wishes that they had announced the new curriculum first, and then the changes in missionary ages 6 months later. I would love to only be talking about the wonderful new ways our youth will have to learn the gospel, gain solid testimonies, go on splits with current missionaries, make goals that will impact them as disciples of Christ, ready to represent Him through their entire lives! (Check out this page for videos about all of the aspects of the program!)

Come Follow Me Will focus of these four areas:

Lead to conversion

The way you befriend, encourage, and support the youth in their personal spiritual devotion—and the way you teach and learn with them in meetings, classes, and activities—will help them stay on the path and progress toward personal, lifelong conversion.

Prepare spiritually

The most important part of your service to the youth is your own daily spiritual preparation. As you dedicate yourself to living the gospel, the Spirit will teach you how to help youth learn the gospel by their own study and faith.

Focus on the youth

As you plan what to teach, prayerfully think about the youth in your class or quorum. What are their needs? Be sure to make your plan flexible enough that you can adapt it as new needs or questions arise. Let the needs of the youth guide your teaching

Learn together

Prepare learning activities that help the youth discover the truths of the gospel for themselves. Encourage them to strengthen each other by sharing what they learn
In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive study of the issues related to the changes to church youth curriculum or the changes in missionary requirements. I am a member of the LDS faith, but am not authorized to speak in any capacity for them LDS church.


  1. Excellent point about the huge impact the new curriculum can have. It will take time for us to see the changes in our youth. In some cases the changes will be subtle, because the youth are already amazing. I watch them stand as disciples of Christ every day in the challenging 21st century. But they will be even better.

  2. I think that what encourages me the most is that they didn't just change the curriculum for 16-18 years olds, but that there will be 6 years of an ever increasing curriculum of learning and growth. I believe that subtle growth over six years will be truly amazing to see!

    I am grateful that all of my children will get the full six years of this program. The more I read and pray about the curriculum, the stronger my testimony becomes!

  3. I hope that the new program is as good as you hope. I guess I don't see how it could be any worse than what I went through in young men's. I do hope that it doesn't make Mormon kids even more insular.

  4. I was glad to see your post. I saw the link on bycommonconsent, and I was about to ask why everyone was ignore the changes to what will be taught. You obviously had more time to read through the materials than I did. The letter may have been sent out earlier, but the copy I got didn't arrive until last weekend, along with several other official documents. When I saw the link to the online letter in your post, I then went and opened all the envelopes. (I know I should open mail church more than on Wednesday and Sundays, but I don't want to lose things at home.)

    From what you have said, and what I have observed as a bishop, this program will steadily raise the bar for missionaries, because the classes on Sunday, at church and in seminary will teach them how to get to that bar and probably even higher.

    A lot of the young men, who wantto go on a mission, come to the interview knowing only the very basics of the church. Many times I will give them the assignment to come to the next interview, ready to teach me the concept in five minutes. Most of the young men who are not prepared for a mission the first time we meet, have at least a basic testimony, and have repented of past sins within a month or two. What they often don't have, as they enter the MTC, is a vocabulary to talk about all of life, as it relates to the gospel.

    Starting next month, I will be spending 2 Sundays a moth in youth Subday School, 1 week in YW 3rd hour and 1 week in YM 3rd hour. I am so very glad that Heavenly Father Prompted my councilor to propose changing the YW presidency back in April. Our new president sounds like your mom ~ definitely a feminist, in the best sense of the word!

    I sent the link to this post out to my ward council so they will be ready for the discussion of the new programs. Thanks

  5. I am not Mormon, but I have taught many Mormon students, and I have taught with Mormon teachers. I have found Mormon girls just as smart as Mormon boys, and most of them are also more mature, at least in high school. The essays about life goals and dreams, that Mormon students write have always fascinated me.

    The boys either are excited or tepid about a Mormon mission, but they all seem to assume they will go. Their essays usually reflect on where they want to go on their missions, what things they are afraid of, (not learning a new language fast enough and looking, or sounding, stupid is usually the biggest fear) and what their families or friends have experienced.

    Most Mormon girls I have taught, don't talk about a mission as a life goal, although some talk about going on a mission with their husbands. I am not sure how that would happen, and your post doesn't really explain that either. All of the Mormon missionaries I have met are not married and they are with another person their own gender and age. So I am not sure if I didn't understand what they meant, or if married missionaries do other preaching, that people who are not Mormon don't see.

    I am enjoying learning about what being Mormon means to you, and it has helped me understand you, and my students, a little better. When you are done writing your essays, you should put them together in a book, or combine them into a series of articles for a magazine. I think a lot of teachers would love to understand their Mormon students' lives better, and your writing is easy to understand. I think you do a good job of explaining your religion, and your personal faith, in a way that is relatable to readers who know Mormons but may not understand a lot of what they do, and why they do it. That is a pretty rare gift.

    One last thing, I want to say. I think that you do a great job of "sharing the glory." The links to other blogs, the quotes from other people's posts and comments, as well as links to original sources, are a tribute to those you respect and to your integrity as a writer. I was surprised, at first, that you were including bloggers who are not Mormon or who left the Mormon church. It seems both brave and impressive that you respect people who do not agree with you, enough that you include their voices, and that you don't simply quote or cite them to point out that they are wrong. Your thoughts and assertions are more eloquent, because you obviously relate to people who do not agree with you, as intellectual equals. It is refreshing to read.

  6. I agree with you that the curriculum change will be profoundly important! And I could not be happier or more excited.

  7. So, I have a question I haven't seen addressed. I'm super-excited about the new curriculum for youth. Last week we went over the changes as a ward. As we went through the website via overhead projector, I noticed this glaring omission.
    In the aaronic priesthood Unit Overview of Who Am I? Who Can I Become,(https://www.lds.org/youth/learn/ap/godhead/become?lang=eng) the young men are instructed to:
    1. Prepare Yourself Spiritually
    2. Let the young men lead - and an example of a quorum meeting agenda is also linked to
    3. Begin the learning experience
    4. Learn together
    5. Invite to act.

    In contrast, the Young women's Unit Overview of Who Am I? Who Can I Become, (https://www.lds.org/youth/learn/yw/godhead/become?lang=eng) The young women are instructed to:
    1. Prepare Yourself Spiritually
    2. Share Experiences
    3. Introduce the doctrine
    4. Learn Together
    5. Live what we are learning.

    Why aren't the young women allowed to lead - just as the young men are in #2 of their unit overview?

    Why is there a sample quorum meeting agenda provided for the boys, but not a sample yw meeting agenda provided for the girls?

    Any guesses?

    Does your non-angry feminist mom (props to her) have any thoughts?


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