Thoughts about the new curriculum and Sis. Dalton

I had the quite unexpected experience of being asked to give my thoughts about Sis. Dalton, including her involvement in the new youth curriculum, for the recent Salt Lake Tribune article by Peggy Fletcher Stack. Here is the link to the article

I thought she did a great job using my email. She couldn’t, of course, use all of it, so I am posting it here too (mostly because I like how I articulated my personal relationship with the new curriculum and how it has been presented thus far). Unfortunately, I can’t get wordpress to separate my paragraphs, even though it looks right on the editing screen…

Thanks for the email! I could talk for hours about the new curriculum (since I have a lot of thoughts on teaching generally), but since this is a profile of Sis. Dalton I’ll start there. I don’t know if you wanted ready-to-go quotations or an email conversation you could pull quotations from, so let me know if you need something different that this.

Elaine Dalton was doing a training in our area last year and I talked with her briefly before and after the meeting. I was impressed with her sincerity. She seemed quite willing to have a conversation with anyone in the room — not just a quick handshake, as if she were simply a church celebrity, but a genuine conversation.

This training was almost a year before the new curriculum was going to be used. She explained to us that her hope was to transform the classroom to the point that students and teachers were learning and studying together. For example, if anyone had a question the teacher didn’t know, everyone would all pull out their topical guides and start studying it right then. I was excited about this view of teaching because of my own research on teaching generally and in the church. My own style of teaching follows the idea that everyone is of equal intelligence (as outlined in Jacque Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation), so I appreciated the move in the equality of student and teacher. That also follows what I’ve learned about the earlier days of the YW program, where the young women taught each other (and they did such a good job that a large percentage of the leaders felt useless or inadequate and went inactive! Unfortunate, but instructive!). And I’ve done a fair bit of research on D&C 42:12-14 (and D&C 46 and 50) so I also appreciated that the new program’s format would so very clearly communicate to teachers the need to prepare and teach by the Spirit.
(These, of course, were my impressions from her talk and the new program is working itself out in lots of different ways throughout the church. I was surprised to see how it was presented in General Conference and in most of the training material. I guess no one else was focused on the equality of intelligence and what D&C 42:12-14 mean. 🙂 I’m also much more scripture-based. Why not teach how to teach by what the scriptures say about it? Teaching is outlined in D&C 42 (teach with scripture and by the Spirit), 46 (gifts are given in group settings so we can benefit each other), and 50 (by the Spirit is the only way to teach in “God’s way” and student/teacher should be edified together), so why not start there to explain teaching? In the end I’ve also had to admit that the new curriculum is, after all, a program, and every program is only a program. Good teaching will only come by the Spirit, and no program can guarantee that.)
In our conversation following the meeting, Sis. Dalton shared with me her concern that the manuals have “shackled us for 35 years to the point that the YW aren’t learning the doctrine anymore, and most of the adults don’t know it either.” A bold statement I completely agreed with! The whole truth, though, is that the manuals themselves weren’t shackling us but our attitude towards the manuals. And what I appreciated in her vision of a new curriculum was the clear message that all of us — both teacher and student — should be constantly learning more about the gospel.
PS- I used quotation marks around what Sis. Dalton said to me about the manuals, but I’m not sure I should have claimed to remembered it well enough to “quote” her. I do know she used the word shackled, and also that she pointed out that not only are the YW not learning, the adults don’t know what they’re talking about either. (Which is why I saw her view of the new curriculum as a chance to educate saints at all ages, even though that’s not emphasized in way the new curriculum is being taught.)

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