New BYU religion and Institute classes

Whenever there is a change there is potential for good and bad. I’m always a bit more optimistic about changes some are, but then again sometimes others have a broader view than I do. So I suppose I see just as much potential for individual growth from a teacher who’s thoughtful and has the Spirit in these classes as in any other class. So that makes me optimistic. Others see the collection of teachers and their tendencies, have sat in on classes, have talked with students, and have a general sense of the direction this will take the average class over the next 10 years. And that’s not something I can have a sense for at all! 🙂
Some are concerned that this will lead to less knowledge about the scriptures themselves, because the scriptures will be used in a hit-and-miss way, finding scriptures that explain or support the topic but not working through the scriptures and letting those guide what is learned. Rather than reading the scriptures to find out what they are teaching, classes like these start out with a doctrine and then find where in scripture that is talked about. But the side-effect is that students feel like they don’t need to figure out what the scriptures are teaching them, we already know that! We started out with that information before we opened the scriptures!
So it has longer-term effects on the relationship with the scriptures, which leads to less incentive to have personal scripture study, and other things. So on the one hand, I could be worried about the long-term effects, whereas I tend at first to look at something and say, “Well, I don’t see any roadblocks to an uplifting class that could be taught by the Spirit. Sounds good to me!” 🙂
But, I do admit that Joe and I are already noticing negative consequences as he teaches seminary. The new youth Sunday School classes don’t go through the scriptures sequentially anymore because their lessons are on topics now. And Seminary has changed. There is a list of principles (9, I think) that are given to them at the beginning of the year. So they are told, from day 1, what the scriptures are going to teach them. Then their job throughout the year is to notice scriptures each day that sound like they are talking about those principles. But they aren’t getting context, working through the section or chapter to see the message that prophet is trying to get across, or seeing how something is developed (I always find it helpful to see how a prophet explains something like faith so I can explain it to others).
I guess it’s hard for me to see this change in Seminary because the very reason I homeschool is teach my kids that they don’t have to be told in advance what they are supposed to learn from something. We help them develop a good reading comprehension level, and then we help them see that they can learn and learn and learn forever. And I see the new seminary style doing the opposite of that.
They even have a test on those 9 principles so now there is a “teach to the test” problem going on in Seminary too, though the test is so simple it really shouldn’t have to affect classes at all.
So the new classes at BYU don’t sound like the necessarily have this same problem as seminary. And since it’s something new, my first reaction is to watch for any roadblocks to the Spirit and if there are none, not worry yet. But, the same people who developed the new seminary style and test requirement are the same people who developed the changes at BYU and Institutes, so I can see the concern that the same problems we’re noticing in Seminary will be repeated at the college level.
I think it’s unfortunate that we are so worried that kids won’t learn the right things that we are developing courses that will make sure that they at least learn 9 principles. But it just feels like the problems with “common core” in public education. It’s good that those in charge of CES (who are trained in education) are willing to look at new ways to educate based on current trends. I like that they are open to change. I just don’t think that the current trends in education are the right ones to apply in a gospel setting.

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