I confess that I am not a regular reader of the Church News, but I did happen to run across this recent piece, “Using proper sources.” I will note a couple of quibbles I have with the piece (which, as an unsigned post in the “Viewpoints” section, I take to be essentially a staff editorial), but in the end I think I agree on the need to avoid the use of “uncorrelated” supplementary sources or materials in class.
Here’s how the article starts out.
A woman sat at her dining room table, buried in dozens of books and magazines. She looked discouraged. Her daughter asked if she could help.
The woman said she was preparing a Relief Society lesson. She told her daughter she didn’t know how she could possibly “boil down all the information” she had collected for the lesson. The process, the woman acknowledged, was both time consuming and frustrating.
The daughter looked surprised.
“Why,” she asked, “are you trying to boil down information? An inspired Church-writing committee has already done that for you.”
I’m sure you’re familiar with this sort of account: a short, generic, made-up story used to illustrate a point in the form of a story rather than by making a straightforward statement. You know, the sort of well-intentioned but phony story that got Elder Dunn in trouble. Memo to the Church News: Don’t just make stuff up in an article telling Church members to be careful about sources. [Note: Comments following this post and elsewhere claim that the story relates an actual conversation of the author of the editorial, explaining that such actual accounts are written in a generic third-person form when presented in the Church News and, in addition, stating that the Church News does not print generic stories that lack a factual basis. My apologies to the author.]
Here’s a second quote. See if anything jumps out at you.
But leaders and teachers in the Church do themselves and the people they serve a disservice when they turn to unofficial — not correlated — materials in the planning of lessons and activities.
Planning? The counsel as I have generally seen it expressed in the past directs teachers to avoid making supplementary materials part of the lesson. But consulting supplementary materials, correlated or not, as part of the planning and preparation of the lesson seems like the sort of thing that good teachers are supposed to do. Here’s a paragraph from a different source, the introduction to the new Gospel Principles manual (italics added):
If you have been called to teach a quorum or class using this book, do not substitute outside materials, however interesting they may be. Stay true to the scriptures and the words in the book. As appropriate, use personal experiences and articles from Church magazines to supplement the lessons.
The counsel here seems to be use the manual (and not outside materials) to “teach a quorum or class.” It makes reference to “the lesson,” as in what happens in the classroom. I think this statement in the introduction to the Gospel Principles manual is in line with earlier statements. So I am thinking that the editorial unintentionally overstated the directive. However, if you have someone in your ward who’s a stickler for this sort of thing, this guidance in the Gospel Principles introduction offers you a safe harbor: Church magazines. There is some really good stuff in the older Ensigns and Improvement Eras.
My last quibble is with the use of a quotation from Elder McConkie to explain the nature and purpose of Correlation. That’s ironic because, as reported by those who have compared the revised edition of Gospel Principles with the original edition, all quotations from Elder McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine have been correlated right out of the newly revised edition. Maybe the writers of the editorial are unaware of these edits. Or perhaps this is just an inside joke from the staff of the Church News.
My final point is really the main issue, as opposed to the quibbles noted above: I agree that teachers should refrain from using outside materials in class. [And I'm thinking magazines published by the Church and books published by Deseret Book qualify as "inside materials" if used with discretion, but there may be specific statements on this point.] Sure, I know that some teachers would select additional materials that complement the material in the lesson and that are appropriate for LDS teaching. But others would, from time to time, select additional materials that introduce speculative, irrelevant, political, or simply false concepts into lessons. Weighing these possibilities in the balance, I think we’re better off keeping the bad stuff out. In any case, a good teacher with a valid point to make from a supplementary source can usually make it using a scriptural passage or a personal experience anyway. And hopefully they won’t just make up a story to get their point across.
The article quotes two clear and concise paragraphs from Elder Oaks that provide, I think, better guidance than the editorial as a whole. I believe they are a good way to end this post.
I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable.
A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified. Gospel teachers should also be scrupulous to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects. The Lord’s revelations and the directions of His servants are clear on this point.