Object Lessons!

August 29, 2012 | 30 comments
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I am pretty much exhausted by the discussion of modesty and chastity in both LDS and feminist circles. This is unfortunate timing because my daughter has not yet started in Young Women’s, so I know we’ll be subjected to several more years of these lessons in the near future. Instead of dreading these earnest discussions with their carefully planned object lessons, I’ve decided to prepare for them.

I don’t want my daughter to be discouraged and shamed because as normal teenager she feels she is not as perfect as a fresh rosebud or as chocolately as a warm brownie (or whatever it is a girl is supposed to be in the brownie modesty analogy) or is an apple clinging tightly to the most inaccessible branch of the tree.

The next time I’m in a YW object lesson that involves passing around a rose or brownie and having everyone manhandle it and then asking who wants it now, I want to say, “Me. I’ll take it. I believe it still has intrinsic value. And did that rose or brownie ask to be passed around and abused? Did it give consent?  What role are we playing in this little drama? Passive bystanders? Accomplices? Participants? Unwitting gangbangers? And you, the presenter, you are the leader who has led all of us into committing this crime against nature that violates the autonomy of the rose/brownie. And you knew what you were doing.” Of course, this may be why I’ve never been called to serve in the Young Women’s organization, knock on wood. And to be honest, I would likely stop after “accomplices” depending on the audience.

The violated brownie, the bruised rose are not the only games in town.  There’s the chastity tree meme that went around fb a few months ago. Don’t be low hanging fruit, or some such nonsense. Pfui. You want time to mature and ripen, sure, but an apple’s location on the tree is not a matter of volition, and fruit can drop off of the tree no matter what branch it started out on.

So what are your favorite object lessons? And what is your favorite way to subvert their messages? Do you go the reductio ad absurdum route, or do you approach it from a different point of view? And given the limitations and drawbacks of these analogies, what is the best way to teach the youth? I prefer honest conversation, but these object lessons exists for a reason. Is it because they are effective attention getters, they offer good illustrations, or because the adults involved in the discussions prefer not to use more direct language?

30 Responses to Object Lessons!

  1. Jenn on August 29, 2012 at 8:17 am

    I’m not a fan of object lessons of any sort, much less the modesty ones- mormons WAY overdo metaphors and such. I got to the point I wouldn’t speak up to poke holes or bring in another perspective, because we end up discussing the analogy instead of the subject matter. Unfortunately, the cost of keeping quiet is I don’t enjoy a majority of lessons at church anymore.

    I think a big part of our love of object lessons is the repetitive nature of our lessons- by the age of 28, I’ve had certain lessons well over a dozen times. The object lessons are a way of making it feel new.
    Of course, the modesty object lessons take it a step further, because of what they imply: you are of less worth if you have passed out too many pretzels.
    If I had to go with any object lesson, I’d go with the one with the dollar bill: hold up a shiney, pretty, freshly-minted dollar bill, and ask who wants it. All hands go up. Now crinkle the dollar bill, maybe draw a tiny bit on it, make it look like it has been through the wash a few times. Ask who wants it. All hands still go up. Hey, it’s still a buck.
    We are of eternal worth that doesn’t change just because we’ve gotten wrinkled up or passed through the wrong hands. The bank still accepts us.

  2. Julie M. Smith on August 29, 2012 at 8:26 am

    ” “Me. I’ll take it. I believe it still has intrinsic value. And did that rose or brownie ask to be passed around and abused? Did it give consent? What role are we playing in this little drama? Passive bystanders? Accomplices? Participants? Unwitting gangbangers? And you, the presenter, you are the leader who has led all of us into committing this crime against nature that violates the autonomy of the rose/brownie. And you knew what you were doing.” ”

    I think I love you.

  3. Ben S. on August 29, 2012 at 8:34 am

    The YM don’t seem as subjected to these as the YW, and I don’t recall ever seeing any, growing up. I liked this one from Beginnings New.

    “One object lesson I liked was one I heard from a friend. She arranged to teach a chastity lesson on a fast Sunday, and brought in a delicious baked good. She told the girls that what was on her tray was her favorite thing and brought a lot of enjoyment to her life. But since it was fast Sunday, she didn’t want to taint her enjoyment of the treats by feeling guilty about eating them when she knew she shouldn’t, so she put them away and promised to bring some back when it was an appropriate time to eat them. This could be fantastic for Beehives. There’s no fear of catastrophe, there’s no public shame or messages on how dirty sex is, it’s a sex-positive chastity message for goodness sake. I didn’t know if we’d ever find one.”

    The post links to several discussions of object lessons to avoid and why.
    http://beginningsnew.blogspot.com/2010/08/lesson-2-33-sacred-power-of-procreation.html

  4. Kristin on August 29, 2012 at 8:36 am

    I always enjoyed the banana object lesson and refused to use it once in YW (7 years served in two different wards). “Once a banana is unpeeled, you can never put the peel back on.” Hmmm. So I guess that means that there is no such thing as the atonement. And did NO ONE pick up on the phallic imagery here?

  5. Peter LLC on August 29, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Low hanging fruit is intrinsically immodest. After all, it is no more and no less than a tree’s transparent attempt to lure mankind into participating in its reproductive process. Faugh!

  6. J Town on August 29, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Are these really the kind of lessons our young women receive??? That’s horrifying to me as the father of three daughters, one of whom is currently in young women. Do the leaders giving such lessons even understand the principles behind modesty and chastity at all? I am appalled. I have always been a proponent of frank, direct discussion. I think object lessons are too often poorly thought out and indeed usually become the focus of the conversation in place of the underlying principle. They may be attention-getters, but for all the wrong reasons.

  7. jm on August 29, 2012 at 9:50 am

    People really do this in YW lessons! Wow, just wow! Sometimes I think the people in this church are their own worst enemies.

  8. J on August 29, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Yes, I did receive lessons akin to these ones as YW and as a YSA. In particular I remember the brownie and the milkshake with dirt added to it.

  9. Paul on August 29, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I love to teach with object lessons, but there are several rules:

    1. The object lesson has to be correct. You can’t pull that nail out of the board and call it repentance because the hole remains and the atonement makes us whole. And all these chastity lessons break that fundamental rule.

    2. Only use an object lesson if it helps. None of these do.

    When I was bishop, I taught a youth fireside (with parents) on For the Strength of Youth (I actually did it twice because our boundaries changed 2/3 of the way into my term of service and we had enough turnover in our youth, and we used new object lessons the second time around). It was a fast-paced evening of huge object lessons — physical activities and illustrations for every standard, except the one on moral cleanliness. That one we just talked about, and it stood out by its difference from the others.

    I suppose the antidote for stupid object lessons is regular communication with our kids about what they’re talking about in class so we can have our say, too. (Our ward actually publishes the lesson schedules in our ward bulletin, so enterprising parents can see which lesson their kids are getting each week.)

  10. Melissa B. on August 29, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I understand you dislike of object lessons. I don’t think those who are teaching the lessons have bad intentions. Remember that not all who are called have teaching degrees or are aware of the potential negativity of some object lessons. They believe they are doing “good.” We have great supplemental materials to help our teachers, perhaps we could offer more. I remember an object lesson about gum (ask who wants a stick of gum, everyone raises their hand, then chew it and ask who wants it – nobody), the lesson didn’t bother me and I don’t feel scarred by it. I remember it, but don’t feel it had a huge impact.

    The best object lesson I really liked was choice and consequences. They used a yardstick. Choice written on one side and Consequences written on the other. When you pick up the choice side, you also pick up consequences. I think it would be a great object lessons for our politicians! :)

  11. palerobber on August 29, 2012 at 11:37 am

    my favorite is the shaken bag of mechanical parts that disproves biological evolution.

  12. Carey on August 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Object lessons are great, except when they make us view people as objects.

    What disturbs me most about these particular object lessons is they don’t teach us how to view people as Christ views us, instead they directly deny the atonement in suggesting that once people sin they are forever damaged therefore I feel confident in concluding those messages are not of God. (see Moroni 10:6)

  13. Jacob M on August 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    So, I normally don’t like object lessons, but one time I got to the parts of Jesus’ life where he rips on the Pharisees for hypocracy, and to illustrate hypocracy, I used candy that had one flavor outside, and a different flavor on the inside. However, I would never in my wildest dreams us an object lesson for chastity or modesty, particularly a banana! “So, sex is like a banana . . . uh . . . Wow! Nevermind!”

  14. Allisan on August 29, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    I’m a huge fan of object lessons done right – some kids don’t do well with frank, honest communication until they’re older. (Some of them much, MUCH older) The Savior taught in parables for that very reason. You just have to stress-test your object lessons with a good, seasoned sarcastic grouch as a guinea pig before you unleash them on the general public, to make sure they withstand ridicule. (I offer my ridicule services free of charge if anyone’s interested.)

    My favorite has always been the one where the teacher gives a student an egg and tells them to squeeze it as hard as they can in one hand. In theory, the structure of the egg is supposed to protect it from the evenly distributed pressure of one hand, and the egg is supposed to stay intact. I’ve seen this used three separate times, and that sucker’s exploded all over the class every. single. time.

  15. Sonny on August 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Alisan,

    I think the reason they exploded is because the pressure from the one hand (like thumb and index finger) is supposed to only be applied to the two ends of the egg. At least that is how I have always done it.

  16. Allisan on August 29, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Well it’s not nearly as entertaining that way! Sure got my attention as a youth. Although it IS good to know there are some sound physics behind the concept.

  17. michelle on August 30, 2012 at 12:47 am

    I honestly don’t worry that much about whether or not my kids are getting “bad” lessons at church or school. It’s like a comment I read on another blog — I know what I’m teaching my kids, and we talk about these things in an ongoing way, and they know that I’ll address teaching that I think is ‘off.’

    I just believe in the power of doctrine and the Spirit to help them. So my advice is to trust the Spirit. Trust the doctrine. And try not to worry so much about brownies and milkshakes. If that teaching approach doesn’t click for you, don’t worry about it, but don’t worry too much about what others are doing (cuz you can’t control that anyway). Just teach her truth. A good object lesson can help truth stick, but truth has its own staying power, imo. And kids can get things a lot more than we think, but it’s up to us as parents to really help make it stick by teaching with power.

  18. Julie M. Smith on August 30, 2012 at 8:27 am

    “You just have to stress-test your object lessons with a good, seasoned sarcastic grouch as a guinea pig before you unleash them on the general public,”

    Me! Me! I’m a grouch!

  19. Rachel Whipple on August 30, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Melissa B, I was in primary for the choice and consequences stick. I had fun swinging that thing around the room. The kids enjoyed it too. I like the message “you can make your choice, but you can’t choose the consequences that come along with it.” We had a good discussion about when you hit your brother because you’re mad at him, and want to hurt him a little bit, but accidentally end up hurting him a lot. It was something they could all relate to.

    Ah, bananas. We need some paisleys to go with them to balance things out.

    Evolution analogies are great. I hadn’t heard the one about the bag of parts; that’s even better than the watchmaker (which fails because it goes beyond sufficient causes).

    And I love the idea of an egg exploding in church, splattering everyone’s Sunday best. That made me laugh.

    I can remember one Sunday School object lesson where the teacher had a volunteer (me) write something on the chalkboard. Then he blind-folded me and had me write something else. Unfortunately for him, my blind-folded script was neater than my sighted one because I was more careful and just didn’t take the chalk off the board as I glided from letter to letter and word to word. Sadly, I can’t remember what the lesson was supposed to be because he was so surprised I had done it wrong.

    I think we can still use object lessons, even bad ones, if we then discuss the limitations of the analogies and have a real critical conversation. Kids and adults both can appreciate that. We don’t have to oversimplify and talk down to them.

  20. Risa on August 30, 2012 at 9:49 am

    And what is your favorite way to subvert their messages?

    I make it a point whenever chastity is brought up, especially in an over-the-top cheesy object lesson, to talk about the Atonement. I know too many people who think that once they’ve broken the law of Chastity or another serious sin, that there is no hope for them anymore. We’re doing a great disservice if we’re not teaching the fundamental point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – we can be forgiven. It’s not an incredibly sneaky way of subverting the message because no one can really disagree.

  21. SilverRain on August 30, 2012 at 10:20 am

    One of the most amazing chastity object lessons I had (and I was a cynical child) was one from my YW leader.

    She brought in a delicate china cup, and told a long and involved story about how it had been brought across the plains by her great-great-etc. grandmother, detailing how the other pieces of the set had been lost one by one, and how that cup had been passed down eventually to her. We were all totally engaged in the story.

    Then she took out a hammer and smashed it.

    We were all sitting in shocked silence for a moment, and then she explained that the cup had been precious to her, but how easily it was broken. She compared it to the law of chastity, how our bodies were beautiful and delicate, but we could easily misuse them and damage ourselves if we didn’t value that gift that God gave us. Even if we don’t think our cup is as beautiful as another’s, we have all been given our bodies from God, that much work and love had been given into making and growing them, and they deserved to be treated with respect and care.

    Then she said that, should we make them, the Atonement can completely heal our mistakes, but only if we treasure the commandments of God, and repent, which can be a long and difficult process somewhat like painstakingly gluing the pieces of the cup back together. Then she bore testimony of the power of the Atonement experienced in her life, and how it removed the pain of sin for her. But she also plead with us to take care of ourselves, to cherish the commandments of God, and promised us that we would receive blessings that we couldn’t even envision at that time.

    Of all the hundreds of object lessons, I never forgot that one. She explained later that it was a dollar store cup, and we were all greatly relieved.

  22. Rachel Whipple on August 30, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I must say I am not a fan of lying to increase the emotional impact of an object lesson. If the tea cup were presented as being like one handed down, or the girls were told to imagine it was a pioneer relic, then I would have less of a problem with the object lesson. It may reduce the impact, but honesty and trust are too important to be compromised in that way.

  23. SilverRain on August 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I didn’t mind, and I often minded about that sort of thing. It increased the memorability, and you’d have to know the lady. Honesty and trust were not compromised, because she did tell us the truth at the end of the lesson.

  24. Rachel Whipple on August 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Thanks, SilverRain. It can be hard to tell outside of the context of the lesson and people involved. I’m glad it was a good and memorable experience for you.

  25. Amber on August 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    My husband had to teach this lesson to the Teachers quorum a few months ago. He avoided the whole analogy thing.

    He walked up to the front of the room and wrote “Sex” on the board. Then he repeated the word several times, telling the boys to get their giggles out. They were then able to talk about it frankly.

    It worked and several of the boys later told me that it was the most interesting and honest lesson they had ever had on chastity.

    Not sure it would work with girls, but it sure worked with the boys.

  26. Mike on August 31, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    More of an analogy than an object lesson, but we taught our kids about chastity and modesty by relating these concepts to fasting. They knew about fasting each month (and on other occasions). They also knew that there’s nothing wrong with food and that a feast can be wonderful and something you look forward to. But sometimes you fast, and when you do you pretty much want to stay away from food. Nothing makes fasting more difficult than seeing commercials for steak dinners on TV or being in the kitchen smelling fresh brownies, french fries, etc.

    So we told our kids that until they were married, they were “sexually fasting.” We explained a lot more about *why* this was important too, but this was the mental hook we used to help them understand it. It helped us stay away from any talk about sex being bad or “artificial” modesty — everything may be covered letter-of-the-law style, but clothing can still be provocative and thus not modest.

    Our kids seemed to understand chastity and modesty from this analogy. From what I understand, the ones who have married are definitely enjoying the feast, and were able to approach their sex lives with a minimum of hang-ups (we’ve also had very frank discussions with them about sex as their weddings approached).

  27. Mathew on August 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    The most memorable object lesson I had also related to the law of chastity. After two kids in the ward had knocked up their gurlfriends in a two month period our priest quorum advisor told us not to have sex but that if we did we could repent and be forgiven. He then pulled a condom out and repeated that forgiveness was always available but babies were forever. I didn’t want or need to subvert that lesson; it felt right to us then as we were in the process of watching friends shoulder large loads on slender shoulders (though they have acquitted themselves admirably). My dad tells me that that advisor is his home teaching companion now all these years later.

  28. Julia on September 3, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I gave a pretty detailed background in a comment (#78) on the Priesthood Power and Seduction thread. I won’t repost it here. Even though everyone in the comments kept saying they wanted more frank discussions, and said that victims need to share the details of our experiences. The fact that the conversation completely died, and no one responded in any way, is part of why victims don’t share experiences. Simply staying quiet is not mourning with those that mourn, it is simply avoiding a subject because someone doesn’t use nifty euphemisms or backwards object lessons.

    I have never been in a ward that did not have a single young woman who hadn’t been sexually assaulted in some form. The idea that an object lesson, whose purpose is to tell young women something that will help them understand modesty and chastity, MUST contain language and ideas that is sensitive to the fact that there are young women who have been assaulted, and young women who will be assaulted, sitting in at least one chair.

    It would be nice to pretend that LDS girls aren’t raped, that incest never happens, and that living the gospel will protect our daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers. The statistics are stark, and probably under reported. The gospel does not promise us that nothing bad will happen just because we are good. We can’t stop men who use their free agency in ways that hurt people. This life is not neat, clean and always predictable.

    What the gospel DOES teach is that all things can be healed through the Atonement. Almost every lesson on chastity or modesty talks about being forgiven for the sins associated with bad sexual choices. Object lessons that only address the Repentance part of The Atonement do NOT belong, if they aren’t balanced by discussions of how the Atonement helps to heal those who are sinned against.

    Personally I would much rather have a couple of lessons a year that only addressed that second part of the Atonement, and that talks about the healing of innocents. YM and YW who are already dealing with huge amounts of stress, pain and uncertainty, do NOT need a lesson about sin. We need to let YW and YM that it is okay to talk about what we really mean. We give tons of focus to sins, and calling people to repentance. Sure, we need to repent. Sin can have a huge impact on our lives, and repentance is important. Even with as much damage as sin can do, the consequences of rape are oftentimes much longer lasting and pervasive, and those victims DID NOT choose to commit a sin.

    The Dollar Bill is the only object lesson I can think of, that could lead into a discussion that would be part of discussing healing for victims. I can tell you from personal experience, I left these kinds of object lessons feeling that i was already “broken” which led to days of deep depression and suicidal thoughts.

    Think carefully about The Banana, The Smashed Teacup, The Mangled Item (flower, brownie, etc.) and The Stick of Gum. Is the impact you want to make on possible sinners, important enough that you would take the chance of teaching that lesson the day after a young woman, sitting in your class, was raped? Do I blame the leader that taught that lesson five weeks after I was raped? No. Did I leave feeling as useless, worthless, unworthy and as unredeemable as the smashed vase in that week’s object lesson? Absolutely!

  29. Rachel Whipple on September 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Oh, Julia, I’m so sorry about your experiences. I love the idea of focusing on the healing aspects of the Atonement instead of focusing on the suffering that our sins cause Christ. I remember being a very stressed YW, convinced that everything I was doing was wrong or not good enough. It’s hard to be so idealistic and have such clear expectations and feel that you are constantly failing to live up to those expectations.

    As for frank discussions, it’s often hard for us. We are used to speaking in euphemisms or avoiding certain topics altogether, so when an honest and painful comment comes up, we are uncomfortable, hurt or shocked to the point that we can’t respond appropriately, especially on short notice. But those comments and testimonies are still valuable, because maybe the next time we are confronted with a similar pain, we will have had time to consider the issue and be able to respond compassionately. And sometimes we need to take a break; I shut down the thread on legitimate rape because I no longer had the resources to continue moderating that thread. Conversations have a cost on all sides.

  30. Mike H. on September 21, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Yes, the object lessons on morality often do a disservice to those who have been abused.