The LDS Sunday School General President posted this short article at LDS.org (in the Church News section). Here is his observation about LDS classroom discussion:
[W]e hear of many inspired classroom discussions. Occasionally, however, we hear of discussions that are open and lively, but at the conclusion there has been little, if any, doctrinal focus or emphasis. In essence, there have been some therapeutic conversations or a sharing of experiences, but little connection to doctrine.
Occasionally? That sounds like every LDS class I have ever attended. I tend to think that almost all discussion is good discussion, even if just “therapeutic conversations” or “sharing of experiences.” It makes the speaker feel good for participating and it makes at least some listeners feel empathy for the speaker or maybe even get a little enlightenment or edification. When I teach adult Sunday School, my lesson is organized around setting up five or six key questions that are designed to promote productive discussion. The article takes a different view:
A discussion is not successful merely because it is robust or because many class members participated. … A gospel discussion is successful if it increases faith, leads to a greater understanding of the doctrine being taught, and inspires the participants to live the gospel more fully. … Inspired teaching certainly includes discussion, but it does not, nor should it, exclude powerful discourse and instruction. The teacher is not just a facilitator of gospel discussion ….
What’s wrong with a “just teach the doctrine” emphasis? First, the manuals don’t really present much doctrine. Mostly they stress applications, which generally revolve around a few institutional values (attend church, pay tithing, serve in callings, do missionary work, don’t criticize leaders ever) rather than actual doctrines. Second, it’s always tricky to nail down actual Mormon doctrines. Third, I don’t think most LDS Sunday School teachers are equipped to deliver the details of LDS doctrtine (see the previous sentence).
Once upon a time, I attended a Sunday School class that seemed to fit the ideal class as described by this article. The class was taught by a BYU history prof who included a ten minute substantive discourse in each lesson. It was awesome. He was soon released, apparently after some class members complained. Too much substance to the lessons, apparently.
So, classroom discussion, productive or not?