You, brave teacher, are like unto Gandalf the Grey, Mithrandir, gatekeeper of the manual. Suddenly, just as you and your Hobbits are enjoying the recitation of a quality quote, a Balrog rears its head. The most recent manual has a fair number of one particular Balrog I’ve come to fear on my journey to Mount Doom: “The World.”
Yes, that mystical and mythical entity we’ve heard much about but never seen. “The World” is everything we’re not. When we say “potato,” the world says “deadly napalm sandwich with a side of war on religion.” In chapter one alone I encountered five references to “The World,” about one every other page (TPC:GAS, 3, 5, 6, 7). What to do?
Certainly it might do some good to discuss the term with our Fellowship. How it came to be a part of our Church rhetoric, etc., how it seems to wax and wane in popularity. In George Albert Smith’s case, we’re still only a generation removed from a lot of hard feelings with the eastern United States, what with the whole “exiled” thing and the martyrdom of our prophet, etc. We’re coming around to assimilation so “The World” only works to a limited extent in terms of self-image crafting. Plus sometimes it just seems nicer not to name names. But if you’re not up to the task presently, it might do well to eat around such parts.
The nameless forgers of that sacred ring, even the manual itself, have extended some help in our direction. In the manual’s Introduction they include a three-fold invocation of “prayerfully”:
1. “As you study…prayerfully seek the inspiration of the Spirit” (v).
2. “Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost as you prepare to teach. Prayerfully study the chapter to become confident in your understanding” (v).
These extend a good deal of license to thee, Gandalf Greybeard (or Greyhair, for the women and the clean-shaven). But the third “prayerfully” is the most important “prayerfully” in the manual.
3. “Prayerfully select from the chapter those teachings that you feel will be most helpful to those you teach. Some chapters contain more material than you will be able to discuss during class time” (vi).
Gandalf, this is your privilege, this is your sacred duty. As the teacher, you’re the ultimate gatekeeper of that lesson at that time. The manual itself practically begs you not to use every last word in these lessons. At the end of each chapter is a “Teaching help,” usually excerpts from the actually-quite-decent manual, Teaching, No Greater Call, like this one:
“Be careful not to end good discussions too soon in an attempt to present all the material you have prepared” (TPC:GAS, 245).
Or these quotes from Elder Holland:
“It’s better to take just a few good ideas and get good discussion—and good learning—than to be frenzied, trying to teach every word in the manual” (TPC:GAS, 133).
“[Avoid] the temptation to cover too much material…. We are teaching people, not subject matter per se; and … every lesson outline that I have ever seen will inevitably have more in it than we can possibly cover in the allotted time” (TPC:GAS, 31).
So, brave Gandalf, when facing a mighty Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, remember your power. With limited time to spare you decide what becomes central to the lesson. But, as with the Balrog’s fiery whip, beware of a potential though unlikely snag. We return to the manual’s intro:
“Encourage participants to study the chapter before the lesson and to bring the book with them. When they do so, they will be better prepared to participate in a discussion and edify one another” (vi).
You’ll need to be fully familiar with the chapter because class members might point to a Balrog. Be ready with possible explanations or re-directs as need be. You might employ the tactics you use when a member of the class begins exhorting everyone to stock up the old food storage because so-and-so saw President Monson in an elevator someplace.
“But,” you might ask, “what if the Balrog is situated in the middle of an otherwise most excellent quote?” This is a tough one, but you have multiple options here. One, you could read the paragraph yourself and verbally trim where need be. Two, you could print out a few quotes for people to read and include some ellipses in the particular quote where need be. Or simply explain, you are avoiding the temptation to cover too much material.
On to Mount Doom!