A Curriculum Experiment

I here report the results of an experiment performed Sunday in a soft, comfy chair in the pleasantly air-conditioned foyer of a chapel in the great state of Southern California. The materials used were a copy of the current Heber J. Grant lesson manual and a ball point pen (blue ink, fine point Papermate Flexi-grip model).

Methods. I reviewed the 24 lessons printed in the lesson manual’s table of contents and classified each under one of the following three categories: Organizational Maintenance, Self-Improvement, and Gospel of Jesus Christ. Close calls were resolved by consulting my inner voice and making my best guess after flipping through the pages of that lesson. I was investigating the hypothesis that the majority of lessons in the lesson manual preach the gospel of health, wealth, and education rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Results. About 42% (10 of 24) of the lessons were directed at Organizational Maintenance (e.g., member recruitment through missionary work, obeying organizational leaders, improving the public image of the Church by being loyal and patriotic citizens, supporting temple and geneaological work). Exactly 25% (6 of 24) of the lessons concerned Self-Improvement (e.g., persistence, being a good example, attaining financial security, maintaining good health by observing Mormon dietary laws). About 33% (8 of 24) concerned the Gospel of Jesus Christ as one might hear it preached by missionaries (e.g., the straight and narrow path, priesthood, forgiving others, prayer, Jesus Christ). The example topics given with each category are adapted from the titles of lessons in the sample assigned to that category. I believe the results are robust and will be observed in other curriculum materials.

Discussion. The results confirm my a priori expectations based on earlier, informal inquiries along the same lines in earlier editions of similar lesson manuals. The rule of thumb is one-third for each category. I suspect Sacrament Meeting talks follow a similar distribution, although with youth speakers added in it probably pushes the percentage more in favor of true gospel topics. On the other hand, if high council speakers are included the other two categories would almost certainly get a boost.

Conclusions. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy, wise, and a good Mormon. Punctuality is optional but cleanliness is highly encouraged.


  1. Frank McIntyre says:

    Actually, I used the word “doctrine” because I didn’t want to claim it as the Gospel without more thought. I think the Church should teach doctrine, which includes the Gospel. But possibly one wishes to make the case that the word Gospel should be restricted for events immediately surrounding Christ’s atonment. This is the “Good News”.

    What the missionaries teach is both the Gospel and the doctrine, so if this is the Gold Standard, we’re probably doing fine. Prayer is part of the doctrine. Is it part of the Gospel? Certainly we need to think (and pray) about prayer, but that doesn’t make it doctrinal. And anyway, the Gospel is explicitly about Self-Improvement in the grandest sense. We improve ourselves by repenting.

    And it wouldn’t be science if someone didn’t say it was wrong…

  2. I should point out that I don’t really see the topical distribution in the manual as wrongheaded. While I think the topical coverage of the Priesthood/RS manual is a bit surprising to one who hasn’t sat down and looked at it that way before, I wasn’t arguing that we should chuck the “self-improvement” lessons for narrow doctrinal instruction. LDS teaching always strives to be relevant and practical rather than narrowly scriptural or theological. We’re not, as a rule, fond of theologians or their work product.

    It’s not like the utility of lessons would be increased if “Work and Self-Reliance” or “The Power of Example” were replaced with an extended reading from Leviticus or Ezekiel.

  3. I was running my own private Sunday School class. And I actually did have a hypothesis statement, it’s just buried in my “Methods” paragraph.

    I find the whole uber-objective tone of scientific papers to be quite artificial. I’m not trying to start a trend or inspire a copycat serial quiller.

  4. Is this a new form of three missions for the church (bureaucracy, self-improvement and oh yes, the Gospel)?

    A true experiment would have put an hypothesis at the beginning, Dave. What was yours? How did it influence your close calls?

  5. Frank McIntyre says:

    Oh. I guess I thought you were saying the topics were misguided in some way. I thought that was the point.

    I’d have to agree that, although a little Leviticus might be entertaining, I also prefer the present topic distribution.

    By the way, thanks to your post I spent some time trying to figure out what “the Gospel” was. Using 3 Ne 27 as a guide, the Gospel is broader than I had suspected. The Doctrine and Covenants is also full of interesting todbits. So thanks for the scripture study topic.

  6. Frank McIntyre says:

    Scanning the list, anytime temple work is considered a suspect topic for once a year discussion, there’s a problem!

    So I’m fine with a narrow definition of the Gospel, as long as it is understood that by defining it narrowly, many imprtant subjects will be left out. Thus 2/3 of the lessons won’t fit the narrow definition even though they should be in the manual.

  7. Seems to me that Dave was just collecting data. Although I suppose there must’ve been an hypothesis of some sort in order to select the categories.

    Which meeting did you blow off? :)

  8. Thanks for posting the list, Frank. Science works by replication, and I did post a detailed report of my “experimental design,” so you are certainly invited to repeat the exercise and report your own results. Even selecting categories is somewhat arbitrary.

    Yes, categorizing certain lessons is kind of a judgment call, and I didn’t stay up late wringing my hands over the close ones. If the topic was the kind of topic one would see in a self-improvement book or hear on “Character Counts” in the morning (60 second radio spots teaching remedial ethics to commuters) I tended to put it in “Self-Improvement” rather than “Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    Actually, I think when you call the Word of Wisdom “an important part of the doctrine,” you are actually making my point about the extent to which health, wealth, and self-improvement talk now passes for “the Gospel.”

  9. Frank McIntyre says:

    Where would a lesson on the Word of Wisdom fit in? How about tithing? How about the importance of family home evening or attending one’s church meetings? How about member missionary work or attending the temple?

    All of these get play in the missionary discussions, either pre-or post baptism, yet you seem to want to divide things between the stuff missionaries teach (good) and the other stuff (not as good).

    Here is the complete list, recorded for the idly curious. I am not so sure I agree with your categorization. I think it suffers from attempting to label things like Word of Wisdom as just “Self-Improvement” when I think such things are an important part of the doctrine, much like the straight and narrow path lesson you decide is part of the Gospel.

    The Life and Ministry of Heber J. Grant
    Chapter 1 Learning and Teaching the Gospel
    Chapter 2 The Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith
    Chapter 3 Walking in the Path That Leads to Life Eternal
    Chapter 4 Persistence
    Chapter 5 Comfort in the Hour of Death
    Chapter 6 Uniting Families through Temple and Family History Work
    Chapter 7 Personal, Abiding Testimony
    Chapter 8 Following Those Whom God Has Chosen to Preside
    Chapter 9 The Joy of Missionary Work
    Chapter 10 The Power of Example
    Chapter 11 Priesthood, “the Power of the Living God”
    Chapter 12 Work and Self-Reliance
    Chapter 13 Principles of Financial Security
    Chapter 14 “Come, Come, Ye Saints”
    Chapter 15 Labor for the Happiness of Others
    Chapter 16 Forgiving Others
    Chapter 17 Being Loyal Citizens
    Chapter 18 The Song of the Heart
    Chapter 19 Earnest, Honest, Sincere Prayer
    Chapter 20 The Still, Small Voice of Revelation
    Chapter 21 Observing the Word of Wisdom
    Chapter 22 Teaching Children in the Nurture and Admonition of the Gospel
    Chapter 23 The Progress and Destiny of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    Chapter 24 Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God

  10. Whoa, that’s eerie Dave. Yesterday I did exactly the same thing – only with the Book of Mormon manual. I did it for my next post on Bcc. Strange.

    I used different categories, however, based on the part of the manual that gives the purpose for each lesson, ie, “To help members strengthen their testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ.” I’ll wait a few days and report my own findings (which, by way of preview, aren’t as positive as yours).