Pretty much immediately after changes in BYU’s Religious Education curriculum were leaked yesterday a lot of people busted out their sackcloth and ashes. I confess that in looking over the four core classes I was less than enthused. I think Julie Smith made some great points about the way we study our scriptures, too. But before we sound the requiem bell let’s take a second, breathe, and think about a few things.
First: I think most people can agree that CES is facing big challenges right now. The folks in charge clearly recognize that the old way hasn’t been sufficient to the challenges facing the Church’s youth and young adults. The recognition that change is needed, overdue in fact, can be seen as a net positive. We should be cautious not to lionize the status quo in lamenting proposed changes.
Second: Aside from a basic outline, none of us have any idea what the course content will actually be. As conceived, the new courses will be designed specifically to meet the challenges of the rising generation of Latter-day Saints. Creating core classes hopefully won’t happen in a vacuum. If Dean Top’s letter is correct, faculty have been invited to help in the process of course development. While their descriptions tend toward a proof-texting approach, the courses as developed need not take that route. Perhaps the faculty will be unshackled enough to develop new courses focusing on the exact things you or I think are already missing or will be lost.
Third: The core classes aren’t all there is. It looks as though the BYU faculty will be leading out in laying out the course content for the core four, but they are also supposed to be empowered to develop new courses besides. This opens the door to a host of new approaches within Religious Education. There have been a number of exciting new faculty hires there in the past year or so, and we should look to them to develop interesting classes, and hopefully to see other Church schools follow suit.
I work at BYU but I’m not in the Religious Education department. As with all my posts at BCC, I’m speaking only for myself here. I do know that BYU has been asking the Maxwell Institute to raise its academic game. I hope that same encouragement is being given to RelEd. At the risk of sounding a bit Pollyannaish, I want to support them and hope for the best. Instead of complaining about what we think is happening, it might be better to use our blogging time to discuss specific ideas and options which faculty might draw on as they begin the process of revamping a clearly outdated curriculum badly in need of an overhaul. In the immortal words of 2Pac (censored version of course), “You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do to survive.”