I was recently called as a Primary teacher. As I read through the lesson manual about the lesson I am to prepare I was struck by how ridiculous the manuals are. For example, I was supposed to have 7-8 year olds split into small groups to discuss subjects such as “Firstborn” and then they were to present their group’s finding to the class — huh? These are 7-8 year olds with attention spans slightly longer than my own which is about 2 minutes. Further they don’t even know what the word “Firstborn” means.

I found similar problems when I taught the Youth Sunday School a few years ago (e.g., lets have a lesson on Wilford Woodruff – these are kids who had a slight understanding of who Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon are), not to mention the current manuals for Priesthood and Relief Society which are a haphazard assortment of quotes from which a person is supposed to cobble together a lesson (and makes most lessons extremely painful, unless you have a very dynamic teacher).

It makes me wonder who writes these manuals and if they do any type of market research on these manuals to understand what is effective and what is not. It so happens that one of my good friends started working for the Church in a newly created “Market Research” position last year. I talked to him about the above issues a few months ago and he said that there was a small group of “old white guys” (not General Authorities, but well meaning nonetheless) who put the manuals together. They decide what would be a good lesson topic then they put the lesson together. They never do any research to see if things can be improved or if the lesson subjects are relevant, besides “ask their current wards for input occasionally”. My friend’s group was to help validate the teaching approaches via worldwide market research and focus groups to determine if the current teaching materials work well for various geographies, races, and socioeconomic groups (basically what any professional organization would and should do). I talked to him around Thanksgiving, and it was not going well. He said that the curriculum guys did not want their input (he has a PhD as do others in the group) and felt like these overeducated people were trying to tell them what to do when they thought their current approach was working great. Net, net, he called last week to say that his entire group had been laid off as the “old white guys” had won the political battle. So I guess we are back to status quo for the manuals. I have not found too many people who think the manuals are particularly useful — especially outside of the Intermountain West. It makes me wonder what impact these manuals have on new convert retention – I would guess a large negative impact.