Over at By Common Consent there is an article on Mormon pedagogy. The article is actually just a quote from Kevin Christensen, and the salient part is just Kevin Christensen quoting Louis Midgely. Anyway, the substance of the quote is that church pedagogy tends towards ignoring the scriptures and just using the scriptures as a way to “divert attention away from the message and meaning in the text under consideration, and back towards what we already know.” The purpose of teaching this way is to inculcate orthodoxy, if the scriptures conveniently teach orthodoxy, great! If they don’t, one can just use them as a diversion to orthodoxy. In either case you don’t have to gets your hands dirty with the messiness of texts and can just pretend that what you think and are taught is what has always been thought and taught. Up to a point this is a simple and satisfying view of the scriptures. That is until it isn’t.
I think that the standard pedagogy of the Mormon church is one of our greatest strengths and one of our greatest weaknesses, and that it explains two seemingly divergent phenomenon in the church: our above average ability to keep youth strong in the faith and our massive failures at keeping young single adults strong in the faith. I have seen several statistics showing that whatever you think about Mormon youth, they on average do better than others their age in other Christian faiths with regards to activity levels. I also have been in several meetings where there is a lot of hand wringing over what to do about the YSA population which is going inactive in droves.
What I think is happening has to do with James Fowler’s stages of faith. The stages apply to pretty much every western faith tradition, though they manifest themselves differently in each faith tradition. The bottom line is that I think we as Mormons provide top notch, maybe the best, social structures and pedagogy for those transitioning from stage 2 to stage 3. Since most people make that transition in their teens, that accounts for the great retention among youth. This is something we should be proud of. However, I think that we provide possibly the worst experience imaginable for those transitioning from stage 3 to 4, which accounts for at least some our problems with YSAs.
Mormons, like probably every other faith, do just fine with teaching those in stages 1 and 2 and in helping the transition from stage 1 to 2. These two stages are pretty universal and the transition between them easy to navigate. My guess is that as long as your pedagogy in not abusive, progressing though these stages and the transition between them is nearly automatic and pain free.
Peagogy is also easy to arrange for those in stages 5 and 6. By that point you know enough to figure things out on your own and an organized pedagogy is not as necessary.
OK, this is going to be longer than I thought. It’s probably best if I break up the rest of what I was going to say into two more posts. In one I’ll write about why church pedagogy is absolutely fabulous for those transitioning from stages 2 to 3, and also for those in stage 3. After that I’ll finish up with why our standard pedagogy is “less effective” for those transitioning from stage 3 to 4 and for those in stage 4. Stay tuned.