Why Language Matters: A Side-by-Side Look at a Lesson from the New YW/YM Manuals

Today’s amazing guest post comes to us from Laura C.

The newest LDS youth manuals are online now, and teachers are getting ready to prepare lessons from them for Aaronic Priesthood (YM), Young Women and Sunday School classes beginning January 2013.  Each month, teachers may choose from 5-7 lessons, with the instruction that they pick topics best suited to their teens’ situations.  The lessons are structured to be guided conversations rather than lectures.

In the LDS church, men and women have prescribed, often different roles.  When the new Duty to God manuals were developed a couple of years ago, I took a couple of months to look at the differences between those new manuals for the young men and the Personal Progress manuals for the young women.  I was fascinated (albeit in the “wow, look at that train wreck” way sometimes) by the different ways the manuals approached teaching the Gospel to the rising generation.  The differences I noticed in those manuals a few years ago, appear to be extended into this newest curriculum.

I work in an alternative elementary school that focuses on community-building and whole-child learning, and we spend a lot of time as adults discussing the importance of language – what the adults say to the kids, what the kids say to adults, and what we say to each other.  Language builds our community and shapes our goals.  I’ve found that language sets expectations and drives character in many subtle ways.  It’s interesting to see the different way our youth manuals “speak” to instructors, and how instructors, in turn, are guided to “speak” to the youth.

We tend to speak to boys with active, hands-on lessons about applying duty, responsibility and leadership and we give them opportunities to practice those leadership skills in quorum meetings. We tend to speak with girls about preparing for future roles or considering feelings or other less-concrete ways of approaching topics and regularly leave “preparation” time in YW lessons. While we expect YM to step up and lead, we lead YW and tell them what they should do. While we ask YM to act in the present, we ask YW to think about how their actions might affect their futures. Case in point, the newest YM/YW manuals, this one on marriage.

The left-hand column is from the YW version, the right-hand from the YM version. Text in pink is only in the YW version; text in blue is only in the YM version. It’s more than just taking one lesson and adding/subtracting priesthood to it. The language differences are subtle, but telling.

Just by looking at the lesson plans and language used, it’s clear we want our young men to grow up and be leaders.  What do we want our young women to grow up to become?