Thought Experiement: Giftedness at Church

OK, just for fun and just because I can’t seem to stop talking today, I’m going to propose a thought-experiment in the form of a bunch of related questions.

(1) How would we feel about designated giftedness and gifted classes in church settings? For example, what if we gave all the Sunbeams a test to determine their level of spiritual giftedness, and sent the top 3% to a magnet Sunbeam class at the stake or regional level so that they wouldn’t have to be bored by those who needed more practice learning that Heavenly Father created the giraffes when the gifted were ready to move on to Leviticus? (Or, alternatively, what if we advanced precocious Sunbeams into CTRs?)

How would we feel about gifted seminary and Institute classes, available only to students who have already achieved a particular level of spirituality? How about gifted Gospel Doctrine for that underserved gifted adult in your life? Gifted sacrament meeting?

(2) If we did implement some or all of (1), on what basis would we determine spiritual giftedness? Would it be essentially indistinguishable from academic giftedness–this kid has already read the whole manual and all four Standard Works, she needs a new challenge–or would we attempt to measure some kind of specifically spiritual precocity? If so, how?

(3) If we object to any of the above, on what basis do we do so? If we object to any of the above, do we make the same objections to giftedness in academic settings? If not, why not? In other words, can we articulate coherent distinguishing principles that would establish why giftedness designations are acceptable in one realm and not the other? What precisely is it about church that might make it a less appropriate institutional setting for giftedness distinctions? (Or, just to make it clear that I’m not trying to prejudice responses one way or the other–what is the case that giftedness distinctions are appropriate at church?)

29 thoughts on “Thought Experiement: Giftedness at Church

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    I think there’s some opportunity for this at the YW level (not at the YW level, since they are broken up into priesthood quorums).

    But with the growing trend and emphasis to finish the Personal Progress Award earlier and earlier (we’ve had one 13-year-old and several 14-year-olds), could we have an advanced YW class for those who have already finished their Personal Progress Award?

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    I would totally object to making such a designation because the gospel is plain and simple. There is no “advanced course”. We just need to be reminded of it over and over. The learning comes through living life.

    School is totally different. It’s about mastering subjects and you go there 5 days a week for 6-7 hours at a time. Church is only 3 hours/week.

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    Although I guess the gospel principles class is in a way a different “level” than gospel doctrine.

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    I’d guess a lot of people think that giftedness at church is most manifest in what callings people get. Even though we protest it’s not the case…

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    I wouldn’t advocate a class based on spiritual giftedness, but how about a Sunday School option for those of us who have sat through the same lessons and same manuals (and even taught them) for so many years? I wouldn’t mind an AP gospel topics class…

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    DeeAnn, your point is partially correct, in that it focuses on gospel basics and is aimed for those newer to LDS doctrine, however in our ward we emphasize that Gospel Principles is “not a remedial class” and we invite members to attend on occasion so that they know what to expect when they bring others.

    We have many great and profound insights come out of it, often from friends of the Church or recent converts. More accurately, I’d describe GP as perhaps closer to a different grade level with it’s own distinct curriculum.

    That said, I’m with Anita in that many people would enjoy an AP gospel topics class. Since the SS lessons and manuals do remain exactly the same and cycle back, a certain sense of ennui can easily enter. Without labeling anything more or less advanced, I think many would love to have a greater variety of topics and classes they could pursue, more similar to Institute.

    We may never “graduate” from Church, but more choices could allow us to self-identify where we feel weaker or stronger and engage us a bit more in preparation for the day we do finally move on.

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    Let’s imagine spending 20 hours a week in church. Then imagine telling kids that they have to memorize the 13 articles of faith, even if they have already memorized them. Then refuse to let them do anything else. No, they can’t move on to study and memorize any other scriptures until the entire class (except the bottom 3%) has memorized all the articles of faith.
    You will have children who have finished the work in an hour, and other children who will take 40 hours to do this.
    What exactly are you going to do with the ones who finished quickly?
    You either find something to engage them (get them to prepare a presentation on one of the articles of faith for instance), or you are a poor teacher who doesn’t let them do something else. You just keep telling them to sit down and be quiet.

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    In order to accomplish this one would require a ‘spiritual’ test that is repeatable and accurate – who can design such a test? Oh, do you really just mean a church ‘IQ’ test? Would that test include things like ‘When was Joseph’s first date with Fanny?”

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    Oh, this is a fun one!

    The gospel and Church to a large degree use the “line upon line” self-instruction model. Because we’re focused on learning through the Spirit, there’s always the possibility of deep spiritual enlightenment happening in the most mundane moments. A stray thought, phrase in a hymn, or even a prayer, can catch our souls in the moment, and we end up with individualized instruction direct from God. In that way, the gospel is the ultimate in education. Through the spirit, learning is precisely tailored to every person for that moment in their lives.

    That learning is not often (in my experience) actually articulated in the class through high-level discussion, though it sometimes is. More often, for me, it’s come as a very intense internal “teaching,” where I can hardly hear what’s going on around me. I tend to carry a notebook to catch the inspiration in a fixed form, so I can relive the glow of it later.

    Luckily, I’m getting better at *not* raising my hand to comment unless I get that slightly-different “inspired by the Spirit” prompting. Otherwise, I come off like the crazy lady sharing weird non sequiturs in the middle of class, and the teacher says, “Thank you, Sister Clark, for sharing with us. Now, back to the manual…” And I don’t want to be that lady. 🙂

    With the gospel, as with education in general, it is expected that we get out of it what we put into it, but with gospel topics, because of the easy intervention of the Spirit, we have a greater likelihood of getting *more* out of it than we put in. With math or science or reading, I expand based only on the work I put in. With the Spirit, I am often the recipient of grace far beyond my deserving.

    I’m more likely to be the beneficiary of a “Gifted Sacrament Meeting” or Sunday School class when I’ve put in the prep-work and come in a humble frame of mind, though.

    The one test I would LOVE to see, actually, is a Civilization Test. No one gets to pass Sunbeams until they can behave appropriately in class, and sit in their seat. Then I wouldn’t have to embarrass their mothers by having other leaders escort the young miscreant back to a parental figure.

    Ideally, secular education would follow the same principles as spiritual education, and some day, I do think that will be the case.

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    Civilization Test

    Oh rats, Liz, I thought you were going to suggest we require kids learn to play Civilization before they can advance in primary.

    Actually, Shelah, I like your point about how we assume giftedness based on callings. What’s interesting about that is that callings aren’t given to children; it seems like on the other thread Eve (maybe?) asked about how the idea of giftedness applies to adults. So if we use callings to decide about giftedness, then giftedness really can apply to adults too. Perhaps this idea could also be applied to children, where we would label them spiritually gifted if they behaved like we expected a future RS president (or whatever) to behave. And of course this raises ed42’s excellent point about devising a test. It seems like it would be difficult to come up with one that wasn’t academic, short of cooking up a spirit-o-meter (like a spiritual Geiger counter) that would click a lot when the Spirit was around. Of course, then, the Spirit would withdraw himself just to foil the test and it would all be hopeless.

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    Well, with the Civilizations test passed, they’d have a better shot at understanding all the social movement in the BofM.

    I joke with my husband that I must be considered a “gifted” teacher, as I get asked to sub fairly frequently (usually at the last minute.)

    My darling spouse has a different theory: one, I don’t get flustered and actually like teaching, and two: if they ask me to teach, I can’t heckle the sub. (See the Non-sequitur Crazy Lady comment above.)

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    I am a little envious that men are divided into elder and high priest groups. When I have taught RS, I have sometimes been reminded to explain basis concepts because some of the women are fairly new in the gospel. Although we all benefit from sharing experiences from different levels of understanding, it would be nice to divide the women so those of us with years in the church could discuss things a bit deeper (although from what I hear about HP meetings, that doesn’t often happen there either…)

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    One doesn’t have to be in some sense spiritually or gospel gifted to be bored to death by the existing curriculum!

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    We do start tracking at 12. Those thought gifted are asked to serve as class/quorum presidents. Seminary acts as AP Sunday School. I know plenty of people who have graduated themselves from Church.

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    Actually, before we bother with the gifted spiritual education (which I could really dig the second track in SS; not only are the lesson manual abominable, but I’ve been through all of the manuals multiple times), how about we get some teacher training back. SS is hit-and-miss. I’ve had a wonderful SS teacher, and the current teacher is really pretty good. But I’ve never had a good EQ teacher. I don’t know if that means I need gifted or remedial EQ, but I would generally be happy to take either one.

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    As a graduate of Holier-Than-Thou Sunday School, I can attest that opportunities for the Gifted and Talented make all the difference in the world. I’ve never been particularly bright intellectually, but I’m a spiritual ace (or, as the German saints would have it, an “Ass”). A simple after-church test involving a peepstone and a divining rod, when I was but a wee Star B, confirmed my potential, and from then on I was allowed to attend Holier-Than-Thou Sunday School courses. Not only did we read the scriptures, we wrote our own. Also, it is indeed the case that Heavenly Mother is much too holy to be discussed by most of you; but we prayed to her regularly. On weekdays we often held activities in which we practiced being raptured (with or without clothes? that was always the question), or put on roadshows in which we pulled holy writ out of peepstones out of hats. Good times.

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    To some degree we already have Gifted education, with screening for potential candidates, all of the attendant social cachet for those who qualify, and additional information that goes beyond the manuals. It’s called the temple.

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    I have a couple of friends who once taught the same level of primary, only one taught the girls and the other taught the boys. They joked about dividing their classes by ability instead of gender and creating a gifted class. These kids had some very widely variant ability levels. There were some extremely precocious kids, and at least one who was pretty behind age level.

    While the idea in general doesn’t sit incredibly well with me, I have to say, having subbed in one of my friend’s primary classes before, it would probably have been a benefit to all of the kids to be better divided by ability.

    I also think that there should maybe be another Sunday school option. I’m only 22, but I’m already bored with Gospel Doctrine. I still have a looooong time where I’ll be sitting in that class over and over again. It might be nice to have a class that just offered a bit more variety and depth to topics that so frequently get passed over.

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    I like this idea for seminary. Not a gifted/non-gifted split, but a split between those who choose to be there, and those going against their will. Or a split between those who regularly read the scriptures and those who don’t. I went to two early morning seminary classes: a super early morning class for kids with early morning band or sports, and the regular early morning class. I learned a lot more in the super early morning class because the other students were more serious, so the teacher was able to teach more.

    I don’t like the idea of gifted Sunday school classes because church is not just about gaining intellectual knowledge. The purpose of church is to learn to apply simple spiritual principles to our own lives, and to learn to serve one another. Separate gifted classes would not further that end.

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    It is bad enough to have this kind of school situation which deprives students of the benefit of the learning and point of view of these “gifted and talented” students, but who knows what it means to be spiritually gifted. It is such a personal thing and is between a person and God. Does anybody really want the equivalent of the Jesuits in a church where equality (whatever that means) is the goal?

    Children and adults need to interact with all kinds of people in many situations in order to learn all that they can. I fear that trying to identify the spiritually gifted would end up being a popularity contest for the socially adept, like callings to RS presidency, etc. already are.

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    I would have been massively bored in Primary as a child. I would have rather gone to Gospel Doctrine. I know because I got thrown out of my church’s children’s RE class for falling into the creek too often and so I went to the adult program with my parents. Of course, it turned out they did not want me there too long because I kept asking questions. This has nothing to do with spirituality though. I am a spiritual mouse. Advanced spirituality is really better taught in a laboratory like class or quorum leadership, but that is not something we are set up to do until YM/YW.

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    I remember President Eyring once speaking about being flattered by a man who brought a notepad to his talk, ready to record inspiration he received. A while later, President Eyring saw him with the same notepad, taking notes as a 6 year-old girl spoke in primary.

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    As YW in our ward, we were “gifted” as we were moved up to Gospel Doctrine and left the 17 year old boys behind in their own Sunday School. Of course, this had less to do with the fact that we were “gifted” and more to do with the fact that our male counterparts were having some maturity issues. Either way, it was fun to spend 6 months in adult Gospel Doctrine before heading to BYU.
    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

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    While in high school I repeatedly proposed exactly this to my Seminary teachers and the administrators. They looked at me like I was crazy, but I knew that there were enough kids that would have eaten that up to make it worthwhile.

    Frankly, if you are smart and interested in the gospel, seminary on the Wasatch Front is a giant waste of your time. It was less intellectually rigorous than my Sunday School classes. I think that it actually hurts the Church by teaching our high-school aged members that very little is expected of them in terms of thinking about the scriptures and that they will be treated as small children who are there to be entertained.

    Small wonder that the activity rate for 20-somethings is plumeting. We’ve taught them that the gospel is trivial.

    I wanted an experience where I learned and was challenged. I was told to read the scriptures more at home.

    On the broader topic of giftedness in general, as a former gifted student, I can tell you that it makes a world of difference to be in a classroom with similarly inclined students. It doesn’t do anyone (students or all types or teachers) any good to put someone in the wrong class, for whatever reason.

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    After reading the comments here and on the other post, my wife posited that we currently live in a Gifted Ward. And although potentially obnoxious and not something I would say outside our house (notable exception: ZD), it’s kinda true. In Gospel Doctrine we traditionally hit things head on. We don’t scoot around, for instance, the curse of the Lamanites. We discuss how in the world that can fit into our understanding of God.

    My previous ward would have a heart attack. The most daring thing anyone ever did was propose that Dancing with the Stars was a good form of spiritual entertainment. Thinking was verboten. Every EQ lesson was take-turns-reading-a-paragraph.

    But as has been pointed out to me many a time, many people don’t go to church to learn or grow or be stretched. They go to be comforted by the good word of God.

    And although I suspect there are plenty people at Church who would just prefer avoiding thought for avoiding thought’s sake, I hate to say that comfort is an unworthy reason to come.

    But I will be so bold as to say that most of us would be better off considering difficult questions.

    I could be wrong.

    But I’m going to play the game like I’m right.

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    I have another idea along these same lines. Our school district has solved somewhat the problem of dwindling populations in older, inner city neighborhoods and the ever-increasing need to build more,, quickly over-crowded schools in the newer, developing neighborhoods of our valley (before the economic slide, that is). They did this by creating “magnet” schools which were housed in the older schools. Our wards and stakes face similar problems as the population shifts. So why not create “magnet” wards instead of undergoing the continual ward boundary realignments? As in the school district, you’d have to fill out an application and get the approval of both your home ward Bishop and the Magnet ward Bishop. But just think of the possibilities – The Family History Magnet Ward, Quilting/Crafting Magnet Ward, All High Priest Advanced Gospel Doctrine Magnet Ward, Magnet Ward for Families who Homes school, Performing Arts Magnet Ward, maybe even a Magnet Ward for Church Basketball zealots? Magnet ward for empty-nesters. etc. You get the drift . . .

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