Mera, my sister in law, and Jim Faulconer have all been thoughtful, smart, good-at-teaching Sunday School teachers.
That said, what is the deal with Sunday School? I guess it has been about 10 years since I have regularly attended because of my callings. This year I started going in earnest and I've been visiting a lot of Sunday Schools in my stake since my calling has me attending all of our Ward Conferences. I don't want to just bash or go off (that's what Sunday School is for–zing), but I regularly feel extremely uncomfortable sitting in Sunday School and I often leave thinking, "Well, that was quite terrible."
Why is Sunday School like this? I'm really asking. I have been thinking about it. I guess it's because there's a wide variety of people in the audience with varying interests. So lots of times we aren't talking about what I'm interested in. Maybe that's the gist of it.
Right now the new church curriculum really emphasizes class involvement, especially in the youth classes. The reasoning goes that if people participate they are more likely to internalize the lesson. But I'm not sure privileging class discussion in Sunday School is good. I'd rather have a prepared teacher lecture to me for an hour than have to go off on some of the strange tangents that class members bring up. It's not that I don't like my class members in general or care about what they think. But it seems like comments are often made just to validate a worldview. This can be uninteresting at best, self-congratulatory and bigoted at its worst.
I don't think the discourse in Sunday School always jibes with our Christian values. What we spend time talking about doesn't reflect how most of us act every day. In a class discussion someone might, for example, extrapolate extreme right wing political theory from gospel principles or suggest that poor people are less righteous than rich people but they probably wouldn't ever question whether something in the bible could be figurative instead of literal.
I'm not saying any of these things are right or wrong. But of mixing church and state, thinking unkindly about the poor, and speculating about literal scriptural meaning, I would say thinking unkindly of the poor is probably the worst of these in terms of Christian values. And yet, we aren't startled at all when this kind of uncharitable talk comes up. We would be startled if someone said they didn't believe Noah's flood covered the whole earth. But which is worse to believe?
Another example: I've heard a lot of very strong words against gay marriage in Sunday School (and I'm not really interested in debating that here. I think we know there are a lot of thoughtful people on both sides of the issue) but I know that individually there are people in my stake who are gay or have gay kids who would be really nice and charitable to gay people in person. (It's a minority of people that wouldn't act this way in person, I believe.)I hear a lot of racist comments in Sunday School too. But again, I think mostly, on an individual level, the people who are saying these things are charitable in real life.
In other words, I know a lot of very nice people who try to live their religion and be kind. But something about Sunday School gives people license to go off and either say what they privately think or spout platitudes that have somehow come to be accepted as OK-to-say-in-Sunday School. I don't really know what's happening there.
Also, there's always that crazy person in Sunday School who says weird stuff. This is great source material for funny stories but it occurred to me one Sunday, what if Sunday School exists to give a voice to the mentally ill? They get a chance to say their piece—no harm done. Maybe we aren't really there to learn or get a better understanding of the scriptures. Maybe we are there to let people talk and feel validated. If that's the case, I'm OK with it.
If Sunday school exists to instruct and inspire, I think if falls short more often than our other meetings. It doesn't always fall short and I'm not saying it's a waste of time. I will say that for one glorious year when our building was being remodeled we skipped Sunday School and went to a 2- hour block and we prospered and felt happy and had no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually.
Sunday School is different from Sacrament Meeting because it is responsive—a 2-way conversation. And it's different from primary or YW/YM because in those classes the teacher is older and more of an "expert" than the people they are teaching, which is more like school. But in Sunday School people are peers and everyone feels deputized to contribute. It can be good—I've been inspired by a lot of my peers' comments—but it can also be quite terrible. I take it hard because I feel uncomfortable so easily. I need to get over that. Like I said, I'm new at Sunday School.
What do you think makes good Sunday School?