Monday, October 8, 2012

The age was lowered, not the bar

©Intellectual Reserve
Pres. Monson’s announcement on Saturday about the age for missionary service being lowered to age 18 for males (who demonstrate the maturity necessary) gave me a lot to think about. The bar is still raised high, though. My thoughts:

We can't succumb to the temptation to reinvent wheel – the Missionary Training Centers are very effective at what they do. Let them. They take kids (yes, 18- and 19-year-olds are still kids, even with the moniker “Elder”) and teach them how to teach. It is simply not necessary to duplicate the effort by turning their preparatory years into six years of MTC lessons. Instead, we ought to double down in practical preparation. Kids need meaningful opportunities to learn:

  • A work ethic, doing hard things and seeing them through the end
  • Money and time management skills
  • To function independently of mom and dad (especially the kids who are helicoptered from trophy to trophy)
  • Decision-making skills, including making plans and executing them - and dealing with and learning from the results, both good and bad
  • Develop Testimony; learn to recognize the spiritual in their surroundings, to draw their own conclusions from their own experiences
  • To act, and not be acted upon

Scouting – when properly carried out – performs these functions admirably. The problem lies in running a program content with going through the motions, administered by individuals who would rather be doing something else (and so they do) which results in boys who learn that going through the motions is perfectly acceptable. They see more than we think, and that carries over into their general behavior. They become missionaries who say the right things, perform the right actions, and check the right boxes, just like they were trained to do for six years. But it's form without substance.  In short, they become as I was am.

Think of it this way: we're all told we ought to read the Book of Mormon. For how many, though, does that just mean get to the end as quickly as you can? (Guilty as charged - Read it? OK, done.) What is lost though, if the objective is simply to get to the last page? And here's the kicker: kids will usually do exactly what they're told, and not much more if they're not trained to think beyond the basic instruction.

If Scouting (or indeed, anything we begin) is seen as a race to a finish line (for example, get your eagle before a certain age, or before a certain milestone, say, a driver’s license), it’s counter-productive. It’s like preparing a Thanksgiving feast whose only purpose is to finish eating it, not take pleasure in the meal, nor in the company and conversation of family and friends, nor even in being grateful at all, because a satisfied burp is the only thing that matters; certainly thanking those who took the time to prepare it is relegated to an aftertastethought.

Maybe it’s our 75mph freeway mentality. In the movie “Cars,” Sally the Porsche laments that with the advent of the freeway,
“Well, the road didn't cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn't drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.”
Is our approach to Scouting like a freeway, get done as fast as possible so we can move on to more important things to finish? Is there no joy in the journey, no stopping at points of interest along the way to learn more about the area you’re visiting? And when the boys see that that is indeed the case – and they will – what’s to stop them from carrying that attitude forward?  Many of them already do. (Think, "hurry and finish DtG so we can play ball.")

Granted, I live in the pre-AP world with 11YO Scouts, but I do try to prepare each boy with the skills which are taken for granted that he possesses upon turning 12.  Likewise with the MTC - it is assumed that each individual meets a certain baseline.  So again, let the MTC do its job when it’s time. We should concentrate on using the tools we've been provided to give these kids the best practical preparation possible.  This adolescence is the time to prepare kids with the personal skills to be mature enough that at 18 (or 19, or 20, 23 or 25) a man or woman is actually ready to serve. In large part that is happening, but there is always room for improvement.

Prepared. | For Life.™

I also think this change in policy (not a doctrine, a policy!) is a direct result of "Raising the bar."


Brian Reyman said...

Great points. I 100000% agree. While some may try and invent new things to "better prepare the YM", all we need to do is properly implement what we already have.

We're so blessed in the church to have a perfect combination of programs for our youth to support the family's role in preparing their sons for missions and for a life of integrity and service. Few things make me sadder when adults spend time (with great intent) to try and make things up that can already be accomplished by what's there.

Spiritual development through daily seminary and the awesome Duty to God program. Life skills, confidence in doing hard things, fitness, leadership development (and much more) provided through Scouting. And a quorum structure to pull it all together in unity!

As a note, I'd heard that the MTC is actually cutting the time someone spends there in half to be able to handle the expected increase in missionaries going out. Just another reason for us to make sure we're doing it right (and not reinvent the wheel).

Eric the Half-bee said...

Wow, I'd hate to have to try learning to be conversational in Mandarin in just six weeks.

Tory said...

Great thoughts!

My first reaction to the announcement was that we need to do better to prepare our young men than we have been doing. When I went on my mission I had a full year away from home at college before going to the MTC. That year was a tremendous preparation that some boys will not now have. Their preparation will have to come earlier, and Scouting is where most of those practical things will come from.

Fishgutts said...

I wonder if we as a Mormon culture are now going to judge boys who don't go when they are 18 like we do boys who don't leave within 40 seconds of their 19th birthday. I hope we encourage rather than hinder.

Eric the Half-bee said...

Maybe we should approach it like the Advancement method (is supposed to work) - go when you're ready. I knew a few 19YOs who weren't ready for the challenge (myself included) of the Work, but by golly, I was 19, and it was "time." I appreciate how President Monson emphasized that this was an option, and not the new default criteria.

Fishgutts said...

Agreed Eric. Just need to start breaking long held traditions. I wasn't ready for my mission either but the Lord had an interesting way of refining.