On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: <br />An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 2)

ICYMI: In part one of this letter, I address BYU-Idaho’s mission as a Church-sponsored university and place learning and reading within a gospel context; in the second half I walk through a reading of an essay titled “Medical Student” using the principles I outline in my opening discussion. (To encourage engagement with “Medical Student,” . The link will die at the end of this week. If you find this post after 1.17.2015 and would like to read the essay, email me at tyler [at] motleyvision [dot] org.)


I’ve shared this statement especially because it addresses the concern some students have that despite the fact that active Latter-day Saints try not to profane the Lord’s name or to otherwise use foul language, they felt they had compromised their moral standing by reading essays that contain profanity. I hope Pres. Young’s words clarify the idea that the inclusion of such stories in BYU-Idaho’s curriculum isn’t intended to condone the behavior in those stories or to force students into compromising their standards for the sake of a grade. To paraphrase him: “Shall BYU-Idaho practice evil? No; neither has BYU-Idaho told you to practice it, but to learn by the light of truth every principle there is in existence in the world.” Continue reading “On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: <br />An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 2)”

On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: <br />An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 1)

I’ve taught first-year writing at BYU-Idaho since 2010. The curriculum for the course I teach includes a student essay titled “Medical Student” by Margaret Parker. The essay is a well-written, day-in-the-life narrative profiling one aspect of the intense life lived by a med student named JD; this intensity is conveyed through the narrative’s fast-pacing and through some mild profanity. Because this life experience is likely completely foreign to BYU-Idaho’s student base, “Medical Student” appears on the reading list as part of a course unit called “Thinking about the Other.” The unit claims the following objectives:

This unit invites you to reflect on the question—who are they?—insofar as it can be answered by examining the beliefs, values, and experiences of other individuals whose perceptions of “reality” differ from your own. The assumption underlying this unit is that before you can engage in constructive communication about academic, social, and political issues, you must be able to understand and accurately report the experiences and positions of others.

At the end of this unit, you should be able to conduct effective primary research, such as observing and interviewing, to understand and accurately communicate the experiences and positions of someone whose perceptions differ from your own.

Within this context, “Medical Student” is meant to stretch students’ thinking about the people with whom we share this world, especially those who don’t share Latter-day Saint values. Some students (not a lot) struggle to get past the essay’s profanity and have approached me with their concerns. Which is fair enough: if they don’t want to read the essay, that’s their prerogative. One semester, though, a student had major concerns about it, which prompted her/him to worry about the school’s spiritual standing. The response escalated beyond anything I had previously experienced (I won’t go into details) and it prompted me to pray and think deeply about such concerns and how I might best address them with future students to encourage them to look at their education within the context of gospel values. The following letter grew out of that experience. I’m sharing it here because it explores a way of looking through the lens of Mormonism when we read texts that come from outside the Mormon literary tradition. Continue reading “On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: <br />An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 1)”

If you can “Queer” a book can you “Mormon” a book?

Thanks to the recent mention of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the last conference I pulled out my old script. See, I got to play in Emily in our high school’s production and it was a transformative experience for me. When I first read the script I was blown away by Wilder’s wisdom, especially in those last moments between George and Emily in the graveyard. Being the dramatic teenager that I was, I read Emily’s last sentence over and over. After the other dead admonish George for his emotional display at Emily’s tombstone, Emily looks at George and says, “They don’t–understand–do they?” As I rolled the words around in my mind I thought about forever families and how George and Emily could eventually be together forever and I knew, I knew, that Wilder knew–or at least guessed– it too. Why else would he have Emily admonish the dead for the flippant way they treated George’s emotions?

It wasn’t until one particularly difficult rehearsal near the opening of the show that my director told me my interpretation was wrong. Emily was saying George didn’t understand. When you consider her earlier monologue with the line, “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” her comment about “they” failing to understand was obviously geared at the humans. I privately decided my reading was better  and stuck to it, but I realized for the first time that I had “Mormon-ed” a book. Continue reading “If you can “Queer” a book can you “Mormon” a book?”