B.H. Roberts makes a suggestion in Volume 1 (1907) of his Seventy’s Course in Theology that terrifies me, confident as I generally am in speaking before a group or in directing a class discussion. In amongst the paragraphs on selecting “efficient” teachers and the necessity for class members to study quorum lessons at home before meeting for discussion (it “should be insisted upon”), he offers this proposal, which I have never seen echoed in any other church manual:
Class critics may be appointed to criticize in kindness and in fairness, but frankly and honestly, the class exercises; not necessarily confining their criticism to defects alone. Excellence may be noted and moderately praised, but benefits will naturally arise chiefly from having defects in matter and manner pointed out to the member rendering an execise, such as awkwardness in bearing, unsuitableness of phraseology, wrong use of words, errors in grammar, mispronunciation of words, misconceptions in ideas, defects in logical treatment, inappropriateness of illustration — let all such things be subjects for fair but frank criticism, and submitted to willingly and in good part, for purposes of improvement, and beyond a doubt such criticism would be very helpful.
If the suggestion of the appointment of the critic be acted upon, a different one should be appointed, say every month, or not less seldom than every two months.
Such a practice makes sense if you recall that, until our generation, seventies were organized not only among General Authorities but on a local level, and that B.H. Roberts was writing for men who could expect to be called as missionaries repeatedly during their adult lives. He was training priesthood bearers to be public speakers, to address street meetings, to engage in debates, to hold their own against highly educated ministers of other denominations. A critic’s feedback, if offered “in kindness” and accepted “willingly,” could have gone a long way toward supplying the experience lacking among farm boys whose formal education may have ended with the 8th grade.
Elder Roberts put it in more powerful terms, as
Being special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world, preachers (i.e., teachers) of the gospel, and authorized under the direction of the Twelve Apostles to act in the name of the Lord in “building up the Church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations” (Doc. & Cov. [107:34]), it behooves them to become witnesses who understand the truth of which they testify, skilled workmen, ambassadors of whom the Master need not be ashamed.
But in today’s context, I admit it, the idea of a class critic responding to my teaching or to the comments offered by class members is nothing short of terrifying.
I hope that doesn’t mean that B.H. Roberts would be ashamed of me, because he is one of my all-time favorite writers, thinkers, and teachers.