About half the lesson in the Sunday School manual today was on Correlation. Since the lesson itself went through the Correlation Dept., you won't be surprised to hear it had glowingly wonderful things to say. The problem is that I actually agree with some of them. So here are some quick pros and cons to the emergence of Correlation as a directing force in the Church.
As A Blessing
On the positive side, it does cut down on duplicative efforts writing curriculum materials and designing programs. It ties the auxiliaries more directly to the overall program of the Church as opposed to the possibly divergent goals of the auxiliary or its leaders. By cutting down on the volume of manuals and supporting materials, it streamlines the paper load and makes it easier for smaller units to get the full range of materials. It keeps the occasional dumb statement, errant quote, or speculative doctrine from showing up in an "official" publication. How many times, for example, have you heard the statement in the present Introduction to the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon that the Lamanites are "the principal ancestors of the American Indians" thrown back at the Church? I've heard it said that was one that slipped through Correlation. Too bad.
Apart from curriculum, the general thrust of the program also consolidated LDS meetings into a three-hour block, supported the publication of an LDS edition of the Bible (King James text with LDS notes and study aids), and created magazines directed at people (adults, youth, children) rather than organizations. On the whole, these seem like positive steps. The streamlined program makes overseas growth easier to manage. It's hard to argue that inefficiency was a virtue.
As A Curse
On the negative side, the curriculum materials coming out of the system all sound the same and lack any sense of sparkle or zest. And with a four-year cycle in Sunday School topics, they are just reusing the same manuals over and over again now. The materials are all unsigned and impersonal, unlike a couple of generations back when individual LDS pseudo-intellectuals were invited to write a lesson manual. For example, the Priesthood manual for 1957 was Nibley's An Approach to the Book of Mormon.
The topical arrangement used in the present set of RS/Priesthood manuals is especially disappointing. Putting every statement by David O. McKay on faith and repentance together in one lesson (with most of the quotes saying much the same thing) doesn't do him justice and bores the reader — the lessons simply cannot be read straight through without superhuman effort, and they're only seven or eight pages. Why not put 48 complete talks or articles, which stand on their own and were actually composed as an integral unit by the author, in a lesson book? Or why not, for example, make the new Spencer W. Kimball biography the course of study for next year, and give every member a copy? Nope, get ready for Wilford Woodruff excerpts on the same set of thirty topics you've seen every year for the last ten. Won't that be fun.
Worse, this curriculum sclerosis seems to be intensifying. This may be the result of the Correlation goal of "ensuring simplicity of Church programs and materials," which sounds a lot like dumbing-down anything that isn't dumb enough already. Just try and think of anything as boring as a bad Mormon auxiliary class that you encounter on a weekly basis and don't start avoiding. [I'm allowing there are some good classes, but I think that's in spite of the curriculum, not because of it.]
Okay, I've looked at Correlation from both sides now, from give and take, and still somehow I'm torn. Is the problem in the concept? Or the execution? Or am I mistaken and there really is no problem?
[Note: For more discussion, see the two BCC Roundtable posts on Correlation (Part 1; Part 2) featuring commentary by such Mormon Studies luminaries as Claudia Bushman, Armand Mauss, Greg Prince, Jan Shipps, and Jonathan Stapley.]