MASONIC education can be made of real value only by its application to the ordinary processes of living.
As a premise to any intelligent consideration of this subject it is necessary to know of just what Masonic education consists, and we take it to be of the essence of the matter that an education in Freemasonry connotes an intelligent appreciation of the moral dogma embraced in the lessons of the three degrees - these being the base of Craft understanding.
Throughout the ritual lessons are taught by word and symbol which make it abundantly clear that the Craft stands for a high type of living, foregoing common vices, building up clean standards and marking its votaries as separate from their fellows, in adherence to the essential proprieties governing human contacts.
Impressions made during childhood are indelible. Those of later life retain their value only as the mind is imprinted by a logical appeal to reason.
In the working of the degrees no intelligent man can fail to note that account has been taken of the frailty of human nature and, while recognizing this very important factor, there is portrayed a picture of moral standards which must appeal to his better nature. The man who profits by this portrayal and guides his actions by it, may be said to be Masonically educated.
Life is a fleeting thing - and all too often the truth of this is not realized soon enough, yet men to whom the advantages of a Masonic education have come will find opportunity in innumerable ways to apply their knowledge to the advantage of society. To list these would be impossible, but within the three principal tenets: friendship, morality and brotherly love, is a field sufficiently broad to cover most contingencies.
Masonry is what its members make it. Not alone in the lodgeroom, but in the everyday contacts of man to man the application of those principles so ardently, intelligently and beautifully inculcated in the lessons of the ritual give opportunity of unlimited scope, and the man possessing Masonic knowledge need not be coached as to its particular application. Within him a knowledge of Craft principles and a sincere desire to be of service to his fellows - inside and outside the Craft - are inherent qualities of sterling worth. If and when he can put aside the selfishness inherent to human life and look objectively at the misfortunes affecting others, he will, and he is so moved, do much to relieve misfortune and misery, and by so doing add his trite to the suet of human Charity. Small as its effect may seem, none tire less the cumulative effect of millions of like-minded men can and will raise to a higher level the thoughts of millions and thereby increase their happiness.
OUR question for discussion this month admits of a wide range of speculation. For a better comprehension of its possibilities, let us change its wording somewhat to "how can any education - Masonic or Secular - be made of real value." At once the speculative nature of the subject becomes apparent.
The question in its broader aspect has been the subject for discussion and argument for more than a century and no satisfactory answer has ever been found. No one will maintain that the aim of secular education is merely to train the pupil to add 2 and 2 or to recognize certain marks or letters and with these to form words and sentences. Much the same is true of Masonic education. The member will receive little benefit from the facts of Masonic history, the meaning of its symbolism, on the logic of its philosophy unless, at the same time the learner is inspired to apply those facts, those meanings and that logic to the circum- stances of his own every-day life, the conditions of his own existence.
As we see it, the aim of all education should be - not to impart certain facts, theories and teachings - but to lead the pupil to think for himself. Once this is accomplished, he will apply the facts, theories and teachings, and thus gradually develop a philosophy of his own that will develop as his own mental capacity develops and expands.
Any education that stimulates individual thinking and mental activity is good. Masonic education that leads the Craftsman to a better understanding and comprehension of Freemasonry is of value, both to the student and to Society as a whole. That which fails of this is as sounding brass and tinkling symbols.
"HOW Can Masonic Education be Furthered?" This our topic for the month has been discussed for years in many grand lodges, and has given rise to much experimentation. Yet thus far there has been no satisfactory answer. Nor have any of the methods tried proven of any great value as raising the general level of Craft knowledge. There has been in no case a clear exposition of what is necessary to be done, and the theorists have been left to work their own sweet will.
It is requisite to raise the question as to what constitutes the truly educated Mason. The answers thereto would be many, ranging all the way from a kindergarten equivalent to post-graduate specialization. Yet as we see the matter, Masonic education to be effective must pre-suppose a foundation already laid of a general knowledge, for only upon such foundation can any special studies be based. One thus trained would have acquaintance with the history and development of philosophical systems and religious organizations, these being moral and spiritual forces. Such knowledge would give light needed to illuminate his own institution, as a similar factor in the economy of civilization. The necessary restrictions under which official Masonry operates would be made clear. For such a brother there would be no rule-of-thumb working or mere guessing to take the place of reason. Mistakes or errors of judgment could be checked upon, and injurious methods or unwise management be put in process of correction. For it would be recognized from broadest survey that all organizations are subject to the unvarying laws of associated being.
There is no grand lodge nor group of Masonic students that could hope to provide for such advanced work. Intellectual fitness and thought habits would closely limit to a very few those competent to carry on such work with hope of attaining the goal as set. There are, it is true, brothers who are pursuing such studies, but it is for theirs a labor of love, and they work alone. These we must regard as post-graduates, who having gained all this is possible from Masonic history or teachings, are specializing in matters closely related but essential, if comprehensive vision is sought.
It is on the other hand, of common experience that Masons, considered generally, are not greatly concerned in this matter of Education, be it high or low. Nor have the efforts of grand lodges, again speaking generally, been of a character to break down the natural resistance of non-studious men when asked to assume the status of learners. We have a splendid body of men in our lodges. They are mightily concerned for the welfare of the Craft, but are shown no way in which they can practically work for its advancement. Instinctively they turn from the fine-spun schemes of the educative theorists. Being gifted with common sense they are aware that much thus offered is without utility. To them must be brought a sufficient knowledge of Masonic purposes and its mission as a factor of social sanity in a bewildered world. For these men the elaborate curriculum will fall of its own weight; the study clubs rarely survive an initial enthusiasm. The plain program of practical work, well within the average capabilities, is what is needed. With this pro- vided there will be no further complaints of the apathy or indifference of the brothers. Space will not permit any discussion of ways and means; these will present themselves to any who may seriously set out to provide a workable program, acceptable to plain Brother John Smith. And he is the fellow who will count when strength and support for an endangered Masonry is needed. Reach him, in mind and soul, and Masonry will be secure. Continue to feed him with the husks of formalism, and he will die Masonically of inanition. With his going the dissolution of the Craft will not be lung delayed.
TO devise an efficient method of Masonic education, necessarily involving instruction and study, is a difficult problem. It has been attempted by various grand lodges and voluntary groups, many of which are still engaged in the activity, while others have yielded to discouragement because of apparently inadequate results. Lacking the ability to offer concrete suggestion as to how Masonic education can be made of real value, the writer must confine himself to generalities and random opinions.
That Masonic education has valve is beyond dispute, but it is entirely dependent upon the inclination of the individual to acquire it. The greatest "sales resistance" encountered by any plan for imparting knowledge of the institution is the indifference of the brethren. There is but a small percentage of the total number of members who have any desire to be- come familiar with anything more than the fundamentals of the fraternity. Most of them have scant interest in the history, philosophy, traditions or symbolism of the Craft, and are content to maintain their Masonry for the pleasure and companionship derived from association with fellow members, the opportunity to witness or take part in the conferring of degrees, and an instinctive realization that they are a part of an ancient and honorable institution which merits and enjoys the respect and admiration of upright men.
Official systems of instruction are handicapped by the fact that the primary student and the advanced scholar require different courses; that which is acceptable to one class is of little value to the other. Such systems have the advantage of competent leadership as a rule, even though they are sometimes too erudite for the capacity of the beginner. Nevertheless, much good is accomplished, for there are many brethren who need but a little encouragement to get started in a course of self-instruction which may lead to unexpected heights.
Voluntary groups organized for study are probably more successful, due to the fact that they are composed of brethren who are really in search of more light and feel that they are engaged in a co-operative work for mutual advantage.
The study of everything in connection with Freemasonry is intensely fascinating to those whose mentality, inclination and time permit them to engage in it. Few will attempt to absorb or retain in their memory all details of what they learn, realising that it is more important to know where precise information may be obtained than to burden the mind with a mass of information. For this purpose recourse to standard books on Masonry is necessary. There are many brethren who need only a taste to develop an appetite for study, and for this reason it is quite within the province of grand lodges to give assistance and encouragement to those who are willing to learn. That the time will ever come when practically all members of the fraternity will acquire a "Masonic education" is exceedingly improbable, but the opportunity to do so should be available for those who seek it.
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