This article was published in the Trowel Magazine in 2015.
I often hear comments that we do not spend enough time in Freemasonry on education. Many new members come to us with a preconceived notion that this is a large part of who we are. Officers struggle to include education due to the restraints of time and ability. Grand Lodge provides some excellent sources, but this is not their exclusive right or responsibility.
In the Twenty-eighth District, a few of us decided to do something about it. We started what we like to call The Academy.
We all remember the debt Masonry owes to the Greeks. In around 387 BC, Plato formed the Academy in Athens. The Academy had no official curriculum or teachers in the traditional sense. Instead, members would solve problems posed by one of the group. Usually, they would do this by employing dialectic reasoning.
As I said earlier, in 2012 several Masons in the Twenty-eighth District revived this ancient tradition. We gathered in the Brigham Lodge Dining Room around several round tables. We came prepared to discuss the Point within a Circle. We chose as our format the literature circle. A literature circle is an educational method where several individuals discuss a common text. Each comes to the circle ready to discuss a different aspect of the text.
In accordance with the agreed format, we divided the research into several approaches. Selected members, in the weeks preceding the event, researched the topic from either a masonic, historic, graphic, or esoteric point of view. In addition to the researchers, the group chooses a moderator. His duty was to pay close attention to the flow of discussion and, when necessary, to ask questions to reignite it. Before beginning everyone agreed that, in the spirit of discussion, there would be no wrong answers.
The Brothers present willingly discussed the Point within a Circle for over three hours. Furthermore, the discussion continued in the parking lot. Thomas Lodge recently hosted another of these evenings in a similar format and the results were mostly the same. At this event, we limited the discussion to one hour but, once again, the discussion continued, this time over collation.
This format has proven to be a very effective way to provide educational opportunities in the lodge on a small scale.
The Harvard Lodge employs a similar approach in what they call their Philosophy Meeting. Past topics have included, “Dark Side of the Craft and Ourselves” and “Precision and Truth in Masonic Ritual”. Interestingly, the lodge allows remote participation by either phone or Skype video conferencing. This use of technology keeps Masons, who have moved away or are travelling on business, connected to the lodge. Using video conferencing also provides remote participants a multi-sensory experience.
The Harvard Lodge is an Academic Lodge. The Twenty-eighth District is largely blue collar. Still, both groups have many men who would like education to be a part of their Masonic experience. The two groups could not be more demographically different, but their desire is the same. There is a strong undercurrent of intellectual curiosity within our membership. It is our job to provide opportunities, such as those provided by The Academy and The Harvard Lodge Philosophy Meeting, to our membership.
Another way to provide these opportunities to our Brothers is a technique best illustrated in Cliff Porter’s book “A Traditional Observance Lodge”. In Brother Porter’s lodge, they have Festive Boards. During these events, a moderator will make a statement, which cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
An example would be, “The progressive line is the best way to select lodge officers.” Each Brother receives a card either with a plus or minus written on it. These Brothers must “argue” their point for or against the statement based on their card rather than by their personal feelings. Plus and minus assignments can also be by table, side of room or, officer roles in larger groups. This method is effective with little to no preparation. For this reason, if you have a few minutes left at the end of a business meeting you might want to consider it.
Many lodges use a traditional lecture approach to education. This method, by its nature, is authoritarian. The methods I described employ a more active or democratic participation. If we truly “meet on the level”, which method should we use?
If you are looking to add educational opportunities to your lodge programs please consider one of the above methods.
My Brothers, Be the Revolution. That is what we came here to do.