Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"...they will come." (Part 2: Education)

Education is one of the most important aspects of our Craft, yet often, it is overlooked. As Lodges loosen requirements in order to attract new members, education is often the first thing to go, as evidenced by the proliferation of "short form" proficiencies and "one day classes". Proficiencies, however, are not the only aspect of Masonic education. Many brethren don't know even the most rudimentary of information about our Fraternity or its symbols. If you don't believe this, try a little experiment. Pick any 10 Brothers at your Lodge, and ask them basic questions like "Why are Craft Lodges also know as "Blue Lodges?" or "What is the symbolism behind the square and compass?" You might be surprised at the responses you get. If our experienced Brethren don't even know about our Craft, what then must it be like for our candidates? How can we expect them to become passionate about Freemasonry if neither we,
nor they have any idea what it is actually about? If we don't show how much we value the lessons we have been taught, our candidates and younger brethren will never value them either. In order to remedy this problem, we must focus more on educating both new candidates and those who are already Masons. Education must be an important part of the Masonic experience, from before the First Degree until we put down our Trowels and return home to the GAOTU.
How can we accomplish this? To begin with, we should provide our candidates with education before they even set foot in a Lodge. When I sought out the Craft, I had already read several books and articles, and felt that I was prepared for the experience. Many future Masons
are not. Several controversial Masonic organizations, as well as the more respected Traditional Observance Lodges, have preparatory reading requirements for their candidates. All Lodges should adopt this practice. A small amount of education prior to the first degree will only enhance the initiatory experience. This could also produce a higher quality of candidate,
and thus lead to greater retention and activity. Lodges should also adopt an intensive education program to go along with the degrees. While many states have adopted Masonic Education programs to go along with proficiencies, these are not enough. In an excellent article, Michael L. Segall of the Grand Lodge of France, mentions the fact that candidates in his jurisdiction are required to research and present papers on subjects of Masonic significance in order to advance. Even though this may seem like a daunting task for someone new to the Lodge, Bro. Segall reports that candidates are motivated, rather than repelled, by the challenge. A similar program would, in my opinion, do wonders for American Freemasonry, and we would end up with Masons more firmly rooted in the tenets of our Fraternity.
Furthermore, education should not stop after the degrees. Open, philosophic discussion of our Craft and its symbols should be a regular part of our meetings. There are numerous ways that this can be achieved. Here are just a few examples:
-Book clubs: Brothers select a book relating to Freemasonry, read it, and then come together to discuss what they learned.
-Papers: Much like the candidates, Brothers could research a topic and give a presentation in Lodge.
-Lectures: Interesting speakers could be invited to address the Lodge on topics relating to their area of expertise. Discussion can then follow.
The possibilities and potential are endless, and can be tailored to fit the unique character of each Lodge. As we better educate ourselves and fellow brethren, we show how much we value the Craft, and consequently build a stronger Fraternity for ourselves and future candidates.
Education should be given the highest priority in our Lodges. After all, the rituals are designed to teach, and if we fail to learn, then we are no better off than when we first knocked upon the Lodge door.