Growth - for ALL - through Education

C. Jackson, MIPGM
Chairman, Education Committee
South Central Regional Deputy General Grand Master

The General Grand Council of Cryptic Masons International, under the leadership of our General Grand Master, M.P. David Grindle, has made a major commitment to Masonic Education for this Triennium and beyond. As the Cryptic Rite is often referred to as the Rite of Preservation, this endeavor makes eminent sense. What better way to preserve our gentle Craft than by promoting Masonic education in all of its many forms? What better way for the General Grand Body to help, aid and assist our consistent bodies and our Companions? The goal is to provide accessible resources that can assist the individual Mason in his personal development, the Grand and Constituent bodies to develop even more meaningful educational programs, and providing encouragement for Masonic scholars, where so ever dispersed. Freemasonry, it has been said, lives forever because it lives in the hearts and minds of men.

In his direction to the Committee, M.P. Grindle made it clear that this was to be a Masonic program, not just a Cryptic program. His vision was for us to create a One Stop Shop for Masonic educational resources, at least to the extent that this can be done. It is with this charge in mind that the committee has developed its designs. The goal is not to develop another silo of information, but to bring as resources together as much as possible. This will require working together with our partners in the Grand Lodges, the General Grand Chapter, the Grand Encampment, and the Scottish Rite of both the Northern and Southern Jurisdictions, as well as the numerous private sites willing to participate. As of this date, albeit I have not approached everyone, the response has been very positive from those I have approached. But where do we begin such a large task? The first answer that presents itself is to survey the field.

Masonic education is a popular subject today; much discussed but sadly less widely acted upon. We certainly have enough mention of it. For example, it is one of the main points in the obligation of a Most Excellent Master, and indeed the entire Fellow Craft degree can be thought of as an exhortation to education. The literature of Freemasonry is also full of discussion of this topic, from Albert Mackey's famous article Reading Masons and Masons who do not Read, ( http://www.masonicdictionary.com/read.html), to Richard Fletcher article Masonic Education: A Subject Too Often Overlooked ( http://phoenixmasonry.org/masonic_education.htm), to Arthur Bentley's Masonic Education (http://www.skirret.com/archive/dormer/masonic_education.html), down to the Knights of the North and their seminal A Laudable Pursuit: a 21st Century response to Dwight Smith (http://www.skirret.com/archive/dormer/masonic_education.html). There are many other articles that I could list but these are sufficient to make the point.

The historical spread of just the few articles mentioned is a clear signal that this is not a new issue. A brief perusal of even these few papers indicates the importance of the issue both for the Craft and the individual Brother. So given the importance and persistence of the issue the question of why arises; why did it happen; why does it continue; and what can we do about it? Unfortunately, there is no single or simple answer to any of these questions. At this point, I will share with you some of the thinking that has led us to our present design so you can see the context in which it was developed.

The issue does not seem to arise from a lack of material. The 19th and 20th centuries were filled with authors, Masonic and non-Masonic, writing about Freemasonry. In our own 21st century, Masonic materials are more available than ever before thanks to digital media and the internet. There are so many sites containing valuable Masonic material from Lodges of Research and Grand Lodges, to the resources available through both the Scottish Rite SJ and the Scottish Rite NJ, to an almost endless array of others such as Phoenix Masonry, Skirret, The Masonic Trowel, Pietre-Stones, and the grand dame of research lodges Quatuor Coronati among many other excellent resources available to a Mason today. There are entire societies devoted to developing such resources, such as the Philalethes Society, the Masonic Society, the UCLA Freemasonry and Civil Society Program, and the Scottish Rite Research Society. We even have educational programming on an unprecedented scale, dealing with issues of Leadership and Lodge Management, for example the Free Mason University affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Ohio, the amazing work done by the Grand Lodge of Michigan, to Masonic Education Programs such as the Master Craftsman program of the AASRSJ, the Hauts Grades Academy of the AASRNJ, and the Companion Adept of the Temple program of the York Rite Sovereign College, and numerous excellent resources developed under the Grand bodies. So rather than a lack of resources, we seem to have an abundance of them. And with the ease of use and availability through the internet that does not seem to be the problem either.

This leaves a number of major candidates including:

  1. A lack of emphasis on Masonic Education as an important part of our Masonic journey, so the interest is never developed in the first place;
  2. A lack of support for Masonic learning from one's peers because they have one idea about what Masonic education is about (think academic lectures) that they do not find helpful or interesting, when the reality is that there are many valuable routes to Masonic learning including a type of fellowship that teaches through our behavior toward one another;
  3. A lack of structure so that less trained individuals do not know where to look for what;
  4. Masonic Education programs that lack depth or are just not responsive to the needs of the specific Brethren to which they are addressed;
  5. Accessibility of materials due to an unfamiliar style of writing, so that the style of writing itself becomes a barrier (think the typical response to Morals and Dogma);
  6. Finding material at the appropriate depth for the individual-too much on the surface and some will find it boring and not responsive; too much at depth, requiring a certain background knowledge to benefit from, and some will find it confusing or irrelevant to the "real" world.

There are many other possibilities, but these cover many of the major ones. So, given such an abundance of riches, what exactly can we add without being redundant, and how can we facilitate the development and use of the resources at our disposal in a manner responsive to some of the issues with Masonic Education we have found? Again, there is no simple single answer; we must simply begin with what we know and fashion a program that we think is responsive to the issues we find, then learn from our missteps and keep on moving.

It is our intention to leverage modern electronic technologies and the resources already developed by the General Grand Council and numerous other organizations and individuals, with a major initiative to encourage the development of new materials in a way that leads to their greater utilization. Our purpose is to facilitate the spreading of Masonic light throughout the Craft, so that our Brethren, Companions, and Sir Knights may grow personally and in so doing improve our communities and ultimately our world. The ultimate goal is to make the resources available for every Brother or assemblage of Brethren to have an excellent Masonic experience.

We will accomplish this through programmatic means as well as the development of an electronic Masonic Education hub available to all Masons, educators, and researchers. This is a large and ambitious undertaking and will require the involvement of many people over several years. The approach recommended is to complete an overall design, then implementing the components in a stepwise fashion.

What follows is an outline of what we are doing. It is not exhaustive as the design will go through many iterations as we learn what works and what improvements can be made. It will also never cease development as new resources, approaches, and technology develop and come to our attention. That said, the General Grand Council's Masonic Education initiative is composed of three basic building blocks:

RPCJackson
Brick Freemasonry Bobeda Arch Tunnel - Photo from General Grand Council Archive.
  1. Encouraging the creation of educational materials and support for the creative efforts of all those wishing to contribute to the growth of Masonic knowledge. This means support of the individual Brethren seeking to gain a better understanding of the Craft and how it applies in their lives, as well as scholars, researchers, and education officers at the Grand and constituent levels. For the scholars, we will create opportunities for publication of their work to the widest possible audience. For individuals, we will create a space where you can participate in live stream panel discussions, share ideas through electronic exchanges and provide a platform for preserving and accessing these materials in a topical fashion. The basic idea here is that materials and resources will be beneficial to the extent we, the brethren, participate in the discussion. It is one thing for us to read a book or attend a lecture, but the impact is greatly magnified when we discuss the material and think about it for ourselves. We intend to offer a wide variety of such programs as each individual comes to Masonic education with his own background and interests, and proceeds at his own pace and in his own time. This is to be a place where you can openly discuss issues (albeit not political or sectarian religious ones), ask questions, and most importantly engage as brethren who truly meet upon the level. Every Mason has a perspective on the Craft and how it applies to his life; no one I have ever met has a monopoly on the truth, but all benefit from a civil, respectful discussion. For Masonic educators, this resource will assist him in the development of his own program and make available to him speakers or panels he could not otherwise access due to time, distance, or cost.

    This is an area where you can participate directly right now. We need more new resources on the Cryptic Rite specifically, although all new masonic material is welcome. Much of the literature on the Cryptic Rite comes from the 19th century, and while this is excellent material it is difficult for those not accustomed to reading works of that period, and it needs to be updated to fit with our current experience of the Craft in the world in which we happen to live. Our General Grand Principal Conductor of the Work has issued a call for papers on the meaning of the Mysterious Nine, so if you have some thoughts, please submit them to him. There are no "right" answers to this question; rather, we hope to see a variety of answers based on your thoughts, experiences, and study, as it is through an examination of a broad range of interpretations of the Mysterious Nine that we can each deepen our understanding and insight into their meaning. We will be making similar calls in the future, but do not let this dissuade you; we are open to everything you have to share relating to the Cryptic Rite even if no formal call has been issued. Your participation is critical because we learn through dialogue, and that dialogue begins with each of us sharing his thoughts.

  2. Making Masonic Educational materials accessible, through the development and maintenance of an electronic information hub. This will include both existing resources as well as new resources developed in the future. While block one is intended to encourage Masonic scholarship, this block is intended to empower scholars and potential scholars to develop new resources by providing an extensive research library that is accessible to all. It also empowers them by providing an outlet for publication. This block will also include training materials to help the development of constituent body leadership. It is well known that the best programming and materials in the world will fail if the leadership of the organization is not properly prepared for their role in implementation. Since the first method utilized in educating the members of most Masonic bodies is through the performance of ritual, a portion of this block will be devoted to training in ritual performance technique, and available supporting materials for each individual body. The specifics of ritual must, of course, always remain in the control of the authorizing governing body; therefore this section will be devoted to the improvement of the dramatic effect on the candidate, leaving the specific application where it belongs at the Grand body level. The research library resource will include a searchable index with links to the various publications located on other sites, and where it is not available in digital format, a place where one can obtain them either through a library or purchase. Creating this library is, in itself, a very large task, and constant care must be taken to ensure that no dead links are listed and that all material is legally obtained. A secure area may be developed that will permit the inclusion of interpretative material that pertains to specific degree work, but much thought needs to be given to this matter. If a satisfactory solution within the Hub is not found, such materials can be disseminated by sending it in electronic format to verified recipients through more standard means.

    This is another area where we can use your help. If you are aware of a trove of Masonic materials or even an individual essay or book, please let us know. We may already be aware of it, but then we might not. It is far better if you can send us a list of topics we are not covering than it is for us to miss important resources through our limitations. You can e-mail me any information by using the system (click here to bring up the form) and it will be very gratefully received and acknowledged. Just be sure to put Masonic education in the subject line so I will see it.

  3. Supporting the development of Masonic Educational programming at the Grand and constituent body level. While block two makes materials accessible and provides a platform for future publication, this block will assist our Brethren in developing and implementing Masonic Education programming. This will be accomplished by encouraging excellence in Masonic education, providing model educational programs and supporting materials (numerous excellent models already exist and it is the intent to utilize these as well as develop new ones), training Masonic educators, and making available a variety of educational delivery platforms based on modern pedagogical research. So if you have developed a Masonic Education program and are willing to share it please send it to me (click here to use the e-mail system).

    The key to Masonic Education programs is to make them interesting to the audience, informative, relevant and presented in an engaging manner. Too often we try to conduct education by taking something developed by someone else and reading it to the Brethren when the presenter has little knowledge of the subject or has not been given the opportunity to read over it and think about it. The result of this is typically a lukewarm reception followed by little or no discussion. Every one of us can learn how to be more effective Masonic educators; we just need to talk about how to do it, share ideas, and watch some people who have highly developed skills in this area. For this reason, we plan on presenting video and live stream presentations on how to do Masonic education. Because there is no single best way (that depends on the presenter and the audience) we hope to give you a variety of approaches to think about and decide which one is most likely to work for you and your Council or Lodge.

I hope this outline has given you the general idea of what your education committee is up to. We make no claim to having all the answers or even all of the questions and would love to hear from you. The more minds we have working on the issue, the better the end result. Our goal is to create something that aids you on your Masonic journey. It will likely contain resources that only a small number of people will be interested in pursuing, but everyone should find something of value. We can only do this if we do it together. We are a team and you are a vital part of that team; this is your project; we on the committee are just the working tools. Come and join us and be a part of the future of Masonry.

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