Whither Are We Traveling - Part Nine

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


As we continue to explore Dwight L. Smith's seminal work, "Whither are We Traveling?", we begin to explore his answers to the ten questions he posed for self-examination of the state of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in 1963.  The questions he asked are as important and relevant now as they were then. This week we look at: 
Question 8: What has become of that “course of moral instruction, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” that Freemasonry is supposed to be?

MWB Smith begins this section by talking about how there was a young Master, who was determined to take the admonition of giving "good and wholesome instruction" seriously.  He ordered a copy of Carl H. Claudy's The Master's Book which became his personal "Volume of Sacred Law".  He had underlined three lines in the book and lived by these.  He claims that following the advice of these three lines, brought Masons who hadn't been in Lodge for years back regularly for Light and more Light and further Light. Nothing in 25 years has changed his conviction that the formula that Claudy laid out would not fill the sidelines with regularity.  That young Master was Dwight L. Smith, and the three lines are:

"One thing and only one thing a Masonic Lodge can give its members which they can get nowhere else in the world. That one thing is Masonry… The Master whose instruction program is strictly Masonic has to send to the basement for extra chairs for most of his meetings."

He goes on to state that he knew little to nothing about adult education.  The only equipment he possessed was a little imagination and a resolute purpose to avoid standard schoolroom methods. He ruled out long-winded lectures; stunts or cheap entertainment in favor of teaching by means of symbols, parables, allegories, and legends.  He claims that the brethren came because they wanted to, not because they were a captive audience, and most importantly that he had to send out for extra chairs like Claudy had claimed he would. 

MWB Smith then asks: "Come to think about it, has not the Master of every Lodge an obligation to give the Craft good and wholesome instruction?"

He then answers by saying that he is proceeding under the assumption that every candidate for the degrees sincerely desires the Light Freemasonry has to offer him and expects to receive it.  But then what happens is that we memorize and recite, and if memorization and reciting does not appeal to him, that we have nothing further to offer.  Then he states that we wash our hands of him, and he hears about the other organizations that elaborate on the three degrees, and he turns to them for the further light that his Lodge should have provided or as he puts it: "He asks for bread; we give him a stone." 

Dwight then goes on to state that we are weak in Form and in Substance.  He also respectfully submits that we fall short at the Grand Lodge level where the designs are placed on the trestleboard, and at the Lodge level where the designs are executed.  He then states the ramifications of the subject are too great to discuss at length, and that he can only plant the seed.   

He then says:
"Let’s face it, then:
1. The Word. The very term Masonic Education is a liability – a frightening word
suggestive of impractical theories and dull abstractions. What a blessing it would
be if some creative soul could coin another: Masonic Light, or Advancement, or
Instruction would be an improvement.

2. Our Designs. There are too many systems too hastily conceived, too much
running wildly hither and yon in search of bright ideas. We pursue Masonic
educational systems in the same manner that teenagers pursue fads. Let a bright
idea be advanced in one Jurisdiction and a score of Grand Masters will cry, “Lo, it
is here!” Like sheep, they rush to follow the bellwether. And why? If Freemasonry is universal, do we need “57 Varieties” of instruction programs? After all, Master
Masons respond in much the same manner the nation over.

3. Our Architects. They are too amateurish. An effective program for further Light
can not be designed by whoever happens to be officers of a Grand Lodge in a given
year. It is a job for men with special talents. Always there should be one or two men
with down-to-earth experience in adult education; a public relations man to
interpret human likes and dislikes; a newspaperman to tell the story in everyday
English. And all should be thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of
Freemasonry.

4. Our Working Tools. One of the marks of an amateur writer or speaker is that he
attempts to tell everything he knows each time he writes or speaks. With rare
exceptions, the printed materials for Masonic education programs are like that. They insist on telling everything. Forbidding in length and appalling in scope, they are too ponderous, too dull, too windy. Ever hear of the Tractarians? We could well
emulate their example." 

I agree that the term Masonic Education is frightening to many. I think Masonic Education is frightening because it's misunderstood.  I have a personal belief that anytime Masonic Education is mentioned, many Freemasons immediately have their eyes glaze over because they have no idea what it is or they immediately have visions of skulls, chambers of reflection, and esotericism dance in their heads. 

However, I don't think renaming it to be called Masonic Light, Masonic Advancement, Masonic Instruction improves matters.  I believe it muddies the waters.  In fact, when I think of Masonic Instruction, I think about the same memorization and reciting that MWB Smith rallied against above.  Masonic Instruction teaches you how to be a Mason within the Lodge room.  This consists of the skills of reciting rituals and the proper floorwork that are needed to properly operate and do all the things that are done within the Lodge room.  Masonic Education teaches you how to be a Mason outside of the Lodge room.  Masonic Education is what happens in the degrees during the explanatory lectures.   It is the why behind the how.   

While Masonic Instruction teaches you how to walk and talk in the lodge; Masonic Education teaches you not only why you walk and talk that way; but also how the lessons of Freemasonry can be applied in the Profane world.  This is often where some lines blur.  It is my personal belief that Masonic Education does not need to be strictly Masonic to teach our members how to be a better man outside of the Lodge room. Skills, like teaching a younger member how to change a tire on a car, or teaching older members how to identify potential fraudulent calls, texts and/or emails are not Masonic,  yet they teach the membership valuable skills that improve their individual knowledge and skills that can be passed on to their loved ones, friends, and family. By improving our member's life skills, we are practicing Brotherly Love in a way that isn't directly Masonic.         

As for MWB Smith's commentary about our designs, our architects, and our working tools; I believe they are interconnected, at least in my personal experience.  Let me explain. 

I currently serve the Grand Lodge of Illinois as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area.  This entitles me to sit on the Grand Lodge Committee for Masonic Education.  I am one of the Architects, along with a Committee chairman and the other Area Education Officers and members of the committee.  This being said, the Committee Chairman reports to the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge officers, whereas the Area Educational Officers report to each Area Deputy Grand Master.  The Area Education Officers used to report to the State Education Officer, who headed the committee and reported to the Grand Master.  In my short time as Area Education Officer, I have had two State Education Officers.  Also every two years, there is a New Grandmaster and each has their own ideas of what Education should be or shouldn't be.  What I am stating is that it's difficult to be an Architect to design an Educational Program when you have little to no autonomy to do so and/or the direction of what the Educational Program keeps changing.

In an ideal world, what would happen is that instead of the Committee Chairman being told what subjects the Education Committee should be working on, the Committee should be given the authority to design a program to present to the Grand Master.  The Grand Master then would have the authority to approve the program or send it back to the committee with his suggestions.  Once the program was approved, the Grand Master would back it with his authority as much as he backs any other program that the Grand Lodge puts forward.  In my experience, the Committee's tasks are prioritized by Grand Master, which because he is Grand Master is within his right, but as MWB Smith states: An effective program for further Light can not be designed by whoever happens to be officers of a Grand Lodge in a given year.

To further complicate matters, we have other Grand Lodge committees and officers sending out communication to the Masonic Leadership in our state that has lists of Topics that the ADGMs are having their Education Officers Work on.  In turn, the ADGMs believe that because the email came from a Grand Lodge official, it is exactly what the Educational Committee is doing and expectations are set on what I as an Area Education Officer should be focused on. While the message of the communication was in the right place, before any communication is sent out, they should have consulted our  Education Committee chairman to align their goals.  In not doing so, the person I report to directly, the Area Deputy Grand Master, has a belief that I am doing the five things in the email that the Committee Chairman sent out.  

Even though many of the things that he sent while not incorrect are contradictory to the list of items that the Grand Master wants us to focus on. When other Grand Lodge officials and officers are dictating their own agendas by sending out their own communications about Masonic education, we are forced to then address those items as well.  When MWB Smith talks about our designs, architects, and our working tools, I couldn't agree more.  There is obviously a disconnect between what we as the education committee want to do and what others want us to do.  As I have shown, in my own personal experience, there are too many architects that are putting too many designs on the trestle board.

Don't get me wrong, I am very proud of what our Committee has done so far.  We have been publishing a monthly electronic magazine, called The Lyceum; which provides ready-to-use short educational pieces which have questions for discussion in the Lodge to every Master Mason in Illinois.  However, I worry that it's only a matter of time before this working tool is put aside because our ever-changing priorities change again.  

Smith continues:
"Again, let’s face it:
1. Our Unfinished Labors. By and large, instruction is not a part of the program in
the average Lodge. Such efforts as may be made are sporadic, conceived as an
afterthought, treated as a stepchild. We have not caught fire with the possibilities,
for we are so obsessed with question-and-answer memory work that we think all
instruction begins and ends in a catechism. Nothing could be further from the
truth.

2. Many Are Exceedingly Anxious. We know not the meaning of patience. When
we do attempt to provide good and wholesome instruction, we try to do too much
too rapidly. A first-grader is not handed a set of books which will tell him all he
needs to know for a high school diploma. Rarely is a young Mason a Ninety-Day
Wonder, yet when we instruct at all, we give him huge doses, without regard to his
needs, likes or dislikes, and we expect them to do the work of a Vitamin B-12 shot.
It isn’t that simple.

3. Rubbish In The Temple. Regrettably, too many of our programs are tied to stunts
and cheap entertainment used as bait. Masonic teaching must be Masonic or it is of
no avail. We defeat the purpose when we insult the intelligence of the man who
seeks."

In my personal experince, I agree that Masonic Education is not prioritized.  I, along with other authors on this site, have written numerous articles on the subject.  The sad fact is that many men do not want Masonic Education.  Many brethren are content to have their lodge be a social club, and fail to understand the lessons of our degrees that challenge us to become better men.  The only way to give these brethren education would be to force it upon them by having the Grand Master issue an edict, which won't accomplish anything other than having them go through the motions of education which will only leave their members worst off than had they not attempted it.  

As for MWB Smith believing that many of our education officers are anxious; I am in disagreement.  I don't know that they are anxious.  I think that they are not properly instructed in how to be educators.  In my own personal experience, this is something that I have to do a better job of as an Area Education Officer.  However, many of the brethren that are being appointed to be District Education Officers do not have any desire to be educators, nor do they want to be.  They are essentially appointed to be the right hand man of the District Deputy Grand Masters.  So if the DDGM is open to having education in their district, then as the Area Education Officer, I have an opportunity.  However, that is usually the exception, not the rule. 

I disagree with MWB Smith when he states that Masonic teaching must be Masonic.  As I expressed above, it is my belief that any skill that is taught which helps our members to be better men outside of the lodge room even if that skill might not directly be Masonic is still valuable. As illustrated in my example above, it is my belief that many of our members can benefit from learning skills that might not be purely Masonic but that help them as individuals.  Is teaching a member how to tie a bowtie or how to buy a suit Masonic?  No, however it helps expand their knowledge which then expands their wardrobe choices when one goes to a lodge event or in real life.  In fact, I think that teaching these life skills can be tied into different Masonic lessons given enough effort.

MWB Smith then asks:
"Then where do we start?

1. Most important of all, Masonic Light must come from the East. Instruction
provided by a teacher who knows less than his pupil is neither good nor
wholesome. “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch.”
It has long been my contention that the place to insist upon proficiency is in the
man who wears the hat and holds the gavel. If that means minimum standards,
training courses, written and oral examinations, then let’s have them. I would have
made a much better Master if I had had that kind of preparation.

2. Our approach must be an intelligent one. The program must have diversity, the
doses must be small, and it must avoid dullness as a plague. Men of high
intellectual attainments should have study clubs; those of limited academic training
should have “capsules,” and for those in the wide range in between, the possibilities
are unlimited.

3. Instruction must be lifted to a place of honor and respectability in Lodge
affairs. Above all, it should be geared to the Hour of Refreshment – not to the
lecture room nor the graduate seminar. Let self-improvement become a privilege
to be enjoyed, and not a chore to be endured.

4. We need to discard about nine-tenths of our curriculum materials. Masonic
authors whose works are authoritative and have human interest appeal could be
numbered almost on the fingers of one hand. With profound apologies to local
writers and compilers in every State, I maintain we could do better to stick to the
classics.

5. Any program of further Light must be pursued continuously and with
infinite patience. The parable of the Sower always should be the theme. Even
though great quantities of seed will be wasted, some will take root and bear fruit –
and that some is worth all the effort.

6. And then, humbly begging pardon of the Sacred Cows, if Plans and Programs
and Systems there must be, there is only one which has stood the test of time. It
is that which is carried on within the framework of the Lodge, inside its four walls,
by its authority, under its control and responsible to it. Nothing should be left to
whim or fancy of individuals who may be ill prepared, inaccurate or irresponsible.
Textbooks, manuals, short courses, schools, forums – these should not operate as
substitutes for the work of a Lodge. We can only hope that such tools may assist
and inspire. But the stones must be hewn and squared in the quarries where they are
raised.

Visionary? Impossible of attainment? Of course it is. The Temple within the hearts of men is never finished. No one has suggested that the building of human character is a quick and easy job.

Who among us has faith to “lay his course by a star which he has never seen, to dig by the divining rod for springs he may never reach?”"

While I agree that the Worshipful Master of each Lodge needs to prioritize Masonic Education, I disagree that they should be solely the only person in the Lodge responsible for dispensing light.  In Illinois, the Lodge Education Officer should be solely responsible for this.  However, if the Worshipful Master has not appointed one or a committee to handle it, then he is that by default.  I agree that the approach should be intelligent, however I don't believe that having three seperate educational structures in the form of "Study Clubs" for more intelligent members, "Capsules" for those of limited academic training, and then another program for those in between does anything but cause disharmony by not allowing education to happen on the level.  Those that want to learn more will seek out that knowledge.  The best education is that which presents a subject and then stimulates discussion of that subject among all the brethren.  By allowing every member of the lodge involved, not only do we learn important things about each other, but we also create that cement of brotherly love and affection.  

I agree that Masonic Education should be given a place of honor in the lodge, and therefore it should be moved to the beginning of the stated meeting. I don't believe that having it during the hour of refreshment is going to do this unless it is a part of the festive board we discussed in our previous article. The only way to guarantee the participation of everyone is to prioritize it as being the first item of business after opening the lodge stated meeting.  As for curriculum materials, I believe that we should not limit the imagination or the resources for our Education officers.  I don't believe that in 1963, MWB Smith could have envisioned anything like the internet.  Whereas in some jurisdictions, there are standardized programs of education, in those that don't have that luxury, we need to be able to draw upon every possible resource to allow our Educators to dispense Masonic light. 

Lastly, I do agree that Masonic education must show patience and must be continuous.  I have shared above how having changing priorities can damage the process of establishing an educational program. I do agree that education should not be a substitute for the other work of the Lodge.  It should be complementary to that work.  I also agree that: "The Temple within the hearts of men is never finished. No one has suggested that the building of human character is a quick and easy job."
This is why education is important.  How can we make better men of our members without some form of Masonic Education?  

In my next article, I will explore the next question MWB Smith poses, which is: Question 9: Hasn’t the so-called Century of the Common Man contributed to making our Fraternity a little too common?

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.    

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