Masonic Education Today: It is Available If…
Learning about Freemasonry was a childhood obsession. My maternal grandfather, who was a Mason, died three months before I was born. He left two lapel pins—small gold square and compasses. My grandmother, an active Eastern Star, gave each pin to her two daughters with the admonition that the pin should go to the first male that they either married or who was their child and who became a Mason. As the oldest grandson, I grew up seeing that lapel pin on my mother’s dresser. I wanted to know what that pin meant, what it was all about. My mother would only say that one day it would be explained. My father never joined Masonry, although he supported it through my membership in DeMolay, and for my twenty-first birthday, gave me the lodge joining fees. Upon my Raising three months later, the lapel pin was placed on my suit and became my most precious Masonic possession—still to this day.
What was that pin all about? A voracious seeker of Masonic knowledge who is an associate, describes his journey into learning about Freemasonry as entering a room with several doors; as he runs to open one door, he enters another room with more doors, running to open a door he enters yet another room with more doors—a never ending adventure. That is a way of describing and explaining Masonic Education—it never ends. One’s appetite is never satisfied and seeking knowledge leads to more and more opportunities to find more and more—it really never ends. But how do Masons become educated about Masonry? First, a Mason must want to be educated, to learn, and to find answers.
Today, Freemasonry is finding membership challenges, particularly in the United States, where fifty years ago membership numbered four million and today is half that number. Shrinking or right-sizing, whatever the term, “numbers” are less in all Masonic organization, save one—research organizations! Seekers of knowledge in those types of organizations are increasing, attracting a new group of younger, hungry Freemasons. For them, attending Lodge and hearing the minutes from the last meeting, reading and approving bills, announcing those sick and ill, perhaps listening to an examination of a candidate and even more rarely conferring a degree on a candidate is not enough for the new generation of Freemasons. They want Masonry! They want Masonic education. And how do you give them that Masonry?
Books, hundreds, yea thousands, of books on Masonry are available. Many public libraries offer Masonic books, and great libraries abound within Freemasonry with priceless tomes on philosophy, history, customs, and degrees, all for seeking hungry minds—more and more, always more to read. And of course, Internet access is the greatest new tool available—type in “Freemasonry” and it is like entering a restaurant with the never ending menu or the room with a thousand doors—where to go next? So many sources of information are available, why are there still so many uninformed, ignorant Freemasons who think they know, understand and comprehend Masonry? It is the old story—you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make the horse drink!
So much concerning Masonic Education comes down to leadership, and today, Masonry has a huge vacuum of true leadership. A leader challenges other members and then offers support and materials to help answer those challenges. If a Master or Venerable Master fails to appoint a dedicated Education Director and then fails to require an educational program or information segment at every gathering, that leader is not properly leading his members. But, while it must be offered, it is up to the member to accept, take, and learn.
Some of the best leaders do not necessarily sit in the East either—think of the Carl Claudy short stories about “The Old Tyler” educating the young member as they sat together outside the old lodge. This tells volumes on how real Masonic education can and should take place—by discussing Masonry with a more informed brother, learning across the table during a Festive Board from a well educated Mason about Masonry, driving to lodge together and talking about the meaning of a degree, holding Masonic discussion groups on Saturday mornings over coffee and doughnuts. These are Masonic Education moments and opportunities.
Today Masonry offers great educational and teaching material—much developed in recent years by those recognizing the need to offer more Masonry to Freemasons. Research Lodges are expanding and more are organizing, Traditional Observance (TO) Lodges are being constituted or older, dying Lodges are being converted to TO Lodges. Educational information is being rediscovered and reprinted, digitized, and made available to all seekers of knowledge. It is not really new however—there have been Masonic organizations that for years have been preaching education, offering educational material, and publishing educational materials.
The Scottish Rite, often called the “University of Freemasonry,” is the pro-active arm of Freemasonry and has been publishing an informational, educational magazine for well over a century. Originally titled The New Age, and more recently renamed The Scottish Rite Journal, this publication attempts to inform, update, and educate Freemasons through articles of interest and current events. The format has changed over the years, but it continues to offer world-wide Scottish Rite information, noted authors have contributed articles, respected Freemasons have been interviewed, and general information that whets the mind continues to be distributed.
Additionally, the Scottish Rite has been publishing booklets, pamphlets, and brochures on Masonic Education for many years, and many are still available. With the formation of the Scottish Rite Research Society (SRRS), a new set of educational materials were offered to members—the beautifully hard-bound volume, Heredom, which appeared in 1992 and has become the premier annual American publication for original Masonic research. Partnered with Heredom is the SRRS’s Plumbline, the research quarterly that highlights shorter educational topics. Additionally, SRRS offers an annual Bonus publication to all members that is a singularly outstanding reprinted research treasure.
Certainly other well-respected research organizations offer Masonic educational materials and information—first is Ars Quatuor Coronatorum from Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in London, the premier Masonic research organization, then there is the Philalethes Society’s The Philalethes, New York’s Transactions of the American Lodge of Research, the Transactions of the Texas Lodge of Research, the Masonic Book Club’s reprinting of wonderful, valuable old texts, and so many other fine sources including the new glossy Journal of the Masonic Society—all great sources of Masonic educational information and material. And that’s not even mentioning the Master Craftsman Program, which is proving to be very popular and offers incredible education concerning the lessons of Scottish Rite Freemasonry—and it is open to all.
So it bears repeating: Today, we live in a time like no other time with so much material available for Masonic education. But first, we must want Masonry. For you who do: Seek and you will find; knock and the many doors to Masonic Education will be opened to you.
Written by William J. Mollere, 33°, SGIG in Louisiana and President, Scottish Rite Research Society