This months Short Talk Bulletin was prepared by M. W.
Sidney Kase, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of
Washington, Originally written as a paper on the
"Washington Masonic School Awards Programs." the paper
was broadened to show why it is so important for all
Freemasons not only to support Masonic Education but
Public Education as well.
by Sidney Kase
Why should the Masonic fraternity concern itself
with high school students in the public schools? Is
this one of our legitimate concerns?
There are several reasons, and as is often the case,
these become more apparent in the light of history.
In the Middle Ages, illiteracy was the accepted
norm. Common people were mostly agrarian
laborers, beholden to some form of nobility. They
were serfs, little better than cattle. Practically no
one could read or write, except the clergy and a few
others. Even the nobility were more often than not
illiterate. There were no public schools, only private
tutors. Until the Renaissance and Reformation
periods there were no colleges. The closest thing to
such were the theological seminaries and
monasteries. In the hey-day of the cathedral
builders, there was one other avenue for learning:
Among the Operative Masons, a Master Mason
would take in one or two apprentices, young men
of sound mind and body, little past puberty. He
would house them, board them, clothe them and
for all practical purposes "adopt them" as his sons
for a period of about seven years. During this time,
the apprentice was taught the skills of the building
trade, along with other learning that was considered
necessary for the society of that period. This included grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry,
social and political topics; whatever his mentor was
capable of providing. As the young man progressed
in his work with mortar and stone, his skills became
more advanced until eventually he was allowed to
submit his "Masters piece." If that piece of work
passed his master's rigid examination, the applicant
likewise became a Master Mason or Journeyman,
capable of seeking work independently. In turn, the
process was repeated. This was very primitive education, but it was education. It could be compared
somewhat, nowadays, to a post-graduate student
preparing a thesis to obtain a Master's or Ph.D.
Since printed communication was not possible,
because it had not yet been invented, and because
few could read anyway, stories were told by means
of "morality plays" easily understood by the audience. In the cathedrals, the stained-glass windows
were used to depict Biblical characters and events.
Hence the origin of the phrase. "Two storied"
building or "Five storied" building, depending on
the number of such windows (or stories) they portrayed. Today, of course, we use the term to describe
the height of a building.
As time went on, scholars, philosophers,
clergymen and even nobility sought to associate
themselves with these Operative Masons' Lodges,
what we might classify as "Associate Members."
This was a great compliment to the Lodges who
were generally highly regarded for practicing a high
level of morality, intellectuality and integrity. Men
in the upper levels of society sought to associate
themselves with this highly esteemed and privileged
group. They became elitist and much sought after.
It was, for those times, an anachronism to see royalty, nobility, men of high military or social rank,
scholars and philosophers mixing on an equal level,
socially, with these craftsmen of the building
guilds--the Freemasons. Outside the Lodge, it
was, "Your Excellency, Sir", but within the Lodge
it was "Brother." Certainly, this must have constituted the "Culture Shock" of that period. As the
need for the services of Operative Masons dwindled,
their numbers became proportionately less in these
Freemasons' Lodges, until the "Speculative"
Masons outnumbered the Operative Masons, as has
been the case ever since. The Speculative Masons,
however, retained the working tools of the
Operatives for use as symbols in their evolving
rituals. Whatever this peculiar fraternity of
Freemasons was, it quickly spread over the entire
civilized world. Today there are about five million
Masons scattered over the globe in every "free"
country. You are not apt to find any in those
governed by dictatorships, or where forbidden by
religious or political intolerance.
Concurrent with this creeping spread thoughout
the world, the industrial revolution was being introduced in England and other European countries.
One of the products thereof was the Gutenberg
Bible, the first book printed with moveable type,
about 1455 A.D. The availability of the Bible to
common people, not just the clergy, fostered literacy
and with it an increased demand for education.
With the dawning of the Age of Enlightenment,
both Protestant and Roman Catholic groups began
to offer formal education to more people. Thus
parochial schools were the fore-runners of all other
types of schools. Private schools (non-parochial)
then appeared. Public schools came much later.
Boston Latin School, one of the oldest free public
schools in the United States, opened in 1635 as a
school for boys. The Massachusetts Legislative
Body passed a law in 1647 which required each
township of fifty families to engage a teacher to
instruct children in reading and writing. Each
township of one hundred families was required to
have a grammar school. This may be regarded as
the inception of the American public school system,
and it established three basic principles:
(I) The obligation of the community to establish
(2) Local school administration
(3) The separation of the secondary from the elementary school.
Even in the early years of the Twentieth Century,
children were required to attend school only up to
the eighth grade.
Secondary education began in New England with
the establishment of the Boston Latin School noted
above. Graduates of this and similar grammar
schools were qualified for admission to Harvard
College, which was founded in 1636. There was
nothing in between at that time. The founding of
Harvard was followed by Yale in 1701, partly
because it was believed that Harvard was too liberal
in theology. Brown College opened in 1764, as a
Baptist institution whose charter rejected the
religious tests for admission and provided that
faculty and students "shall forever enjoy full, free,
absolute and uninterrupted Liberty of conscience."
Dartmouth College was founded in 1769 under the
aegis of the Congregationalists for the training of
Ministers and Indians, (an odd combination)?
At this juncture, let's introduce the role of the
Masonic fraternity, as it pertains to public education. Consider, if you will, that Freemasonry and
the schools are basically in the same "business",
the "people business". We tell our initiates that our
Masonic teachings are designed to make them wiser,
better and happier. We are a philosophical fra-
ternity, but we're also an educational institution.
We're concerned about people; we deal with people; we develop people; we educate people.
Although we are no longer engaged in the building
of cathedrals, we are concerned with developing
character, leadership, better individuals, better family men, better citizens.
Our Masonic forefathers supported the idea of
free universal education for the citizenry, which was
true to their belief that a builder is an enlightened
man. We're generally the first to take practical steps
in support of public education in any newly developing area. As our Masonic Brethren joined in exploring the burgeoning "New World", led by Lewis and
Clark, other Masons were to be found among the
pioneers who moved into and developed these areas.
One of their first endeavors in a new community
was to build a Masonic Lodge. Generally, this was
a two-story structure with the ground floor to serve
as a school room, the upstairs as the Lodge room.
The first Masonic jurisdiction to introduce the
idea of a Masonic school or college was Ohio, and
this action was quickly followed by a number of
other Masonic jurisdictions. In 1924, Frederick Eby,
a professor at the University of Texas, wrote: "The
services of the Masonic Lodges in conducting
schools and furnishing buildings must be regarded
as one of the most important transitional steps
toward free public education. A certain parallelism
can be noted between the educational program of
the Grand Lodge and the later organization of
public education in the state". (Frederick Eby, 'THE
DEVELOPMENT OF EDUCATION IN TEXAS',
129, quoted in James Carter, Education and
Masonry in Texas to 1846.)
Originally, the intent was to provide education
for orphans or indigent children of Masons at a
minimum expense. This trend was in vogue until
after the passage of the Morrill Land Bill of 1863,
which assured the supremacy of State "Land
Grant" institutions of higher education. Thereafter,
Masonic Colleges became obsolete, as the need for
Note: "Henry Wilson Coil, in his Masonic Encyclopedia, reminds Freemasons that public schools
have become political institutions and that the
fraternity is not well suited to carry out political activities or to direct the course of government. He
adds that there are several reasons why Masonic
educational ventures proved to be impracticable;
Masonic membership in the western and
southwestern states at that time was not large
enough to supply a student body, and money was
in short supply. Churches too have found the load
of carrying on schools to be so great that other
sources of revenue and control had to be found."
We need not go into the long list of Masonic
educators, scientists and others connected with the
educational system. That is a whole story in itself.
By now, it should be apparent to the reader that
Masons were intimately interested and active in
We Masons believe that we in the United States
have the finest group of young people anywhere in
the world. We deplore those who deprecate all our
youth on account of those few about whom we read
in the media. Perhaps they are notorious because
of their individual, family or personality situations.
Certainly every one is presented with the opportunity for personal achievement. Naturally, this requires
commitment, effort, and work. Not all are willing
to pay the price. That is a side issue to which
Masons are not indifferent; witness our Masonic
National Drug and Alcohol Abuse Program.
Motivation plays a part in every kind of activity.
What is the motivation for Masons to foster and
promote the numerous school awards programs and
scholarships that we have? It is this: Freemasonry
wishes to build better people and better tomorrows.
Freemasonry is firmly committed to building a
better community and a better world. For these
reasons, we feel the nurturing of the leaders of
tomorrow's society is vitally necessary! Freemasons,
collectively, must support the public school system.
We recognize the unique opportunity that scholarship and awards programs offer in recognizing and
supporting tomorrows leadership. That, in a "nutshell", is what school awards and scholarship programs are all about.
We are depending on our young people for the
future, but for the present, we must let them know
that they can depend on us!