VISUAL AIDS IN MASONIC EDUCATION

 

This Short Talk Bulletin has been adapted from a paper presented at

the Northeast Conference on Masonic Education and Libraries in 1963

by the late Most Worshipful Brother Conrad Hahn, PGM, Connecticut and

former Executive Secretary of The Masonic Service Association.

 

In considering this subject, we must not be misled into thinking that

we have suddenly gone modern. Visual aids in education are not only

one of the oldest specialties in modern pedagogical practices; they

are also among the oldest teaching devices used by man. Even

Pythagoras used visual aids in demonstrating the 47th Problem; he

probably traced the figure on the sand so that his students could

visualize it. Freemasonry, likewise, has been using visual aids ever

since it became an instructive art,

whether operative or speculative.

 

During the eighteenth century the lodge of each degree was traced

upon the floor of the room in which the brethren met. With such

designs it was possible to illustrate many of the symbolic actions of

the ritual by actually walking the candidate through the various

areas of the Craftmen's lodge.

 

By the time the nineteenth century had arrived, these charcoal,

chalk, and clay designs on the floor (rather messy to remove) had

given way to tracing boards or wall charts, on which the Master or

instructor pointed to the various symbols or objects which were

delineated thereon for the visual instruction of the candidate. In

America the most famous of these was Jeremy Cross', The True Masonic

Chart and Hieroglyphical Monitor. Such charts enjoyed a vogue in the

1800's which is hard to describe to modern lodge members, because

they are not accustomed to complete exemplifications of the symbolic

degrees, including all sections of the lectures.

 

From the very beginning of symbolic initiations in fraternal

organizations, ritualistic floor work was conceived and intended to

be a visual as well as an auditory or dramatic aid to the instruction

of candidates. What the candidate sees is one of the most important

devices for impressing on his mind the spirit and tenets of the

institution. This is why neat and proper dress, smooth and

intelligible

rendition of speeches, clean aprons, well maintained costumes,

precise and well rehearsed movements--all are important visual aids

to impress upon the initiate the dignity, decorum, philosophy and

traditions of Freemasonry. Any discussion of visual aids for Masonic

education, therefore, should begin with an insistance on thorough,

competent, ritualistic floor work. Good ritual exemplification is a

"must" in Masonic instruction, for seeing is believing.

 

Most of us, however, in talking about visual aids in education, have

in mind such modern mechanical devices as films, motion picture

projectors, film strips, tachistoscopes, graphs, speed reading

machines, etc. Grand Lodge committees on Masonic culture or education

would be well advised to go slowly in considering plans for promoting

the use of many such devices in the constituent lodges as a

result of the advice of well-meaning brethren who are "experts" in

the field of visual education. There are definite limiations on the

use of modern visual aids in Masonic lodges.

 

The chief function of a Grand Lodge Committee on Masonic Culture or

Education, so far as visual aids are concerned, should be the

collecting and collating of information about visual aids. What

Masonic or other suitable films, slides, film strips, projectors,

stereopticans, charts, etc. are there available within the

Jurisdiction. Where? Which are available on loan, or for purchase, or

rental?

What are the best one.s for lodge halls or larger auditoriums? All

these questions can be answered by experts in the field of visual

education, or by representatives of corporations which manufacture

visual aids equipment, and which have spent much time and money in

researching this area.

 

For many years Masonic lodges have limited their use of visual aids

to slides projected through a stereoptican, to illustrate the symbols

explained in the lectures of the degrees. As a matter of fact, such

slides (or film strips) are practically the only visual aids

equipment advertised in the catalogs of Masonic Supply companies. Of

course, some Grand Jurisdictions do not permit their use.

 

I trust I shall not be completely misunderstood when I say,

"Brethrcn, it's time for a change!" The available slides and film

strips are as dated as antimacassars and Morris Chairs; they are

artistically crude and uninspiring. Some are horrible examples of

over-crowded design or composition. Some are

illogical in the point of view presented throughout a series, jumping

from the ancient to the Victorian, and back to a mediaeval

conception. They don't impress well-educated initiates; they bore

them or cause them to laugh.

 

I have never forgotten my first impressions of the four cardinal

virtues explained in the E.A. degree. There were flashed on the

screen four stiff, amply bosomed goddesses of doubtful Greek origin,

so vacant in their expressions, and so voluminously draped in a mid-

Victorian fashion, that when Prudence appeared, I instinctively

shuddered and said to myself, "Her name may be Prudence, but the

only thing her father and mother taught her was prudery . "

 

I'm not asking for an Epstein nude or a spidery Modern Calder mobile;

but certainly we have enough gifted Brothers in the arts of design

and painting, who could produce symbolic suggestions of the four

cardinal virtues more appropriate to the age of Space, not to have to

put up with that dull and listless

stuff any longer.

 

In fact, with the enthusiasm for photography prevalent today, and

with the excellent equipment being used by shutter-bugs in every

community, lodges could be encouraged to initiate some "do it

yourself" projects for visual aids of this kind. Glass slides can

still be made fairly cheaply on the handicraft basis. Some Brothers

with skills in sketching and design could be put to work to make such

illuminated aids for ritualistic instruction in the lectures of the

three degrees. The more we can give new members some challenging and

interesting projects to complete, the more we shall capture and hold

their interest in Masonry .

 

The commonest area of interest in visual aids, especially in Masonic

lodges today, is motion pictures, not primarily for instructional

purposes, but for purposes of entertainment and inspiration. Here

again, Grand Lodge Committees should consider their function to be

simply that of a clearing-house or information center. Some value

judgments will have to be made concerning the kinds of films to list,

because willy-nilly, such catalogs of films will become "official,"

in the sense that "the Grand Lodge approves these films for lodge

use." Film library experts should be consulted and used in this kind

of work.

 

The most logical place to start is with the Film Library at the state

university. Practically all of them maintain prints of motion

pictures for educational and inspirational use which are available to

schools, civic agencies, clubs, and industrial training programs. The

rental fees are usually quite modest. Every Grand Lodge Committee on

Masonic Information could work up such a list of recommended films

for lodge programs, by consulting the film librarians at their state

universities.

 

Businesses and industrial corporations sometimes make available an

outstanding play or special program which they sponsored as a

television program. These films, if available, are usually listed in

the film catalogs or agencies like the ones mentioned above.

 

In addition, corporations arc also producing films for their own

public relations programs; and while many of these are fundamentally

"sales talks" to push their own products, some of thcm rise above

that level and become valuable programs for general education .

 

Really, the greatest problem in developing a catalog of films for

lodge use is NOT where to turn or what to look for; it's the fact

that you can never stop. Such lists will have to be revised and added

to year after year.

 

Let me also remind you that your Masonic Service Association has

produced some films for lodge use,--primarily to furnish good

speakers via the movie camera for lodges which cannot bring

outstanding speakers into their lodges. M.S.A. maintains a library of

Masonic films which are available for a small rental service fee.

 

While I do not believe that Committees on Masonic Education should

encourage the use of motion pictures as the principal programming

device for their constituent lodges, especially for "educational" or

"inspirational nights," I am sure that we all agree that these visual

aids have a definite place in the over-all improvement of lodge

activities, especially in helping Masters bring light to the Craft.

But Masters need help. They need information. and that is why I

suggest that such committees limit their function to provide film

catalogs and lists to benefit the lodges of their Jurisdiction .

 

There is indeed a God's plenty in this particular area of visual

aids. Consult the experts. It some of them are Brothers, put them to

work. They'll like their Masonry better if they can serve it

usefully.

 

Motion pictures are here to stay. They can serve the great purposes

for which we are laboring here. So let there be light-about visual

aids as well as about mentor systems and lodges of instruction.

 

Editors Note: Films available from The Masonic Service Association

are listed and summarized in thc Masonic Digests and Films catalog

which will be furnished upon request.