"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Monday, July 01, 2019

How the 1960s Really Killed American Freemasonry's Future


When critics of Freemasonry opine that fraternities like ours aren't suited to Modern Man™ or Modern Society™, they might very well be right. But the problem is that those critics don't seem to really know just WHY they are right.

When I was writing Heritage Endures two years ago, I was working on a chapter addressing the thorny issue of membership numbers, and how they have affected American Freemasonry since about 1960. I was writing specifically about Indiana, but I looked out at the larger American landscape to see what grand lodges had done since the 1950s in reaction to falling numbers of men becoming Masons. The short answer is that they made BIG changes, and most were not for the better. 

In my own way, I was engaging in the very sort of monster hunting that I have accused others of in an effort to see just what the original tipping point really was that sent us into a shrinking membership. I never found it before my deadline, but I didn't really care at the time, because I was actually just wanting to chronicle what changes had resulted: things like reduced proficiency standards, one-day classes, printed rituals, open recruitment, advertising, lowering of petitioning ages to 18, and lots more were all done to address shrinking numbers of petitioners and ongoing participation. If you want the stories about those changes, you need to read the book. But those were all effects, not the cause.

Well, I think I've stumbled into it. At least, I think it was a MAJOR cause, if not THE cause. and you might think I'm crazy or just engaging in rank nostalgia for some misty, forgotten era that never existed. And I'm not. 

I'm dead serious.*

It was the death of the McGuffey Readers in America's schools.


In 1837, an American son of Scottish immigrants named William Holmes McGuffey was teaching in Ohio, and he was asked by a Cincinnati printer to devise a series of books to teach children how to read. McGuffey had worked as a traveling teacher since the age of 14, and eventually became a lecturer on theology at Ohio's Miami University. Between 1836-37, he created four volumes of graded readers (eventually expanded to six, with the help of his brother Alexander). The first volume of McGuffey's Eclectic First Reader for Young Children began with the simplest of phrases and the basics of phonics, just as most of us have learned to read today: A cat and a rat. The lad has a hat. See the frog on the log. And so on. Each succeeding chapter and subsequent volumes became more complex as the reading level rose. The books also taught children how to write, showing examples of handwritten sentences, and requiring kids to practice with chalk on slate to emulate them.

The McGuffey Readers became enormously popular almost instantly. They were snatched up by American teachers all over the growing nation, and this coincided with the explosion of demands in the 1820s and 30s for public education in every new state. McGuffey's method was vastly superior to the way the Founding Fathers had learned to read and write, by rote memorization and endlessly writing proverbs in a copybook.

As a direct result of McGuffey's books and the teaching method that came about, the Americans who fought in the Civil War in the 1860s as 20-year olds were the first literate, mass-educated generation in the modern world. That's why Civil War-era letters and diaries from soldiers on both sides of the conflict are so vivid and numerous today, compared to previous eras.

Between the first editions in 1836-37, all the way through 1960, more than 130 million McGuffey Readers were sold, and it has been conservatively estimated that each copy was read by at least ten students. That's how pervasive they were. And that's why when the McGuffey Readers were yanked out of schools in the early 1960s, it has had what is clearly a direct and arguably corrosive effect on society at large, and for the purposes of this story, on Freemasonry itself. Here's why.

The more advanced Readers contained increasingly sophisticated stories and excerpts of what were (and still are) considered the Classics: the Bible, Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson, John Milton, Byron, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, founding fathers like Franklin and Jefferson. As children learned to read and the volumes advanced, they were introduced to the great works of literature and taught not to fear them. McGuffey himself was a Scots Presbyterian, a Calvinist at heart, a Biblical scholar, and he taught theology. Consequently, as they progressed, the books instilled his messages of what he saw as universal beliefs, habits and manners in every single student who learned to read using his Reader. The Biblical passages were used to teach moral lessons, not religious or denominational ones. The non-Biblical readings also taught allegories, explained historical events, or told heroic tales of acclaimed heroes of the past. There were poems, tales of excitement and daring, cautionary fables, and countless others that became the shared fabric of what "everybody knew" in America. 


Additionally, McGuffey's method stressed the importance of speaking properly. Generations of children were encouraged to memorize passages from the books to be recited aloud. This was their first experiences in speaking in public, along with the mental discipline of memorization. McGuffey's instructions in the books urged students to engage in discussions to more fully understand what they had read about. In this way, children were taught the basics of logic and public oratory.

In the 1870s after McGuffey's death, his books were revised and the reading passages were updated. At that time, the Readers were given a facelift with new illustrations, and new messages replaced some of the Biblical readings, but certainly not all. Critics had complained that the original books didn't apply to the enormous new waves of immigrants who came to America, which is why they were revised with more specifically American themes at that time. They were made more patriotic in nature, and taught what we call today the civil religion - what later critics sneeringly came to mock as 'middle-class values' in the 1960s and afterward. Even the most innocuous of reading exercises gently nudged messages about responsibilities: bravery, honor, manners, mutual respect, doing good, not being rude, sharing, friendship, industriousness, and charity. In other words, guidelines for being a good citizen.

All of these were in line with what the Founders had regarded as the founding principles that were absolutely necessary to the success of the American experiment of a democratic republic. The Founders agreed that the public was nothing more than a mob if they weren't equipped with a basic moral code they wouldn't violate when no one was looking. That was the only way the new American society could possibly work without falling apart. McGuffey provided that handbook in a pretty effortless manner, even to those who would never set foot in a church or crack open Deuteronomy.

Modern scholars and sociologists want to pig-wrestle McGuffey's Readers (the very few alive today who know about them) into the blame game that hurls race and gender roles into the wider societal slop bucket - and nearly every other discussion these days - but that's not at all a fair estimation of the enormous and pivotal role the Readers had. They became the common currency of general knowledge for nearly every single American child - from the children of millionaires, Supreme Court justices, and captains of industry, right down to the kids of street sweepers, coal miners and ditch diggers. Toney kids from Philadelphia's Main Line, Boston's Beacon Hill, and the FFV's of Virginia in 1950 learned to read the very same stories and learn the same lessons and moral code that freed slaves, illiterate immigrants, and backwoods dirt farmers and their children did in 1870. 

More than any other influence on America, the McGuffey Reader became the great leveler for almost a century and a half.

The Age of Snark didn't begin in the 2000s, it started in the mid-50s. By the 1960s, McGuffey's books were branded as hopelessly out of date and out of touch with "modern society." McGuffey's Readers were put on the chopping block and eliminated in favor of the Dick and Jane stories, blanched of the virtues, patriotism, morals and manners messages. Gone, too, were the standardized Classical reading excerpts found in the more advanced Readers. So were were McGuffy's readings about rural life and ethics, in favor of SRA reading exercises that leaned more heavily on the cynicism and "sophistication" of city dwellers (overwhelmingly New Yorkers) regarding small town life and "middle-class morality."  Thus, the almost universally shared cultural messages passed on to tens of millions of American children each year that made the country so homogenous in attitudes when they entered adulthood - regardless of race, gender, national origin, religion, or social class - were eliminated in less than a decade. The second half of the Baby Boomers became the first generation to learn how to read without McGuffy's guiding voice about ethics, virtue, morality, manners, language, and introduction to the Classics. No generation of American children since has shared that common basis of education on a widespread basis. And what used to be called the 'Melting Pot' of America was replaced by what modern sociology majors call the 'Salad Bowl,' in which we now share very little in common.



With the death of McGuffey's Readers went so much that helped Freemasonry to grow to its enormous size in the 1870s, again in the 1920s, and finally in the 1950s. That common, shared set of principles, morals and literary knowledge that was taught to almost every child all across the country was baked into the cakes of the millions of men who joined (and grew) our Masonic lodges. They all learned it exactly the same way, and even your 80-year old grandparents today can likely still recite some passage they learned as a child in a Reader from memory. Few Americans have ever read the Bible cover to cover in this or any other age. But the passages in McGuffey were everyone's collective knowledge base, because nearly everyone had read them. The reading selections were overwhelmingly optimistic, uplifting, laudatory, and at times cautionary. Consequently, they were even more influential than any church on the mass consciousness of all Americans for 130 years.

Those very same messages were reinforced by the lessons in the fraternal groups that grew by leaps and bounds during the very same era - Freemasonry included (along with the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Red Men, the Woodmen, and hundreds more). Consider that those pre-1960s generations were not put off by what many today see as tortured language in the rituals, or Albert Pike's prose. What many modern Masons see as creaky or anachronistic stage plays in the Scottish Rite were common currency up to three generations ago, when your next-door neighbors were still actively involved in local theater groups, and every teenager learned debating and speech making. 



The morality plays of Masonic ritual were analogous to a live theater version of McGuffey for generations of Freemasons. The lessons of Freemasonry that stress virtues like fortitude, justice, temperance and prudence were found as often in McGuffey as in the Old Testament. That was true for members of mainstream grand lodges in the U.S. and Prince Hall-derived ones alike. Take a look at the contents of the Fifth Reader: the second and third readings were lessons about "The Poor Widow" and "The Orphan." There's "The Just Judge" and "Decisive integrity" and "The Intemperate Husband."  There's a passage about "The Festal Board" and "True Wisdom." There's "A Hebrew Tale" and "Death and Life." 

When grand lodges 'back East' like Virginia and Pennsylvania first sent charters for new lodges into the expanding wilderness as America grew westward in the late 1700s, their reasons were simple: to educate and civilize a rough and rugged population in regions that had no formal schools. Masonic lodges didn't carry the denominational baggage that the competing churches did, and they taught something that the churches weren't: how to effectively operate a democratic society in a world that had little experience at it at the time. But Masonry didn't achieve explosive growth until the end of the Morgan Anti-Masonic period and after the end of the Civil War because society was still largely illiterate. The majority of Americans in 1825 would have little or no appreciation of the Liberal Arts and Sciences because they had no experience of the concepts. But a growing number of adult American men over 20 years of age by 1865 DID have a basic understanding, and McGuffey's readers were the reason. And by 1870, grand lodges were chartering lodges by the hundreds each year - so fast that influential Masonic leaders became alarmed that they were growing too big, too quickly.

After American Freemasons topped more than 4 million in 1959, the decline began the very next year from which the fraternity has never rebounded. And it wasn't just the Masonic fraternity, either. Both Robert Putnam and Theda Skocpol wrote seminal studies around 2000 that recorded the dramatic plunge in America's voluntary associations and chapter-based organizations of all kinds after 1960 — from lodges like the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, and Eagles, to PTAs, card-playing clubs, bowling leagues, and the American Red Cross. Church attendance has been in a steady decline since that time, as well. Americans didn't want to associate with each other any more. But we've lost something more than just the desire to be with other people. 

It was by 1960 that the McGuffey Readers were entirely phased out nationally (although it started in the 1930s), and I would argue that Freemasonry and other similar institutions cannot recover because Americans — and all Westerners — no longer share those common cultural guidelines anymore. Freemasonry is, at its core, a Western philosophy that put the ideals of the English and French Enlightenment into concrete practice. But just like the democratic republic of the United States, its success is predicated upon a certain commonality of shared ethics, behavior and knowledge among its potential members. What Freemasonry teaches our members goes hand in hand with the 'civil religion' that the Founders believed to be essential. Without it, the whole thing collapses like last week's leftover broccoli. And that should concern all of us. 

In an age when no one "knows" anything anymore and our collective memory has been replaced by consulting Wikipedia on our iPhones while seeking 'likes' for our Twitter post one-liners, there's a whole lot more in danger now than just fewer Masons showing up for stated meetings. It is probably simplistic to say, but you can arguably trace much of the rank incivility and bleak pessimism that is so rampant today directly to the replacement of McGuffey's lessons by Howard Zinn and his ilk's deliberate anarchy, revisionism, and miserablism in the textbooks that have dominated schools since the late 1960s.

The McGuffey  Readers are still in print to this day, and still being used. In 1985, there were 150,000 sold. Today, they still sell about 30,000 a year, and they remain popular with private schools and home school families. So if I follow this premise to its logical conclusion, Freemasonry may have its greatest future among the young men educated in those types of environments.

But that's another article.


*As we used to say in the advertising business, 'Where do ideas come from? Somebody else!' I veered into this notion of McGuffy's Readers and the effects on society by their disappearance in Charles Murray's brilliant study, Coming Apart (2012). Anyone wanting to explore the death of middle-class mores and culture in the U.S. between 1960 and 2010 needs to start with Murray's book, which statistically lays out his case in black and blue. Murray's a dirty word in academic circles these days, and that's because he can back up his assertions with real facts and figures instead of feelings and opinions. It should be the next book you read after Putnam's Bowling Alone and Theda Skocpol's Diminished Democracy.

34 comments:

  1. Great article....food for thought!

    ReplyDelete
  2. As president of a publishing house, i can testify that Horatio Alger is also in print and read --

    https://westphaliapress.org/2013/06/28/opportunity-and-horatio-alger-2/

    So perhaps the golden oldies never completely vanish.

    Chris as usual finds a subject that has been neglected.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Quite enlightening. As both a mason and a leader in my local TEA party, I've struggled for a long time with why American values have so dramatically declined in the last few decades.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is one of the finest articles on Masonry and modern culture I have ever read. As a Millennial Mason and someone who has struggled to put their finger on what exactly the modern world has lost,this speaks to me immensely.

    Perhaps the best hope for Masonry is to serve as the nation's new McGuffy's?

    Thank you for your article!

    Sincerely,
    Bro. Millennial

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am one of the earliest possible Boomers and we learned to read via the Scott, Foresman and Co. books about Dick and Jane, which were first printed in the 1930s. I just checked Wikipedia for the spelling of the publisher's name and found a critic who called them the most boring family in history, and praising McGuffy for printing "real stories by real writers." So, it sounds like your critique is spot on. You tout McGuffy's readers as a watershed. I tout the first appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show as another sort of watershed. The hippies were always talking about "the generation gap." I always thought the gap was philosophical rather than chronological, and the watershed moment was that appearance by The Beatles and the individual's reaction thereto. If, like me, you heard them, said "that's nice," and went about your business, you were in the World War II generation. Conversely, if you attributed cult status to them, you were on the other side of the generation gap. Yeah, I know that's awfully simplistic, but I lived through that era and I'm calling them as I saw them. Of course, the founding hippies weren't Boomers, they were WWII kids, so go figure.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "With the death of McGuffey's Readers went so much that helped Freemasonry to grow to its enormous size in the 1870s, again in the 1920s, and finally in the 1950s."

    What is also notable in this quote is that the periods referenced are the decades following major wars.

    I read an article somewhere that talked about the effects of troop organization and Masonic membership which I'm sorry to say that I cannot find the reference.

    The gist was that troops in past wars tended to be "unitized" where an enlistee or draftee would enter service, follow his unit throughout combat and various deployments, and remained mainly associated with the same people until being discharged. After which they craved continuing the comradery, which was found easily in Freemasonry.

    Supposedly with the Vietnam war, troops were less unitized, with soldiers being dispersed broadly, often passing from unit to unit, never staying with the same companions. By the end of service a soldier had not had the long-term relationships as in previous wars. After leaving service, they didn't have the strong desire for the companionship and comradery as in previous wars. Thus the decline in Masonic membership in the 1980's.

    Fast forward to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars where troops were again allegedly unitized, and we see a resurgence of members in the early 2000's. (Which coincidentally also corresponds to the time of "The Da Vinci Code" and "National Treasure.")

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am a 28 year old Master Mason. I put in five years in the Grand Lodge of Georgia before I finally realized that that organization was likened to a battlefield medic with a severed carotid; slowly and haphazardly applying bandages even as he bleeds to death too quickly to ever staunch the flow on his own. And Georgia isn't by far the only Grand Lodge bleeding out. My lodge wasn't only resistant to changes in the food budgets (hot dogs and green beans forevermore) but even in practice schedules for officers. Men in their mid-eighties to late sixties refused to come to a practice; insisting that they knew their parts and always had. They simply did not. They didn't have half the proficiency that I or my fellow EAs had after two practice sessions. I don't have the space or the time to address all of the points you've put forward that I disagree with, but I'm going to briefly try.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Cont. My generation holds more college degrees than any that preceded it. We also work more hours a week for smaller wages on average than preceding generations did at our age per the Pew Research Center. Maybe that contributes to why we don't have time for droning business meetings or short form lectures where we're the only ones who seem to be trying. We read Shakespeare (adulterer, sexist, wordsmith who made up his own words whenever he pleased), the Federalist Papers, Byron (great moralist that one; just ask Shelley), and even the Enlightenment philosophers and the Puritans. Even as an ardent Agnostic, I'm a huge fan of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. We also read Zinn and saw how past American historians had written with rose-colored glasses on. They lied in many cases to present the idea that our country was not only great, but flawless. The tragedy of the Native American, the American Slave, the Irish Immigrant, the Eugenics that dominated the political landscape of the 19th century. All glossed over in the name of patriotism. We know America isn't perfect. We acknowledge it. We know it was born in philosophy good and bad. We don't feel the need to march blindly behind a flag screaming our superiority. We as a nation have always been great, but never perfect and not always good. I can virtually guarantee that throughout high school and college I read many of the novels and novellas represented in your precious readers sir. I am not any less ethically, nationally, or morally educated for having gotten those stories from a different standardized source. It isn't me or others my age that defacto black ball minority candidates in lodges across the country. It isn't us that are so resistant to change that we would rather stagnate. Rather bleed out on the battlefield than accept a private's help. Freemasonry is dying. Some of that is the fault of changing times. Most of that is the fault of the policies set forth and upheld by the men educated by the McGuffey Readers. Men in their mid-nineties to mid-seventies who insist on dominating the political flow of their lodges to the detriment of everyone else. I think you're an ageist sir. You have postulated in other articles that men under thirty are less masculine. I don't think masculinity has a set definition, but I changed my break pads today and mowed my lawn. My neighbor informed me over a Newcastle that he came in second in his MMA tournament. He's 23 and his opponent in his final bout was 42. You seem to think we are less educated. None of you knew anything before Google either Chris. You were constantly batting outdated or partially accurate information back and forth over the top of your beers whereas we can leave the bar knowing the facts of what we were discussing. You can't blame Freemasonrys failings on the young. Or even those born in the 1960s. The overly political climate and backroom practices that undercut so many lodges were already there. Freemasonry is more concerned with appearing infallible and unflappable than it is with survival. Simple as that. As a Past Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Georgia once said in my hearing, "I'd rather see the Lodge die out than see it packed with men comfortable in cargo shorts, having alcohol with their regular meals, and allowing homosexuals into their ranks." Truly a proper and capable steward of a whole jurisdiction of our country's Fraternity. Exactly the sort of man to teach a philosophy that primarily teaches tolerance, camaraderie, and charity. The blood of our philosophy is on all of our hands, but it runs redder and thicker in the wrinkled grasps of my elderly, Past Master brethren than any other.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've frequently said that if I had joined the fraternity in a different state at a different moment in time, my life would be very different today and I probably would have demitted long ago. However...

      From the tenor of your message, you seem to see nothing but warts and faults and pessimism everywhere you look. It's truly a shame. You seem to be an extraordinarily unhappy person, but that's maybe a superficial drive-by assessment on my part.

      You can cite the ills of the past all you like - the McGufffey Readers were a common, shared basis of knowledge that nearly every child in America was raised with for 130 years, rich and poor, high and low. Even new immigrants learned this way. And whether you want to admit it or not, the country was more cohesive because of it. That's not nostalgia or "ageism" - nearly every sociologist alive today will tell you that our modern tribalism and polarization is not a good development for this republic or our communities.

      I didn't "blame" anyone or any generation for the crumbling of civil social interaction and the loss of common knowledge and root cohesion this country enjoyed for a very long time. Stop taking it personally. That's just where we are at this point in time.

      Delete
    2. Everyone counts themselves as a realist, no matter how others see their disposition. I think it speaks wonders about your ability to debate any of my points that you down my personal disposition in your first paragraph. Even the young in America can read. We had standardized readers all our own. Do let me know when you have the opinion of "nearly every sociologist in America." This pointless nostalgia isn't helping us to identify the problems with our Fraternity today. It only serves to alienate potential younger candidates who see your site as an introduction to the Craft. There aren't so many Freemason-written blogs or news sites. I think about coming back to the Fraternity all the time. I hope there is a Lodge somewhere with a purpose and a commitment to decent food and solid ritual work. I'd be glad to pay any amount of annual dues to be a part of something like that. In all my travels in the Southeast in the last six months, I haven't seen such a lodge yet.

      Delete
    3. With respect, I think that there might be a fundamental misunderstanding of the significance of the Eclectic Education Series (EES) (of which the Readers are a part) within the educational lives of previous generations.

      Ethan speaks of "education." The EES does not focus on "education" as Ethan's generation has come to know it at all. The focus of the EES is on pedagogy. The pedagogical system employed by the creators of the EES was the creation of a framework where self-directed learners at home, or those in Normal Schools and Academies learning how to teach, and others could learn what it means to be a mature adult (and how to get there) in America. Learners could gain competency not only in rhetoric and grammar through the Readers, but could learn the basics of bookkeeping, mechanical drawing, civics, general science, the fundamentals of chemistry, even Latin and several foreign languages. For the true self-directed learner, the EES as a concept is a dream come true. For homeschoolers today, the EES offers a rather complete curriculum fully supportive of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences. Copies of the complete EES can be had on pdf for under $200.

      Dewey's "factory school" has succeed beyond his wildest dreams. The focus of education in the US is the "integration" of the student into the community as a whole, and not the transmission of knowledge and a shared culture. What Bro. Hodapp describes is an unfortunate casualty in this struggle.

      Being within GenX, holding a PhD in education as well as multiple Masters degrees, teaching at the college level in the sciences, having traveled the world as a Mason and having attended Lodge in several jurisdictions, and being active in an extremely diverse jurisdiction (CA), I can completely understand Ethan's frustrations. I've seen it first hand. I know that so many are resistant to anything that comes from California, but what the GL is doing there is worthy of emulation. In the last 5 years, the small Craft Lodge movement has lead to a resurgence in attendance and an upward trend in membership. If you like the "knife and fork" experience in Masonry, there's a Lodge for you. If you like amazing ritual, there's a Lodge for you. If you like the more esoteric aspects of the Craft, there's a Lodge for you. My Lodge, less than a year old and currently under dispensation as we work towards gaining our Charter, meets to explore the depths of Masonic knowledge as well as to exemplify the "red degrees" of the Scottish Rite Craft Lodge. Retention, growth, and a quality experience are given equal focus. Members look forward to meetings, not out of obligation but because they actually enjoy themselves and the company of their Lodge brothers. Wor. Filibuster, PM, Sec., knows that very few actually care to hear him drone on about the minutes of the previous special meeting regarding the parking lot, so he hits the obligatory highlights and moves on.

      To be sure, there are many faults to be found in Masonry. But, at the same time, there are many things to it that bring Masons great joy. The beauty of our country, and of Masonry, is the freedom to explore and travel. Masonry in Georgia may die out as we know it, if the current leadership continues to drive good men away (as you note). But, Masonry is thriving elsewhere in the country. If Masonry is an important part our your life, I'm confident that you'll find a way to make it work for you ... and that you will improve the Masonic experience of those around you. I say this with the understanding that having gone through a initiation into the Mysteries, and having made oaths and assurances, you will find it your special duty to leave the Craft better than you found it - whatever that means to you in your local context.

      If I can help, having a rather unpronounceable Scandinavian last name means I'm easy to find on line. Feel free to reach out.

      Delete
    4. If I thought Freemasonry was unimportant or beyond saving, I wouldn't have bothered to write either of those posts. To help Freemasonry (or the United States for that matter), I believe we must stop pining over what it was and look to what it is. Starkly, and without fond remembrance. Only once you see the thing clearly can you decide how best to shape it into what it needs to be. I also believe that Millennials can be a big part in bringing those aspects of our Fraternity into the Wireless Age that ought to be there. A lodge should first and foremost be, in my opinion, a place where men want to be. Why not put a nice TV and an Xbox One in the dining hall? Pool table? Molding old buildings that have gone too long without renovation don't attract successful people. My own mother lodge is a lovely old red brick build. The carpets are stained and the brick walls have been covered in chipped and broken masonite. With a little remodeling it could be one of those industrial style brick buildings that folks today so love hanging out in. Do they listen? "We can't pay someone to tear up the carpet." I'd be glad to do the work pro bono. "We aren't paying for materials." I'd love to donate some money over time to a fund for renovation. "The Lodge is fine the way it's always been." Now apply those statements to every other conversation about change or improvement you could have. I can't say that every Grand jurisdiction in the country fits this mold, although I hear the same stories and troubles from all quarters, but I can say that continuing to stand defiantly at the prow of a rapidly sinking ship without doing a damn thing to save the ship is foolish. And longing for the days when the ship wasn't sinking is doubly so.

      Delete
    5. Bro. Coker: If you want a forward thinking, modern lodge, one that does ritual correctly and cares about true brotherhood, have dinner with us at Gate City Lodge No. 2 at the Atlanta Masonic Center in Atlanta. I think you will find that we are at least trying to do Masonry correctly. Certainly you will be hard pressed to find a more diverse lodge anywhere. We intend to keep the ship afloat for many years to come - and we are growing, not shrinking.

      Delete
  9. When I went to school in the 1940s, we had the Dick and Jane readers. They start with Baby Sally saying, "Look, Look, Oh, Oh, See, See." This series did not teach Phonics.

    Years later I saw a McGuffey's Reader. Actually the different times thing was a polite way of saying that they were openly racist in some stories. Otherwise they were great readers.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great article: A lot of food for thought: Not only in the decline of membership in Freemasonry but our society as a whole!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Did the earliest Baby Boomers read McGuffey's? They would have joined the Craft in the mid to late 60s but the bulk did so in the late 70s and early 80s. We all know that although there were more Boomers than either of the previous generations, not enough of them joined or remained as members to maintain the post-war surge of membership by the Greatest Generation, who remained for life.

    So are we saying that because fewer Boomers read McGuffey in the 50s, this led to their lack of morality, academic ability, and anti-establishment views, causing them to not consider Freemasonry as a viable institution to be a part of like their dad and granddad did?

    Gen-X and Millennials joined seeking examples of high-moral character and were able to endure the membership rolls up until recently, as many walked away after witnessing the very opposite--racism, homophobia, sexism, and blatant bigotry from various generations, not particularly Boomers. There is no recovery. Gen-Z is the last hope.

    Masonry's biggest fault is it seems to value pacifism, toleration, and maintaining harmony. Of course, it assumes the Mason is of high moral character, but too many are not. Unfortunately, the aforementioned rude members continue their ways without consequence from grand lodge or accountability from brethren.

    For those who remain and wish to fight, do the Craft and your lodge a favour, I ask you simply to not ask, but to tell those "members" to demit. Losing that one may save many more, even those who haven't joined yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you made my point better than I did, and in fewer words.

      Delete
  12. Also I didn't get to read Brother Paul Richs comment before it was removed, but I'm guessing that's where the "rude members" were mentioned?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Part of the point I was making was that in the 19th century with child labor rift, and now revealed incidents in the lives of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, the values supposedly embodied in the past were not universal. I think the answer rests not with some sort of monumental shift in current education but in Masonic leadership.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The Roman senator Cato the Censor used to end very one of his speeches with phrase "Carthago delenda est!" — "Carthage must be destroyed!"

    I'll tell you Brothers something quite honestly. A small group of the same Brethren continue to post these same indictments of American Freemasonry over and over - racism, homophobia, sexism, bigotry. The same posters and the same comments appear across social media and the Internet, frequently when the subject isn't even related in any way.

    It's a lot like Cato.

    As Master of my Indianapolis lodge, I dealt with three nasty bigots who were sent demit paperwork and were never heard from again. I have traveled an awful lot across the U.S. and outside of it. I've visited lodges in almost every state of the Union. And I did so in the years before I wrote my first book, before I had any sort of reputation at all in the fraternity. Since then, I've sat in countless grand lodge annual meetings, lodge stated meetings, along with personally meeting quite literally thousands of Masons. That doesn't count the hundreds of unsolicited emails and letters from Brethren who have contacted me privately.

    And in all that time, I have personally witnessed or dealt with less than two dozen Masons who I would call unrepentant bigots, "sexists," or full-on "homophobes."

    Now, of course I have heard stories secondhand from Brethren who recounted incidents from their own experiences that I found shocking or depressing. Several times a year, stories hit the news about lodge officers stealing from their treasury. The English press especially adores discovering any Mason caught breaking the law totally unrelated to the fraternity. And I am more than well aware of the high-visibility incidents in states where Prince Hall recognition has been fought, or when gay Brethren ran afoul of grand lodge laws or grand master edicts. No one has done more than I to make sure that factual information has been circulated in these cases, and hopefully to promote positive conversations and changes. Obviously, there are Masons everywhere in the world who don't live up to the expectations the fraternity expects. And certainly there are regional differences in attitudes among Brethren that a substantial percentage of our wider membership will never see eye to eye on. But I can't think of a single human institution with several million members worldwide that doesn't deal with human failings in their ranks.

    My point is that after 20 years, I'm weary with our members who seek to take every opportunity to point out deficiencies and failings in our ranks out of some strange compulsion to parade our every wart. They are our own Catos, publicly proclaiming "Masonry must be destroyed!" at every turn. But those criticisms do nothing to actually improve the fraternity in any way. Worse, they send the absolute wrong message to non-Masons who know little or nothing about us apart from what they read online.

    Do all of you Catos out there really believe the fraternity will be helped by chasing off potential new members and leaders by giving them the impression that we are some combination of the Klan, the Know-Nothings, the Pure Prairie League and the Westborough Baptist Church? Moreover, is that what you believe yourselves?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think your argument that America ever had any sort of cohesion is absolute nonsense brother. We have always been diverse. Class, race, religion and politics have always divided our nation. The "Anglo-American" obsession of the 19th century. Can't trust those dirty Irish. Only the descendants of the original settlers of the Colonies are real Americans. Black vs. White for almost the entirety of our history as a nation. Native vs. Settler from our conception until the mid-20th century. Political party contention has always plagued us. Our strength is in recognizing that we are diverse and discussing that diversity. In doing that we reach compromises, we learn lessons, we refine ourselves. There was never any cohesion. Freemasonry must be destroyed? Is that what we're saying when we point out the glaring flaws in this thing that we love? No. We are saying Freemasonry must be saved. It must be purged of the hypocrisy that damns all ethical institutions. The Grandmasters who make these harmful edicts should be identified and kept from gaining authority in the first place. Don't tell me that homophobia isn't a rampant problem in the GLoG or the GLoT at least. Those bans still stand. Don't lie to me about men over sixty in this country harboring some inherent racism or sexism. You and I both know they do. We hear it every day; in and out of the lodge. Don't sugarcoat the situation. Too many brothers do, and that is why we can never get the support together to actually make things better. Look at all the articles you post about sheet metal buildings and poor ritual work and the GLoArkansas. Yet the Fraternity is great you say. It's the world today that isn't living up to standards. I like your articles brother. I really do. You provide a valued news source for the Craft where there are so few. I think you're wrong in this case though.

      Delete
  15. Undoubtedly there are cranks who have trivial complaints about the Craft, but there are many issues which are very serious and growing ones. Racial discrimination of any sort and on any scale is a real threat to the country. Not pursuing a solution to gender discrimination such as by permitting all male, all female and mixed lodges as in the Grand Orient of France contributes to decline. Lack of business judgement about properties has led to substantial, indeed huge financial losses. The loss of 75% of the membership is not because of demographics, because the American population has grown substantially at the same time, has more disposable income and is better educated. One would like to see bold moves like attaching the Capitular and Cryptic degrees moored to blue lodges before the York Rite completely collapses, dues raised - even though members will be lost - so activities can be adequately staged and meeting rooms enhanced, the 19th century device of fulltime traveling lecturers revived, professional business managers employed with the power to act, terms of office extended so policies have time to mature, and many other moves that have been repeatedly and repeatedly advocated speedily implemented. We have driven away large numbers - look at how many initiated leav e after a few years. Claiming that departure from the values of 19th century education is at fault is not supported by the scholarship, which shows that great numbers of youth did not receive formal education at all. It simply is unsustainable to exalt the Readers by the evidence. About 40 percent received no education, most ended school in 8th grade, and the figures are of course worse for girls and minorities: http://mentalfloss.com/article/58705/11-ways-school-was-different-1800s

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm simply saying that students who received an education in America between 1850 and 1960 all were armed with the same reading material and common messages and themes about BASIC values because of the McGuffey books. Since 1960, the US has been on a downhill slide in social capital, basic human interpersonal skills, and shared senses of civic responsibilities. The death of local newspapers, television and radio stations continued to isolate Americans and encourage tribalism without much sense of a local or national community left. By the time we got to the 20-naughts and the introduction of the iPhone, there has been a near total collapse of ANY shared cultural, intellectual, or informational material that nearly all Americans hold in common any more. That's not an indictment of anyone - that's just where we are now.

      As for your contention that US Masonry's failure to embrace female and co-Masonic lodges is contributing to our decline, I think you vastly overstate what is in reality a quite small pool of interest. Women in the US have never shown a strong urge to seek out Freemasonry as they have in France and Belgium. Maybe that's because we men have completely dismissed it out of hand in this country, but that doesn't explain the very tiny bit of overall interest in female lodges in major cities like New York, D.C. or Los Angeles over the years where there are enough female émigrés from foreign countries where female Freemasonry is more commonplace to draw upon. Historically, such lodges have waxed and waned, but they rarely grow very popular. I'll be curious to see how the new one chartered in DC this year that has received so much attention because of the Elias' involvement does in, say, five years. My guess is that there's really not a strong enough pent-up demand to spawn many daughter lodges in its wake. But I could be all wet in that regard.

      And I continue to believe that the current mania over "racial discrimination" in the US is being criminally overstated. Paul, you are old enough to remember the days when open and not so open discrimination was very real. How did we get from that period when the fight was to shut down racial segregation to today when minority racial groups are now DEMANDING segregation to reinforce their tribalism and separatism? How is that an improvement of anything?

      I hold an unpopular opinion these days in Freemasonry. I think that Prince Hall recognition was actually a dreadful mistake in the long run, because it reinforces separation, which is never good. PHA lodges should have been brought into the mainstream grand lodges throughout the 1960s and 70s and variations in lodges should have been encouraged back then so their traditions could have been retained without perpetuating the "separate but equal" situation we live with today. How is what we have now (with many PHA GLs forbidding joint visitation with mainstream lodges) a serious improvement? (And yes, I am well aware of the argument that says the continued separation protects PH's two and a half centuries of culture and traditions - I've argued for it myself.) It's just one more sign of this troubling trend of American society growing apart instead of together.

      Delete
  16. Dude, is my last comment really worth the long wait to post or did you finally decide you were tired of trying to refute your subtractors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I'm on the road and only get to tend the site in the evenings, and then only if I can get a wifi connection out here in the Montana wilderness. I have to screen all comments because I get at least 25 "Join The Illuminati!" spam messages every day, so there's almost always a delay even under the best of circumstances when I'm home.

      Delete
    2. My sincerest apologies on that note. I always forget about the conspiracy theorists.

      Delete
    3. Just deleted another 14 of them this morning.

      Delete
  17. Let us at least agree about the mishandling of assets. Both the Supreme Council and the Valley in Washington are selling/leasing part of their property for housing and parking developments. The Supreme Council canceled a popular garden area as it moved to the decision. But at least the turning of open space into income will help perpetuate both.


    Elsewhere the lack of business sense has wiped out the assets that were accumulated over many years. Too often the management of property and endowments has been entrusted to longtime lodge members rather than competent financial leadership.

    in the case of the capitular and cryptic situation, in other jurisdictions like England and Scotland the coupling of those degrees with the blue lodge has staunched some of their decline, which is traumatic and escalating in America, The growth of European freemasonry is partly because of the willingness of grand lodges to offer a choice in rituals and membership modes, which brethren will tell us that they like.


    As for the Reader discussion, a large percentage of young people in the Victorian era got just a few school years or were empressed into child labor, which certainly argues that they did not get a founding in the Reader. They weren't in school.

    The arguments about alleged decline in social capital were fueled by my colleague Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" thesis and their erroneous assumptions were addressed by me in an issue of the Annals of the American Academy -- https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000271629956500102https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000271629956500102

    We need Cassius, and not to argue over Cato. Blaming society for the failures of Masonic leadership avoids our taking responsibility for the drastic and overdue changes that are needed:

    Cassius:
    "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

    Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The reason why there is such a strong connection between UGLE and royal arch has to do with how UGLE was formed. However that has not made sure that no royal arch chapter has had to close. Becuse of certain decline two english royal arch chapters has ended up in Denmark.

      Delete
  18. Ethan Harrison Coker and Paul Rich - thank you for saying what I was moved to say more eloquently than I would have been able to.

    I am extremely grateful that the sentiments expressed by Bro. Hodapp were not on display in my (successful, active) lodge; rather, my participation was welcomed and my contributions valued. After the two raisings in June, we're looking forward to two more in August.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure what sentiments of mine you find so disturbing, apart from maybe valuing experience and actual wide-ranging research over perception.

      Delete
  19. You are deeply and sincerely convinced that the problem with the United States in general, and Freemasonry in particular, is people like me. When called out on it, you wonder disingenuously why we take it personally.

    The idea that I lack experience and have done no research is an example. If you had been on the examination committee ten years ago at my lodge, I strongly suspect that your report would have been unfavorable - a suspicion based entirely on what I have read on your blog.

    It's particularly distressing, as reading your FfD book was part of my journey to the Craft.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Since I don't know what "people like me" means, and because out of close to 3,000 blog entries over about 13 years I have rarely pointed an accusing finger at any particular group, generation, or other classification of people in general, and Masons in particular, I don't really understand this comment.

      I DO take exception to those who travel little or rarely interact with a wide variety of Masons across the country and throughout the world, or who make broad assumptions and pronouncements that "Freemasonry is institutionally racist, homophobic, bigoted," etc. based solely on what is a statistically tiny group. And it IS a tiny group that gets tinier every year.

      Yes, there are high profile instances. Yes, there are individual Masons who have deeply held opinions that conflict with society as a whole. Yes, there are countless Masons who never got the message (or were never taught it) about what the basic goal of the fraternity has been about since 1717 - to unite, not divide men. Yes, there are organizational problems that needed to be dealt with decades ago that keep us saddled with poor leadership (although there is no question that the quality of highly-qualified leaders in the fraternity has diminished as fewer men saw any reason to join - you can't pick from men you don't have in the first place). But that doesn't render the fraternity hopeless, or even remotely out of touch with society AS A WHOLE. If it did, I sure as hell wouldn't have spent 20 years as a Mason.

      It's the easiest thing in the world to paint a slippery slope with a broad brush of bad apples under the bus (pick your favorite metaphor out of that melange) and decide that one noisy incident illustrates the whole institution. But all of society has fallen into that trap lately.

      As to your other suspicion that I would have reported unfavorably on you, I deeply suspect you are hunting an imaginary horrible that isn't there. And yes, that you are taking something personally for absolutely zero reason.

      Delete
  20. I admit that I have not traveled widely. As a result, I may not have seen the unmistakable signs of Freemasonry's desuedetude. My lodge, and our neighboring lodges, seem active, lively, and full of promise for the future - despite not meeting your exacting standards.

    To explain 'people like me', look at the phillipic you posted above. The deracinated, devitalized, demoralized generations you decry? That's me, and a plurality of my brethren. You are asserting that men like us are the reason Masonry in the United States is dying. We're not joining, and if we do we only hasten the inevitable debacle.

    You have a very particular vision of what American Freemasonry *should* be, but I hold out hope that you may, in time, extend your view to include me and mine.

    ReplyDelete

ATTENTION!
PLEASE sign or otherwise identify yourself in your comment posts. I have been FLOODED for months with spam comments, and I've been forced to laboriously screen every post now. Anonymous postings on Masonic topics have the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers as far as I am concerned, and may be deleted if I don't recognize you or if I'm in a grumpy mood.