The Font of All Wisdom
We Masons love the idea of learning our ritual and ceremonies in a word-perfect fashion. Well, Past Masters love that idea, especially if it means that some newbie officer should be doing the learning while the Past Master does the
complaining coaching from the sidelines.
Some jurisdictions in the US have a “mouth to ear” tradition, in which the ritual is taught by a proven instructor to one person, or a small group. Other states have printed copies of the rituals and ceremonies that are passed out to (or sometimes, purchased by) a member. Some states have such monitors written in plain English, while others might use a shorthand or some other kind of code in order to disguise the words – as if you couldn’t already get them from some website, or purchased in book form.
Connecticut is one of those states that has a ritual monitor in plain English; that is, if you can call the sometimes tortured grammatical constructions and archaic words and phrases “plain.” They have had this plain English version for at least ten years before I became a Masons, which was almost another ten years ago. The English version grew out of an older version that used two books: one being encoded (really, just using abbreviations), and the other a key; that version had been used for quite some time.
Recently, some people have been suggesting that we might want to go back to using the abbreviated word code. I have found that the people suggesting this are either old-timers who learned that way in the first place, or young, new guys who are geeky about Masonry. The old-timers claim that people will learn ritual better, since they will have to work harder, and the young-timers are usually the kind of geeks who would, given the opportunity, have been taking a Klingon class.
I used to pooh-pooh the idea because I learned ritual using the plain English books, and I think I have done rather well, at least, if you don’t count the fact that I often find myself substituting some of the archaic words with synonyms that roll more readily off the tongue. But the way that I learn these passages isn’t necessarily the best way for everybody, so I concede that the coded books might have some merit.
That’s why I found it interesting to see an article on Lifehacker this past week, which revisited a study in which schoolchildren were given copies of material to learn; some were given good copies, while others were given copies in hard-to-read fonts. Researchers discovered that the children who had to work harder to read the material had the best retention.
From the BBC News Article:
Researchers found that, on average, those given the harder-to-read fonts actually recalled 14% more.
They believe that presenting information in a way that is hard to digest means a person has to concentrate more, and this leads to “deeper processing” and then “better retrieval” afterwards.
It is an example of the positive effects of what scientists call “disfluency”.
“Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology Prof Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study.
“So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.
Students given the harder-to-read materials scored higher in their classroom assessments than those in the control group. This was the case across a range of subjects – from English, to Physics to History.
The lead author of the study Connor Diemand-Yauman told the BBC that psychology is revealing all sorts of “counter-intuitive” results in the field of education.
“Everyday psychologists are showing that seemingly insignificant factors can have big effects on how we process and retain information.”
It’s an interesting idea, and while I’ll concede that there may be some benefit to the idea that learning ritual in code is inherently better, I think that there are too many variables for this to be definitive. Again, from the article:
“What really matters most when reading is mindfulness… it’s not printing things badly that’s needed, but more thoughtful reading”.
“Obviously, if you can’t read it at all, you can’t learn it. At some point you may get so annoyed that you give up without trying! Different people probably have different thresholds.
And in my opinion, that is what holds so many members back; they simply get annoyed at trying to read something that they just don’t understand. Will presenting it in code make the archaic usages any more attractive?