Orthodox School of the Seventy: The Design
By Clark Wilson
You know those scenes in the movies where the detective and client open
the door to the client's office and the camera pans over flung-about papers, books,
furniture, and file folders? And then the client rushes to where the crucial tape-recording
was hidden and says, "Oh, no! It's gone!"? Well, imagine that happening to a second-hand
bookstore and that's what my part of my apartment looks like. Except the book stacks in
my corner aren't knocked over -- it's the ones in the living room that keep getting
knocked over. And the stacks of book boxes in the bedroom aren't knocked over either.
And the stacks of magazines aren't really stacks any more because they keep getting
knocked over and pushed together again. They are no longer stacks, just ragged heaps.
The papers are like that, too. Not that the book stacks that aren't knocked over make
any real sense -- you'll find The Handbook of Practical Spying on top of Understanding
Poetry on top of Patriot Games on top of The Mystery of the Trinity.
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Despite this, or because of this, or who knows why, it seemed good (or
at least good enough) to the Holy Spirit and to Father Andrew and to the education powers
at St. Luke's that I should be declared the Minister (or Director) of Adult Education. The
primary work to which I have been called is to be the seed-crystal around which the
Orthodox School of the Seventy is to coalesce. What is the School of the Seventy and
how do my stacks of books fit in?
Orthodox School of the Seventy
During his career as a priest Fr. Andrew has been frustrated by
obstacles in adult education programs as usually conceived. Such programs are an uphill
battle against difficulties picking an interesting topic, scheduling a time when most
(never all) of the interested folks can meet, keeping attendance up after the initial
interest has waned, and so on. Furthermore, there is little feeling of momentum gathering
over time and among parishoners. Each course is an isolated event that fades in memory.
Finally, there is little multiplication of the program leader or presenter, who focuses
on making the one program happen, week after week.
Obviously, such programs are necessary and can be real successes, as
the current Purpose-Driven Life series shows.
The Orthodox School of the Seventy is to complement such programs and
to integrate them. It aims, within its scope, to overcome the various program obstacles
by reversing the way things are normally done. Instead of working together in
classes, folks work individually and independently on projects they pick. A project can be
as small as attending a single lecture or as large as writing an icon. One or more tutors
or reviewers define projects and verify the studiers have done the projects. Verified
completion of a project earns some number of credits. (There are no grades, just
completion.) Regular programs like the Purpose-Driven Life program are included as
projects with credits. Available projects, people's names, completed projects, and
credit counts are posted on a large board visible to all. Completion of a specified
list of projects earns a certificate. The board also shows the parish's grand total
of credits earned. (The School adapts the Discipleship Project, which Fr. Andrew learned
about some time ago. You can see many materials, including a picture of a church's common
school board, at http://www.thediscipleshipproject.com)
Instead of one topic chosen by a leader, there are many topics, chosen
by the studiers. Instead of all having to be together at one place at one time, studiers
need only check in with a tutor or reviewer as needed (in person, by phone, or over the
net). People can see on the board others who are interested in the same area, whom they
can teach or learn from or learn with. The tutor or reviewer is multiplied because many
projects are going ahead in parallel. Instead of programs being isolated they are
integrated by the board, by a person's accumulation of credits, and by certificates --
both the individual and the parish get a feeling of momentum and accomplishment.
It is certainly true that this approach to adult education faces its
own obstacles -- for instance, having to meet each week at a certain time makes us carve
out time for a program and makes us visibly accountable to others; independent study often
gets postponed again and again, pushed aside by urgencies. For this and many similar
reasons, the approach of coordinated independent study is not some sort of universally
applicable, universally successful miracle solution. But within its scope it can complement
and integrate conventional adult education programs.
What kind of person might we want as the nucleus or seed-crystal of a
school patterned this way? Well, we would want someone who is enthusiastic about learning
and whose enthusiasm is contagious. We would want someone who is not a specialist but
knows a fair amount about a lot of things. Someone who spends time reading publisher
catalogs and web sites and magazines, who buys many more books than he can read, and who
remembers what obscure topics others know about and are interested in. Someone who can
nimbly change conversation topics in a flash and leap over conceptual obstacles in a
bound. Someone whose mind and office are like one of those movie scenes in which the
detective and the client open the door to the client's office and ...
[Next episode: Evangelism as the organizing theme for the School.]
The URL for the School of the Seventy blog is