old school

15 Mar


Not exactly the word most of us would associate with “school.” Of course, I suppose it depends on what school you attend, as well as your overall disposition towards learning and classrooms and books.

Still, as a general principle, we associate “school” with deadlines and pressure and speed and cramming and assignments in the three “r’s” of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic rather than leisure in the three “r’s” of relaxation and repose and rumination.

A friend today who recently finished his latest online biblical course observed, “Isn’t it funny – it’s when class is done, papers are complete and tests taken that I really start enjoying thinking and reading and digging deeper into the material (in this case the book of Romans)?”

Which reminded me of the delightful personal discovery I had some time ago in my leisurely reading through the book of Acts. I came upon the word “schole” in Acts 19:9. “Schole” is the word from which our word “school” is derived and in all the New Testament it occurs only in Acts 19:9. Below is the lexical entry for “schole” (it’s from Thayer’s lexicon, courtesy of; the source is dated, but in this case accurate):

So there you have it. “School” (at least “old school”) was a place of leisure and relaxed conversation; of unhurried dialogue; of meaningful and sometimes meandering musings that is more like crock pot than microwave. So when thinking of the Tyrannus “lecture hall” in Ephesus, think less the feel of a college classroom with theater seating and more… well, more Starbucks. Much like Eugene Peterson describes his early days at seminary in his latest book The Pastor (yes, this book will continue to find its way into my posts):

Madison Avenue Presbyterian had a history of inviting several seminarians each year to work on the church staff and offered us a modest stipend for showing up. After Sunday-evening worship and another sermon, Dr. Buttrick invited the seminarians – there were seven or eight of us – to his penthouse manse on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. He removed his coat and shoes, put on a pair of slippers, sat on the floor with his back against a wall, filled his pipe and lit it (he was the first pastor I had ever observed smoking a pipe), and then gathered us into a freewheeling conversation for the next hour. We asked him questions, and he asked us questions. There was no agenda. We talked about preaching and prayer and worship but not in the abstract. He kept our conversation local and immediate and personal in a way that I later learned to identify as pastoral.

The irony here is that this understanding of “school” more closely resembles what we call “vacation” than what we know as “school.”

Now the point here is not that we cancel all classes and close all our “schools” as we break out our pipes, slip on our slippers and sit on the floor engaging in freewheeling conversation. This isn’t an either/or proposition. Our familiar classroom setting serves a definite purpose in the education process: it cracks the nut (and sometimes the whip) getting our heads and hearts into a subject and thereby instilling not only the discipline to study it but the passion to pursue it. To teach the discipline while failing to model and impart the passion leaves us mired in serious educational neglect. Far too seminarians die in Hebrew and Greek courses and mark the end of class by a massive bonfire as they celebrate that they will never again have to look at another Greek or Hebrew letter. Any school, any class can accomplish the same dreary end with any subject. Subjects that should bring light to the eyes instead leave us cold. So we cope with our classes and our subjects and those who can cope well and know how to work the class (or the teacher) end up on honor rolls, while the majority at least pass, and others suck their way along the bottom.

But do any walk away with a passion for words, for learning, for dialogue and discussion and musing with all the attending joy and life? That I believe is the challenge of any teacher in any classroom at any level: to instill, to communicate that passion for the subject that sits in the center so that when schedules and assignments and papers and tests and deadlines and projects are done, the records filed and the chairs vacated, the passion for learning remains – to be leisurely, satisfyingly pursued and tasted and shared.

That’s old school.


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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Education


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