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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.

Staffing

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 http://orthodoxschooloftheseventy.glogspot.com/.

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