I used to look forward to going to school. It meant I was getting somewhere. And I had this naive faith that this year, I might learn the stuff that unlocked all the things I wanted to know. I was sure they were just postponing it. At some point, I would reach the right grade, or the right program, and -- finally, there! -- I would be taught all the stuff I thought all the educated people knew.
I thought high school would reveal all the secrets. Then I thought college must be where they were keeping them. When I went off to seminary, I was still hoping to stumble across the class where they would finally start talking about the real stuff, not this makeweight load of miscellanea.
By the time I started my doctorate, after a hiatus of some years, I no longer thought that schooling of any sort was going to finally open the door to the vault of secrets. But by that time, I had learned to find what I wanted to know without the aid of formal schooling. I have learned so much outside of school; indeed, I know more about English than I did when I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in it, and I know more about theology and church history and ministry than when I finished my M.Div. I have kept learning my whole life long, because I wanted to know all the important stuff -- and still do.
This doesn't mean that school was useless to me. There were classes, and teachers, that opened doors for me that I eagerly passed through. My best experiences include: in elementary school, drawing maps for extra credit in sixth grade; in high school, Latin and Geometry and Typing and Journalism; in college, German and Fencing and Bible as Literature; in seminary, Greek and music courses (Piano, Organ, Choir) and readings courses in Church History and that winter exchange term at St. Meinrad.
More even than formal schooling, there were the books I discovered at each stage of my life, that sent me off to find more like them. I could make a list of books that meant a lot to me, from To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street that I read as a small child to Laughing Shall I Die that I finished off a few months ago, but it would be a very, very long list. I grew up in a house full of books. Most of the books assigned in junior high or high school I didn't like much, or didn't finish -- like Great Expectations -- which is a shame. But being forced to read something, and then having to masticate it in bland daily doses, is such an unnatural way to discover anything. Perhaps we should forbid the young to read classic literature, just so they'll sneak off and do it.
I also learned so much from Scouting. Camping skills, cooking skills, handling woods tools, how to put together a weekend. And I learned even more from being an adult leader. Truly, you don't know what you know until you have taught it to somebody else.
And then there is all that I have learned from all the churches I have pastored, and especially from all the programs and events that I designed and led by trial and error. My first cross-country youth trip was designed as no such trip should ever be designed, but there was nobody to tell me different. I learned so much from painful experience.
Did I ever find the secrets I was looking for? Yes, pretty much. I still wish I could have found a class or a program that would help me learn this, or that. It would have been fun, and it would have been easier than digging it out for myself. But even if I had had such a class for this, or that, I would still be digging, for there is always more to know and to experience.
When I went off to ISU in the fall of 1971, my mother said to me, "Never let college interfere with your education." The same could be said for schooling at all levels. It doesn't mean that school has no value. But the best thing school can do for you is to help you on to find out all the stuff you wanted to know -- or to whet your appetite for more than you thought was there to be known. Along the way, you will meet, here and there, certain teachers and fellow students who will be companions on the search. And they are part of the treasure they help you find.