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Long Stewardship

Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers

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T.I. #92, Fall ’89


My cousins, every so often I hear someone say that the SCA can’t be an educational organization because people are in it to have fun. The words raise a guilty shiver, don’t they? We’ve all absorbed a bit of the grim tendency to associate education with pain.... However, the accusation rests on two basic fallacies: the idea that education isn’t fun, and the idea that group purposes and individual motives must be identical.
     Education itself IS fun; it’s the pressure of rules and require­ments and deadlines and the tedium of misguided presen­tations that turn it into a burden. When you choose your own subject and your pace, the rewards of study far outmatch whatever effort or pain it may cost. The Society offers an immense smorgasbord of avenues for exploration and for sharing discoveries—that is, for tinkering, noodling and showing off—and the pleasure built into the activity and the structure of awards and honors built on it form the driving forces of the group. Sometimes, as with Baroness Megan’s pink pigment (described in T.I. #87), our mem­bers do discover things about our period that were unknown in the modern age, but it is not necessary for the Society to extend the cutting edge of knowledge. When we awaken interest in our chosen period and lead people to open the doors to further study on their own, that’s real education.
     And it doesn’t matter how many SCA members see the Known World mainly as a great place to party with healthy and cheerful people of like mind; the purpose of a group often has very little to do with the motives of the individuals in it. The purpose is set by the group’s formal statements and verified by its overall effect—how the world is changed by its members’ efforts. The reasons people join may have little to do with that purpose, but they still serve it. It doesn’t matter how many rescue workers and firemen are adrenalin junkies; their group efforts still save lives and put out fires. Their motives don’t detract from their effectiveness, and nor does the party spirit detract from the Society’s very real educational impact.
     For the world beyond the Society, we enrich tradition­al education by sending hundreds of information packets to teachers and schoolchildren every year. Their thank-you notes confirm that our do-it-yourself approach makes the subject real to them in ways their textbooks rarely achieve! We also stage demos of martial and peaceful arts for schools, museums, libraries and civic groups, bringing the positive aspects of the Middle Ages to life—often for people who never realized those troubled times had any positive aspects. And our own way of life, the way we treat each other and our children and the people we meet at demos and events with such careful courtesy, is an education and example in itself.
     But this external work is in many ways the least important aspect of our role as an educational organiza­tion; we are fully justified by our effect on our own members. The Society opens a whole world of childlike pleasure in learning names for things and what they’re for and how they work, and in learning also how human groups can arrange their affairs. Many members do go on to serious pursuit of one or more aspects of period culture, and some learn enough to earn a living from skills gained within the SCA. However, it isn’t neces­sary to go that far. Even if brewing is your favorite science—and you take only a consumer’s interest in that—you can’t partici­pate in our events for long without an occasional burst of awareness, when everything seems to fit together to say “this is how it must have felt to be there!” That gut-level knowledge is the Society’s greatest gift.

     To feel thus connected to the life of former times is a healing and uplifting experience—if we empathize with people of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, I think we can find it easier to empathize with people today, and to cope with this modern world we live in as well. So long as we come anywhere close to what we mean to be, my cousins, we are an educational organization—and we don’t need to regret a moment of the fun we have!

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The West Kingdom History Website was created by and is maintained by Hirsch von Henford (mka Ken Mayer).