The School of Life

When speaking of a school as an institution we might ask, "Is it a good school?". We expect to find good teaching, good curriculum, good facilities, good leadership, and a positive learning environment. We need to have the same sorts of expectations of the 'school of life' in which most learning needs to take place.

The School of 'Social Life'

Imagine that you arrived at a new school or university, full of excitement to get started, only to find that there were no classes organised, only one or two teachers - who seemed to wander in and out, no books in the library, no curriculum, and on top of all that no administration where you could find out what's happening or lodge any complaints.

You just wander about the campus with a scattering of other would-be students wondering what to do.

In many ways this is the situation young people find themselves in when entering the 'school of life' where they hoped to learn about the other sex, how to develop relationships with them, and how to prepare for a lifelong vocation with one of them.

For a start, other 'students' are often hard to even find. Sure, you see them going by, seemingly busy with classes somewhere, but you can never find them. You see someone who looks like a teacher but he or she only gives some rather vague, general encouragement, or perhaps some dire warnings about what you might find in some of the classrooms.

You go to the library thinking you might at least learn something on your own, but there are few books, and they are mostly fairly superficial, or they give lessons on how to cheat and scam the other students. You start to become disheartened. You latch onto a few others at lunchtime and strike up some kind of friendship, hoping you'll see them again tomorrow.

This is much like the 'school of life' experience for many young people today when it comes to relating to the other sex. If anything it can be worse, since many can't even find the campus, or feel they don't have high enough marks to get in anyway. Others start out quite confident but end up in one of those classrooms they heard warnings about, and get scammed by other students.

A School 'Formal'

One of the key themes of "Man+Woman" is the need to intentionally build community and culture.

There is a great deal that is not going to look after itself while we are doing other things.

The realm of what we often call 'social life' is not going to look after itself. In one sense it will - young people will learn something. They will learn some lessons in this school of life, but will they be lessons that bring happiness?

Sometimes we distinguish between 'formal' schooling and 'informal' learning. Yet 'informal' is not meant to mean 'lacking in form'. The 'form', the structure, the intelligibility in something is what gives it substance and meaning. So here we are talking about the forms of social life, and the forms of cultural expression. We are not speaking about 'formal' in an administrative sense.

It is common for schools to have 'school formals' as special celebrations, especially for senior students. That which gives 'form' to these occasions, that which distinguishes them from everyday life, are things like dressing up in special clothing, learning some dances, being more mindful of manners.

The specialness of such occasions does not spring primarily from their comparative rarity, but from the clearly formed intention to 'elevate' the occasion from the merely practical round of life. We seek some uplift.

We don't just want 'ordinary' - we want special.

Since school is a fairly regimented experience we also have things that could be called 'school informals', such as a school picnic or outing of some kind. These balance the high degree of formality of classes and schedules with an exception where the students can let their hair down a bit, and enjoy a comparative freedom, which gains added effect by being a school function.

What we need is a balance between the formal and the informal. A 'School Formal' stands in contrast to the informal and unstructured everyday relations between boys and girls at school.

A Lack of 'Special'

We need a balance of ordinary and special. Too much ordinary means loss of interest and drabness of feeling. If we downplay the differences between masculine and feminine we diminish that specialness. Relations between the sexes become too 'ordinary' and we rebel at this. We instinctively recognise that it should be special.

Recognising this we can make the mistake of thinking that the specialness lies in sex. That is, people can get the idea that since sex is ultimately what is most special in the difference between the sexes then the way to get 'more special' is to focus more on sex.

But although sex has an ultimately central place it can only be central by being the centre of something.

That larger something is the whole phenomenon of personhood expressed through either masculinity or femininity. In fact, sex will lose its specialness if it is taken out of that context and treated as a 'stand alone' reality.

The way to increase the specialness in relations between men and women is not to focus on sex but to focus on the phenomenon of masculine-feminine attraction. This is a much broader thing, and needs to be explored gradually, with deference and indirectness. This makes possible the creation of forms of social interaction that have an 'aura' of special attraction, that heightens interest but also points towards lessons that need to be learned.

Compare this to how a teacher might get children interested in science. You don't just lecture them but you get them to actually see and do things that heighten their interest. They get excited seeing unexpected and wondrous things. That energy then points them to the questions about why these things happen.

A New Kind of 'School'

It needs to be like this in the 'school of life' in learning about relations between the sexes. By a series of small steps the natural attraction between the sexes can be experienced in new ways, leading on to lessons that explain why one has these feelings and what they signify. It is the differences that attract, and by judiciously heightening these points of difference we engage the energy for inquiry into the deeper reasons behind them.

However, just as we need schools to provide a graduated series of learning experiences in academic subjects, so too we need a more structured and intentional approach to learning about the other sex.

The currently existing social customs and cultural forms provide way too little of this.

So what will the curriculum be? Who will be the teachers? Where will we find the ideas? Who will provide the leadership? What facilities do we have available? How will we attract students?

You might also like to read "Informality Is Not Enough".