Learning by Rote

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About three weeks ago, I did a webinar called Field Trips Far and Near. My responsibilities were preparing the presentation and speaking in front of the camera. Behind the scenes, our son John invited people to come and he did all the techie stuff necessary for the live presentation and the recording. Three team members who work in our local office worked for a couple of hours preparing the set, lights, and in-house technical apparatus.

I took off most of the morning before the webinar, but I popped in and out when they needed to make sure the lights didn’t make my glasses look weird and stuff like that. Also, John and one of our team members, whom I will call Sam to keep from embarrassing him, and I did a technical check a couple of hours before the webinar was to begin. The set looked beautiful and the techie stuff worked flawlessly — in the morning, that is.

Sam and I got together with John again electronically about twenty minutes before the webinar began so we could do one last check. That’s when we found out we had a problem. We didn’t know what it was, but something was definitely wrong. There was no way we could go live.

Suddenly Sam realized that we were only connected to the Internet through a wireless connection and that we always use a hardwire ethernet cable for webinars. None of us had thought of that! Sam flew out of the room to get the cable. When he came back he tried to connect my laptop to the router. Trouble was the ethernet cable was about four feet too short to reach the “perfect” set everyone had arranged for me that morning. Minutes after our scheduled time, we scrambled to another room, set my laptop on a tall stool, and I plopped down on a shorter stool. So much for our “perfect” set and “perfect” lighting — make that no set and no lighting!

Sam is fairly new at this phase of our work and he felt so bad. “The best laid schemes ‘o Mice an’ Men gang aft agley,” I told him. “An ‘ lea’e us nought but grief and pain, for promised joy!” (from “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns).

Robert Burns. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Poet Robert Burns. Courtesy Library of Congress.

I remember this quote after learning it in high school four decades ago, not because of the grief and pain part, but for the “best laid schemes” part. We humans just can’t make things perfect. I’ve experienced that so much that I remember the quote again and again as I walk through my days. There was a time when I’d have had my feathers ruffled by that glitch. Now I have the perspective of years.

Sam has gotten us a new longer ethernet cable, and we are back in business — next time. I learned that “best laid schemes” quote by rote, but I’ve remembered it because it is true and my life’s experience has borne that out. I’m not a fan of learning things by rote alone. We all learn best when things are connected and when our learning has meaning.

In Isaiah 29, God is about to discipline the Israelites. He condemns them for their shallow religion:

Then the Lord said,
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, . . .
Isaiah 29:13

God does not want heartless lip service. He does not want religion that is merely “tradition learned by rote.” That’s not learning that will stick. What sticks is what really matters to the learner and what touches his heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And he answered,
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your strength, and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27





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