Anne Shirley: I don't think Mrs. Barry is a well-bred woman. I don't believe God himself would entirely meet with her approval.OK, so can I just tell you about offensive study without offending anybody?
Marilla Cuthbert: Anne, you mustn't say things like that... especially in front of the minister's wife. But, if you left God out of it, you'd have it just about right.--Anne of Green Gables (1985 movie script)
Offensive study, according to Gordon MacDonald's book Ordering Your Private World (a book I have only in an older edition than the one currently available), is taking a time period, a season, a summer to deliberately extend your mind; to zero in on a topic or author or idea, but not because you're trying to pass an exam or look for specific information; it is a little like what many homeschoolers call Mother Culture. It's taking scheduled time, maybe during your "off season," to learn, grow and explore. It's gathering raw material. If you are a pastor or a teacher or a writer, much of what you learn during that time may get incorporated into your teaching, writing or work later on. Or just into your life.
Something like that happened for me last summer. I was charging through Charlotte Mason's books--not for the first time, but trying to get a bigger overall picture of some of her ideas--and got sidetracked for awhile by Norman Brosterman's book Inventing Kindergarten, about the Froebelian Kindergarten movement in the late 1800s, and the life of Froebel himself. I ended up taking more books on Froebel and education out of the library, and learned a bit about Pestalozzi (a big influence on Froebel). A real rabbit trail, but it was fascinating. I re-read Ruth Beechick's book about Biblical educational philosophy, Heart and Mind, as well.
I didn't read any of these books so much because I wanted to know how to teach reading CM-style or stop a child from lying, or because I was planning on taking education courses; I read them because I was finding all kinds of interesting ideas there that seemed to connect with each other and that made my own feeble brain feel like it was doing some stretching. Please note that I do not think any of those people--particularly Froebel--had every detail right on everything; but they all had things that I could take away from spending some extra time with them, and, in the case of Froebel, it was important to see how far his influence affected not only Western culture but, seemingly, the Far East as well (his kindergartens became very popular in Japan). And at the end of the summer, I felt ready to go back to the business/busyness of teaching again.
I haven't decided yet what, if anything, will become a topic of offensive study for me this summer. Maybe it should be the Bible itself--to try and make some sense out of that everybody's-heretical business.