18 August 2006

Leisure: The Basis of Schooling

The next session I attended at CiRCE was taught by James Daniels. In my journal, next to his name, I wrote, “a Hobbit”. This is the workshop that almost brought me to tears and that the Lord used to roll so many burdens from my shoulders. I walked out feeling a liberation regarding our schooling that I’ve never felt before. I think I also understood better what I’d been talking and thinking about for years, but didn’t know how to do. As a good friend says, “I want not only to school well, but to live well.”

My rabbit trails are italicized and set apart by color. I hope the color makes things more clear.

There are serious problems in our schools: we are producing anxiety and fear in our students. This fear and anxiety are reflections of our society at large which mistakes busyness for productivity.

Leisure is commonly thought of as an escape. This is the whisper of the spirit of the world. Our schools remain focused on retirement. We want our children to do well in school, so they can go to a good college, so they can earn enough money to retire and live an idle life that we call a life of leisure.

On the other hand, we see work as drudgery and busyness that’s punctuated with short respites of leisure or idleness.

However, in Genesis, we read that Adam was created for work. Before the fall, God set him to tend the garden.

We misunderstand the nature of both work and leisure.

The anxiety in our schools is driven by parents who want what’s best for their kids. Schools are afraid of not doing enough. Wanting what’s best for our children isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it must be approached with discernment.

Leisure Redefined

In the traditional definition, there are two types of thinking (not thinking about leisure, but actually two ways in which we think about thinking; in other words, two different kinds of thought or ways to think). Ratio is discursive and rigorous. Discursive means “proceeding by argument or reasoning rather than intuition” [Apple’s dictionary widget]. Intellectus refers to contemplation and is meditative. Contemplation means “the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time; deep reflective thought” [ibid.]. The goal was a harmony between the two types of thought. This is the difference between overstanding and understanding. When we stand under something, we submit to it. Understanding requires time to submit and therefore it requires time to contemplate and to reflect.

The Latin word schola, from which we derive the English words school and scholar, means “leisure”. Ever the skeptic, I looked it up when I got home in our Cassell’s Latin English Dictionary, and sure enough, the first definition listed was “learned leisure”. This refers to the contemplative, meditative thought described above and not to our modern ideas of leisure as respite and retirement, kicking back and vegging out. So it could be defined as “learned contemplative and meditative thought”. This view of schola and the type of leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) it promotes or helps us gain perspective.

It is not measurable. (The idea that something immeasurable could be so important to education flies in the face of the modern industrial approach to teaching our children and is worth a post of its own...someday.)

There are two types of arts in traditional education. The liberal arts were those disciplines studied and mastered by free men and their end is honor. The servile arts were those studied and mastered by slaves and their end is money. It’s not that the liberal arts make us free, which is a teaching I’ve heard before, but that they were studied by free men.

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by God. “Be still and know that I am God.” “Deep calls to deep.”

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by our lives. We must stop in order to process. Human beings are not computers; our processing speed does not matter. We are called to walk in the patterns established by Christ, who lived an abundant life, showing us the fullness of what it means to be a human being.

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by our calling as educators and leaders in schola. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I want to make sure that I don’t slip back into a faulty understanding of this word, “leisure”.

Most of teaching is what you don’t say, but is carried in our tone and attitudes.

Schooling Examined

Theological Foundations: education must be based on who God is and his beauty. We must take time to gaze upon God’s beauty. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Christ is our Sabbath rest. This perspective results in the cultivation of the entire human being, not just a mind.

Philosophical endeavors take time and quietude.

Practice Required (unfortunately, institutional schools don’t have most of these luxuries):
  • the patterns and personal disciplines of my life These have been severely lacking for me lately. God has been so good to bring this to my attention lately in many, many ways. It is truly his kindness that leads us to repentance!!
  • How do we approach God? Are we listening? Or is our prayer time simply a list of things for God to do, good things many of them, but we must ask ourselves, are we seeking him or his gifts?
  • We must re-think the way we design schools.
  • We must re-think the way we design and teach lessons: “Take five minutes of leisure,” (contemplative and meditative thought); “Stop and think about what was just said”; “What do you notice about ...?”; “Does this look familiar?”; “Time out.”
  • We must cultivate our students’ and our own aesthetic sensibilities.
  • We must acknowledge the mysteries of life. We cannot know everything and the sooner we acknowledge that the better.
  • Don’t jump, or allow our students to jump, to conclusions.
  • Don’t reward quick or snap answers.
  • Model wonderment and contemplation for students.
This will affect the way we order our days. Don’t start with a list of objectives. When we get up in the morning, say to yourself, “Self, you can’t do everything you need to do today. Get over it.” We must accept our limitations and prioritize our day at the Lord’s feet.

This is why I”m going to try to get us to outdoorsy places this year with our sketch pads and the camera (I hope at least once each week), away from the computers, phones, DVD’s, etc. of the city in which we live. We’re also going to putter in the yard and the garden. My desire in the garden isn’t necessarily to create an English or French country garden (although I would love it if it becomes a combination of them some day). My desire is simply to spend the time. It’s about the process and the time we’ll have for intellectus, for schola, for leisure, for thinking as we work with our hands. I want to begin teaching my children this wonderment and try to give them the ability to contemplate. It’s time to slow down, to be still and know that He is God, to listen to deep calling unto deep. I was also made aware of how blessed I am to be learning this as a homeschooler. Mr. Daniels stated that, as a teacher in a private school, he and his fellow-teachers are are struggling to figure out how to apply much of what he shared with us and has been contemplating and they’ve been discussing at his school. As a teacher at home with my children, I have much more flexibility in my day. There is also less delineation between school-time and nonschool-time. That line separating the two is quite blurry and shifts at home. I hope this will be a help toward my children’s learning to apply these principles to all of their lives and not just their academic work.

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