Homework, Lesson Plans, and Scholé
“Astonishingly, the Greek word for institutions of learning means ‘leisure.’ The Romans’ word for leisure is otium and their word for work is neg-otium (not at leisure), from which we get our word ‘negotiate.’ Aristotle writes, ‘we are not at leisure (ascholia) in order to be at leisure (scholé).’… Now this is worth some…reflection. The classical tradition of education regarded a ‘school’ as a place of scholé. The Romans imported scholé into Latin as schola, from which we get our word ‘school.’ Just what about our schools is scholé? Would our students describe our schools, among other things, as a place of leisure? This would not mean, of course, that our schools would be places of mere relaxation, but places of reflection, conversation, celebration, and feasting. Sound like your school?”
— Dr. Christopher Perrin, “Learning and Leasure: Developing a School of Scholé”
As Robyn Burlew pointed out in her lecture, the way we assign homework and plan out our class can be detrimental to the students when it prevents them from living a full life along with their schoolwork. When schoolwork does not leave time for rest, something fundamental is taken from the student. We live in a society that has lost the ability to rest, or at least the love of rest. People often abhor quiet moments when they are left alone with their thoughts and actively try to fill the time with noise and distraction. The New York Times reported on several recent studies: “In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes. Moreover, in one experiment, 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think. These same people, by the way, had previously said they would pay money to avoid receiving the painful jolt.”
Dr. Perrin writes, “We want depth and breadth. We want music, sports, art, drama, debate, trips, labs, language, science, literature, logic, rhetoric, theology, history and a dozen electives. It is not unusual for a student to be tracking 7–8 classes plus several extracurricular activities.” He discusses how part of the classical movement ought to be restoring a healthy idea of feasting and fasting. “Fasting and feasting sounds strange to 21st century American ears, though it ought not sound so strange to American Christians trying to learn from the classical tradition. The church has practiced fasting and feasting for centuries. For various reasons, many, perhaps most, American Christians have forgotten these practices—and so we are not likely to quickly bring them to our schools.” Having this concept in the school allows for times of rest—times when students can have the leisure to contemplate and think on the things they are learning or about the questions of life and faith. Roger Scruton wrote, “Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as a celebration and a festival.” Time of restful learning is a sort of intellectual feast. If teachers do not do their part in encouraging and allowing students to have restful learning, students will miss out on an invaluable half of the cycle of feasting and fasting. But more importantly, students will miss out on the fullness of a classical education that allows them to be masters of their intellect—to take charge of their thought and education. Without intellectual feasting, education is a perpetual fast where the abundant joy and fruitfulness that comes from the difficult parts of learning are not accessible to the students.
“Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.”
—Wendell Berry, “Sabbath Poem X,” 1979