Should school focus on work or leisure?

posted in: Homeschool & Parenting | 7
Chinese Checkers
M and D play Chinese Checkers in the park.

Some parents reject the term “homeschool,” preferring instead “education at home.” To them, “school” means an institution in a factory-like setting with dry textbooks and arbitrary schedules.

Personally, I like the word “school.” First of all, it comes naturally. Most of us parents attended institutional schools. “Homeschool” doesn’t require a definition. Nor is it wordy. But I especially like the word school because of its roots. It comes from the Greek schole, meaning “leisure.”

School was a leisure activity in ancient Greece

For the Greeks, schole was pursued by the elites in their free-time. Think of Plato’s Academy, where men sought wisdom. Learning a trade was completely distinct from schole. So was recreation, in the sense of athletics. For the elite Greeks, work was a  prerequisite for leisure, not an end in itself.

Our culture tends towards the opposite view. Some educational “experts” advocate tracking students for a future trade early on. Back-to-basics adherents seek to throw out the arts. Colleges advertise the percent of their graduates who are employed. But is getting a job what school is about?

Work so you can have leisure

Think about this for a few minutes: is leisure meant to refresh us so we can work better, or is work meant to enable us to have leisure time? Put another way: do you value Sunday as preparation for the work week, or the work week as preparation for Sunday? Which has higher value, the 6 days of labor, or the 1 of rest? The Sabbath is the day that is “holy to the Lord”(Exodus 31:15).

Heaven is eternal rest. We won’t be working there, but gazing on the face of God. If our goal in homeschooling is to help our children get to Heaven, we should give priority to leisure.

Contemplation–both natural and supernatural–is a leisure activity. Poets create in leisure. Mozart composed in leisure. Monet painted in leisure. Socrates debated in leisure.

Leisure activities are more valuable than work

Leisure does not necessarily imply ease. Supernatural contemplation is absolutely impossible without Divine help. Natural contemplation is difficult in our wired and distracted world. In order to discuss literature, you must first read and understand it. You can’t play the organ at Church, if you’ve never studied music. Hard work often comes before leisure.

On the other hand, you can’t do any of these things if you are always working. We need time to think, to ponder, to ask ourselves and each other questions. Above all, we need to commune quietly with God.

Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper wrote an entire book called Leisure, the Basis of Culture. It’s a great (but not easy) read for your free-time. It’s also a formative text for my idea of a contemplative homeschool.

Give your kids more free time

To keep work and leisure in their proper places in our homeschools, we should: keep the Sabbath day holy by avoiding unnecessary work, and teach our children to do the same; celebrate the feasts of the Church with joy; limit the use of electronic media, so our children spend more time thinking and relating; provide the kids with lots of unstructured free-time; weave the arts into the curriculum; dig deeper into fewer subjects, instead of learning a little bit about many; and avoid assigning busywork, especially as “homework.”

School as leisure means training our children to look beyond the money they can make from their knowledge. It means learning some subjects that may seem impractical, or even useless. It means valuing being over doing. Above all, it means orienting our lives towards a relationship with God.

Connie Rossini

Share with us: Do you feel comfortable using the term “homeschool?” How does your family keep the work/leisure balance? If you disagree with this thesis, please tell us why.

This post is included in this month’s Catholic Bloggers’ Link-up Blitz.

7 Responses

  1. Rachelle

    Very appropriate topic today especially tied into the Gospel reading of today with the Martha/Mary dilema. In our homeschool we start just about everyday stating what our number goal in life is…getting to heaven. And we often need reminders throughout the day.

  2. Connie Rossini

    I didn’t know that was the Gospel for today. I was originally planning to post something else, but I always pray before I start blogging. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit works! I’m definitely a Mary-type personality myself.

  3. terrikenworthy

    Great post – very thought-provoking. Our memory verse for next week is “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy . . . ” and I’ve been thinking about what I want our kids to take away from this verse – what it should mean and how it should look for our family – how to make it meaningful . . . what changes we should possibly implement – lots to think about!

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