Let’s Pause a Moment

Let’s Pause a Moment

It won’t surprise many of you to hear that I am continuing to read, think, and write about . . . restful learning. I am working on a new book, likely to be titled Learning from Rest, which will follow and complement Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest.

The more we trace the origins and history of scholé, leisure, contemplation, or restful learning, the more we find a lovely web of concepts that shimmer and shine. It appears humans both inside and outside the Christian tradition have perceived that we flourish when we are able to transcend the world of work and labor by engaging in lingering, leisurely thought, conversation, and contemplation. Most have not declared work to be bad (though some of the Greeks did), but simply that it is not sufficient for humans to flourish—or to realize their full humanity.

It is no wonder, therefore, that many of our traditional words for education signal this idea of a contemplative life that informs, transforms, and completes a flourishing human life. Consider just a few venerable words: liberal, humanities, study, school. We have lost the original references of these words, but they still tell the story—if we can acquire, once again, the ears to hear.

Liberal: The word “liberal” in the educational tradition refers to an education that is “free” (Latin liber, meaning “free”) from the cares and necessities of the work-a-day life. It also has referred to an education that helped those who were free, enabling them to get such an education to preserve this freedom. Such “freely educated” people attained a capacity to think, reason, argue, refute, create, speak, and make, such that they were liberated to learn for themselves and serve in virtually any vocation or capacity. All humans, whether plumbers or professors, would thrive with such an education. And yes, there is a traditional collection of studies that makes up the curriculum of such an education: the liberal arts. The fact that we can no longer name the traditional seven liberal arts shows that we are in a forgetful phase, but we have not yet forgotten that we once knew them.

Humanities: This word now denotes those studies that are not science, math, or professional courses. This word is derived from the Latin word humanitas. It was also one of the chief Roman words for education, which, to the Romans, was the full development of one’s capacities as a human being and included all learning, not just English, history, and philosophy. Yes, math and science were once humanities subjects!

Study: In the classical tradition, it was thought that we would study what we love. Both our words “study” and “student” are derived from the Latin word studium, which means “zeal, eagerness, fondness.” A student was thought of as someone who was eager and zealous for knowledge and wisdom—or for truth, goodness, and beauty. Don’t you study what you love? How then do we cultivate a love for knowledge and wisdom? This is perhaps the most important question in education, and one that is regularly overlooked.

School: School has come to mean the place where children go to be taught—I hesitate to say “to learn.” Perhaps we are safe to say that school is where students are “schooled.” Yet this word still faintly echoes an older, traditional meaning. Our word “school” derives from the Greek work scholé, which means something like undistracted time to study things most worthwhile. School used to connote a place of leisurely, restful, and contemplative learning. There is no longer much scholé in our schools; rather, they are places that mix a great deal of anxiety with all too much boredom.

Let me close with a little-known word: the Greek katapausis and its cousin anapausis. You can hear in both of these our English word “pause.” The Greek word pausis simply means a halt or pause, or a cessation of activity. Katapausis and anapausis both mean a kind of pause that includes the ideas of rest and refreshment. In a classical education, we need more than a mere stopping or halting of work-a-day activities; we need a refreshing rest.

Anapausis is used by Christ in the famous passage in Matthew 11:28–30 (NIV) about rest:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will rest you [verbal form of anapausis]. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest [anapausis] for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

In numerous places, the Apostle Paul use the word to describe being refreshed. Consider 2 Corinthians 7:13 (my own translation):

Therefore we have been comforted; in addition to our own encouragement, we were delighted for the joy of Titus, because he has been refreshed/rested [verbal form of anapausis] in his spirit by all of you.

As for katapausis, we see the common Hebrew word for rest (nuach) rendered as katapausis in some key passages, such as those in Hebrews 3, which quotes Psalm 95 (NIV).

That is why I was angry with that generation and I said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared an oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest [katapausis].”

Later in Hebrews 4:10–11 (NIV) we read that there is divine rest—God’s rest—that we can yet enter:

. . . for anyone who enters God’s rest [katapausis] also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us make every effort to enter that rest [katapausis] . . .

We see that the New Testament (and the Old) calls us to a deep life of rest, one that is connected to salvation. To know the salvation of Christ is to know a divine variety of peace and rest that are connected to God’s own divine resting recorded in the Genesis narrative. How does God rest? How do we come to know the rest of God? These are more enormous questions for anyone of the Christian faith, and also crucial questions for any Christian approach to education.

How can the Christian know divine rest and yet educate out of and to anxiety? How can a Christian “learn from Christ” who gives rest and then give no rest to their students? How can the Christian “pause” for refreshment every Sunday but offer no sabbath to students? Where is the sabbath pattern in our schools and studies?

I think it is worth pausing . . . and contemplating.

Dreaming Wisdom at St. Johns College

Dreaming Wisdom at St. Johns College

When we were newly married, Christine and I took a trip to Annapolis and walked around the campus of St. Johns College. I fell in love. “What if we could go to the Graduate Institute here?” I dreamed. “What if we both became tutors and taught here?” I dreamed further. “And what if…?” At that point in my revelry, Christine intervened and urged me to stop, thinking I was being carried away to some unreasonable place. Christine is a poet and capable of dreaming, but she knows that I sometimes dream up folly.

Not all my dreams regarding St. Johns have been fulfilled, but one has. I did, about seven years after the conversation above, enroll in the Graduate Institute at St. Johns. The timing was very good, for I was in the thick of graduate studies in seminary and still a bit sophomoric, thinking myself wiser than I was. St. Johns addressed that. Sitting around sturdy old (very old) tables like the one pictured above with engaged, thoughtful and challenging students, I learned something about myself. Observing the guidance of skilled tutors who took us through the texts of Melville and Shakespeare, l learned something about teaching.

I learned that I often spoke before I should. I learned the pertinence of Jame’s admonition to be slow to speak and quick to listen. I learned to follow the dance steps in a collaborative conversation, gaining an intuitive sense of when to follow, when to compliment, when to occasionally risk an initiating move.

I learned what it meant to be assessed not by a number or letter grade, but by thoughtful words. There are not numerical or letter grades at St. Johns. So how did I know where I stood or how I was doing? By what people said–both my classmates and my tutors. At St. Johns, we would write several short papers in one class, which we could copy for every student. We all read each other’s papers and then incorporated both the ideas in those papers and our thoughts about them into our class conversations. In one class dedicated to Shakespeare, I did write a long paper for the tutor (Elliot Zuckerman). Mr. Zuckerman (everyone is “Mr.” or “Miss” at St. Johns) read my paper and wrote extensive notes assessing, challenging and occasionally commending it. I recall the two pages of notes stapled to the back of my paper. At the bottom of the page following his comments, there was…nothing. No grade, no number. I read everything he said with great attention, focus and interest. For the first time in my life, I was completely engrossed with what a professor thought of my work.

Then there was the Don Rags–the stated meeting with your tutors to discuss your work and class contributions. My tutors met for about 20 minutes before I was invited into the room to discuss…me. Then they invited me into the room and they told me what they thought… using words. I know they commended me in a few ways, but I forget those comments. I remember very well, however, what they said I could do to grow and improve: be slower to speak and quicker to listen. This stuck with me, and still rings in my ears. Until they said it, I did not realize this about myself. Once they said it, I instantly knew it to be true and began a kind of lifelong repentance. This crucial admonition came to me because of a college (and tutors) that actually wants to communicate truth about education and learning with honest, charitable words.

Some of the most delightful academic (I should just say human) conversations I have ever had occurred during my time at St. Johns. As the classical renewal continues and grows around the U.S., Socratic discussion and teaching is being recovered with it. How does one lead a good discussion surrounding an important text? How do we create an atmosphere where the love of truth, goodness and beauty transcends concerns for status, grades and props? St. Johns holds some of the answers to these questions, simply because it has not departed from the tradition of classical learning that never considered assigning someone a number or treating one as such.

Many of my dreams have slid into folly–but the dream of going to St. Johns helped confront a sophomore.

Update (April 2017):  I am also glad to report that our classical teacher training site, ClassicalU.com, is creating a Level Two course on Socratic DiscussionHow to Lead Effective Seminars and Socratic Discussions, featuring two St John’s tutors, Eva Brann and Hannah Hintze. There are also four live seminars with several St. Johns students led by Hannah Hintze. It is expected to release on April 25. To peruse 20 of our other current courses—all with free previews—visit the website: ClassicalU.com.


Playing and Learning

I have been thinking a good deal about playing and learning.  At two back-to-back conferences, I have spoken on this topic, so my musing continues.

Plato was perhaps the first to say that children should learn by playing. By compulsion you might make a child move through certain schooling steps, but that learning will seldom be permanent. I think experience shows Plato was right; our experience and recent research also tell us that children are not playing as much as they used to, and are perhaps trading away some important benefits and delights in exchange for… more screen time.

Here is a brief 13 minute video in which I recap what the research shows and what we already know.  What will we do to make room once again for play?


Online Writing Instructor Needed!

Online Writing Instructor Needed!

 Scholé Academy, Classical Academic Press’s live, online academy, is seeking a part-time writing instructor for 5–8th grade Writing & Rhetoric courses for the 2016-17 school year. Qualified candidates should be excellent writers and have previous experience teaching elementary-aged students. Familiarity with the Writing & Rhetoric series by Classical Academic Press is preferred.
Interested candidates should submit their résumé and brief letter of interest to Emily Price at eprice@classicalsubjects.com. Scholé Academy will contact applicants to set up phone and/or videoconference interviews.
Click here to learn more about Scholé Academy.


Update: The position listed above has been filled. If you are interested in teaching for Scholé Academy, please express your interest to Emily Price (see above). We would be glad to consider you for future teaching opportunities as Scholé Academy continues to grow and expand.
Students Should Argue…but Not Quarrel

Students Should Argue…but Not Quarrel

Those of us seeking to classically educate our children know that they have a built-in capacity to bicker and quarrel. Bickering comes naturally to all children, and is only disguised by refined adults.

When it is time for students to learn dialectic, however, we want them to learn how to argue. There is no art to quarreling, but there is indeed an art of argument. It was Chesterton who said that his principal objection to a quarrel is that it ended a good argument. Just what is the distinction, then, between a quarrel and an argument?

Well, we instinctively know what quarreling is because it is so common and effortlessly rises within each of us. A good argument is quite uncommon, and takes effort and training to produce.

The Latin roots of the words help with this distinction. Our word quarrel comes from the Latin querela which means a complaint, or plaintive sound. It is related to the Latin verb queror, which means “to complain or lament.” The adjective querulus means complaining, even warbling (think whining). From the querulus we get our word querulous meaning “full of complaints; peevish.”

Our word argument, on the other hand, comes from the Latin argumentum, which means “evidence, proof.” The related Latin verb arguere means primarily to prove and make known. The related adjective argutus means “clear, distinct, graceful.”

Can you see now why argument can be an art? It takes artistry to present ideas and evidence that are clear, distinct and graceful. To learn an art takes training and apprenticeship. But who will train our children in the art of argument, if we lack training ourselves?

Of course we could seek a suitable teacher for our children. Would it not be better though to find a teacher for both our children and us? We could learn with our children and gradually become a qualified teacher of dialectic ourselves. How could anyone argue with that?

P.S. Those looking for good texts on logic and argument should have a look at The Art of Argument and The Argument Builder. Online courses are also available based on both of these book at ScholeAcademy.com