Teaching From Rest: A Review

I’ve been seeing glowing reviews of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, Teaching from Rest, subtitled A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace for months, and finally got around to reading it for myself last weekend. This little gem contains much-needed encouragement and practical advice for every homeschooling mama, and most especially for those who are seeking a classical education for their children.

On every page, Sarah points us back to the Lord as the Author and the Finisher of all our efforts. She writes from the trenches. She’s the mom of six, with toddler twin boys as we speak. (I’m a bit partial to moms of twin boys!) Even though her children are all younger than mine, I found myself being uplifted, remembering all the ways that I experienced God’s faithfulness in my most chaotic and weary moments.

Sarah articulates the vision of scholé in eloqent, yet accessible terms:

Teaching from rest is not the absence of work or the abdication of our responsibility to form and shape our students . . . It is work and leisure, properly ordered. It is doing the right thing at the right time, realizing that our task is to hear God’s call and follow His commands, and then to trust that God will be God—to be at rest even while at work. (p. 8)

Sarah’s style is warm and engaging. She is clearly well-read, evidenced by her frequent allusions to and quotes from great thinkers of the western tradition—Plutarch, Augustine, Thomas à Kempis, Lewis, and Chesterton, to name a few. But she’s not just name-dropping or quote-mining. It is evident that Sarah has meditated on these principles, and they have become part and parcel of her own philosophy of education.

The true aim of education is to order a child’s affections—to teach him to love what he ought to love and hate what he ought to hate. Our greatest task, then, is to put living ideas in front of our children like a feast. We have been charged to cultivate the souls of our children, to nourish them in truth, goodness, and beauty, to raise them up in wisdom and eloquence. It is to those ends we labor. (p. xvii)

You’ll find plenty of practical tips for scheduling and managing your homeschool days. The section on simplifying your schedule has helpful introductions to loop scheduling and Morning Time. There are some great tips for managing Morning Time with multiple kids, even busy toddlers.

Throughout the book, Sarah exhorts us to lift our eyes above the everyday mundane, and fix them where true joys are to be found:

You do not need to have a “productive” homeschool day to please the Savior. You do not need to have a clean house to please the Savior. You do not even need to have well-behaved kids to please Him. It doesn’t matter if you hit every math problem, get through an entire spelling lesson, or whether your child loves learning the way you want him to . . . What matters is that we seek to imitate Christ. That we order our loves so that our hearts better reflect His. Many days, checklists will go untouched, books will go unread, ducks will not line up in a row, no matter how much we strive. Cease striving. Saint Jerome once said, “It is our part to offer what we can, His to finish what we cannot.” (p. 70)

And if she had not won me over already, this alone—from a section encouraging you to be who you are, not who some homeschool blogger or speaker or curriculum says you should be—would have done it:

Nothing makes me groan like reading, in a set of lesson plans, complex instructions telling me how to mummify a chicken or create a raised-relief depiction of Egypt. (p. 56)

If mummified chickens or salt-relief maps are your thing, go for it (within reason)! And while you are at it, offer to share your zeal with some other kids whose moms share Sarah’s and my aversion to such things. We would probably be happy to teach your kids Latin declensions or sentence diagramming in exchange.

I love the tips she gives in the final sections for bringing scholé into our own lives as teachers: reading deeply from the works of one author, taking classes for your own continuing education, keeping a commonplace book, finding like-minded friends to share the journey. Each of these are things I have found profitable in my own life and self-education over the years. These are wonderful practices for Mother Culture.

Sarah is writing from a Catholic perspective, but Protestants will have no trouble finding common ground. On almost every page, Sarah encourages us to seek our rest in the Lord, to trust in His good purposes, and to prioritize persons over plans:

Why, come a damp and gloomy day in March, do we yell over a math lesson or lose our temper over a writing assignment? Why do we see the lessons left to finish and get lost in an anxiety-ridden haze? We forget that we are dealing with a soul, a precious child bearing the Image of God, and all we can see is that there are only a few months left to the school year and we are still only halfway through the math book . . . When you have a crisis moment and have to figure out which fire to put out first – always choose your child. It’s just a math lesson. It’s only a writing assignment. It’s a Latin declension. Nothing more. But your child? He is God’s. And the Almighty put him in your charge for relationship. Don’t damage that relationship over something so trivial as an algebra problem. And when you do (because you will, and so will I), repent. (p. 63)

Summertime is a wonderful time to seek inspiration and rest. This book will help you do it! You could devour it in day, as I did, or you could read a page or two in stolen quiet moments (perhaps you could keep it in the powder room?) And do remember to pull it out for a quick shot in the arm come that gloomy day in March.

Whose well-done are you working for? . . . Most of my frustration comes from forgetting what my real task is in the first place. He’s called me to be faithful, yet I’m determined to be successful. (p. 8)

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