Scholé is a hot topic these days in classical education circles. I wrote about it when it first came into my ken, and several times since. I have attended several classes, and even helped to teach one, in an effort to more fully define and approach it in my own practice. Our co-op joined Scholé Groups in an effort to bring the practice into our students’ and parents’ lives.
In the next few weeks, I plan to write a series on the practice of Morning Time. I am certain that the daily delight and discipline of Morning Time—a.k.a Our Daily Feast—is the number one best pedagogical practice for bringing scholé to our homeschools and co-ops, so it seems a fitting time to revisit the concept. As you’ll see, there is an even more important life practice which I believe is needed to bring scholé.
Our modern word school, meaning place of instruction, derives from the Latin schola, in turn derived from the Greek skholé, meaning freedom from occupation, ease, leisure. Later Greek etymology and then the Latin form schola blended the idea of leisure with the specific focus on learning and the place where it happens; thus, it came into English as the actual place, people, and processes associated with learning. Hmmm . . . how many of us would link the ideas of leisure and school from our own experience?
My favorite current definition of scholé comes from Christopher Perrin, founder of Scholé Groups: Scholé is undistracted time to study the things that are most worthwhile, usually with good friends and good food and drink.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting under Dr. Perrin’s teaching and collaborating with him on a few projects related to this recovery of scholé in the context of the classical education movement for homeschools and co-ops. He has written a good deal on this subject, and I commend him to you as the authority on this subject. You can read a nice summation of the general concept from way back in 2010 here, and another from 2013 here. Last week, Dr. Perrin sat down with the Scholé Sisters to discuss the “Intersection of Effortlessness and Hard Work” with a focus on nurturing scholé in our homeschools. Two principles form a common thread in these and other discussions of scholé, and as Dr. Perrin often reminds us, principles do often suggest practices.
Scholé Implies Work
The tagline for scholé, restful learning, is an apt descriptor of the joys of leisurely learning in community. But scholé cannot be the only thing we seek. Rest is absolutely meaningless, not to mention impossible, without work. If we miss this interdependence between work and rest, despair is the likely outcome when we try to map scholé onto the daily experience of our own—all too often far from restful—homeschools. The alternate phrase leisure for learning helps a bit. The truth is that a great deal of hard work is required to get to a place where we have leisure to enjoy that thoughtful pursuit of knowledge in community.
To make sense of this, perhaps we need to think of scholé as a fruit, not a root. The soil must be tilled and the vines must be tended before grapes can be harvested. The basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic constitute some of our soil-tilling and tending as educators. Of course, our principles and practices for these should also be informed by the overall aim of scholé, lest we render the work incapacitating instead of invigorating. That is much of what I hope to encourage here at The Reading Mother and at Cottage Press. But there is no escaping the fact that the work is required for the rest, as the tilling and tending are required for the harvest. We must embrace work in our expectations, always keeping the end in mind.
An example from real life: Today, I am slightly snowed in with three delightful young folks—my daughter, my son, and my future daughter-in-law. Scholé has happened here today, unsought and unplanned, in a few spontaneous discussions about individualism vs. personhood, about worship and doctrine, about “Christian” art. Discussion flowed from our enforced rest, along with the paper my daughter is writing for her favorite professor (work) and this blog post that I’ve been writing (work), fueled by good food throughout the day (work). Further, these discussions would not even be a remote possibility were it not for years and years of hard work—some mine, most theirs. Even the ability to rest in the midst of the storm was a direct result of much work in preparation for the storm.
Scholé Requires Planning
Harvesting the fruit of scholé requires planning for times and seasons—ordering our days, weeks, months, and years so that times of work and rest occupy their proper place in the pattern of our lives. The idea of ordering is the essence of the term liturgy, In religious terms, liturgy is used to indicate the order of a public worship service, be it very formal or very informal. Every church has a liturgy, even if it is not officially recognized as such. Classical Christian educators have begun to use the term liturgy as a way to describe the intentional ordering of our lives and practices to promote scholé.
I have become convinced that scholé is only possible when the liturgy of our lives begins with this life practice: the observance of a God-gifted pattern of work and rest in our homes embedded in the creation ordinance of a Sabbath rest. Our family is blessed to belong to a church that prioritizes the Lord’s Day with both morning and evening worship, and frequent fellowship opportunities in between the two. As a family, we are sincerely aiming to make it a Day of Delight (Isaiah 58:13-14). Our Lord’s Day observance sets the tone for our week, and has been the undergirding of our family’s pursuit of scholé, giving us the rest and focus we need each week and providing a healthy and blessed pattern of work and rest.
In a recent article for Classical Insights, Dr. Perrin said:
This rest to which I am referring is that rest for which our souls long, that which satisfies true, good, and beautiful, and, by implication, with God Himself, since anything true, good, or beautiful originates in Him. As Christ says, He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 6:4).
From Genesis on, rest figures as an important part of human activity and fulfillment. Man is created on the sixth day, in effect waking up on the seventh day—the day of divine rest. We also know that this rest is more than relaxation. The biblical idea of a Sabbath rest incorporates deep satisfaction, festivity, celebration, and peace (signaled by the Hebrew word shalom).
Rest is not an option for a Christian; it is a command . . .
Even here, we see that work is the necessary prerequisite for our rest. If we desire a true Lord’s Day rest, we must first observe “a due preparing of (our) hearts, and ordering of (our) common affairs beforehand . . .” Making a plan, and then working the plan, must happen on the days preceding Sunday, or Lord’s Day rest will not occur. In the same way, our home education efforts require planning for times of appropriate and effective work, as well as time set aside for particularly restful learning opportunities like Morning Time.
Scholé Must Be Modeled
Taking the time for my own studies, even in the midst of homeschooling my own kids, has been a vital part of scholé in our homeschool. There was a two year Great Books class for parents, as well as a church history class with Wes Callihan, and an intensive study of Latin, English grammar, and literature—much of it just ahead of (or alongside!) my own students. For more than fifteen years, I have belonged to a Book Tea filled with wonderful local ladies who love to read, learn, and discuss around a beautiful meal always featuring tea and scones—a true display of scholé! Teaching other students besides my own, both in our local co-op and online, has kept me accountable to pursue a course of reading, writing, and learning. Lately, our online Mother Culture Community meetings have provided another avenue for connecting with others who are devoted to pursuing scholé.
My students have watched me work very hard to learn and grow and provide opportunities for others to do the same. They have seen the humbling—sometimes even humiliating, as they often grasp and retain ideas more easily than I do!—work of education as repentance, intertwined with daily diligence. They have seen me seek to love what I ought to love, to know what I ought to know. In light of all of that, even my students who love school the least have told me that it has helped to inspire a desire for a life well-read, with the fruit of scholé as a delightful harvest.