Learning from Rest

Of the making of books there is no end and much study wearies the body.

Ecclesiastes 12:12

Another calm before the fall storm. My brilliant wife suggests squeezing at least one last trip to the beach in before the crazy fall schedule prohibits us. We go with the three youngest children and our baboushka (“little grandma” in Russian) to Old Silver Beach on Cape Cod, one of the few west facing beaches just over 1.5 hours from Boston. It’s like our back-to-school beach, as it works well to drive here on a mid-afternoon and stay until sundown. A last minute surplus from our local food pantry leaves us well supplied with road food and a picnic supper.

Having just returned from a personal retreat to our local monastery, I have thought a lot recently about the best setting for a good education. With the fixation of modern education on numerical metrics, standardized tests, and literacy rates, where a child learns and in what setting is only given practical consideration if at all. We place Johnny and Susie into whatever environment will boost those overrated test scores. But we Christians need to ask more fundamental questions about our children and what environment we have chosen for their learning.

The first colleges and universities in the world were established as extensions of the monasteries. In monastic life, the rhythm of prayer and the practice of self denial and common life permeates the atmosphere. The gentle arch of the cloister, the vertical towers, and the bells announcing the organic life of prayer, meals, study, and repose all serve to place the soul at rest and prepare one for life in the Kingdom of heaven.

By contrast, the atomized and overcrowded classrooms of modern education provide barely enough space for a student to write her name and sit long enough to study anything. The frantic speed with which one period progresses to another and the shrill sound of the school bell announcing each transition leaves students and teacher alike panting for water, air, and sunshine let alone putting them into any kind of state for learning. Indeed the medieval model of the monastic cloister has completely given way to the modern one: the learning factory, where units are moved along the conveyor belt at inhumane speed and parts are installed on them at various stages/grades until they graduate to become successful “products of the system”. The words of the romantic poet have always inspired me on this score:

Education is not the filling of an empty bucket [or in our image the installation of passive parts] but the lighting of the fire.

William Butler Yeats

And so I wish to you all at this auspicious beginning to another school year, wherever your child finds themselves learning, do not settle for the drab walls and the insane speed of a learning factory. Or if your situation does not permit anything else, color your children’s life outside the classroom with rich and restful experiences that allow them to partake of the world to come and breathe in their learning from a place of rest rather than receiving it passively as another cog in the machine.

Good strength Kalli Dynami! to all in their studies and may our God who rested on the 7th day from all His works grant rest and refreshment to all who labor and are heavily burdened with study.

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