Monday, December 14, 2015

Norms and Nobility: Leisure Misspent

Much of the talk around education these days is about rest and leisure. I have not yet read Leisure as the Basis of Culture - but I intend to soon.  David Hicks explains it this way in Norms and Nobility.

Indeed, the theoretic life, is the life of virtue, so long as we mean by virtue all that the Greek arete expresses: the life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the Good, that loves and re-produces the Beautiful, and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things. 
The life of virtue  has nothing to do with one's prospective pleasures, possessions or practical affairs, but concerns the manner in which one is prepared to spend one's leisure hours. 
Predictably, as science took a technological turn and as education began to preparing students for work rather than for leisure, for the factory rather than the parlor, the school itself came to resemble the factory, losing its idiosyncratic, intimate and moral character. 
The 1828 Dictionary 

Leisure - Freedom from occupation or business; vacant time; time free from employment  

Entertainment - Provisions of the table; hence also, a feast; a superb dinner or supper. The amusement, pleasure or instruction, derived from conversation, discourse, argument, oratory, music, dramatic performances, etc.; the pleasure which the mind receives from any thing interesting, and which holds or arrests the attention. 

Amusement - entertainment of the mind, pastime; a pleasurable occupation of the senses, or that which furnishes it, as dancing, sports or music

Today's dictionary

Leisure - free time, use of free time for enjoyment 

Entertainment - the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.

Amusement - the state or experience of finding something funny.

I highlighted the "from employment" and "for enjoyment" because it gets at the crux of the difference. Rest from employment was the point of leisure in the past and there were a variety of ways that could be spent.  Today, the definition tells us that leisure is "for enjoyment" which many of us equate with amusement and entertainment.  In some ways,leisure today is defined as a selfish thing, in the past it wasn't so clear how you were to use it.  You'll also note that entertainment and leisure in the 1828 dictionary include a strong relational element, engaged the mind and required attention. However, our age has a whole different type of amusement that does not require any of these things of its participants,  

Hick's work and these definitions point out two key ideas to me.

Leisure calls you to a decision

I have conflated leisure and amusement in my mind, they need to be separated.  Free time (leisure) does not have to lead to amusement - it can lead to enjoying beauty and goodness through the arts. The way that Hicks describes art and virtue working together in the first quote.  However, as I share the the arts  - visual, music, drama, and literature -  my children view them as WORK (because it is school time) not LEISURE.  They see things that are amusing - Minecraft, Splatoon, Super Why, - as the proper use of their free time (leisure). I need to redefine these activities as amusement and the other as culture creation - but both are FREE TIME (leisure) activities.  By not fully understanding how to use (and that I can choose to use) my family's leisure time well - my children are "Amusing Themselves to Death" (another book I haven't read but would like to).

Even though the arts are not "extra" in educating my children, I have not taught them how this is to be pursued as leisure and not work.  To enjoy a book, painting, good discussion or piece of music will require some work - but it should be a restorative, fulfilling work. Leisure allows a choice - something that builds culture and character or amusement and entertainment. I need to practice making better choices and helping my children to do likewise.

Leisure time (not work) as an indication of Virtue

If, as Hicks suggests, how we use our free time demonstrates our virtue; then we have LOTS of work to do around here (mom and dad included).  Are my free time choices cultivating my mind and the culture of my home or are they hollow entertainment and amusement?  Am I attending to culture making for myself and my family during my leisure time?  This issue is humbling me!  I don't think I have really thought about how much choice I have in this issue. I know I have not taught my kids to be discerning in this area.  I think this issue of using your free time is like looking at your spending habits - how you do it truly shows your priorities,  That is helpful to me - especially as I start thinking about "New Year's resolutions" and planning.

Since my education was geared towards work, I have always thought of how I do my "work" as the key to showing virtue.  However, Hicks and classical thinkers turn that on its head.  Not that you should act unethically in your work, but rather that willing yourself to do what is right when you have freedom (of time) shows who you are and what you value.

We don't fall into the "school as factory" model that Hicks describes, but I think we have been following a different subtle and destructive path.  We have believed that our children need and deserve some amusement - they empty kind - because they are kids. This ties in with Hick's discussion of whether we are preparing them to be adults or are "child centered"?  By allowing my children to spend their free time in amusement I am not cultivating culture or character in them.

I needed to name these concepts and now I think I can better understand that we do "spend" our free time (leisure)- the choice is either in culture creating activities or amusement.  If preparing students to use their leisure time wisely is the aim of classical education maybe I should stop undermining my own efforts!  

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