A few years ago I contributed to Academic Questions, a quarterly journal of the National Association of Scholars. Academic Questions focuses on the “vices and virtues of the contemporary university,” and my contribution was a part of their 2013 “Ideas for Higher Ed Reform.” Of the suggested topics, I chose “Advise students on one way to make the most of their college experience.” I’m sharing that contribution here, because it ties in with intention, suspension, and relationships:
Recovering a Disposition for Leisure
As you alight the steps from your last class of the day you instinctively attend to your iPhone. A few missed calls. Two voicemails. A few e-mails. A text message. Assorted notifications. Nothing pressing, though. There’s still time to enjoy the fading day as afternoon turns to evening, so you recline on a grassy spot beneath some graceful willow, pulling your iPad out to read a bit. You’ve get a few hundred words in before the iPhone is ringing, nagging again. Ignore. Then your iPad reminders kick in, finally and irrevocably pulling you from your reading, and from the evening.
This is our life now. There is so little room for quiet or leisure or silence. In The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton reminds us that “our word for school comes from the Greek word for leisure. Of course, reasoned the Greek, given leisure a man will employ it in thinking and finding out about things. Leisure and the pursuit of knowledge, the connection was inevitable…”
What a still radical and revolutionary insight—leisure, rather than programming or activities, as the context for discovery and learning! Even in Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional world The Diogenes Club was a necessary refuge from loudness and distraction.
Can we build physical, explicit spaces for leisure on our campuses? Where no devices are allowed? Where questing is the goal? Where eternal rather than ephemeral labors are sought?
What better way to make the most of a college experience than by intentionally retreating from noise? The gift of college is the opportunity to retreat from the world prior to commencing lives within it.
A bit of the wisdom of the Greeks is calling to us, if only we have a moment to think it over.