CH067: Thoughts on Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Season 11 : Good Books to Read

Somehow, Berry makes you feel affection for all mankind, even those who aren’t likable and maybe even those who are wicked but especially for those who are foolish — which is each one of us.

“Membership” with one another is the underlying thread in them both, and these novels have given that word much more depth and richness than I had ever seen in it.

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Thoughts on Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry


Simple Sanity Saver: Scholé

Cindy Rollins used to say that she taught her boys the humanities so that when the rats were nibbling their toes in prison (where they were thrown for their faith, hopefully, and not for wrongdoing, but either way) they’d have an interesting place to spend their time: their own minds.

This was years and years ago, so that is a rough paraphrase, of course, but she got me with that one.

The leisure that classical education prepares you for is not the leisure of “the leisure class” – although it began that way historically. Rather, classical education furnishes the mind so that when we have leisure – which we can have in our current society without resorting to slave labor – we can actually enjoy it. Rather than being bored and wishing we were back at work or resorting to mindless entertainment to fill our time, we can enjoy ourselves.

With a fully furnished and active mind, down time, time alone, quiet spaces of time, are a treasure not to be filled idly. We’re able to enjoy contemplative time because we have things to contemplate.

Aristotle was, not surprisingly, the primary source for this concept of scholé education.

We should be able, not only to work well, but to use leisure well. –Aristotle

It does not have to be one or the other, work or rest. Both have a place in the well-ordered life.

What ought we to do when at leisure? Clearly we ought not to be amusing ourselves, for then amusement would be the end of life. – Aristotle

Now, Aristotle does justify a little amusement – we don’t need to shun amusement altogether – but it is to be used sparingly as a remedy and relief for over-busy-ness, not as a habit.

Rather, we should arrange to have spare time, and to use it for leisure:

Leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment of life, which are experienced, not by the busy man, but by those who have leisure. -Aristotle

And, the education we pursue helps us enjoy our leisure and use it well:

It is clear then that there are branches of learning and education which we must study with a view to the enjoyment of leisure, and these are to be valued for their own sake; whereas those kinds of knowledge which are useful in business are to be deemed necessary, and exist for the sake of other things. -Aristotle

One subject in particular is aimed at promoting a mind that can enjoy leisure:

And therefore our fathers admitted music into education, not on the ground either of its necessity or utility; […] the use of music [is] for intellectual enjoyment in leisure […] this being one of the ways in which it is thought that a freeman should pass his leisure.

Therefore, Aristotle claims:

It is evident, then, that there is a sort of education in which parents should train their sons, not as being useful or necessary, but because it is liberal or noble.
This is an education of and for scholé.

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