School As Leisure? Yep!
As I turn 69 tomorrow, and as I retire from fulltime academic work on July 31 (though I will continue to teach about two classes a semester), I am giving some thought to what the future might hold for me. Retirees often ask themselves, "How can I successfully transition from work to leisure?"
For me, no such transition can take place. For I will merely be transitioning from leisure to leisure, seeing that I have never worked a day in life. Yes, I have been a school teacher for 44 years. But did you know where the word "school" comes from? It might surprise you that our word "school" derives from the Greek word scholē, which has the general meaning of "leisure." To the ancient Greeks, leisure made it possible for people to spend time thinking and pursuing knowledge. Eventually the term came to refer to a place of leisurely learning (as the "school" [scholē] of Tyrannus in the book of Acts). The Latins changed the spelling to schola, hence our word school (Span. escuela). Today, of course, "school" means anything but leisure to many. School has become more and more about vocational training, a place to learn the skill sets of one's life work. Leisure is something we do when we are not at school.
I have never viewed school that way. As you know, when I went to Biola to study the Scriptures and to major in Bible (changing from a music major at the University of Hawaii), I had no earthly idea what I would do with my degree. As with the original meaning of "school," I undertook my studies for their own sake and enjoyment. That I was asked to teach Greek at Biola in 1976 took me completely by surprise. Me teach Greek? What, are you kidding? I don't know if anyone ever said, "You can take the boy out of leisurely Hawaii. but you can never take leisurely Hawaii out of the boy." But it's true. I went to Biola as a student in 1971. I left for Wake Forest as a teacher in 1998. I will retire from my profession in 2021. But nothing will change. I am a life-long leisurely learner. That this "schooling" led to a career in teaching was completely a serendipity.
Studies were never a bore for me. That includes 4 years of college, 5 years of seminary, and 3 years of doctoral studies. True scholars will make their way in life whether they are paid or not. That's just who they are. Students today, I believe, have largely forgotten this. Somehow we have forgotten how to play and have sacrificed "school as leisure" to the demands of a pastorate or some other vocation. I can assure you that leisure and learning are not incompatible.
That's one reason I've never been able to separate my "devotional" study of the Bible from my "academic" study of the same. That's simply not possible when all of schooling is leisure and all of leisure is schooling. That's why I see education as much more than classroom teaching and degrees. It's about getting the tools for life. For many of us, formal education is simply a way that allows us to start that process. For me, studying is my leisure. For scholars, all of life is a laboratory where we subject what we have been taught to the test of daily living.
As I look back now, I think very little of the diplomas I've gotten. Nobody really cares that I have a degree from such-and-such a school. The educated person does not need degrees to grow into well-rounded maturity. They become men and women of thought. I will not deny that I am a professor of Greek or that I hold a chair in New Testament Studies. But that does not define me. I am, and have always been, a defender of "school" and its delights. Thus, very little will change when I "retire" at the end of July. Leisurely study will accompany me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the (school)house of the Lord forever.
June 8, 2021
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.