The Importance of Rest in Classical Education

“Pourquoi est-ce que les vacances scolaires sont importantes?”

Posing the question “Why are school breaks important?” to a room of high schoolers four days before the end of first semester garnered the exact passionate responses I anticipated from these tired youths. After some time for reflection, I recorded the class’ reactions on the board: “Nous sommes fatigués ! Il faut se reposer ! J’ai envie de dormir ! – We are tired! We have to rest! I need sleep!” As a teacher, I feel the same sentiments keenly this time of year.

These students have a good reason to justify their break. As a classical school, we pride ourselves on the rigor of our curriculum. For students to graduate, they not only need to complete their assignments and try their best, they need to master content. One need only to look at the senior tutorial and moral philosophy courses required in students’ final year to know the education at our school is no trivial matter. The classes are genuinely difficult. 

In French alone, students must pass exams where they must prove their progress in reading, writing, listening, and speaking the language. Each day, I challenge these young adults to listen and respond for fifty minutes in language, a task which challenges the mind to listen more actively and respond more boldly than in a class held in their first language. This semester, I had a student in my class call learning a language a “commitment” and I couldn’t agree more. The task requires the students to take on great responsibility for accumulative learning and put forth true effort every day. And this class is only one elective course. They do work that is at least this difficult all day long.

So, what is the end to this challenging endeavor? Those in the midst of their classical education, or looking at it from the outside, may wonder, what is the end of these labors? Is there no reward other than a good grade on a report card, only if you don’t flunk the final?

Through their education, they develop not only habits of diligent students, but humble and curious individuals. Knowing how to rest is as important as knowing how to work. 

We continued our conversation in French class with a cultural lesson on how the French vacation. When do they vacation? How much vacation time do they have? What do they do when they vacation? We listened to interviews of some French people who described their philosophy of travel. One expressed that he prefered an “immersion totale” in the culture of the country he visited, another the inclination de “se perdre – lose oneself” in his travels. All suggested that they preferred to dig into the mentality of the people who lived in the country they visited.

When I asked the students to reflect on their own ideas of travel, what they desired in their break from the everyday if given the opportunity to travel, they echoed these same responses. The students told me of all the places they wanted to visit: Switzerland, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Guinea. They didn’t want to visit these places to go to fancy resorts, see celebrities, or visit amusement parks. They expressed true curiosity to find out what food they ate in these countries and how the native people behaved, to see the museums and the countryside. To hike the mountains and take in the views.

These moments in class, when we take a break from our daily grind of grammar and vocabulary practice, I see the fruit of the students’ academic labors, not just in my class, but in their education as a whole. Their humility in knowing that they do not know other places and culture, and their sense of wonder at what they imagine they might find, tells me they gain more than just concrete knowledge of facts and formulas in their rigorous education. The difficult work they must do imparts to them the proper desires of what to do when they are outside the classroom. Through their education, they develop not only habits of diligent students, but humble and curious individuals. Knowing how to rest is as important as knowing how to work. 

The students are home today, certainly enjoying some hours of repose before the holiday festivities ensue. And I am so grateful they have this time. For I know these students have earned it and will find true rest.