What to the student is Labor Day weekend?

Written by Sam Postell, Director of the Center for Liberty and Learning

I often find myself reminding our students at Founders Classical that Aristotle first observed, and Churchill often pondered, that the good life is one that embraces a balance between work, play, and leisure. I remind them that work is serious toil; it should make your muscles sore and should aim at producing something, whether that be a healthy and strong body, or a beautiful piece of wood working, or something else. There is something essentially human about the productive arts. In Genesis, God makes the world by separating, and then he rests. Adam and Eve are entrusted with caring for creation and the creatures in the garden, to subdue the Earth, and act in God's image. And who could forget Penelope's grand trick in the Odyssey to confirm her husband's identity? There is something very human in Odysseus' pride in describing his construction of the marital bed. What is most remarkable about the bed made from Odysseus' hands is that he works alongside nature in its production.

Usually after talking to my students about work, I tell them how truly blessed they are. In the same way that John Adams believed that he must study politics and war so that his sons "may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy," our fathers, grandfathers, mothers, and grandmothers have made incredible sacrifices in order that we may sit together and read the greatest books that have ever been produced by human minds. Because of past sacrifice, we have peace, liberty, and the ability for play and leisure. It is about at this time that I tell my students that it is up to them to wisely divide the time and liberty that has been so graciously gifted them between play and leisure, lest we rob our posterity of the gifts that have been granted us by our parents and grandparents in trust.

What I love about Founders is that we have a curriculum that teaches students to use their leisure and liberty wisely. Our curriculum is rigorous, but in the last ten years as a school we have learned the importance of urging students to find rest in the time allotted to leisure and play outside of the classroom. For example, our students produce fantastic art and hone their skill throughout their years at the school (Churchill would be proud), our football team just won its second game in a row this past Friday, our cross country team is top-notch, and our theatre and music programs not only put on incredible performances, but also learning to act and sing at Founders inspires wonder in our students. It truly baffles me how these kids get any sleep with all they have on their plates and with how well they do it all. Yes we have a rigorous curriculum. Yes our students perform well in the classroom and on standardized tests. But often times I am even more impressed with what our students do outside of the classroom than what they do in it.

I often reflect on how important is this aspect of our school because I know that the alternative is destructive. According to a 2015 Common Sense Media study, Americans ages 13 to 18 consume an average of nine hours of media daily. Considering most of these teens sleep at some point, this consumption averages out to about one-third of their waking lives. Another shocking number is the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops in 2010: just one month after its release the game had been played a cumulative 68,000 years! Meanwhile, our political propositions do not confront our cultural problems. Students are clamouring for free college education, yet a recent study shows that in 2014 over half a million students enrolled in college were unprepared for the more advanced coursework.

Labor Day is now a federal holiday dedicated to rest. It was slowly adopted by states beginning in the 1880's with New York and Oregon. One might wonder why this generation has any right to celebrate such a weekend; kids, and even most grown men, aren't asked to toil in the same way that they were in the 19th century. Perhaps, therefore, Labor Day is best spent reflecting on this incredible gift that has been given us. Children today do not have to work on machines because their hands are smaller. Nor do they have to crawl into mines because their bodies are tinier. Nor are they sent to the plow each day so that their family may eat that night. To the student, Labor Day is a day to remember the precious gift they have been given, and take seriously the challenge that they not rob their own children of that same privilege. For some light Labor Day reading, I recommend these sources: - A history of Labor Day from ThoughtCo - Painting as Pastime, by Winston Churchill - The Struggle for an Education (1901), Booker T. Washington

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