Tuesday, February 13, 2018

On Idleness by Andy Jobson

It’s funny how quickly bad habits can set in.  After a few weeks of summer lethargy, I found myself struggling to use my time well in pre-planning this year.  That’s when I recalled Samuel Johnson’s essay “On Idleness,” which I have often shared with seniors.

Johnson presents an amusing assessment of a vice which, though not as widely disparaged as pride, may nonetheless be just as problematic.  He argues that idleness can often be hidden in ways that pride or wrath may not.  My students love the description of the truly idle, who rise from bed merely to find their way to the couch, who exercise just enough to get tired so that they can sleep again, who “exist in a state of unruffled stupidity, forgetting and forgotten… and at whose death the survivors can only say, that they have ceased to breathe.”

The real value of the essay, though, is its analysis of the ways we hide our idleness.  We do this by staying busy on the non-essential things.  Maybe we invest
hours of time in preparing our workplace, sharpening pencils and straightening stacks.  Maybe we fill the day with “petty business,” staying busy but not productive.  Hobbies can be entertaining ways to spend time, but Johnson notes his own tendency to while away the hours on something that truly just prevents him from addressing priorities.  One vice I especially have to fight is the fancy that I am engaged in important business when having conversations with fellow teachers. Of course I can learn a lot from them, and sometimes it is time well spent, but it can also be a way of hiding from the work I really have to do. 

I’m probably in the minority of teachers who waste time this way, but I have found his gentle humor helpful in redirecting me when I am tempted by the trivial.  Have a great (and productive) year!

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.