Reconstructing schole in public leisure services
Maynard, Stephen Shawn
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American life has become increasingly fragmented and individualistic, characterized by citizens’ pursuit of their private conceptions of the good life and facilitated by the liberalism of government as it emphasizes the protection of rights rather than conceptions of a common good. This increasing individualism has also been accompanied by an increasingly anti-intellectual sentiment evidenced by a steadily decreasing literacy rate, fervent political partisanship, and passive media consumption. Aristotle’s conception of leisure—what it is, what purpose it serves, how it should be utilized—is introduced as a meaningful guide for contemporary American society to reconstruct a social/intellectual leisure for the 21st century in hopes of counterbalancing the rampant individualism and anti-intellectualism plaguing American society. Local government institutions such as municipal leisure service agencies and libraries are presented as essential tools for the application of this reconstructed view of Aristotelian leisure into community practice, with conversation as the most essential leisure activity. A critical examination of the history of the municipal recreation and leisure services movement in America suggests that a “golden era” (displaying semblances of Aristotelian intellectual and social/political leisure) in the first few decades of the 20th century has been highly romanticized, and instead, was driven primarily by the quest for professionalism through the application of generic business management principles. Current conceptions and practices of leisure service agencies are critiqued and an alternative conception grounded in Aristotelian leisure—development and exercise of the intellect and broad political participation—is presented for consideration by practitioners in local government. Academic programs providing professional preparation for public leisure service careers are critically examined and a new interdisciplinary institute for leisure education and civic engagement is proposed.