The old saying “things take time” seems to have lost its stature in our current “insta” culture. Somehow, we’ve lost sight of the fact that in life and in learning, allowing the time to move through a lesson, a project, or a challenging experience is very important. In our fast paced, to-do-list culture, it’s a challenge to let go and allow life to unfold in its own time. Finding the balance between “getting it done” and “giving it time” is a struggle of immense proportions, and few are immune to it. This struggle has increasingly affected our children.
Nowhere is the effect of over-scheduling, even with good intentions, more evident than in our public schools. “Block scheduling,” is now a common practice, where every topic is scheduled to the minute throughout the day, as well as testing requirements and the ever more elaborate curriculum are three factors that have intensified daily routines in our elementary school classrooms. Teachers and students alike are pressed to follow tight routines by the clock, with little or no transition time in between. Snack time, recess time, time to shift from one subject to the next—or just plain quiet time—continues to be whittled away as the curriculum gets wider and deeper every day.
Walk down the hall of an elementary school at arrival time on any given morning and the energy is filled with pure potential. Young minds, open hands and hearts, curiosity, and vulnerability abound. The school day then begins with the bell and it’s off to the races. Block scheduling and Common Core standards rule the day. Young minds are invited to dive deep into subjects and incorporate business-like skills in managing their supplies and professional decorum all in record time; to make the most of the academic day.
Scheduled to the Minute
The school day is scheduled to the minute, leaving no transition time between subjects and oftentimes requiring teachers to borrow time from other subjects to complete “mile wide and mile deep” learning objectives while routinely hastening students from one time block to the next (in twenty to forty-minute intervals).
When asked about the changes in her classroom that have occurred over the years, Veterans Park Elementary School 3rd grade teacher and 2019 Teacher of the Year shared, “When I started teaching, the material wasn’t as rich, but there was a lot more professional liberty,” she said. “There wasn’t this block planning like there is now. You had to teach four subjects in your day and make it work.” Ms. Craig has been teaching for over 20 years and explained that these days “It’s more complex, which is a good thing, but we don’t allow the time for the kids to do the work.” For instance, she said, “we have our March Madness Read Aloud books, which are so much fun because these books are so beautiful and thought provoking. The kids want to stop and talk about them, but there’s not any time for that!” And although this is an example that highlights the current elementary school experience, there is evidence that suggests both children and young adults (middle school and high school students) feel that their daily schedule does not allow time for adults to listen to their interests and concerns.
A Wide Spread Challenge
It’s no secret that many of us are stressed and overwhelmed by our quick-paced life. More than one-third of Americans have displayed clinical signs of anxiety, depression, or both since the coronavirus pandemic began (Census Bureau). This comes as no surprise, but one “up-side” of the pandemic has been that it seems to have given many families a break from rushing around and blindly playing beat the clock day after day. Being in lockdown afforded a respite from the lives that were inadvertently conjured up in attempts to “make the most” of life and “give every opportunity” to our children. This unexpected downtime was a struggle for many, but it offered extra time for new ways of exploring our existing habits and day-to-day routines, as well as the opportunity to check in with our beliefs about everything from equality to our personal definition of safety. We have been pressed to explore our sense of boundaries, relationships, and the scope of our emotional resilience in a way that we never would have had to prior to March of 2020. We have had to deal with the fact that things take time, patience truly is a virtue, and life is a process. This was true before and will continue to be expressed throughout the future.
Through his musicals, the late, great composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim (also beloved Connecticut neighbor), offers the audience the opportunity to explore the tension between the boring and safe life path versus the scary and exciting options. The pandemic has offered us more than our fair share of scary options and has been a far cry from any kind of boring, safe path. Every lesson Sondheim’s characters learn, every hurdle they encounter, is a new invitation to explore the character’s own motivations and decision-making abilities. The stories expose the development of the character through their adventures and relationships, unhindered by, or as a result of, the restrictions of time and expectations.
According to Sondheim, the unknown is a life-giving, tumultuous space that humans are meant to inhabit. In our culture, we are scheduling the heck out of the unknown in an attempt to feel safe, ensure the safety of our children, and control the outcomes of our lives. As a result, we lose the chance to learn resilience, problem-solving, creative process, and the importance of building strong inner resources in order to experience the most out of life. In a New York Times interview in June of 2008, Sondheim shared a view on his creative process. “That’s one of the things that appeals to me about stories, is if I’ve never done anything like it before. It has to be some unknown territory. It’s got to make you nervous. If it doesn’t make you nervous, then you’re going to write the same thing you wrote before.”
Ask anyone born before 1980 to describe their day- to-day routine as a kid, and some of the first words you’ll probably hear are “outside,” “neighborhood,” “bicycle” and “friends.” Their response will be filled with phrases like “all day,” “looking for something to do,” “pickup game” and “making things out of boxes.” Earlier generations learned to innovate and follow their curiosity to come up with their own ways to resolve tiffs with friends and a solution to not having a toy Barbie car (solved by making one out of tissue boxes or a strawberry container). In “the old days” patience was developed by waiting a whole week to watch cartoons, which only aired on Saturday mornings, or waiting forever for a letter from a best friend who was away at camp. This is challenged by todays instant gratification offered by streaming services and social media. Kids roamed and explored and sometimes got in ‘a pickle’, but ultimately found their way home and found out a lot about themselves in the process.
Being forced to step out of our ordinary lives during Covid has been challenging in many ways, but many would agree that it has also been a gift; a chance to reflect on who we are and what we’ve been doing. What we do with that gift is up to us. •