I love the way Paul Thomas thinks and writes, and he has another great post at the Daily Kos called “Time as Capital: The Rise of the Frantic Class” that is worth the read, and it has inspired me to watch the film In Time. Paul’s right about a lot of things in the post, but one issue rises to the top of my list of concerns that I’ve been fretting over for years – the way time is connected to the earning potential of a working body (and how that earning potential is always regulated by people who have access to money). Simply put, if you are a painter who works for yourself, for a small business, or for lots of different people depending on who has the work, the money you are capable of earning is at most equal to the amount of money offered by someone else and the time your body can physically be present on the jobsite painting. Doing an outside job and it rains three days in a row? You’re screwed – and to add insult to injury the person who hired you is probably pissed because the job isn’t finished when you said it would be. Body too sore to climb on a ladder? Too bad, you can’t afford to miss even one hour of work much less a whole day.
I know workers who schedule themselves 7 days a week as many weeks in a row as they possibly can because they know the work won’t be there soon. Sore bodies, injuries, sicknesses, emergencies at home are all set aside so they can put in the physical hours to earn their wages. Leisure? Recreation? Healthcare? Not much of it – and when time is on their hands as a direct result of having no work, that time is filled with anxiety and worry about how to fill up time with wage-earning work.
This “frantic distraction of surviving” (as Paul puts it) is a deeply entrenched injustice in the United States, and one that is rarely known by privileged Americans. It is an unethical way to organize a society, an inhumane project aimed only at keeping wealth and power exactly where it already is.
Why might this matter in schools or in the greater idea of education writ large?
What if we taught that time is an important part of our human rights – integral to our dignity? That time equals not “money” but opportunities to be in the world in meaningful ways. Some of that time will be devoted to work to earn a living, other parts of that time devoted to being with nature and cultivating relationships with our family and friends. Some of that time will be committed to caring for ourselves, for playing, dancing, creating, for growing things, cooking, and cleaning.
Even for being silent – just being.
If educators believed this about time, we would organize school days differently – no bells marking “tardies” and rushing us from place to place. No rigid lines taking full groups of people to the restroom. No silent lunchrooms where everyone is forced to eat a lunch they don’t know anything about and forced to throw away uneaten food. Time would be cared for in gentle ways, and we would be generous with time. We would use time to teach that there are, indeed, a thousand paths to happiness and that it is within our rights to demand those paths be open to us. And we, as educators and parents and students and citizens, would demand that time take its rightful place in schooling – as a gift. Time would not be used as a “benchmark” or “restriction” or “retention” or “progress” or “development” or “advancement” or so many other ways we steal time from people and use it as punishment. Steal enough hours, days, weeks, months, semesters, and you have stolen a childhood. A lifetime. A life. We wouldn’t stand for that if we took time seriously.
Parents – including myself – have been crying out for a more humane use of schooltime and the time of our children’s lives. We live with the disastrous results of a frantic-paced schooling that literally pushes kids to the edge of their sanity, taking their families along for the hellish ride that sometimes never stops. Schools are, indeed, catapulting kids into a “race to nowhere” that creates time as capital – but without human rewards.
Another plea for slow schooling
I have written before about what I see as some of the basic rewards of a school school movement, though it’s far from being fleshed out in any kind of productive way. This notion of time, though, and the life-changing decision about how to “teach” time in schools, how to “use” time in schools, and how to “expect” time to play out across one’s life is a provocative way of exploring a slow school movement. The word slow, alone, signifies a use of time that is in contrast to something else already in place – something fast. And the notion of bodies, too, should be a central part of moving this idea forward. How do we teach, use, and what do we expect of bodies in schools and across one’s life? How do bodies and time come together to create meaningful living and learning and being?
These questions are beyond the scope of a blog post, but I will continue my work on them both in my academic writing and in my personal life.