Five minutes pass, then ten minutes, then twenty.
Has it really been an hour?
A young girl and boy wander around the schoolyard taking turns experimenting with a camera that offers new and unusual ways of looking and seeing and living in the world.
A close-up of grass, part of a tree, a swing, and a friend provide material for curiosity and wonder and laughter and play.
The two children spend at least an hour on their own. No adult checking on them wondering about their task and whether they’re on it, no expectation that some kind of share out will hold them responsible for an adult mandated lesson they were to put into practice, no interruptions or calls to the carpet or lights flipping on and off or shushes or claps or public celebrations of other children who are doing a different task.
To be in a place of such peace where children and adults work/play for long periods of uninterrupted times pulled me into the slowness of being, the rhythm of the present, and the quiet of curiosity. To be in a place where time is supplanted as the governor of activity by the meaningful movements of people is really stunning given that I spend so much of my time in educational spaces that are marked by the minute.
When a society (or any sub-culture of a society) becomes so compelled by narratives of efficiency and accountability, it is inevitable that measures of time will begin to rule human lives. And if measures of time begin ruling adult lives, it is inevitable that the same restrictions will soon be forced upon children – perhaps with even more force given the assumptions from most perspectives that children are to be controlled in their stage of only partial humanity.
I am struck by the ease with which children and adults populate the spaces of the Reggio schools. Bodies seemed natural and relaxed. Talk flowed without a sense of urgency. Conversation happened. Wondering, wandering, play, work, and smiles interacted fluidly as if everyone was in a time machine. A time-standing-still machine.
What long-term effect would a commitment to a slow school movement have on the quality of children’s, youth’s, and adults’ lives? If a school is not governed by time passing, but instead governed by the present and tending to our joys, curiosities, needs, and togetherness, what would happen in that school? How would we recognize it?
With the U.S. policymakers and education reformers persuaded by “time on task” and “preparation” for a hypothetical future of “career and college,” most schools become spaces where fluidity is outside the lexicon. Where present is only here to prepare for the future. Like the grassroots slow food movement that challenges all the efficiencies and speed of fast corporate food and the culture-changing impact it has had on nearly everyone, I wish for a slow school movement that parallels in commitment to the local and present.
I wish for a school movement where two children can wander around for an hour taking photographs of objects and people they find curious, and their explorations won’t be disrupted by clapping hands, flipping lightswitches, teachers calling out, or threats of losing their 10-minute recess for not being on task.