As a teacher and a graduate student, the word "time" can make you shiver. The school day at The Greek American Institute and schools everywhere is all about time. Planning time, lunch time, class time, recess … they all have specific times and the appropriate sound bytes (bells, horns, tones and more) remind us that there is someplace else we need to be. I can remember having free time somewhere in my not-so-distant past; with two intense technology courses, free time for me has been reduced to being Sammy Spud on the couch watching the remote drag me through half-hour or hour-long electronic martinis until bedtime at 7:30 pm.
Last week, when reading Why Can't We Get It Right by Marsha Speck and Carole Knipe for my class ("Designing Virtual Leaning Communities for Staff Development"), the thought occurred to me that the issue of "time" is an artificially imposed standard in education. It didn't take much to get me traversing off on a broad tangent that makes we wonder what we are doing to children. And, even if we can understand "what we are doing" then I have to ask "Why are we doing it?"
How did we come up with this ridiculous grade level system? Okay, age makes sense even though some children in my class should be with the 3rd Grade based on their achievement level. But who decided that children were going to have to learn this topic this year OR ELSE and then they would only have five days to learn it? Is there an expiration date stamped on the back of kids that I don't know about? It was then I remembered my own ragged five year adventure through college, a journey which included a semester of no school, two semesters of minimal credits, and two semesters with 18 credits. Would I give up that extra year in college? NO WAY! In my own selfish way, an experience of 30 years ago had taught me that graduating a year earlier from college would not have mattered one little bit; I also think that I would have stayed in Accounting and would have killed myself by now.
We are at the forefront of a whole revolution where learning truly will become a lifetime adventure. Changes in the workplace, the schools, technology and society will demand that we keep pace with the speed of life. As many of us have also learned, it's possible that the younger generations may have two or three or more different careers in their lifetime. Our mobility as a society, our economy and our technology give people a chance to reshape themselves at will.
The major complaint that I've heard from teachers is that there is never enough time. Suppose there was enough time? One also has to wonder the following: does it make sense to "speed" children through school in this day and age? We are no longer a society that needs to get the children into the fields or the factories to bring home money that will keep the family alive. We are a society in transition from our agricultural and industrial roots into a service-based economy but our schools still keep beat with drums from the past. We are not in a desperate foot race to crush Communism anymore, so why not let classrooms be learning centers where knowledge is achieved, not doled out in time-restricted portions?
Suppose we could have the "time" to really let children learn and understand, not on our artificial basis of a "school year" but, rather, on their achievelement levels? Does it make more sense if students worked on an "achievement of knowledge and understanding" basis rather than limited unit days? Is it possible, with some guidelines, that students could learn at their own pace?
Obviously, those are a great deal of questions and I would not pretend to have any of the answers. It's possible that a transition to more open-learning environments will help facilitate a sensible conversion to student directed learning. To that end, student learning will be directed by the depth and breadth that STUDENTS desire, not what some politicians or education dinosaurs see as their mandated decisions.