Last week, I said that as an educator, and as a parent, I believe the best gift we can give our kids is the gift of time.
I am not just talking about a father taking a break from work and bringing his son camping in the woods. I am not merely referring to a mother adjusting her busy schedule to spend an afternoon with her teenage daughter. I am talking about breaking the spell that adults have placed on children called mass schooling and compulsory education — which for the large part involves taking a huge chunk of children’s time, dividing them up into neat little compartments called “classes” in which they do what adults have deemed is best for them to do, without regard for what they think or feel about the matter.
One of my favorite chapters in the book, Free At Last: The Sudbury Valley School, by Daniel Greenberg, is Chapter 18, Time Enough, and it starts:
“There are no bells at Sudbury Valley. No ‘periods.’ The time spent on any activity evolves from within each participant. It’s always the amount of time the person wants and needs. It’s always the right amount of time.”
Here, children are given enough time to do what they want, as long as they want. What they deem as important is respected. No adult comes to them and says, “Hey, you’re wasting time doing that. Why don’t you spend your time being more productive?”
“Jacob seats himself before the potter’s wheel. He is thirteen years old. It is 10:30AM. He gets ready, and starts throwing pots. An hour passes. Two hours. Activities swirl around him. His friends start a game of soccer, without him. Three hours. At 2:15 he rises from the wheel. Today, he has nothing to show for his efforts. Not a single pot satisfied him.
Next day, he tries again. This time, he rises at 1:00 after finishing three specimens he likes.
Thomas and Nathan, aged eleven, begin a game of Dungeons and Dragons at 9:00. It isn’t over by 5:00. Nor by 5:00 the next day. On the third day, they wrap it up at 2:00.
Shirley, nine, curls up in a chair and starts to read a book. She continues at home, and the next three days, until it is finished…
Time is not a commodity at Sudbury Valley. It is not ‘used,’ either poorly or well. It is not ‘wasted’ or ‘saved.’
Time here is a measure of the inner rhythm of life, in all its complexity. As each string of events unfolds, the time appropriate to that string elapses with it…
Year after year at school, I have watched as each child’s growth unfolded according to their own sense of time. I saw children spring forward, and then stay steadily in place for a seeming eternity. I saw people dream, and then ever so slowly drift back to earth.”
I am working for such a school to be reality in our city.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.