Saturday, 30 July 2011

Time 2

It is July.  The children are on holiday from school.  I hear them laughing at the bus stop.  I hear the creaking of the hinges on the swings in the park.  I see a line of teenagers perched on the church wall, waiting for something to happen. I envy them that they have time to play, time to waste, time to be bored, time to make wishes, time to be discontented. 

Yet is such "divine discontent and longing" the privilege only of the young?

While the education pundits are worrying about "learning loss" in the summer holidays, ought they perhaps to be taking lessons from the young?  We talk about "down time", "me time", "spare time", "time out" and "time off" without perhaps considering what we mean.  I prefer to think of what I have called "fallow time".

When a field lies fallow it is resting from the effects of the ploughing, from the planting, from the fertilizing and the harvesting of crops.  The fallow field is open to stray seeds, of the type we often call weeds, and it becomes a home for a variety of insects and small mammals.   Some of the seeds grow into plants that nourish the soil, some are far less desirable.  Some of the insects are beneficial and others are destructive.  Some of the mammals help to keep down the more pestiferous creatures and others are damaging and dangerous.  

Some people believe that when a field is left fallow a "balance of nature" returns and fertility is restored to the soil.  Other people worry about the seeds of weeds blowing to other, cultivated, fields and about the proliferation of troublesome insects and animals. It depends on how you view life.  

Philosophy comes into everything.

Is life a blessing and a gift to be cherished and savoured and lived with enjoyment?  Or is life a matter of duty and hard work?  Is learning a matter of being taught and working hard to absorb the lessons?  Or is learning a matter of observation and experience?  Is thinking a matter of quiet contemplation?  Or is thinking a matter of dialogue with colleagues and friends and strangers? Is recognising what is good a matter of studying a holy book and listening to preachers?  Or is recognising what is good a matter of observation and reason, emotion and experience?

I would say that life and learning are all of the above and more.  

Time to live and time to learn must include time to be fallow: to see what comes into the mind, to watch and wait and to experience the world we live in; to appreciate the company of the people and the creatures around us; to rest and to restore our energies.  Of course living and learning also includes time to strive, time to be active and time to slog away until a job is done.  The emotional experiences of living and learning include achievement and failure, pride and disappointment, celebration and consolation, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, intimacy and isolation.

Being young involves the pressure to learn how to learn, to learn how to live and to learn how balance emotion and reason and to decide what is good.  No wonder they need time play, time to sit on a wall and time to "hang out".  Give the children a break you pundits.  Just as a fallow field needs to be prepared again for cultivation so the first week back at school is a time of revision and getting back to formal learning.  Rather than looking at "learning loss" look at how much the children have grown, and how pleased they are to be back at school.

Of course not every child enjoys the long holiday.  The answer is not to cut the holiday short but to provide activities and learning opportunities for those who want to make use of them.  We need more positive input from the educationalists, more resources, more people involved; more musicians, sports people, artists, writers, dancers, actors, technicians and engineers, scientists and mathematicians, who are willing to invest their time in inspiring and educating our children.  

Yes this means cash not cuts, and the question then is what kind of a society do we want to live in?  What are our values?  What are our priorities? What do we deem to be worth investment?  What are the consequences of not investing extra effort and resources in our children and young people?

While you ponder these question I am going to sit on a wall and watch the world go by.  I am learning from the young.


  1. Oh how I agree, June! In this pressurised age where so many folk seem to run around in ever-decreasing circles, it is often seen as“wrong” to just stand and stare” or have some fallow time – a term I really like. I think this often applies to the young too, especially the “privileged” child who can be over-programmed with improving experiences in any spare time, ferried to music, sport, dance lessons etc, all very valuable in their own right, but leaving little time for the child just to “be”. Many of our generation will no doubt remember those times as children when we just lay around staring at the ceiling, or the sky and thinking or day dreaming. With no TV or the countless attractive and addictive electronic diversions that there are nowadays, there were only books or the radio to distract us. There seem to be fewer chances now for a child to be “bored,” which is surely when the imagination takes over and has a chance to develop, and which is why so many children in my experience will say they are bored whenever there is no specific activity on hand. It can seem that the more stimulus they have, the less they are able fall back on their own resources. I think it was Susan Greenfield who said that the more the brain is bombarded with electronic stimuli, as in computer games etc, the fewer the “creative” pathways that develop - but I stand to be corrected.
    This is not meant to be a rant about modernity which has many positives, but I do agree that far more cash needs to be put into a proper, far more rounded education for our young so that the long holidays can be seen as an enriching “fallow time” where they can observe and experience. Froebel, Montessori and their ilk all understood the value of learning through play and I heard it said today that in Finland 30% of teaching/learning happens outside the formal classroom setting, and their results are the best in Europe.

  2. Thanks for this thought-provoking comment, Judith.