The Educational Takeaway

I have been getting around eight to nine hours of sleep each night. Believe me when I say that, in the United States, this is so rare as to be the gold in the mine.

For many of us Americans, work is the language that we speak. Regardless of how much progress we are making, the underlying impression is that work should be done anyway.

But now it seems we are learning other lessons that we had not even realized were there until we took the time to account for it. Because of the better sleep, coupled with a change in diet of zero fast food (because I am not going out there to get it), and my skin looks much clearer. I have been working out much more because I have more time and am sitting so much that I practically have to in order to not go stir crazy.

When I was a teacher at a brick-and-mortar campus, none of these things were true. I was at a breakneck pace, filling out paperwork, doing attendance, creating routines and habits for 30 students in the classroom. I took so many steps during the day that I only felt the need to work out once or twice a week, and our school started at the very early time of 7:50, which means I was out the door somewhere before 7:00.

Not to mention that at all times there were questions about chores and decisions that I simply did not want to account for when I got home. This made the work that my wife had to do that much more pressing and demanding. In hindsight, the last school year was one of the most challenging, when really it should be the other way around.

What is happening right now? As Alan Lightman has suggested, we’re learning things about ourselves that we should have learned long ago. Lightman is an MIT professor and the author of In Praise of Wasting Time and he suggests that all ages of people, especially the young, are in desperate need of large swaths of time in order to play, become creative, and cultivate an inner self.

But we’re at a crossroads where traditional education has come to a standstill, and the resultant whiplash by my high school students has made them almost comatose. Here are some of the weekly reports my students have given on how they’ve spent their time:

Everyday is the same and it feels like a constant loop. Wake up, TikTok, eat, TikTok, do work, TikTok, sleep, and repeat.

My week has been by far the most busiest, i havent done any of my work. My days have consisted of waking up late, eating little, being on my phone, playing, using the restroom, showering, and sleeping late.

I’ve been siting all day at my house lazy and wanting to go back to school because i cant focus on doing assignments at home. I’m not use to this and i think i just have to adapt and focus on being more productive.

its been fine, playing games

Videogames seem to be a big commonality, and I think that largely has to do with the way we have educated students for decades. We have been giving them tasks to do for years, yet suddenly we have a point in human history where the only task is to do nothing, or at least not anything mandated by the outside world. Their default state, therefore, is to go out and look for people to give them tasks. Since I have turned 30, I have unilaterally decided to halt my video game playing to drastic lows, because I have come to describe it as “unforced free labor” where you perform the ritualistic acts for the developer, and overall waste a lot of time.

I understand that this is a reductive and simplistic take on video games, but when coupled with young people, they have little left to turn to.

We have been telling students what to do for years, and so when the leash comes off and young people have to create meaning for themselves, they have little initiative.

This could be an opportunity for a breakthrough in education. Schools could reframe budgets, not on attendance, but on other factors, and let students come into schools in shifts. Teachers could get more time in close knit communities with students, facilitate their work rather than lecture to them, and we really could build up incentives and motivation. We could give students back their inner selves.

Will this happen? Absolutely not. For many poor communities, school is still daycare and a foodbank. Our school is a school of choice, and as a charter school I can imagine next fall a place where we spend even more time building up marketing gimmicks and cheap tricks to remind parents in the area that we are still a viable and worthwhile product. It will sicken me I’m sure.

The problem with the systems that we have set up for young people in education is that suddenly we realize that many of them are just that: human abstractions. Yet when it is all said and done, no one has any real authority to capitalize on the lessons learned.

Sure we’re all encountering terrible truths right now about the way the world works, but the more horrible realization (and the much more likely one) is that nothing will change, and nothing will be learned.

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