“We treat non-school, non-sleeping or non-eating time, unbudgeted free time, with suspicion and no little fear. For while it may offer opportunity to learn and do new things, we worry that the time we once spent reading, kicking a ball, or mindlessly coddling a puck might be used destructively, in front of TV, or ‘getting in trouble’ in endless ways. So we organize free time, scheduling it into lessons–ballet, piano, French–into organizations, teams, and clubs, fragmenting it into impossible-to-be-boring segments, creating in ourselves a mental metabolism geared to moving on, making free time distinctly free.”
–Ken Dryden, The Game
I’m reading Ken Dryden’s book about his team as the Montreal Canadiens goalie, a time in which he won six Stanley Cups (impressive). His words here got me thinking about my own students’ free time, or lack thereof. Dryden’s words are 30 years old, but the argument that our youth’s time is over-structured rings more true today.
My school is on a seven-period schedule. No study hall. No recess. Seven ideally busy 50-minute chunks of learnin’. I try to fill up that time, too, for nothing’s more mischievous than 35 pairs of idle teenage hands. But when’s the time to pursue one’s own interests? In college, I used the spare hours to read back issues of Film Comment or consume the library’s impressive collection of Woody Allen films. If we want our schools to emulate a college academic environment (and I’m not saying that’s a stated goal of anyone’s, but maybe it should be), then why not build in a little time for cultivating some passions? Why not send the message to students, through their schedules, that they should set aside time to really dive into the things which excite them? Why not let them know how important it is to have time in your day to get good at something?
Dryden goes on: “…more is needed to transform those skills into something special. Mostly it is time unencumbered, unhurried, time of a different quality, more time, time to find wrong answers to find a few that are right; time to find your own right answers.”
The same goes with students’ after-school time. I don’t want them smoking pot and getting each other pregnant, but there are plenty of students I teach whose dance, band, theatre, swim, whatever obligations leave them far too little time to themselves, to think, to explore, to wonder, to experiment–not with huffing gas–but with a soccer ball, a delay pedal, a book maybe.
Dryden laments the loss of “street soccer,” wherein players became great because of their countless hours exploring, becoming one with a soccer ball, discovering new things they could do with one. These days (the 70s, too, apparently), we coach all the fun out of the game, building a team on analytics and fundamentals. I see the same thing happening in my own school, my own class, and wonder what (if anything) I need to do about it.