Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

Time, time, time -- or quantitative un-easing

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I’m not finished with my negative/positive resistance topic – and I am going to interject myself into the child raising/educating picture some more.

I think having time is the biggest factor in feeling that you exist. When you have very little time to yourself, your “self” doesn’t exist anymore. Or rather, it feels that it doesn’t exist anymore. But it fights back. As I wrote in the previous blog, you start to exist by negative resistance to non-existence: I make myself absent, therefore I exist.

But I’m not going to talk about existential matters. That sort of thing is endless. What I want to do is to free associate about time.

I think one reason that we suffer from “not having time” is that we quantify time. We are so conditioned to do that. And I’m not going to say a whole lot of clichéd nonsense about how bad “conditioning” is. There are good reason and legitimate purpose for a lot of the conditioning that we receive. The problem, and the suffering, arises when we lose our autonomy and control to conditioning.

There are all kinds of good reasons to quantify time. We need hours and minutes and days and years – a lot of the time, but not all the time. Sometimes we need NOT to quantify time by breaking it up into measurable quantities. Sometimes, I think, not measuring time gives you more time.

Take my teaching for example. I started out our homeschooling journey setting time frames for things: this many hours of screen time and that many hours of reading time; this long for “academic” lessons and that long for music; this much for being outside in fresh air and that much for “socializing.” I’m not knocking myself or others who set out this way. It’s not a bad place to start – but it’s a place you put behind you very fast! (Experienced homeschoolers smile knowingly as they read this!)

The fact is that if you want to stick to schedules you have to turn yourself into an alarm clock, for starters. Perhaps there are kids out there who can self regulate by the clock: at the strike of 9:30 turn off the video game and open the book; at 1 dab their lips with the napkin at the lunch table and move behind their desk for math homework; at the stroke of 5:00 stop their game of tag and buckle themselves up in the car so mom can get home in time to cook. I’m sure there are kids like this somewhere, but I sure don’t know any.

As for my kid, even turning myself into an alarm clock won’t do the trick. To dislodge him from doing what he wants to be doing requires a pair of pliers. I won’t go into the unpleasant scenes we can get into as a result of this. I don’t know about him but I lose a lot of self respect over this issue. For one thing, no one acts pretty when they have to monitor and police another human being. For another thing, when I can’t enforce my own rules and time-tables I feel like a nagging or screaming fool. I don’t imagine my son gains any respect for me either when I can’t enforce my own rules, and that makes me doubly frustrated. So this kind of measuring and allocating time doesn’t work. This is one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin, however, is that you – or at least, I – can’t completely leave a kid to his own devices. I just can’t live with a kid who spends endless hours in front of various screens, which is what my son would do if I don’t turn myself into a pair of pliers and yank him away from it. I am not kidding. This is the reality of children his generation. Even their socializing, their friendships, are conducted behind a screen: texting, playing games, on Skype, Facebook, you name it. I know a lot of homeschoolers and unschoolers who think this is OK. I don’t. I’m not going to get into an ideological battle about it. I just can’t live like that. Period.

So, how can you have some regulation in life without quantification of time? This is not just an intellectual exercise; it’s an existential challenge! But it’s also a very practical and everyday problem that I have to find a solution to. How do I accomplish the teaching/learning goals I very much insist on without assigning timetables to them? I feel that I have to do some experimentation now.

What I’m going to experiment with is to become more subjective in my approach – which goes against all advice in child rearing.

You are always told to make sure the child knows what is expected of him. OK, this sounds fair enough. But perhaps the problem is that we quantify what we expect of our children: spend this much time, read this many books, complete so many assignments, exercise for so long. What if we make clear what we want the kid to do without assigning a time or other quantification to it? What if we just regulate his activities with “enough” or “not enough”?  This sounds awfully subjective, doesn’t  it? I mean, aren’t we conditioned to think that the clock is objective while mom’s judgment of “enough” or “not enough” is subjective?!

But to hell with the “objectivity” of the clock. I’m going to try subjectivity of judgment now. I know that “subjectivity” sounds arbitrary and authoritarian but maybe it’s actually less arbitrary and authoritarian than setting time schedules. Isn’t turning yourself into an alarm clock or time police just as authoritarian?!

The fact is that we are in the position of authority with our kids, so why pretend? Why relegate this authority to our conditioning to quantify?


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