I’m intrigued by the hard work theme. I don’t know the data well, but I do know that employed Americans work harder than comparable employees in industrialized nations. I also know our public policy decreases the odds of parents staying home with their infants, having shared vacations, etc. I think of us as a nation busy being entertained and short on leisure.
I actually became a teacher most of all because I wanted my summers free! (Just as I chose Antioch College in 1949—which just closed—because it was the only college I could find that had the same rules for girls and boys, I’ve always had odd reasons for making my choices.) For me, summertime was the essential balance to the school year—it gave me (and always has) a chance to have a second life, of keeping the spirit of play going in my life. And so on. So I have a skewed view.
It mattered to me as a parent that my kids had some “passions"—things they loved to do—more than that they had talents. I even cherished, and still do, my 40-something–year-old son Roger’s passion for frisbee. He’s off in Holland right this moment playing frisbee (free style). As I drove him to the airport on his way to Scandinavia years and years ago (when he was in his teens) he asked me—"so, who has paid your way to Europe lately?” At that time the answer was “no one”. But the real delight I had was just watching his pleasure—from which flowed hard practice and devotion!
Sounds silly, but it’s worth a thought. How can we get kids to love reading, for example, the way they love…whatever.
I want a world—and a school system—that nourishes our passions for living, for caring about each other, for not being easily conned, for having well-informed convictions that are open to re-examination, to thinking our opinions could count, etc. “Hard work” is what follows—what infants have plenty of when they are trying to figure out how the world works and how they can make a dent in it. It’s what the “laziest” student has when preparing himself for a career as a basketball star—hours upon hours of practicing for a future that is no less foolish or unlikely than the one he doesn’t practice for at school. I always was intrigued at how easy it was to keep 5-year-olds busy at work in a good kindergarten, how undistractable they were, when one year later they were labeled “immature” by first grade teachers who insisted they couldn’t stick to any task for more than a few minutes without their intervention. The same kids. Different “work”.
Of course, poorly paid drudgery is the lot of most of the world’s people—who haven’t a shot at the “good life” that Spencer and I, and you, are wondering about. I suspect that there is no contradiction between preparing kids for a passionate life of leisure and a life of productive, satisfying and high-level work. (Another “must read” is Mike Rose’s more recent book—"The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker"—on the subject of what we mean by “high-level” work.)
Good schools are the expression of society’s highest dreams for all its kids; our dreams these days are very shabby.
The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.