I realized the other day that I’d been waiting – not always with “perfect” patience – for the time to be right for a number of things to happen, both personally and professionally. Waiting can feel hard and unnatural, especially when you really, really want That Thing to happen. Now. Or sooner.
If you’ve read the “unofficial” histories of factory-model education, you’re probably familiar with the argument that the whole system is designed to teach you to wait, to wait till it’s time for you to do your step on the assembly line, to process your part of the document in the office.
But even in a non-industrial, pre-industrial, or post-industrial world, sometimes you still have to wait for things. And waiting is hard, but sometimes waiting is really important. And while you’re waiting, time does funny things.
Sometimes it feels really fast, like the efficient and effective Latin I classes I described yesterday. Sometimes it feels slow, and you find yourself looking at the clock – or restlessly checking and rechecking to see if That Email has come, or if anything has come – as time crawls by. But in the end, when the waiting is over, it often turns out that the time was just right. You wouldn’t actually have been ready for the New Thing or the New Experience until now. And the waiting, painful and unpleasant as it probably was, was an important part of becoming ready.
That’s why I wasn’t surprised when D told me she’d finally caught up with all that reading she hadn’t done. It’s been a difficult year for D, though she hasn’t wanted to talk about it. But right before Winter Break, she seemed different – happier, more settled, more at peace with herself – and that’s when the time was finally right for her to do what she hadn’t yet done. And that’s why I’m relatively confident that B, B, U, and the others will have a finished – and high-quality – Major Assessment product for us by the end of the day on Friday. And all of a sudden, another U is deeply involved in re-reading and seeking understanding, and C, D, and the others are ready to create a completely new story-line, and K sent me a link to the beginning of his group’s final product overnight. And even A, who’s had a crush on B for months, finally said something to her on Tuesday … and the tension in that branch of the “Latin Family” suddenly dissipated.
Too fast? Too slow? Just right? So much depends on your perspective. If you believe in the factory-school myth, the idea of a “standard” child (and, OK, a few deviations from the standard that require special accommodations or enrichment or remediation or whatever), everything in that last paragraph would be an exercise in frustration. “Those bad, lazy kids need to do their work on time!” you’d think … and from your perspective, you’d be entirely justified in your anger and frustration at them. But wait! Who gets to define on time? I’d argue that D, U, and A were right on time; it’s just that, if you were watching from the outside, you would have been frustrated because your desired timeline and their timelines were so different from each other.
“I want it to be Christmas Day now!” I once whined to my mother; I was probably about six or seven at the time, and it was December 21 or so, and you can imagine. She reminded me, with wisdom I couldn’t grasp at the time but now treasure, that if we celebrated early this year, waiting till next year would feel even longer. And sure enough, though time seemed to crawl, that waiting was worthwhile. And of course the same is true when you’re waiting for someone to reach a new level of understanding, or waiting for something you really want to happen. Or when you’re waiting for a seemingly resistant group to become a learning community.
As I work my way through Alan November’s book Who Owns the Learning? – a book I had to wait to read until just recently, though I’ve been thinking about it ever since I heard him speak over a year ago – I’ve been thinking about the implications of his central image of the “Digital Learning Farm.” Plants, in particular, grow on their own schedule; you can try to force them in different ways, with extra fertilizer or odd watering patterns, but even that forcing will only have limited results. Learning is like that, too, and so are the processes that lead to joyful learning communities. The “standard” student is a myth, a convenient fiction sometimes, but deeply destructive if you think it’s somehow more true or more real than the actual students in This Place, at This Time, each with his or her own unique pattern of strengths, weaknesses, needs, and wants – each with his or her own right time to take the next step.
I wonder what other new insights – and what new steps on our own journeys – await us all today!