So here’s an idea: In my vast research into creative processes, I’ve read again and again about the importance of rest, of time to not work--time for the mind to “lie fallow,” as Bertrand Russell put it. Here’s the full context of that quote (for the record, Bertrand Russell is the best):
Bertrand Russell isn’t the only person to stress the importance of rest and time; indeed, I ran across this idea in many places, from writers and thinkers as diverse as Arthur Koestler, David Bohm, John Dewey, David Lynch, James Webb Young, Alan Watts, and Lao Tzu.
I’ve floated this idea in class a number of times, to different groups of students--individually and to whole-class groups--and while many students can see and understand the wisdom of it, others bristle at the idea, and view it as condoning a sort of counterproductive idleness: because not-doing goes against nearly everything they’ve been taught about what it means to be a smart and productive thinking person. Additionally, schools have all sorts of baked-in assumptions about keeping students busy bell-to-bell, that busyness equals engagement, and that a classroom can’t embrace both work and rest as means equally capable of fostering student learning.
And I get it: there is a surface-level paradox about not-doing being an important component of doing. But beyond the surface, it’s not a paradox; it’s balance. We grow tired because we’re making decisions quickly, and we haven’t given our minds a chance to actually think on anything. We’re just doing, not thinking, and it leads to the “loss of sense of proportion” that we see rampant in schools--a loss of proportion that causes anxiety in students and burnout in teachers. Again: school is shitty. Needlessly so.
So I’m prepared to diagnose part of problem of general school shittiness as an unhealthy preoccupation with the practical, with the self-evidently useful and productive, which has also fostered a calcified notion of what “practical” or “useful” actually means. In our push to develop “critical thinking” or “problem solving” or “design thinking” (or whatever) we’ve perhaps lost sight of necessary affordances for time, for open-ended exploration, for interests, that could help make school a little bit less shitty. There’s no balance. I’m not saying that schools necessarily need to make room during the school day for this sort of thing (maybe they could; mine just adopted an hour-long break in the middle of the day for all students and staff), but schools can certainly stop training students to think of “interests” or “hobbies” as being counterproductive to the work of learning. Instead, perhaps we should embrace the counter-productive as the necessary corollary to the productive.
Charlie Huette is a public school teacher who also keeps a notebook. He dreams about making school just a little less terrible. Many of the posts you find here are based on notebook entries. You can learn more about Charlie by visiting the about page.