E-Postcard #5: On Time


A result of my lack of connection to the subject matter this term has been an intensive reading of journals online at JSTOR. Earlier (on a previous postcard), I wrote of my fondness for doing this from my university days. I’ve been attempting to find journal articles to connect to the subject of my field study but instead have been voraciously consuming articles completely unrelated to the topic.

These articles have supplied me both the academic richness I’ve been seeking this term and also a few “aha” moments to use in these e-Postcards. Today’s article comes courtesy of Martin H. Levinson (PhD), who writes a history of time management (Cited in full below). I was originally consulting the journal for articles about time management in teaching, but as I was not able to find an academic source to quote on the issue, I decided to spend a few minutes reading an article off topic. The article speaks in depth of how America in particular moved from a country that relied on sundials and counting time to the generalized hour to a country that measured time to the exact minute. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Time is money.” (11)

Interestingly, Levinson notes that in early America a typical workday “might consist of three hours of business duties, with the balance of the day spent on government, church, or social obligations.” (11)

This line struck a chord with me, as the over-arching subject of this cohort is Community. It is interesting to me that a legitimate part of a person’s day was at one point dedicated to socializing and religious obligations. These days, such things are considered extras – relegated to weekends and even squeezed in at night via mobile devices and computers through social media networks (so much so that the American Psychological Association notes that “12% of millenials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder – almost twice the percentage of Boomers.” The most prevalent contributor to these disorders? Poor sleep habits. We are expected to sleep but crave social interaction so much that we spend too much time “on phones or laptops right before bed.”

This change came about in the mid-nineteenth century, writes Levinson, when “standard work time was implemented and patterns developed that separated leisure from work.” Women, too, became separated from work as the factory system was implemented. Formerly important in the household economy (through the production of textiles, etc), women were now viewed solely as domestic consumers.

Schools played an important roll in drilling time into children, who had to be attentive to a clock schedule marked by a bell. Remarkably, our use of the word “o’clock” (shorthand for “of the clock”), only came into being in the 1870s, which is amazing because this seems like such a universal phenomenon today.

Levinson continues his study into the mid-twentieth century, when he notes that the invention of the stopwatch gave managers another tool to study efficiency. People’s productive efficiency was measured to the second… and this was something that psychologically even carried over into the management of their private time. Today, we have “24/7” time. “Overnight air delivery and computer networks have made on-line shopping accessible at any hour,” meaning people can work, shop and extend their “efficiencies” late into their historical sleep hours.(15)

An additional source that added to my thoughts is an article that I read in 2014 called “How Different Cultures Understand Time” (in Business Insider). I wont summarize the article but instead link to it here.

What does any of this have to do with our teaching practice? On Saturday, my family attended Second Street Community School’s Annual Santa Pancake Breakfast, an event where family is connected to the school through eating, music and shared activities. It is a beautiful event, and our school of 350 kids sold 250 tickets to this event (meaning a large portion of the community participates).

However, disappointingly, there were only about five teachers at the event. It is sad to me how much our “time is money” these days, and how disconnected from community social events we’ve become. We live in an era where teachers can no longer afford to live in the communities they teach in, and thus the stress of returning to our families after-school means that those vital base-touching conversations become something we don’t want to do. Driving from Maple Ridge to Burnaby for a Saturday morning breakfast at our workplace becomes unappealing.

And from the parents’ perspective, when they pick up their children after school, their clock is already ticking away – soccer practice starts in one hour and a half, and there is still dinner to cook, another child to pick up at the high school, etc.

We don’t LINGER anymore. In fact, lingering too long is seen as one of the most undesirable social traits there is.

But in not taking our time, how are we to build community? Real bonds are something that are built when time is thrown away, not when time is observed. The deep loves of our lives only exist when we converse far past the moon rising in the sky. The real religious experiences only exist when the clock becomes meaningless in face of the awakening we are encountering. The real COMMUNITY BONDS are moments shared with no clock in place. And even in the mid-19th century workday, according to Levinson, these forms of social interaction were permitted. Lunch breaks had no time limit except when conversation naturally died down. Sure, there was work to do – but social bonds also carried a weight of importance. They meant something.

Imagine if a school could function even a LITTLE bit more like that. Your lesson, when the kids were entranced in it – wouldn’t be cut off by the lunch bell. My music class, when kids are in mid-song, wouldn’t be interrupted by the recess bell. Lunch and recess might be longer on sunny days and shorter on rainy ones. These ideas were probably practical for school kids in the 19th century and yet seem ABSURD today.

And most importantly those little conversations that build community – before school, after school and during breaks – would flourish instead of constantly being cut off by bells and rushing. Perhaps then we would see more people willingly drive from Maple Ridge on a Saturday to participate in a community event with the people they worked with. Because the bonds would be so much deeper.

And one can only imagine the trust that would begin to form between parents and educator. Perhaps the combative nature of parent-teacher relations (seeded greatly by the work stoppages of the last few years) would near-disappear.

To borrow Levinson’s closing line, “Time will Tell.”


Levinson, Martin H. “TIME-BINDING TIME: A History of Time-Measurement and Time-Management in America.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 61, no. 1, 2004, pp. 9–18. www.jstor.org/stable/42580188.

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