Monday, 2 January 2012

Summoned by bells

So, that's that. School tomorrow (or work) for many and the wonderful, leisurely (who am I kidding?) relaxing (you've got to be joking!) holidays yield once more to the demands of the clock, the boss, the bus and the school bell.

But not for us. I've said before I'd happily never have to undergo the imposition of industrial time again. Twenty years of being 'summoned by bells' whether they be the alarm clock or those infernal things in school corridors is enough for anyone.

I like not having a set routine. I like having the flexibility, with Charlie, to follow our instincts creatively. So he asks about the moon: we'll find out all about it. He wants to know why birds fly. I teach him the principles of aeronautics. (Well, I try.) I know we'll soon have to bend to the unyielding rhythm of the school day; his honeymoon period is already almost over and the nursery he goes to is gently preparing him for all that the classroom will require of him. But I still think it's a shame. 

Ask yourself this: why do we do it this way? The answer's simple, of course. It couldn't happen if we didn't. We need an educated workforce and the factory model of teaching children is the one we've used since the start of universal education. And back in the day, when a kid left school at 12 or 14 he or she would certainly have had to be fully trained in the art of time-keeping. Woe-betide if you were late for your shift! 

But I wonder, in the future, how many of the kids in Charlie's class will work a nine-to-five day like so many now do. Increasing numbers work flexibly from home (as, I suppose, I do); the Henley Centre predicts that in a few years time we'll almost all have portfolio careers - basically a succession of short-term contracts - where one of the most highly marketable of employee skills will be the proven ability to work flexibly. 

And that includes, of course, being flexible with time. Routine is good, don't get me wrong. I like to enforce a decent bedtime and we don't drop everything and start eating the moment we get hungry. But a healthy dose of flexibility won't do anyone any harm now, especially when the next thirteen years of education will be so rigidly inflexible. 

So good luck to all those back-to-school and work tomorrow. As it's not nursery, we'll be home as usual and I'll be trying to make sure Charlie enjoys his last few months of freedom as flexibly as possible.

Stop press: to hear my contribution to the discussion on this subject on the BBC Radio Five Live Breakfast Show this morning, click the image below and fast forward to 1:40. 

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