One day my daughter came home from school and watched me at work.
“Why do you always have so many windows open?” she asked.
She wasn’t talking about the glass ones, although she does complain about those being open too. She was talking about my computer. I was marking an online quiz; I had my marks programme open so I could submit a grade; I was using Wikipedia to research a question the assignment had stimulated; my web mail was open so I could hear that tell-tale “ding” of a new message, and I was in the chatroom providing homework help. From my early days as a teacher librarian, through my time as a stay home mom, I’ve been a multi-tasker, usually with a bunch of projects on the go all at once. Some people call this a “polychronic” personality.
Like personalities, cultures are also considered “polychronic” or “monochronic.” People in polychronic cultures think of time as cyclical. They work in a non-linear way with many things happening all at once. They can change plans at a moment’s notice. Time is subordinate to interpersonal relationships. That’s different from a “monochronic” culture that is time-driven, linear and orderly; where lateness and interruptions are not tolerated, and one task is always completed before the next is begun.
Most of today’s schools and classrooms are monochronic. Students must be on time, hand in their work on a prescribed day, and write their exams on a set date. For classroom teachers, classes begin and end at the same time, supervision begins and ends at the same time and the meetings begin but rarely end at the same time. And of course, attendance and marks and professional growth plans must be submitted according to a school, district or government mandated timeline. But our students are living in an increasingly polychronic world. While class is in session, they may be on MSN or YouTube or MySpace or Nexopia or even E-bay. One hand is on their cellphone, waiting for a text message and the other is on their ipod. (Remember, I said I wrote this in 2007! Nexopia! ha!)
Many teachers are not comfortable in this polychronic culture. If students are connected to the globalizing world via technology, are they connected to the classroom? If the world shines brighter to them through the window of the internet, then does the glow of a lesson appear a little dull? If they aren’t listening to teacher’s voice, whose message is being heard? It’s tempting to ban our students’ access to technology by forbidding laptops or web surfing; to ban cellphones and ipods. It’s tempting to shut our students off from their contact with the larger world. It’s tempting to try to force them to live in our monochronic world.
But a culture is not right or wrong. It’s not good or bad in and of itself. As any Canadian knows, even those who believe in pluralism to their core, when cultures come into contact, both challenges and opportunities arise. When monochronic meets polychronic, we can practice cultural imperialism, with the dominant subjugating the minority or we can promote reasonable accommodation to allow each other to flourish.
As our students walk through life with their virtual windows open, they are connected to each other and to the larger world, regardless of time and space. It’s through those windows that they see and are seen. If we close those windows, are we hiding them from the light of day? What could we see if we opened those windows ourselves?