A few years ago a gorgeous book was written – Ruth Ozeki’s ‘Tale for the Time Being’ – and the title has stayed with me for years; this idea that we are, as humans, ‘time beings’ – we live in time. If we don’t live in time, we are dead.
So – this is when I also started thinking – isn’t it crazy that we don’t have a place in education to explore what this means? We have a geography curriculum – how we are living in space. But why not a chronography curriculum – to support children (and for that matter, all of us as adults) – to think about what it means to live in and to make a life in, time.
Of course, this is when the historians will pipe up – but we teach history! Time is ours! And then the Futures Studies folks will say – we’ve been trying to get futures methods into schools for years, we can do Time too! (check out this set of tools for thinking about futures, for example).
But separating out history from the future – not to mention from the present – makes no sense. It suggests that the past, present and future are different places. But they are tangled, entangled, complicatedly connected. The ideas we have of the past help tell us stories about the future, about what might be possible, what has been possible. The ideas we have of the future help us see what is possible in the present, help us to uncover what has happened in the past in new lights.
Thinking about time primarily and exclusvely through a separation of past, present and future is a product of particular cultural traditions. There are other ways of thinking about time. Buddhism, for example, attend not only to Time’s flow – the idea of a river passing – but also to the emergence of life in time – the idea of the tree, the growth and unfolding and complexity of life that is rooted in and growing from and within the times of the past that are always with us. What new ways of being might emerge once we invite ourselves to realise that our taken for granted metaphors of time might not be the only ones available to us? (I’ve talked about these metaphors elsewhere)
Living in time is also about understanding how change happens (check out Duncan Green’s incredibly useful book for anyone interested in this from a political angle); about how different actors – human, more than human, technological, infrastructural – interconnect to lock and resist or to tip, unsettle and open up something new.
Living in time is also an act of the imagination – the imagination and memory that together weave together what it means to be ‘me’ or ‘us’ – living in time projected forward, retold through the past, is the way we work out who we are. And about the choices we make about where we think ‘me’ finishes and ends in time – in the deep futures of our carbon emissions, in the deep past of evolutionary history; in the extended present of the long now, or the instantaneous present of consumer culture. Living in time is an imaginative activity that involves choices.
And finally, of course, we don’t all live in the same time, we live in many times. Even the physicists are saying today that time is relationship, there is ‘no universal capital T Time’ – there are different times, that are fast or slow, thick or thin, endure or speed past from different positions. These different times are also how power plays out and where politics happens – how time is organised, structured, shape and distributed is not universal, plays out in different ways for different people, is patterned according to existing inequalities and patterns of wealth.
So – this is a call to action – we need to support ourselves, our kids, each other, to think through what on earth it means to be a ‘time being’ and to live in time. Who wants to think through the chronography curriculum with me?