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Passion, leisure and productivity

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Dear Diane,

I'm intrigued by the hard work theme. I don't know the data well, but I do know that employed Americans work harder than comparable employees in industrialized nations. I also know our public policy decreases the odds of parents staying home with their infants, having shared vacations, etc. I think of us as a nation busy being entertained and short on leisure.

I actually became a teacher most of all because I wanted my summers free! (Just as I chose Antioch College in 1949—which just closed—because it was the only college I could find that had the same rules for girls and boys, I've always had odd reasons for making my choices.) For me, summertime was the essential balance to the school year—it gave me (and always has) a chance to have a second life, of keeping the spirit of play going in my life. And so on. So I have a skewed view.

It mattered to me as a parent that my kids had some "passions"—things they loved to do—more than that they had talents. I even cherished, and still do, my 40-something–year-old son Roger's passion for frisbee. He's off in Holland right this moment playing frisbee (free style). As I drove him to the airport on his way to Scandinavia years and years ago (when he was in his teens) he asked me—"so, who has paid your way to Europe lately?" At that time the answer was "no one". But the real delight I had was just watching his pleasure—from which flowed hard practice and devotion!

Sounds silly, but it's worth a thought. How can we get kids to love reading, for example, the way they love…whatever.

I want a world—and a school system—that nourishes our passions for living, for caring about each other, for not being easily conned, for having well-informed convictions that are open to re-examination, to thinking our opinions could count, etc. "Hard work" is what follows—what infants have plenty of when they are trying to figure out how the world works and how they can make a dent in it. It's what the "laziest" student has when preparing himself for a career as a basketball star—hours upon hours of practicing for a future that is no less foolish or unlikely than the one he doesn't practice for at school. I always was intrigued at how easy it was to keep 5-year-olds busy at work in a good kindergarten, how undistractable they were, when one year later they were labeled "immature" by first grade teachers who insisted they couldn't stick to any task for more than a few minutes without their intervention. The same kids. Different "work".

Of course, poorly paid drudgery is the lot of most of the world's people—who haven't a shot at the "good life" that Spencer and I, and you, are wondering about. I suspect that there is no contradiction between preparing kids for a passionate life of leisure and a life of productive, satisfying and high-level work. (Another "must read" is Mike Rose's more recent book—"The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker"—on the subject of what we mean by "high-level" work.)

Good schools are the expression of society's highest dreams for all its kids; our dreams these days are very shabby.

Deb

3 Comments

Wow! You are a different critter. Our son Jacob attended Antioch as well and he is, like you, very bright and a very different thinker about life and stuff in general. I was deeply saddened but, honestly, not surprised at Antioch's announcment this week that they're closing next year in hopes of re-opening in Septmebr of 2012. It was if someone had just told me the 60's had been wiped off the calendar, it had become an un-decade. Yellow Springs, Ohio, as well as our country's sense of physcological balance, might never be the same.

"Toward A Passionate Life of Leisure" might be a good title for your next book. I believe we've all strived for such a life from a fairly young age but only a small percentage of us get to live the life of a Tiger Woods.

Paul Hoss. Note that I wasn't claiming that leisure time passions are the same as talents. Tiger Woods may have both--and they may even be focused on the same "work". (And it may even manage bu good luck, to bring him fame and fortune). But someone or other once said: "if it's worth doing, it's even worth doing badly." I love doing some stuff I have no talent for--like playing the piano. The only thing is that I therefore only indulge it in private.

Deb

Good day, i am a profesional student in Cameroon, as part of my end of year program, iam suppose to summit my thesis which is base on leisure vis-a-vis increase productivity. So, if i could lay hands on documents from you that could help me realise my thesis, i will be very grateful. You know leisure is a domain that is not very well vest in africa and cameroon in particular
I shall be very happy to read from you or to get any further informaton. Thanks

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