Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time and Time Again

Lately my son has been getting a lot of bar and bat mitzvah invitations. A bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah (bar mitzvah for a boy, bat mitzvah for a girl) is a Jewish ritual rite of passage marking the transition from being a Jewish kid to a Jewish adult (ritually speaking). (My son has not had his bar mitzvah yet.)

As you might or might not know, generally when kids have a bar or bat mitzvah they get presents. And then they have to write thank you notes. When I had my bat mitzvah, the thank you notes seemed endless.

Which led me to the following recent conversation.

Me: "Joe got his thank you notes out really quickly! His bar mitzvah was just last week!"
Son: "Well, it takes less time if you do it quickly."
Me: "It doesn't take less time. Whether you do it quickly or slowly, it takes the same amount of time."
Son: "No, if you get them done in a week instead of two weeks, it takes less time."
Me: "But if every thank you note takes 5 minutes, and you have to write 20 notes, it takes 100 minutes altogether, whether you write 2 a day for 10 days, or do all 20 in 1 day!"

[We'll leave aside the fact that you might achieve efficiencies if you do a lot of them at once. Because you also might get writer's cramp.]

The math on this--which my son did understand--goes like this:
5 minutes/note x 20 notes = 100 minutes
2 notes/day x 10 days = 20 notes/day x 1 day
And yet, my son insisted: "No, it takes less time, because it's a shorter amount of time."
And here, my son is referring to the difference between 10 days, and 1 day. In other words, he was thinking of time as a spatial entity, and I was thinking of time as a quantity. [Mathematicians might have different words for that, by the way.]

I know, you're thinking, "That's a cute story, Ruth, but what does that have to do with schools?"

When I was in elementary, middle, and high school, we had to go to school a minimum of 180 days/year. So school was scheduled for 183 days/year, in order to account for snow days and other unforeseen events.

But now, school is scheduled with a minimum number of minutes as a requirement. A few years ago, when the legislature increased the number of minutes that students had to go to school, most districts just distributed those minutes over the school days, rather than add days to the school year. Typically, just a few minutes a day really added up.  All of which led to the following exchange that I thought was very funny with an elementary school teacher.

That year, we were chronically late to school with our oldest son, and the teacher commented on it.
Me: "I guess I had the time school starts wrong. What time is the bell?"
Teacher: "Well, the first bell is at 8:08."
Me: "OK, what time is the second bell?"
Teacher: "It used to be at 8:14, but now we don't have a second bell any more."

Does it make a difference, minutes or days? Is time a quantity or a spatial entity? You be the judge.

Update 12/13/11: Honestly, I did not know when I wrote this that had just published an article on the idea of using a balanced calendar at Scarlett and Mitchell. Nothing has been decided yet, and you can read the article here. As I've written about before, I myself am not interested in a balanced calendar for my kids. I know that other people are. I think the balanced calendar would be fine if people can opt in or out of it. So if Scarlett/Mitchell becomes a K-8 magnet with a balanced calendar, I'm sure some people will want it. Others won't, and they should be able to go elsewhere.

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