Being Alone Together

I once taught a Grade 5 class where the boys were truly obsessed with playing their own brand of field hockey. They would count the seconds until the recess bell rang, grab their hockey sticks and head outside almost before the bell stopped its ring. We even gave them a particular spot to play that was backstopped by the school garage, and they were there every single break of every single school day that year. They played through all kinds of weather, and wore out the grass in the spring. As teachers, we were a little baffled by such passion for the game (Canadian and all), because it wasn’t your regular field hockey at all. We would watch them play this kind of half-court-four- on- four-one- goalie- for- everybody game, and try to figure out their rules. The thing was, there was no referee, and yet the boys rarely ever stopped to argue over anything. They had designed the game, the rules, and the organization of all of it, and had committed to it full on. There was no need for teachers to help out, provide guidance, or heaven forbid – coach. Had we even tried to ‘improve’ things, we’d have interfered with a truly classic model of collaborative play, teamwork, skill development and sportsmanship that organized sport doesn’t always see. The boys just wanted to play. Their recess time was spent being intensely immersed in their game, totally present to one another. Amazingly, there was never more than a groan when the bell rang to come in, and they always left the game out there on the field for next time.

Those boys would be in their 30’s now; their hockey days at school happened long before everyone in general had smartphones and could text/video/upload/download material instantly. Their experience was one of cooperation and fun without distraction. Grade 5 students of 2015 have a much different life; one in which the technology –literate person can fire out information rapidly, receive data of all kinds from all over the world, and be with peers at the same time. The new age is one of ‘continuous partial attention’[1] a time where the activity commonly known as ‘multi-tasking’ becomes the daily accepted  norm for all ages, not the unfortunate consequence of really busy adults in a time crunch. Young people can become just as engrossed in their tech devices as my boys did in the hockey games, except in the obsessiveness of the newest best app the need for personal relationship is pushed aside in favor of a new ‘alone together’[2] interaction of technology.

There are effective uses for technology, of course, and it’s not like we can close our eyes and hope it goes away. But there is a time for everything, and that includes putting the devices away, and focusing on real conversation, collaboration, and good old play. Take in the sights and sounds of the world around us, in a meaningful way. Reflect on all the time that’s missed when Twitter or Facebook beckons, when the phone alarms constantly let us know some emergency has happened that really isn’t one at all. A time for living the philosophy that life is full, blessed, and the gift of time spent with family and friends is so much more than being alone together can be.  This Easter break, celebrate the glory of our Lord’s death and resurrection with your church family, and during the week relax with your friends. Talk. Play. Be together.

And that goes for you students, too.

[1] From Dr. Dennis Shirley, keynote speaker at ULead, Canadian School Leadership conference, Banff, 2015

[2] From Dr. Dennis Shirley, keynote speaker at ULead, Canadian School Leadership conference, Banff, 2015


About sbaier2014

Recently retired Principal of Holy Spirit Catholic Schools, a regional school division in Southern Alberta. Had a wonderfully challenging career!
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