Everything All of the Time: Goals and Chronos

There is a moment in Dr Debra Kidd’s ‘Becoming Mobius’ where a year seven student, Neil, is asked by Debra to tell a classroom full of parents what it is that he has learned about immigration and multiculturalism from a new curriculum model that has been recently implemented. There is a long pause, and while other students excitedly raise their hands to answer the question, and Debra feels the rising imagined voices of the parents as they shift uncomfortably and want to stop the seeming endless void of time that is being presented by Neil’s silence, there is a very particular sense of ‘big time’ that passes into resolution as Neil finally speaks and provides a wonderfully wise response that then sets into motion a series of responses from other students that secures the success of the question and the event. It feels like within the two poles of language spoken, first by Debra’s question and then with Neil’s answer, there is a period of palpable time that envelops everything that has ever happened or will happen in education. In this silence, the truth is the whole, it is Hegel’s concrete universal, that which ‘with undimmed clearness finds itself at home in its antithesis’. In this case, within the silence there is all the noise of what we might be trying to do when we consider the education of young people. 

As I approach the new school year here in Australia, in the school I work in where we focus on the education of children on the autism spectrum, I am taken to consider the notion of time and the privilege that inhabits us in being able to experience shared time with the students and families that we work with across the year. This idea of ‘across the year’ guides so much of what we do, from weighing up Hattie's notion of ‘one year’s progress for one year’s input’ against the bigger picture of exactly what ‘one year’ in the life of a child actually contains, to all of the Individual Education Plan goals that we frame robustly to arch across a year, to then be divided in half for half-yearly reporting, and then divided in half again for quarterly updates, and then divided again, and again, until the race between the goal and the lived experience of the child starts to feel a whole lot like Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise, where Achilles tries to overtake the tortoise, or at least catch up to the tortoise, but every time Achilles reaches the position the tortoise last was, the tortoise has since moved on, leaving Achilles with still more distance to cover, forever. 

We talk about time very seriously - in special education we place a huge importance on the notion of early intervention, certainly with regards to autism we focus on starting our therapeutic education as soon as possible so as to address communication, social, emotional, sensory and processing needs at the earliest possible stage, and from there we set our Individual Education Plan goals across the year as infinitely divisible signposts, before establishing a pedagogy of Learning for Life, for the life to come when our students are no longer with our school, when they have moved on to other educational spaces or beyond educational spaces altogether. All of these periods of time are critical periods where we understand our need to maximise the impact of what we do at every tick of the clock.

In Debra Kidd’s two books, ‘Becoming Mobius’ and ‘Teaching: Notes from the front line’, the Deleuzian notion of chronos and aion time is presented as a way of interrogating these periods that guide us. With aion time we are considering a constant division of the present into both the past and the future, where every instance of present is forever being split into what has been and what is to come, explicitly guided by public space and linear equations of milestones and benchmarks. In chronos time however, we are experiencing a sense of time that Debra refers to as ‘affect time’, which is, in her words, ‘a sense that now matters and that becoming requires being watchful’. There is a temptation here to frame this as a timeless sense of time, only because considering the chronos in relation to aionion time is to consider a time void of the concrete markers on the social clock in front of the eyes of an averagerian witness that does not have room for the sort of phenomenological elasticity that chronos allows for. 

There is much about chronos time that I would argue we already inhabit in the language of special education - we talk about just taking one day at a time in a manner that actually tries to void the concept of a day, for we are trying to describe a sense of not being guided by strict expectations of future progress or achieving particular milestones by a certain date, we are trying to facilitate a view of teaching in the moment, considering the child in the moment, talking to family in the moment without assessment criteria or deadlines. Debra again has some wise words on this notion, in ‘Teaching: Notes from the Front Line’ she says that ‘We can combine the needs of the future and present by very simply giving children an education that they love now, in which they thrive now, in which they learn to love knowledge and learning because it’s just really interesting and in which they become happy, articulate, resilient, agentive people with the capacity to embrace whatever future they eventually inhabit’.

So often I feel that we get trapped in the needs of the future to an extent that it voids the potentials of what we could be doing in the now with, say for example, behavioural needs - I have had many conversations with colleagues about understanding the challenging behaviours we are sometimes working with, of differing degrees and interpretation of challenge, that we discuss in a manner of wondering, ‘If we allow a child to exhibit this behaviour now without intervention, imagine what they will be doing when they are twenty, or thirty. We need to take decisive action now’. When we reflect upon what we are saying, we realise that we aren’t actually soothsayers who can see into the future - the fact that a child has not, say, followed the direction of a teacher on this particular occasion in no way indicates that they will walk into a future of antisocial uprising, which is what it can feel like if we allow a single behaviour to go unchecked. We talk about snowballs turning into avalanches, and like everything there are good reasons to address these needs just as there are also good reasons to bypass these needs given the individual circumstances at the time, but it is also worth reframing these considerations into chronos time and aion time - in a state of chronos I might consider the lived experience of what is happening now in a slowed down state of near suspend animation, interrogating the circumstances of now in a way that isn’t anxiously projecting a dystopian end to all challenging behaviours, but is rather negating past and future for the purpose of getting a fuller sense of the possibilities of the present. There is a challenge here to the very clinical manner in which we can sometimes be drawn to interpret behaviour, or academic progress, or any sort of goal at a given time - how much more might we come to understand the fuller landscape of the child and the classroom and the playground and the home and the society if we were to slow down the manner in which we come to realise that children are not hurtling towards a universal horizontal line they all need to jump over. The line doesn't exist, it isn't in front or behind us, Achilles' is not going to catch the turtle, the child is not the product of a years worth of Individual Education Plan goals. 

In Waiting for Godot, Clov says to Hamm, 'Do you believe in the life to come?', to which Hamm replies, 'Mine was always that'. I wonder how much of the life to come we are imagining our goal setting is leading towards without considering all the living that is happening right now, inside and outside of the mobius strip of those goals. This is not a negation of goals, of course, but rather an interrogation of how much of a child's experience we hang on public aionion benchmarks that belie the humanity to be found in appreciating the very personal sense of time that we all experience privately, together. In the silence that permeates between the question that Debra poses to Neil in the anecdote at the start of this piece, there is space to consider a sense of chronos the next time you start to calculate how far a student should be progressing before the end of the year.