So, what time is it? And how are we teaching kids the telling of time?
"I was sitting in the train going home the other day when the man opposite me leant over and said: "Excuse me, but have you got the right time?"
I glanced at my watch, said: "It's 13 minutes past six."
"That's interesting," he said.
"Interesting?" I said. (I should know better by now than to say things like that to people who are clearly looking for the merest toehold in order to clamber into a conversation.)
"Yes," he said. "It's interesting that you said '13 minutes past six' and that you didn't say '6.13pm' or 'nearly quarter past six' or indeed '18.13 hours'. There are so many different ways to say the time."
"Yes," I said, instead of the "So what?" which I really meant.
"Which is unfair on the young."
"Don't be sorry," he said. "It's not your fault."
"I'm not sorry," I said. "I only said I was sorry as a way of saying that I didn't understand what you were driving at."
"If only we all said what we really meant," he said, "we'd do a lot better."
"If we all said what we really meant," I said, "we wouldn't have any friends left, and we would be reduced to striking up conversations with total strangers on trains."
There was a strained pause. I relented. "So, why is it unfair on the young?"
"Well," he said, "because young people have become used to telling the time from their mobile phones or computers, and it is always done in terms of digits. 10.47, they say. 3.27. 1.04. A mobile phone never tells you that it is a quarter to seven."
"But we don't talk like that. For the most part, we don't go around saying 'It's 6.45 pm'. We say 'It's a quarter to seven'."
|An "old school" flip clock app for your computer.|
So now - in an age when the wrist watch has shifted from tool to jewelry - we look at our phone or our computer and we say, "it's 6.13," or, "it's 7:35," using periods or colons as markers of our preferred side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Does this represent a collapse of either our language skills or our numeracy skills? Shouldn't we still be teaching the "analog" clock face and the older language of time?
I think not. After all, both of those simply represent an earlier conversion of human experience by technology. There's no intellectual, moral, or linguistic superiority in being able to read a circular gauge vs. reading a numeric image, nor in using the language of pictures vs. the language of numerals - as long as everyone fully understands what information is being transmitted.
"It's half seven in the morning and I'm still hoping some big flood of snow is going to come so that I can miss school."
|Eleanor of Aquitaine with two of her sons and the 12 day Christmas Candle. It is what date and time?|
So when I sat in an elementary school last week and saw a lesson on time and quarter hours I wondered why we were still doing that - other than, in this case, mandates from the Commonwealth of Virginia? So I asked teachers sitting near me, and only one in five still tended to use those old terms.
There is a lovely antiquity, I suppose, in the nature of that circular clock. But it encourages imprecion and confusion, and barely is used anymore in a functional way.
So why are we teaching it?
- Ira Socol