Yes, I’ll take some of that 20% Time, please

Wikiness readers know how I feel about the tough job public school teachers do, specifically HS English teachers. I have posted about the increasing oppression of the factory model in education, and in an effort to publicize a social ill, I have solicited English teacher data to understand how widespread my challenging working conditions were.

But on this Memorial Day, when one of my five work week days is given back to me, I choose to use the occasion to remember a precious gift my ancestors have bequeathed me: freedom from one’s duties–”down time,” or “free time.” I wish to publicly thank the brave men and women who sacrificed themselves to keep this American society alive. Not only is its economy the most productive on the planet, it provides decent working conditions for most, and nurtures entrepreneurs in a relatively free market.

One of the ways America’s everyday geniuses (entrepreneurs) work is by having varied fields of experience and social networks They visit all kinds of people, have conversations, investigate possibilities, and make further, unexpected or disruptive connections. Out of the mixture of their influences flow their innovations.

And entrepreneurs don’t merely have excellent contacts, they have the time to engineer and extend them. Masterpieces, after all, are not born in vacuums. It takes reflection and interaction. One thinks of Steve Jobs at the Homebrew Computer Club or J.R.R. Tolkien at the Inklings. Successful entrepreneurs take or make the time to create opportunities.

Arguably the most influential and powerful corporation on Memorial Day 2014 is Google, which provides its workers one day out of five, or “20% Time,” to create and innovate–to make connections, feed passions, and explore new knowledge. According to a 2006 Google blogpost, this 20% time empowered “engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that [weren’t] necessarily in our job descriptions. You [could] use the time to develop something new, or if you [saw] something…broken, you [could] use the time to fix it.” Out of Google’s 20% time have come huge profits that do not come from its search app: Gmail, Google Apps, and Adsense.

In my ideal workplace my employer tells me, “We believe in you, employee. We trust you to do good things on your own. Take a day a week for yourself–work on what you think best. Just share it with us when you’re done.”

What a smart way to keep workers happy and creative! A week like this one, at the end of the school year, reminds me that I can be more fully human with a bit more time–just one more day out of five. I can work in my garden, ride my bike, read a book, see a movie, or call an old friend. Any of these activities better disposes me to do my 80% work, which I and Ralph Waldo Emerson know is developing healthy, respectful relationships.

On a day like today, I experience less work-space and more life-space. I can reflect, meditate on my positions, write a blog post, or sleep, and thereby provide myself with more energy for new ideas, enhanced productivity and efficiencies. And as my 8th period test-prep class has morphed into a study period, I’ve been reminded that I am incredibly more on top of things with 4, instead of 5 daily instructional periods.

So on this Memorial Day 2014, let it be known: the brave Americans who died to safeguard a free, fruitful, and happy society have not died in vain. I have benefitted from and shall improve on their work; I vow to strive to allow the next generation of Americans even more freedom to do what they love, be it a few percent more freedom or a full 20. 

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