It’s a 5 o’clock world

In the 1960s, the Vogues released “It’s a 5 o’clock World,” a catchy tune that became a big hit. “It’s a 5 o’clock world,” they sing, “when the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time.”

The song conjures up images of the 9 to 5 factory worker anxious to reach the end of the day so he can go home to “the long-haired girl who waits, I know, to ease my troubled mind.”

A reflection of its time, right? Well, maybe not so much. Despite huge changes in our society and advanced technology it is still a 5 o’clock world for many of us. You only have to venture out at rush hour to realize people are still living in the 9-5 workday world, all fighting each other to get to work at roughly the same prescribed time and fighting each other to get back home at roughly the same prescribed time.

Yes, some jobs simply require you to be in a certain place at a certain time. If your job is to check people out at the grocery story, attach a door to a car on an assembly line or see patients at the clinic, you pretty much have to be there to get your job done.

But for many 21st century jobs, a dramatic shift is taking place, and technology is driving it. I know many people – myself included – who spend at least part of the day – or a day here a day there – working from home or doing work at the coffee shop or even while on vacation. And, of course, there is no 5 o’clock whistle that protects us from working evenings and weekends. The trade off for this less rigid schedule is that in some ways someone “owns a piece of our time” all hours of the day. But for most of us, that is a fair tradeoff.

More and more jobs are moving away from the clocking-in, clocking-out routine, and schools are beginning to get into the act too.

No more snow days?

At the recent SLATE conference in Wisconsin Dells, Discovery Education’s Hall Davidson raised these very questions: Do student have to be in the school building from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day? Do teachers always have to be in the classroom?

As schools make increasing use of online education resources, students and teachers – just like people in the workforce – can get more of their work done remotely. There are of course virtual schools, but I am talking more about the hybrids – schools that combine face-to-face instruction with online learning. Maybe one day in the classroom and – for students – one day at home completing projects online, with online access to their teachers, who likewise might be at home. Maybe a student would have three classes at school in the morning and two at home in the afternoon.

A snowstorm forecast for the next day? Have the students connect to their teacher from home, Davidson says. Yes, that’s right, no more snow days! And if done right, schools could save a lot of money on transportation. Child care and technology access are issues that would have to be addressed, but there are many ways to work these amended schedules out, and many schools are experimenting with them.

Yes, the school schedule of the 21st century is still pretty much like it was in the 20th century, but ever so slowly change is taking place. In schools, as in the workplace, the clock is ticking on our 5 o’clock world.

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