What do we mean by ‘Slow’?

Many thanks to Kooj for his thoughts on the ‘About Slow Education’ piece I wrote. I think he’s raised an interesting question. Take a look…

“Joe, this is really interesting and worthwhile as an antidote to the many pressures and dynamics that are cost everything and value nothing etc, but without getting to any nitty-gritty I wonder if ‘slow’ is not the best metaphor? Yes I know its used with ‘slow travel’ where there is also a more literal connection, and also other contexts, but with education it seems to me to an unwise choice – for example kids who are ‘slow’ is a very negative description, somehow simply using this term may be barred from developing for so many reasons. Also I think there could be much better metaphors that may resonate more deeply and still have enough catch to them… (no I can’t think of one right now…). I also think its important to bring approaches from Paolo Freire into the discussions…”

I guess the first thing I’d point to is the growing ‘Slow’ movement which is mapped by Carl Honore in his book ‘In Praise of Slow; How a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed’. My point being not that we should blindly attach ourselves to this movement (it would be hard to argue there is a coherent movement anyway!) but to point to a growing use and understanding of the word ‘Slow’ within this kind of context. As Carlo Petrini (founder of Slow Food) puts it,

“Being Slow means that you control the rhythms of your own life. You decide how fast you have to go in any given context. If today I want to go fast, I go fast; if tomorrow I want to go slow, I go slow. What we are fighting for is the right to determine our tempos.”

As Honore’s book points out, this is a philosophy being applied to city planning, food, medicine, work patterns and, I argue that I have seen many teachers/practitioners/schools/academics bringing this kind of philosophy into education. I also think it is useful in its clear, defiant contrast to a education system which pushes pupils through so many lessons in one day that there is very little time for learning to take place.

However, I do accept that in a school context to be described as ‘Slow’ has frequently not been a positive, and so I think this is a really useful debate. Can a Slow Education movement reframe this understanding? And then there’s the question of alternatives! As Professor Holt pointed out in an e-mail to me, we have plenty of words for ‘fast’, but very few for ‘slow’!

I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this. Are there any alternative suggestions instead of ‘Slow Education’?

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