Sunday, March 24, 2013

Listening to the Wise Ones (or the Tortoise and the Hare Retold)

Carl Honoré  realized he had a problem when he almost bought a book of one-minute bedtime stories to speed up his night-time reading with his son.  His book Slow came out of his subsequent research into our cult of speed and its antidotes: things like Slow Food and Slow Medicine and Unhurried Children.  His latest book is called The Slow Fix.  He argues that we have created a “just add water” culture to “fix” even our deepest and most complex issues: take a pill for everything, lose 10 pounds in three days, take steroids to bulk up, click “like” on the Facebook page to protest. In education, fill in the blank with the latest trend: just - use project-based learning, teach students to self-regulate, personalize their learning, flip your classroom – and you will have success for all.

Honoré writes, “Even when lives and large sums of money are at stake, when everything from our health and relationships to our work and the environments is suffering, even when bombarded by evidence that the road to calamity is paved with Band-Aid solutions, we still gravitate toward the quick fix, like moths to a flame.”

I spoke with my mother yesterday.  “Shelley,” she said, “I am finally a wise woman.”  I was thrilled – after all, it means I now have my own personal wise woman to consult – wisdom on speed-dial.

“What makes you wise?” I asked.  

“I’ve reached an age,” she said, “when I’ve seen everything before.”

When I first started teaching I was filled with Ideas. I hurried and organized and implemented and preached (I really hate to admit that).  I remember now the teachers at the back of the room with their arms crossed, rolling their eyes at my enthusiasm.  Don’t worry about them, I was told.  They’re just resistant to change.  Now I realize they were the wise ones.  They’d seen it all before.

In our speed-addicted world, it’s little wonder that we have no time for wisdom.  It’s slow.  It’s….old. We want new, young, energized, fast, now, innovation, creation, disruption.  We can’t wait to listen to the old ones at the back of the room and their complaints.  We want enthusiasm!  And so we continue what Honoré calls a kaleidoscope of quick fixes.

Here’s the wise truth that we would hear if we weren't swept up in our various enthusiasms:  teaching and learning (along with all the big issues of our day) is so complex that no single solution, no particular program, no set of strategies will every yield sustainable results.  We have to accept that Slow will get us there faster, that instead of spending ourselves chasing quick fixes and the next new thing (usually an old thing renamed), we must simply work together (that’s the tricky part) in sustainable, joyful ways to meet our common goals.

How, I wonder – and when – will we get started.

Photo by minds-eye via Compfight

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