Slow Food

“Let me understand the teaching of your precepts;
then I will meditate on your wonders.”
Psalm 119:27

In an age of ‘fast food’, we prepare food quickly and we eat it quickly. The Slow Food movement started in the 1980s when an Italian journalist asked why, if there was fast food, there was not also slow food.

A European teachers’ conference in which I am involved takes place annually in different countries across Europe. When we meet in France, we have to provide significantly more time in the programme for each meal because they take much longer than in most other countries to which we go. However, the feed-back (pardon the pun!) on such occasions always includes comments about how good it is to sit and take time as we eat together.

In our age of instant communication and sound-bites, we also have speeded-up education and bite-size curriculum materials. Can we provide an antidote to this with a little space somewhere to meditate on the wonders of God’s wonderful world?

Consistent with his Quaker Christian faith, Parker J Palmer challenges us to provide for and welcome moments of silence in the classroom. He says that a typical group can abide about fifteen seconds of silence before someone needs to break the tension by speaking. He continues, “The silences that interest me most are the ones that occur midstream in a discussion … Like most people, I am conditioned to interpret silence as a symptom of something gone wrong … But suppose that my students are neither dumb-founded nor dismissive but digging deep, … wise enough to know that this moment calls for thought … not wasting time but doing a more reflective form of learning”.[1]

In the words of poet William Henry Davies, popularised in an advertisement for Center Parcs, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”.

We teach our children to read as quickly as possible, even to skim-read, and that has its place. But if that becomes everything, they will always read for gist rather than substance and detail. The psalmist’s approach to reading is different for he says he wants to understand and meditate on God’s wonders.

Lord of time and space, help me to give my students time to read slowly and space to be silent and dig deep. Amen.

[1] Parker J Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), p. 82.

Thinkers and Doers

“Prepare your minds for action”  (1 Peter 1:13)

We often divide the world into thinkers and doers. There are those who reflect and there are those who get things done. We tend to assume there is little or no overlap between the two groups.

According to a saying of uncertain origin, [1]Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary of the talkers who talk”.

The big fisherman, Peter, would seem to be in agreement with this. He was certainly a person of action and sometimes, it has to be said, this was without careful reflection. Think, for example, of the occasion in the Garden of Gethsemane when he drew a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10). But here in this call to preparation of our minds for action, the older and wiser (and forgiven) Peter seems to be an advocate of reflective practice. Although elsewhere in his letters he seems to give himself a lower attainment score than Paul for thinking and that apparently without envy as he acknowledges that his ‘dear brother’ writes some things that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), he nevertheless calls us in this verse to be thoughtful and to relate our thinking to our doing.

In the classroom, I can so easily switch into auto-pilot mode because I’ve taught a topic so often through the years. But do I reflect on my practice before, during and/or after teaching the topic? Do I ask often enough not what is being taught in my classroom today but what is being learned? Do I think as well as do? Do I aim at developing young people who both think and do, who have both understanding and skills? Do I model thoughtful action in the classroom?

Great Teacher and Gracious Lord, help me to be a doer who thinks and a thinker who does, for the sake of those I seek to teach. Amen.

[1] Probably a variant of a quotation attributed to the 17th century French writer, François de La Rochefoucald: “Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary by sense.”