As I write this blog post Starbucks is putting the final touches on their first store in the historic Italian city of Rome. This idea, to most, is probably no big deal because Australians (and Americans) are used to getting their coffee from commercial franchises, think Gloria Jeans and Oliver Brown. But news of this opening demonstrates our current obsession with speed is not abating and very difficult to counteract. In 1986, geographically not too far from where the Starbucks was opened, Italian journalist Carlo Petrini held a small protest to prevent McDonalds from opening near the Spanish Steps. The revolt, a sit in where Petrini and his friends enjoyed each other’s company, conversation and ate traditional bowls of pasta made from locally sourced ingredients, was held in the name of Slow Food; of traditional foods that were increasingly at risk of disappearing forever as a speed-hungry world turned increasingly to fast food. Petrini saw the franchise as a representation of everything commercial and industrial; where ingredients were sourced internationally with the financial gains a priority over taste, where food preparation was centred on standardised procedures regardless of location and tradition and where food did not reflect the culture, local climate or conditions. The result was a menu filled with ageless and cultureless food (Ariès, as cited in Petrini & Padovani, 2006), each hamburger a clone of the other, completely disconnected from the city in which it was purchased and consumed. Starbucks is no different.
So what does this have to do with education? Australia’s prosperity as a global competitor and its economic future is increasingly permeating education, just as capitalism and commercialism has permeated food production. This demand to increase Australia’s strength in the current global economy, has resulted in educational reform that has focused heavily on the ‘here and now’: hastily equipping students with hardware and software, installing broadband connections, the technological up-skilling of students and teachers, focusing on raising the performance levels in the National Assessment Program, Record of School Achievement (RoSA) and Higher School Certificate (HSC), and releasing school league tables based on quantitative student results. These are all reflective of short-term measures that are unlikely to adequately prepare students for a twenty-first century world of uncertainty, complexity and technological innovation. In the government’s attempt to reposition education – underpinned by an economically driven rationale – they have altered the conventional educational paradigm. In the name of educational reform, the policy makers have confused “structure with purpose, measurement with accomplishment, means with ends, compliance with commitment” (Stoll, Fink & Earl, 2003, p. 18) and to this can be added – technology with learning.
The distorted understating of the economic rationale is breeding a culture of Fast knowledge. Fast knowledge (Orr, 2002) rests on the following seven assumptions: 1) only that which can be measured is true knowledge; 2) the more knowledge we have, the better; 3) knowledge that lends itself to use is superior to that which is merely contemplative; 4) there is little distinction between information and knowledge; 5) we will not forget old knowledge, but if we do, the new will undoubtedly be better than the old; 6) whatever mistakes we make along the way can be rectified by yet more knowledge; and 7) we will always be able to retrieve the right bit of knowledge at the right time and fit it into its proper social, ecological, ethical, and economic context. Fast knowledge has come to represent the essence of human progress because it appears effective and powerful in the reshaping of education, communities, cultures, lifestyles and the economy (Orr, 2002).
Reconceptualising education in this way need not sacrifice student wellbeing for the sake of what Berry (1977) identifies as that ‘ever receding horizon’ of progress and efficiency. It will counteract humanity’s current trajectory, “foot on the accelerator, in pursuit of bigger and faster – and ultimate disaster?” (Pearce, 2006, p. xix). We must do as Hillis (1993) implores and extend our thinking and responsibility beyond the immediacy of time to a lengthier present where “we treat the last ten thousand years as if it were last week, and the next ten thousand as if it were next week” and allow instead the cultural prerogatives of people, families and communities to shape the economic and socio-political future of education.
NEXT BLOG POST – What does an extension of our thinking and responsibility look like? What is Slow? What does Slow in education look like?
Berry, W. (1977). The unsettling of America: Culture and agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Hillis, D. (1993). The millennium clock. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/wired/scenarios/clock.html
Pearce, J. (2006). Small is still beautiful: Economics as if families mattered. Wilmington, Del: Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Petrini, C., & Padovani, G. (2006). Slow food revolution: A new culture for eating and living. New York: Rizzoli.
Orr, D. W. (2002). The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stoll, L., Fink, D., & Earl, L. (2003). It’s about learning: It’s about time. London: Routledge Press.