Fast knowledge: Why we need Slow, now more than ever!

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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.

Fast knowledge

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?

Fast

References
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.

Slow and the Long now

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I have just been awarded a PhD … yay! I wish that meant I had more free time (and a significant pay rise … but alas!)  The thesis research – Applying Slow to ICT-rich education: A vision for the ‘long now’ has been a big part of my life, my thinking and my pedagogical approaches over the last six years.  Slow is an ontological and pedagogical approach I think we need now, more than ever – and an approach I hope to share with you through this blog (don’t worry I wont be sharing the entire thesis). A good place to begin is with the preface; the preface provides a bit about me, my background, insight into my educational philosophy and why I chose Slow. I would love to hear your own stories and experiences regarding the changes education has undergone.

Thesis Preface

When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century and the cuckoo comes out every millennium. (Hillis, n.d., About Long Now, para. 3)

The Clock of the Long Now, described by Hillis (n.d.) above is designed to counteract contemporary Western society’s pathologically short attention span and short sightedness and encourage a long view and long-term responsibility, “where long-term is measured at least in centuries” (Brand, n.d.). “The Clock will stand sixty feet tall, cost tens of millions of dollars, and will run for ten thousand years, with minimal human intervention” (Brand, n.d., The Clock and Library Projects, para. 1). Brand (n.d.) states that the sole purpose of the Clock of the Long Now is to get us thinking about the future, and to remind us that the future is not just handed to us, but in fact we inherit it.

Therefore, the Clock is a symbol, an important reminder, of our need to extend the horizon of our expectations for our world, for our complex of civilisations and cultures, beyond the lifetime of our own children, and even the next two or three generations (Chabon, 2006).

It wasn’t until I began this study that I had given any real thought to the state of the world in the ensuing ten thousand years, apart from, whilst growing up, watching TV shows like The Jetsons and Lost in Space and later on reading Huxley’s (1931) book Brave New World and Bladerunner, for English class. I can also remember creating a poster on the future of transport as a nine-year old, and if you had told me that in the year 2015 the main mode of transport would still be cars, and not flying vehicles, floating skateboards or personal jetpacks, I am sure I would have been immensely disappointed.

However, this journey begins in the 1990s. It was somewhere in the 1990s that we started to lose our ability to envision things well into the future. Today, our technologically saturated world, filled with a range of technological devices, social media and its constant stream of information, makes it difficult for us to comprehend the next hundred years, replaced instead with a short-term, future-oriented vision that is marked by the next idevice release or software update (Brand, 1999).

I asked my twelve-year old about the future, to which he replied the future was the year 2020 – five years from now. A future where he too envisioned flying motor vehicles and rocket-powered backpacks, but went further to describe a world ravaged by the effects of global warming and human intervention; a place without trees and clean air, where one would soon need to purchase bottled air. He spoke of China being one of the first countries to slowly disappear, as its high pollution levels would cause the sea level to rise, eventually swallowing up its coastal cities. When probed further and asked who was responsible for ensuring these things do not happen, he paused and said he was uncertain who was responsible. The future he envisioned, and that he and his children would inherit, was inevitable.

My tiny mark on education, begins with me, with my responsibilities to those in my care. As a parent with my own children – teaching them to love and care about the world – and in loco parentis as an educator – teaching my students to respect and think about the future of the world, so that their children and their children after them, all the way down the line from now to the year 12 015, can inherit and enjoy a world of boundless possibilities.

I am an educator with a Bachelor and Master of Education, both degrees specialising in education and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). My teaching experience began in secondary schools, where I taught Computing Studies. Currently (since 2005) I am a lecturer in a university in Sydney, New South Wales. I prepare preservice teachers to integrate ICT to enhance teaching and learning, for both primary and secondary students.

During the eighteen years that I have been involved in education it has undergone significant change. I have witnessed first-hand the impact global influences, accelerating change and increased technological complexity have had on education, knowledge, teaching and learning. I have watched, as education has become increasingly perceived as the key to national competitiveness, tilting education’s balance in favour of the vocational and economic development of human capital and on the commodification of learning and teaching. Education, now, utilises a model crippled by too much content and too little time to think, built upon the provision of knowledge and skills that governments think businesses require, informed by political agendas looking for ways to educate more people to even higher levels (Holt, 2002; Orr, 1992). All of this contributes to the dichotomous relationship between technological advancement and innovation, on the one hand, and the conservation of humanity and the humanistic pursuit of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, on the other.

Perhaps surprisingly, this thesis is an argument for ICT in education as necessary to progress. It will show that the modern world need not sacrifice concepts of right, wrong, ethics, morals and long-term vision, to technology. But rather, the informed and purposeful utilisation of technological innovations can help orchestrate a recovery of education and humanity.

This study presents a vision for the long now, uncovering a movement based on sensual pleasure and wisdom – The Slow Food Movement. It offers an alternative to the ‘fast’ life of the twenty-first century, and tells the story of a Slow way of living, teaching and learning. It tells of the joys and challenges of discovering one’s natural rhythm and tempo in a speed-hungry world, identifies teaching and learning as humanistic, social and multidimensional and puts this view forward as a guide for future developments in ICT-rich education.

future

References

Brand, S. (1999). The clock of the long now: Time and responsibility. New York: Basic Books.

Chabon, M. (2006). The future will have to wait. Retrieved from http://longnow.org/essays/omegaglory/

Hillis, D. (n.d.). About long now. Retrieved from http://longnow.org/about/

Holt, M. (2002). It’s time to start the slow school movement. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(4), 264—271.

Orr, D. W. (1992). Ecological literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Sun, Y. (2016). Image: Future. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/photos/rEnH56DV2vQ