Slow learning

Fast food and multi-tasking. Together, they define the days of many people. “Time is money”, Benjamin Franklin declared over 250 years ago and ever since the price has been dropping and so we have to run ever-faster to keep up. In more recent years, governments have begun to sing the praises of the 2-year university degree.

As long as these ideas have been around, there has been resistance. American idlers, from Henry David Thoreau to Utah Phillips, have been taking the world at their own chosen speed for as long as Franklin has been urging them to get a move on. Carl Honor documented the rise of the Slow Food movement in 2004 and that movement has been, slowly of course, growing ever since.

So when I want to introduce you to the idea of slow study, I am aware that I’m in esteemed company. My undergraduate degree took four years and when I started on my PhD my supervisor gave me some advice that, today, sounds almost ludicrous: “go and read for a year” he said. That year gave me the space, the pace, the time, to think about, to absorb, to consider, what I was reading.

These days, too much education consists of a rush from one topic, one book, to the next and then at the end a piece of paper that all too often represents nothing much more than itself. Even more depressingly, cut-and-paste essay writing and online essay factories are becoming more and more common. The end has become all-important.

I disagree. I think the process is all-important. The difference between the end and the process is akin to the difference between information and knowledge, and I know which I prefer.

We will take our time over our first course, we will read one section of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” each fortnight and it will take 8 months to read the whole book. That will give us time to read, possibly re-read, think about and discuss the rich complexity of the book. And at the end we will celebrate that we took our time and spent hours, days, weeks, and months in company with the book and with each other.

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