The Power of Patience

Jennifer L. Roberts in Harvard Magazine:

RatI‘m not sure there is such a thing as teaching in general, or that there is truly any essential teaching strategy that can be abstracted from the various contexts in which it is practiced. So that we not lose sight of the disciplinary texture that defines all teaching, I want to offer my comments today in the context of art history—and in a form that will occasionally feel like an art-history lesson. During the past few years, I have begun to feel that I need to take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences of the students in my courses; that in the process of designing a syllabus I need not only to select readings, choose topics, and organize the sequence of material, but also to engineer, in a conscientious and explicit way, the pace and tempo of the learning experiences. When will students work quickly? When slowly? When will they be expected to offer spontaneous responses, and when will they be expected to spend time in deeper contemplation?

I want to focus today on the slow end of this tempo spectrum, on creating opportunities for students to engage in deceleration, patience, and immersive attention. I would argue that these are the kind of practices that now most need to be actively engineered by faculty, because they simply are no longer available “in nature,” as it were. Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.

More here.