the circular runner

The Privilege of Slownwness…

In observations on August 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm

he's alone and he's not going anywhere anytime soon...

There’s a lot of talk these days about slow-food, and about fighting the speed of the digital age. The counter to this is that we can’t afford to slow down. We have to do more just to keep up. From the point of view of someone who makes a living working with under-served communities, I think this conversation suffers from a lack of perspective. Which is not to say that I don’t agree with the values espoused by the slow-fooders (values that also go beyond food into how we live), but rather, that speed is not always a choice. Some people aren’t just running to answer the tweet or last e-mail. Some people are literally running for their lives.

I am no expert on the inner-city or the sociology of poverty, and I hope I do not sound like the middle-class fool who speaks from on high just because he works with those who are down and out. Really, I am an educator and what I am about to write are just some thoughts and observations about trying to educate young people who were never taught the value of education. For those of you who’ve been reading this blog, you know I started this by writing about the sausage-factory (aka, the for-profit college I taught at for over a year). Now, I work for a non-profit organization as its GED Program Coordinator, which means I work with kids who the for-profit colleges target, but haven’t gotten to yet. Most of the people I work with at the agency are community organizers; people who know how to work with the families who live in and around the poorer neighborhoods we are funded to serve, by which is really meant the families of color who predominantly live in these areas. But many are not too sure about what I do. In the abstract, they know that education is a good thing, but I think the general feeling, whether they would say this or not, is that education is an after thought, a luxury. In some ways, I can’t argue.

It’s hard to convince young people that they should learn their times tables and basic grammar when they don’t have work, are trying to raise children, or are responsible for younger siblings because their parents are always working. This means that much of my time is spent trying to get kids to come as much as they can, to let them now that, luxury or not, they deserve to learn, and that education is important in ways that are not necessarily quantifiable. (I don’t stress the latter even though I believe that that is where the real value of education can be found.)

Let me say that I am not trying to be vague or dodgy when I say that an education’s value lives where stats cannot go. Sometimes I look around the centers I work in, which are mainly rec rooms in housing projects or in community centers that have seen better days, and I get why so many of my students don’t seem interested. I’m not really saying anything new when I say that students do better in environments that are conducive to education–all of us thrive when the things that surround us are lovely. (I know that lovely is subjective, but if you are caught up on that word, then think orderly or well-maintained, or cared-for.) Cared-for might be the best choice of phrase because it extends not only to things but to people as well. And really, so much of the problem with so many people I come across is that no one has ever really shown them care. It’s not because the people in their lives are bad parents or bad teachers. It’s just all part of the same system–a system that is built on not allowing for enough time to care about anything or anyone. If I had to answer what the value of education is, then I’d say it is the value of caring that reading and learning teaches. Or put even more simply, trying to learn something new forces us to slow down, to accommodate our rushed selves to the rules of the quiet and the slow.

Whether we know it or not, the ability to be slow and to cherish that quality in life is something we all hunger for. Cradle-learners might not always appreciate what they learn in college, but the effort required to learn something new and the time spent doing so is invaluable for human development–more so even than the skill we learned at the time. At some point in their lives, these college kids who have been taught the importance of education will realize it. They might even go on to use hackneyed phrases like, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Hackneyed or not, it is a valid lesson that most people in the middle class have internalized even if they let themselves forget it. Many of the kids I work with, on the other hand, have never known what it’s like to have something for itself. Their lives, by need of circumstance, are governed by the quick and the immediate and the voraciousness of the practical.

I know that learning to appreciate the slow may not be attainable for many of my students in their present circumstances, but if, like the sausage factory’s ads imply, education helps raise people up, then I can’t think of a better lesson to try to expose these kids to. The real privilege of wealth is not the bling, it is time–to think, to be quiet with oneself, to eat and to live and to be slowly.

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  1. Hey there,

    I found you through LitKicks and I thought I’d stop by. I love this post, i wrote something related last week about the lost pleasures of writing in isolation. It’s all moving too fast.

    Anyway, I’m subscribed and i look forward to your posts.

  2. I like this bit:
    “…the effort required to learn something new and the time spent doing so is invaluable for human development…”.
    I completely agree, as a parent, a tutor, and an on-and-off public school employee.

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