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.
Roberts has her students look at a single painting (Copley's Boy With a Squirrel, above) for three hours. For her, this is a way of challenging the assumption that vision is "immediate, direct, uncomplicated, instantaneous." Students come to appreciate the gap between looking and seeing — or more generally, the difference between access and learning.
I must admit that I've not quite thought of how to teach "delay" deliberately in philosophy. But no doubt it's something that many of us value and would want to teach if we could. Consider the skill of charitably considering objections to a philosophical view. Students struggle with this, in no small part because it demands patience of them. Philosophy is about thinking, yes. But more than that, it's about thinking again. Indeed, one way to see what philosophy is all about is to emphasize that it addresses questions for which we don't have established or uncontroversial methods of investigation, and as such, any plausible answer to a philosophical question isn't going to emerge from a five minute bull session.
So how do we do this? What techniques or methods will work to motivate students to decelerate and immerse? Can we help students the rewards of patient engagement, or is that merely swimming fruitlessly against the tides?