Uses and abuses of slow

I am a bit behind on blogging the slow academia season of Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) virtual social meets. Covid has hit our household and I am working reduced hours while we are in isolation. So far we are feeling ok, but today seems a bit tougher than previous days. I hope to be well enough to lead the next PaTHES session on Monday night with a focus on theorising place.

The first session started with a guided discussion on the uses and abuses of slow in academia. You can access the powerpoint slides below.

I am starting each session with a prompt to slow down. This time a poem about fast academia from the beginning of a journal article on COVID-19 and Indigenous resilience co-authored by an international Indigenous team. It’s difficult to read poetry quickly. I recommend reading the full article, which ends with a more hopeful poem.

The resilient Pacific PhD candidate job description: COVID-19

Must know how to
go hard and go fast
go hard or go home

Must know how to navigate
time constraints
extra caring duty constraints
cramped space constraints
vulnerable elderly parents constraints
intermittent internet constraints
on-line learning ‘instant teacher support’ for your kids’ dramas constraints
job income insecurity how you gonna pay your mortgage and bills constraints
bank statement requests to prove you’re struggling constraints

Must know how to navigate
missed time-lines
missed dead-lines
new frown-lines
fear filled head-lines
uncertain brow-lines

Must know how to
go hard and go fast
go hard or go home

I am including the full citation as this challenges conventional academic citation practice by including Indigenous rather than institutional affiliations.

Zaine Akuhata-Huntington (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tūhoe, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa), Shannon Foster (D’harawal Saltwater Knowledge Keeper), Ashlea Gillon (Ngāti Awa), Mamaeroa Merito (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaeu, Ngāti Awa), Lisa Oliver (Gomeroi Nation), Nohorua Parata (Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata), Yvonne Ualesi (Mulivai Safata, Pu’apu’a, Savalalo Samoa, Fakaofo Tokelau, Ovalau Fiji) & Sereana Naepi (Natasiri). (2020). COVID-19 and Indigenous resilience. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(7),1377-1383.

I set the scene for a slow discussion inspired by Michelle Boulous Walker’s (2017) descriptor of slow reading: attentive, open-ended, ambiguous, contradictory, uncertain, imaginative, experimental, curious, questioning, incomplete, learning, appreciative, attentive listening, inconclusive, respectful, generous, meandering, reflective, meditative, patient, ethical, speculative, unknowing … And welcomed interruptions, noting my high tolerance honed over noisy extended family dinners during which everyone talks at the same time. Here’s an image of some of Ma’s delicious food at a recent lunch:

These are the quotes I choose to stimulate discussion during the session:

“Personal narratives of academic exclusions, marginalisations, and persistence abound … It is not for a lack of evidence that the pace of change in higher education is so slow. Feminist academics encounter a sense of déjà vu, that ‘we’ already know about the un-feminist character of the university, from lived experience as well as from peer reviewed research … Feminists repeat themselves because we are often ignored” (Breeze & Taylor, 2020).

“To become a feminist is to stay a student … I wanted to make a slow argument, to go over old ground, and to take my time … I have been in academia for over twenty years, and I am relatively at home … I am aware that not all feminists are at home in the academy, and that the language of feminist theory can be alienating … I aim to keep my words as close to the world as I can, by trying to show how feminist theory is what we do when we live our lives in a feminist way” (Ahmed, 2017).

“I am a professor. Say it again. Say it slowly. I am a professor. I enjoy it and marvel at it. The strangeness, the aloofness, the otherness of the term in relation to me and my work but not anymore. It seems such a strange destination to arrive at because of the career journey I have taken” (Potter, 2019).

“… separating those whose time [is] ‘precious’ (wage earners, the educated classes, the able-bodied) from those whose time [can] be squandered or [has] little value… Power operates to structure and condition different populations’ lack of time … There is a heterogenous and uneven response to speeded up time … What proliferates is a multiplicity of contradictory temporalities.”

Baraitser gives some examples of how power structures time: the busy work required for welfare benefits, women working double shifts especially those in care chains from the global north to global south, zero hours contract workers, enforced flexible ‘on call’ labour.

“If you make a complaint, you are often left waiting You are waiting but you are also reminding, prompting, sending enquiries … You can encounter resistance in the slowness of an uptake Exhaustionbecomes a management technique: you tire people out so they are too tired to address what makes them tired” (Ahmed, 2021).

“Complaint activism involves the willingness to make use of complaints procedures even though you know “the process is broken” and you are likely to enter “a painful repetitive cycle” … Even going through an exhausting of processes can have creative potential. Yes, we can be in a state of exhaustion because of that process. But complaints, even formal ones, slow and tedious ones, long and drawn out, can be creative” (Ahmed, 2021).

The discussion brought together various ideas: the silences and violences of the university, being at home in academia, continuing to learn, enjoying the comfort of theory, the challenge to keep theory close to the world, claiming a title such as professor or academic or writer, meandering career stories, theorising subjectivity, multiple and changeable selves, making and unmaking ourselves, slow as an institutional strategy to break people down,  the collegiality of activism in academia.

In the next post will report on the second session, where we discussed theorising the self.

A poem for staying still

I read this poem many years ago, lost it for a long time, and am thankful to have found it again here.

Among Women, Marie Ponsot (1972)

What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
Women wander
As best they can.
Portrait of Marie Ponsot in her kitchen in the morning. Queens, New York. April 23, 1988. (Photo by Michel Delsol/Getty Images).

The first sip

I am reblogging this from my university’s learning and teaching blog. The poem will be familiar to regular readers of this blog (but well worth reading again). Future posts will be new content, but it seemed fitting to start from the first sip. And I want to share the artwork created by my talented colleague Fidel Fernando.

Welcome to a new regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching. Once a week during Session 1 and Session 2 we will publish a short post (250 to 300 words) which prompts you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa.

One of the most well-known models for reflective practice comes from the work on Donald Schön in The Reflective Practitioner (1983), which was based on his university teaching in urban planning and his students’ experience of fieldwork. Schön describes reflection as a process whereby individuals try to understand “some puzzling or troubling or interesting phenomenon” while questioning “the understandings which have been implicit in [their] actions, understandings which [they] surface, criticize, restructure, and embody in further action”(Schön, 1983, p.50). Schön developed a neat binary which offers a useful starting point: reflection-in-action (occurs in the moment) and reflection-on-action (after the event). Subsequent reflective practitioners have added reflection-for-action (future-oriented) (Killion & Todnem, 1991).

Reflection is a learned skill and an ongoing process. The focus of these posts will be your practice as a teacher, rather than your students’ experiences of reflection for learning (although, as you will see, the two are interconnected). These guided activities will be linked to scholarly literature and practical resources, and aligned with Macquarie’s Professional Learning and Capability Enhancement (PLaCE) Framework.

PLaCE level of competence (Reflective practice)PLaCE Capability
FoundationalR1.1 Articulate the principles of, approaches to, and the values of, reflective practice.
ProficientR1.2 Reflect on own teaching, learning support and/or curriculum/assessment design practices.
R1.3 Explain actions taken in response to reflection on, and in, practice.
AccomplishedR1.4 Engage in sustained reflection on own educational practices and critique actions taken in response.
Highly AccomplishedR1.5 Implement strategies to promote a culture that values reflective practice.
ExpertR1.6 Develop and support the strategic and systematic embedding of reflexivity into educational practice.

Reflection and feedback on practice from the Professional Learning and Capability Enhancement (PLaCE) Framework

For now, I will leave you with a poem that struck a chord for the awkwardness of being new to teaching, the power of poetry in the classroom and the importance of reflection.

School of Embodied Poetics by Nina Pick

When I first started teaching, I thought
my students could see my heart on my sleeve.
I thought they could read the footnotes of
a body splayed open as a book.
I felt embarrassed to have such a
visible heart; there was something shameful about
the whole goopy mess, its ungovernable pulsations,
its lightening blush. It seemed none of my students
had a heart like mine; their hearts were bundled
in their baggy sweatshirts like a packed lunch.
I stood up there on the first day and
dug my hands into my pockets, thinking I
could hide my heart and its waywardness.
I slumped my shoulders, faced
the blackboard, shouted from
behind the projection screen.
But wherever I stood, my heart sparked
like a disco ball, doing
its unmistakable kaleidoscope dance.
I went to my supervisor: I’m so
embarrassed, I said. I think my students
are judging me harshly. They’ve probably
never seen such a heart before.
She shuffled papers, looked at
the results of my classroom observation.
She said, Well, the best you can do
is be a role model. Maybe they’ve never had the chance
to learn about the heart. Try teaching it
the same way you teach grammar.
So I went back to class, and returned to
the living pulse of the text:
I glimpsed the luminous globe behind
the poem’s dark ribs, felt its warmth streaming
through form, through syntax, through meter’s
tangled orchard. I saw the poem as a latticework
interwoven with sun. Each sentence was
parsed by the light.
On the desks we drummed
the heartbeat of the iambs. My heart led an
orchestra of small flowers.

Killion, J., & Todnem, G. (1991). A process of personal theory building. Educational Leadership, 48(6), 14–17.

Pick, Nina. (2013) ‘School of Embodied Poetics’ in This Assignment is so Gay: LGBTIQ poets on the art of teaching, ed. Megan Volpert. Little Rock: Sibling Rivalry Press.

Schön, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Next week: The second sip: ‘Put on your ‘teaching cloak’.