The standards movement has had a number of unintended consequences. One of the most pervasive is a dramatic increase in the pressure on teachers to cover an ever-growing curriculum at a frenetic pace. Even when they see the importance of establishing an appropriate classroom culture at the start of the year, teachers often say they can’t afford to spend as little as two or three days establishing that culture because they will be left behind. Behind what? Behind the relentless schedule of covering content as proscribed by standards that must be met.
There are real costs to this pressure, not least the loss of satisfaction of exploring an idea deeply because it is intriguing. Just as a “slow food” movement exists to remind us to savor the experience of eating, we need to remember that the act of learning can be a deeply pleasurable experience. The excitement of an “aha” moment, the slow smile that creeps onto a person’s face as she understands a new idea, the intimate connection that grows out of a deep conversation — these are pleasures that require time.
But it is not just for aesthetic reasons that we should challenge the frantic pace of covering content. When students feel overwhelmed with new material, it reinforces the sense that school is impersonal, a “curriculum factory”. It leads directly to greater disillusionment and disengagement. It also, ironically, leaves more students behind and results in lower test scores.
To truly digest and internalize any idea worth knowing, students need to process it, struggle with it, discuss it. To truly learn anything there must be enough time to do the work of learning.
Learning takes time. We need to slow school down to make learning more meaningful.