Monday, September 4, 2023

A Pedagogy of Festina Lente

I have started including the below in my class syllabuses.

The Latin Motto Festina Lente means to make haste, slowly. Perhaps you remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Despite the seeming speed of the rabbit, it was the tortoise that wins the race. We must develop within ourselves the ability to make haste, slowly. We must learn to focus, and to grind away at the problems around us. Our word school comes from the classical Greek skholÄ“, which means literally leisure or free time. When you leave school, and enter the so-called real world, some of you might discover that school was the last time that people wanted you to think deeply and believed you might have some important insight into how the world should be. This is the kind of free time we cultivate in this class. Not the free time to do less, but the free time to do more. Here we still can think, read, argue, plan, and strive for a different tomorrow. Here we still think we have a chance to become someone else before we become some more efficient cog in some ever more efficient workplace. I hope this sense of school stays with long after you graduate. 

 This class is housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Well, science comes from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge, understanding, or study. So, we have not just the natural and physical sciences, but also the social and human sciences. But what about the liberal arts? Liberal here comes from the word for freedom (think liberty), and art here means simply practice. The Liberal Arts are the practices and techniques of freedom. They are the things a free people should know, they are the practices a citizen should develop. We study the liberal arts and sciences to not become better workers (though we surely will gain that too), but to become better citizens—to become freer within our responsibilities to each other. 

 My training is not in the social sciences or the physical sciences, but the human sciences, also known as the humanities. We study what it means to be human. Our techniques for doing that are text based. We will read difficult, often strange texts in this class. We will learn to slow down when we read them. To make haste, slowly. And in so doing, we will carefully rebuild and understand the arguments of the books, articles, stories, and other texts in this class. And we will learn to build our own arguments through our careful understanding of the arguments of others. The first skill that all the others are based on is careful reading. We must learn to read with minimum distraction, to make friends with the frustrations of difficult prose, and to seek after the excellence of finding what is front of us. Few tasks are harder than seeing what is front of you. So, festina lente everyone.