If you ever want to catch me at my most relaxed and “tuned in”, drop over on a Sunday afternoon. At about 1:30, you’ll find me in the kitchen, working at preparing an inviting, comfortable family dinner. If you catch me in the early stages of the process, the counters will be clean, the sink empty and the recipes that I’m using neatly arranged in front of me.
If you were to arrive at 3:00, a bottle of red wine will have already been uncorked, the required herbs and spices will have been arranged in separate dishes, and the main course will likely be in the oven, on a low, slow heat. Pull up a chair, grab a glass!
If all is going well, a visitor arriving at 4:00 will be greeted by some pre-dinner appetizers, a beverage. and the welcoming aroma of a lazy Sunday afternoon.
If you come between 4:30 and 5:00, you’ll be enlisted to help the kids set the table!
It’s all part of what has become somewhat of a weekend ritual around our house. While Saturday is usually spent running errands, working in the yard or playing outside with my two young boys, I’ve learned to reserve those few hours on Sunday to change gears, and move into a completely different space.
For me, it’s a way of “taking time”. There is a definite difference in the pace at which I prepare vegetables, read recipes, combine ingredients. This is not a Tuesday night one-hour-to-have-dinner-and-be-out-of-the-house-for-t-ball kind of experience. And although, physically, I may be alone in the kitchen for most of the afternoon, I’m joined in spirit by all those who have ever found inspiration, solace or joy in the process of cooking.
I’m thinking that writers, painters, musicians, sculptors—those who finds life and leisure in any sort of creative process—experience this same sense of being “in the zone”. It’s a mystical place where time and space are somehow transformed!
For me, these are moments where I’m not only intensely engaged in what I’m doing; they are also the moments when I’m learning the most. Having the time to try out different combinations of ingredients: a taste here, a sip there, a little more salt, a little less salt, a touch more oregano. I’m not only following someone else’s recipe; I’m building on what I have learned from week to week, watching carefully the reaction of my table guests, and taking time to immerse myself in the ideas of others who have much more experience.
Many of you will know that the word “school” has been handed down to us from the Greek “schola” which, in its original form, meant “leisure”. I think of that quite often, usually as I walk through the front doors of my own school.
Many words and phrases can be used to describe the modern school, but I’m quite certain that “leisure” would not appear on many top ten lists. In fact, I suspect that our sense of what the Greeks meant by leisure has been lost in time as well.
But I’m convinced that if we are going to transform our schools to be vibrant learning communities, we would do well to think about the frenetic pitch at which today’s schools operate. There really isn’t a great deal of opportunity in our schools these days to adopt any semblance of that slow, relaxed approach to learning.
An over-crowded curriculum is made even more contentious and unmanageable by a commitment to compartmentalization and division—even in the early years. A love affair with short-term output data diminishes the importance and value of a long term commitment to process.
There is a sense in which we have created schools that more closely resemble pressure cookers than crock pots and I believe that this has had a tremendous effect on both the process and the product of schooling.
But what would happen if we were to slow things down? What would happen if we adopted more of a weekend attitude towards school-based education? What would happen if we resisted rushing the learning process but, instead, nurtured a creative dynamic in our schools that allowed students and teachers to savour the world, appreciating what has been learned about it to this point, exploring it from different angles, and attempting to develop unique and creative responses to what they saw?
What would happen if we adopted a sense of creative leisure towards our living and learning? I think that’s the table to which I would like to be invited. Pull up a chair and let’s enjoy the meal!