Wednesday, March 02, 2011


I once heard a brilliant graduation speech in which the speaker encouraged the students to learn how to stop, and ever since, I’ve been encouraging my students to do the same. It’s easy, the speaker said, to put your foot on the gas pedal of life, but very few people know how and when to slow down and stop. In a way, it’s not hard to race through life accomplishing countless tasks one after the other; what’s difficult –sometimes impossible – is decelerating and finding the solace that comes from a quiet pause. My teenage students are growing up in a hurrying and skittish world, one that seems to embrace speed of all kinds far more than richness and wisdom, and part of my responsibility as one of their teachers is to show them another slower and more satisfying way to learn. I want them to learn the truths in books by lingering and soaking up rather than by racing and grabbing on the fly, and to do this takes the ability, as the graduation speaker suggested, to slow down and sometimes simply stop. My students need to learn to stop and stare at a sentence in a novel that puzzles them – stop and stare and ponder and contemplate and wonder about and stare some more. They must grow accustomed to loitering, you might say, around a phrase in a poem, just hanging out with it, saying the words again and again until the gift of their meaning is given to them. For my students, it’s the easiest thing in the world to throw themselves through the chapters in a book, racing to reach the end, but it takes a certain kind of fervor and resolve to slow down and stop now and then, to bring things to a standstill and just see what’s around them on the page. My job is to show them how to do it.

No comments: