I write this blog post from my sofa, blanket and hot tea warmth engulfed by my woollen Japanese house coat. I’m cold, I’m tired and to be honest, not wanting to do much work today even though I’ve tackled a mountain…but I never really have a choice in that, who does? So this blog post might not be as dynamic as usual…but in the words of Will Buckingham who I cite below, maybe this is a good thing. As my Masters in Education (MEd) in Academic Practice studies continue, so do my reflections…today, perfectly defined by a recent tweet from Guardian Education in their talk surrounding sustainable schools – ‘It’s #learning-by-living rather than chalk-and-talk.’ So how do we “live”?
In my previous, and first post of, reflections, I spoke of the unavoidable notion and importance of “student experience” during the learning journey of Higher Education, where education is as much about learning, about succeeding and failing, as it is about this (student) experience – the learning journey and adventure of being at University. So could education also be about the procrastination that takes place – the “laziness”? I know I can be very good at it sometimes…
This week, I came across ‘A Centre for Laziness: A Proposal’ by Will Buckingham, a philosopher and novelist, currently in Chengdu, China, working in the College of Literature and Journalism at Sichuan University. Buckingham proposes a ‘Centre for Laziness Studies’ after he received an email from his university saying that there were funds available for large-scale projects that could be both radical and disruptive, leading to the establishment of research centres that might fundamentally change the way that the university worked. Discovering the process and paperwork involved to get such a centre off the ground, it never came to be, but has remained as an idea that won’t go away. Here are a few thoughts of what would constitute the ‘Centre for Laziness Studies’ taken from Buckingham’s blog post. It would be:
- A place for mooching and idling and chatting and drinking tea
- A welcoming place, a place where you could come and go
- A place for reading and browsing
- An inside and outside space, more than a physical space
- Wilfully non-purposive. It would have no targets to meet. It would not contribute to strategic plans. It would be indifferent to Research Excellence Frameworks and league tables
- Equipped with pens and paper and things for jotting down ideas, and probably blackboards and whiteboards and things for sharing ideas. (But it would probably have few screens, because screens are terrible breeders of industry.)
- A place where you could just lie on your back and think. Or not think. Or do that thing that is just lying on your back, being unsure whether you are thinking, not thinking, or something in between
- A new field of research, like a journal, a journal called Laziness…published whenever those involved in the centre felt like publishing it, when the pleasures of publishing outweighed the difficulties. Not peer-reviewed where the editorial board would just use their judgement and publish stuff that was interesting, or that gave pleasure, or that seemed to be saying something new or worth saying
- Run more or less co-operatively
- About existing, providing a space for the exercise of laziness, for all those who wished to come there. And it would continue to do so as long as people liked it, as long as it provided pleasure and delight and enjoyment and human fellow-feeling, as long as it was fruitful
Buckingham cites a line from Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping’s translation of Wei Qingzhi’s thirteenth century Poet’s Jade Splinters (詩人玉屑), that literary works arise at ‘the border between hard work and laziness’, and words from sixth century Liu Xie on how writers must yangqi (養氣) or nourish their vitality by exhaustion by engaging in pleasant trips and idle talk and laughter…if they want to write optimally and live optimally.
“Unless we are accustomed to moving across the borderlands between hard work and laziness, unless we see how both of these can be used to nourish our vitality, then we are not going to live optimally… Forget the demands of the capricious gods who rule our lives. We don’t need to work harder. Instead, we need not to establish not one, but instead many thousands upon thousands of centres for laziness.” – Will Buckingham
Would you fund ‘A Centre for Laziness Studies’ for universities? It’s clear downtime, daydreaming and dawdling definitely fuels hard work and working harder. As Buckingham states, we are never going to get support or grants to set up centres for laziness, as academia becomes more research (output) obsessed and the world more work obsessed. Could you imagine the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) or Arts Council England (ACE) providing funds for this kind of research? I wish.
So my MEd Academic reflections continue…this time it’s lazy. There are certainly words and phrases here that could contribute towards my philosophy of education and curriculum. I’ll add them to the list. If you have a minute, read some of the comments at the bottom on Buckingham’s article. They show a common voice…the voice of a wanted “laziness”…