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Blog post Part of special issue: Education for our planet and our future

The renaming of time and the timing of the name

Dylan Adams, Senior Lecturer in Education at Cardiff Metropolitan University

Geologists divide time ‘according to marked shifts in Earth’s state’ (Lewis & Maslin, 2015, p. 171). It has been argued that the impact humans have had and are having on the planet’s ecosystems and geology demands the naming of a new epoch, the ‘Anthropocene’ (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000; Lewis & Maslin, 2015; Steffen, Grinevald, Crutzen, & McNeill, 2011). This naming of geological time is not straightforward because of disputes about whether there is sufficient stratigraphic evidence (Olsson, Moore, Westley, & McCarthy, 2017). Nevertheless, whether it fulfils scientific criteria is perhaps less significant than the naming itself. Freire wrote ‘to exist humanly is to name the world’ (2000, p. 88), meaning our ontological vocation is to rename the world through dialogue and a transformation of the world for the betterment of all. Perspectives of time may give us an alternative and hopeful pedagogical imperative that will assist in our renaming and rewriting of the world.

Adam (2004, p. 152), in her critique of various concepts of time, writes that ‘there is no innocent position from which to produce neutral knowledge’. Griffiths (1999) highlights that our western adherence to clock-time may mean we march in synchronicity to its numbers, but severed from nature. In contrast, in many cultures ‘time can only be embodied in the natural world and in nature’s processes’ (Griffiths, 1999, p. 7). Griffiths bemoans the fetishistic compulsion to quantify time, as ‘measuring the moment prevents you from feeling its heart or being tickled by its soft feather’ (Griffiths, 1999, p. 12). Clock-time has therefore ‘become a most effective colonizing tool’ (Adam, 2004, p. 136), dulling our senses to the wonder of the moment and the awe of life (Griffiths, 1999).

Education is arguably subjugated by the march of clock-time. Regimented bells and buzzers compel uniform movement; standardised tests demand obedience to specific times. Progress must be measured, timed and ticked – the faster the better. Perhaps more lessons need to be slower if we are to combat the biggest threat our planet has ever faced: ourselves.

‘Perhaps more lessons need to be slower if we are to combat the biggest threat our planet has ever faced: ourselves.’

Slow pedagogy is advocated as a counter to the fast-paced, tightly numerated and standardised mainstream model that has held dominion in today’s schools (Payne & Wattchow, 2008). A belief in the value of slow pedagogy is not anti-progress, nor does it claim all lessons need to be slow. Rather, it is about restoring, replenishing, revealing and healing (Mitten, 2017; O’Donnell, 2015). O’Donnell (2015, p. 189) calls for contemplative pedagogies that deepen experience involving ‘a slower, more process-oriented approach that helps to open the self to the world and to itself’. Drawing on Noddings (2003), Mitten (2017) argues we need to tend to our souls in order to tend to the soil. If we cultivate values of care then we will ‘change confrontational, combative, and conquering relationships with the more-than-human world to relationships of compassion and connectedness that embody our intra/interrelationship with all’ (Mitten, 2017, p. 183).

Perhaps the climate crisis has been exacerbated by the mainstream pedagogical alignment with clock-time as it feeds our apparent disconnection with nature.

Reflective questions

  • Might our planetary disease also be a reflection of our dis-ease with ourselves?
  • How can we create more opportunities for educational experiences that exist beyond clock-time?
  • How might slow and contemplative pedagogies be enacted in our educational spheres so that we restore balance to our selves and our planet?


Adam, B. (2004). Time and social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Crutzen, P. J., & Stoermer, E. F. (2000). Global change newsletter. The Anthropocene, 41, 17–18.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Griffiths, J. (1999). Pip pip: A sideways look at time. London: Flamingo.

Lewis, S. L., & Maslin, M. A. (2015). Defining the anthropocene. Nature, 519(7542), 171–180.

Mitten, D. (2017). Connections, compassion, and co-healing: The ecology of relationships. In Malone, K., Truong, S., & Gray, T. (Eds.), Reimagining sustainability in precarious times (pp. 173–186). Singapore: Springer.

Noddings, N. (2003). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

O’Donnell, A. (2015). Contemplative pedagogy and mindfulness: Developing creative attention in an age of distraction. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 49(2), 187–202.

Olsson, P., Moore, M.-L., Westley, F. R., & McCarthy, D. D. P. (2017). The concept of the Anthropocene as a game-changer: A new context for social innovation and transformations to sustainability. Ecology and Society, 22(2), 31.

Payne, P. G., & Wattchow, B. (2008). Slow pedagogy and placing education in post-traditional outdoor education. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, 12(1), 25–38.

Steffen, W., Grinevald, J., Crutzen, P., & McNeill, J. (2011). The Anthropocene: Conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 369(1938), 842–867.