The Times West Virginian

Community News Network

September 25, 2013

Schools need to teach students to maintain attention

(Continued)

SWARTHMORE, Pa. — (Optional add end)

Developing the "sustained attention muscle" should be a central part of education. Is there any evidence that it is? I fear not, and I think that recent trends are not encouraging. In universities, value is placed on being a popular teacher who commands large enrollments. One doesn't do that by demanding sustained engagement with difficult material. And MOOCs, whatever their potential cost-saving benefits, enable students to watch presentations in brief snatches, perfect for the attentionally challenged, which in turn pressures instructors to organize their material in matching, bite-sized portions. We all let students bring their laptops into class, which virtually guarantees that they will be shuttling between email and web surfing while occasionally taking notes on what is being said. None of this is a recipe for strengthening the sustained attention muscle.

Perhaps I'm crying wolf. Perhaps there are things going on in popular culture to suggest a countervailing appreciation of experiences that demand sustained attention. There are a few somewhat hopeful developments. The longform journalism that used to appear in the pages of The New Yorker and a handful of other magazines is now reappearing online. And there is great enthusiasm for long-form television, as evidenced by shows like "The Wire," "Homeland" and "Breaking Bad." But I'm not sure that the TV shows do the job, despite the complexity of their narratives and the subtlety of their characters. What we don't know about TV is how people actually watch these shows. First, the shows are produced in bite-sized installments. And second, viewers can always hit pause to check incoming texts and emails or grab a snack. Indeed, there was a revealing study by Leif Nelson and some colleagues a few years ago that showed that even though viewers said that commercials detracted from their enjoyment of TV shows, in actual fact, the interruptions led to higher ratings of the shows than when viewers watched them uninterrupted. Nelson's explanation of this result did not appeal to issues of sustained attention, but it seems possible that the attention breaks that commercials bring play a role in making the shows more fun to watch.

The world is complex, and it isn't going to get any simpler. Unless we can create a population that is capable of thinking about complexity in complex ways, it is highly unlikely that the problems of global warming; economic inequality; access to affordable, high-quality health care; or any of the other challenges the U.S. and the rest of the world face will get adequate solutions. Good solutions to any of these problems will be complex, and they will not win support from a population that demands simplicity. Teachers have a responsibility to train complex minds that are suited to a complex world. This is at least as important as teaching young people mathematics, biology, or literature. For teachers, at all levels, attention must be paid to teaching that attention must be paid.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 21, 2014

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • A quarter of the world's most educated people live in the 100 largest cities

    College graduates are increasingly sorting themselves into high-cost, high-amenity cities such as Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco, a phenomenon that threatens to segregate us across the country by education.

    July 18, 2014

  • Your chocolate addiction is only going to get more expensive

    For nearly two years, cocoa prices have been on the rise. Finally, that's affecting the price you pay for a bar of chocolate - and there's reason to believe it's only the beginning.

    July 18, 2014

  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 17, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • web_starbucks-cof_big_ce.jpg Starbucks sees more Apple-like stores after Colombia debut

    This week Starbucks opened its first location in Colombia — a 2,700-square-foot store with a heated patio, concrete columns, mirrors on the ceiling and walls of colorful plants.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Featured Ads