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“Attention is the beginning of devotion”

- What a beautiful thought! I want my children to be attentive, and I want them to be devoted to the good, the true, and the beautiful. What we give our attention to we are devoted to. This article points out how poetry can give us opportunities for attending so that our emotions are not so easily captured by the inhumane, brusque, and ugly. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/05/mary-olivers-poetry-captures-our-relationship-technology/589039/

I think nature study and picture study could do this too.

What are your thoughts or ideas?  

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David Smith gave a talk at the Alcuin Retreat in 2014 (I think), which used to be available, but has since disappeared. He taught an upper level German language course to college students in a unique way that perfectly illustrates what "attention getting and keeping" can look like. Instead of giving a spoken lecture on German culture, he decided to open a window into a very tiny slice of Germany during a time when non-Germans would consider most Germans to be monsters: WWII. His goal was to have his students see Germans as human beings with whom they could relate--to make the foreigner into a neighbor.

He did this by having a sign at the classroom door indicating that the students should enter silently. The room was darkened and a single black and white photograph was projected onto the front wall or board in the room. After giving the students a few minutes to just look at the photograph he began asking them questions, beginning with very basic things like "how many people are in the picture." When the students seemed to be getting hasty or too rhythmic in their responses, he would interject another question that would challenge an observation or get the students to think again, more carefully. What this did was cause the natural curiosity of the students to engage in the story behind the photograph--Who were these people? What were they doing? Where were they doing it? Why were they doing it? The picture happened to be one of Sophie Scholl and her brother, two university students who secretly protested the Nazi government during WWII (along with several other students), and who the Nazi eventually caught and executed.

The students not only were engaged in the photograph and its story, but were introduced to Germans, real Germans who did real things with which the students themselves would be sympathetic to and identify with as university students and haters of Naziism themselves.

I think Smith's illustration shows the potential of getting attention, but also shows how much thought and planning it can take to ensure that attention is directed toward some desired end. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are abstract values, which must be attended to in the concrete particulars where they are manifest. The job of the teacher or the parent is to train a child's attention on the concrete in such a way that the abstract values become apparent--if not to the mind and affections both, then at least to the affections.

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2 hours ago, JTB_5 said:

I think Smith's illustration shows the potential of getting attention, but also shows how much thought and planning it can take to ensure that attention is directed toward some desired end. 

I agree. If we forget, or do not realize the fact that time must be invested, we will frustrate ourselves and our children/students. Do you have ideas of what this could look like? 

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20 minutes ago, Cheryl Floyd said:

I agree. If we forget, or do not realize the fact that time must be invested, we will frustrate ourselves and our children/students. Do you have ideas of what this could look like? 

I suppose there are some general principles that could be laid out, but I also imagine that applying them will look different depending on the age of the student and the objective.

An example from my own teaching:

I have my senior rhetoric students memorize and perform several speeches from Shakespeare. My goal is three-fold: 1) to have etched in their mind well-crafted words, 2) to better understand human nature, which Shakespeare displays so well, and 3) to have better command of their own rhetorical delivery.

First, I perform the speech for the students, to show them a model of what they will themselves look like when they've completed the task. From this point forward, we'll practice the speech in class daily as a simple repetitive exercise until the students have the speech memorized. I have a variety of exercises beyond bare repetition to help the students enjoy the activity in different capacities (for example, I'll have one student be an actor and another be a director who must order changes of emotion--angry, sad, happy, contemplative, etc.--just to get the students thinking about what such emotions would look and sound like with the words).

Second, we watch other examples of actor portrayals and discuss the different choices that the actors have made. This allows the students to see that the character isn't limited to one way of portrayal, but it also sets up opportunity for debate once we've read the play and have to draw some hard conclusions about the character that will close off some interpretations actors have made. I also use John Barton's Playing Shakespeare video series to help students understand some of the principles that go into performing a character in Shakespeare.

Third, we read aloud the play together, pausing to make sure everyone understands the action, and to discuss the character whose speech we are memorizing at various points in the play. At this point the students know the speech pretty well, but having it in context often brings out things they hadn't considered before, and maybe even impact how they've imagined the pace or emotion of the speech that they've been assuming (or adopting from one of the examples). By this time the students have pretty well memorized the speech and made their own choices about performing the character.

Fourth, we watch a version the play together to put the whole package together and as a kind of celebration of their work.

Even my weakest speaking students perform beyond their average ability, and they all come to some clearer understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's characters (and I hope, though it is harder to tell, of human characters), though they don't always agree with me :-).

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