Monday, December 28, 2009

running around unconscious

Today I've been living a modern life. I took the number 2 Subaru in for warranty repair, took my daughter for a dental exam and ran around looking at hiking boots... a promised Christmas present for Lucy. It is amazing how our hands lead us through our days, getting dressed, eating breakfast, scraping the windshield, turning the key, steering the car through over 100 miles of to and fro on winding Arkansas hilly highway, and in and out of traffic. The hands operate in seamless interface with the workings of the mind, and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have been called at odd moments to take a bit greater interest as a detached observer of what takes place within arms length. The hands literally touch everything.

It is equally fascinating to take the same detached observational perspective in relation to the mind. Do you ever simply watch the thoughts that arise in your consciousness? Do you ever observe how they arise and where they go when you are done with them? That process of observing mind is called meditation. If you have spent time observing of the workings of your own mind, you will have seen that we are only fully present to what is happening before our eyes, ears, senses for a fraction of time before the activities within our own thoughts pull us away into what has been called "internal dialog." Even those of us who are quiet on the outside are often chattering away inside the mind.

That internal dialog is present within each classroom, within each student in every class... discussion taking place within the mind of each child. If I were to estimate the amount of time "present" and attentive that each child is actually listening to what is presented by the teacher, I would guess 10 percent or less. Lectures are notorious for "spillage" of attention. Even the smartest children are pulled away into their own wandering minds as they formulate questions in response to what the teacher has presented. They have done testing of children's capacities to apply undivided attention and found that it has been lessening each year.

So when you think about what happens in many classrooms throughout the US, even at the University level, think of the restroom floor at Schiphol airport, Amsterdam. Spillage. Can we reduce "spillage" by 80 percent? Let's put the hands back in play in American classrooms and see if we can actually do better. Even a twenty percent increase in available attention would be a miracle by today's standards.

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