Attention Span: Our National Education Crisis, Part Two

Read Part One Here

II. Attention Span and Freedom

Of course, attention span by itself is not enough to guarantee education or freedom, but a person lacking attention span must either develop it or he will not become educated, and a nation without attention span must either gain it or lose its freedoms.

If I were speaking of making money, the point would be obvious. If you don’t go to work and stay a few hours, your paycheck will be small.

In fact, figure out what your paycheck would be if you tried to cram your whole work week into one day, and you’ll have a pretty good indication of how much that same amount of study is really worth.

Or, figure out how much money you’d make if you spent four years putting in an hour or two a day between fun activities—you certainly wouldn’t make enough to live on.

If you put in that same kind of study, you won’t have much of an education to show for it either. The diploma on the wall may look the same, but it will be empty of meaning.

Without attention span—specific, dedicated time spent at work or managing one’s resources—income and wealth will dry up. The same is true of education, where the currency is study instead of labor, and the commodities are virtue, wisdom and freedom.

But how does a person or nation without attention span develop it, increase it, or improve it? There is only one way: discipline yourself to put in the time.

Speaking of attention span and education: Slow down and learn.

Slow down and put in the time reading, writing, discussing, listening, pondering, thinking, praying.

Spend hours and hours in the classics, and you will acquire a superb education. A nation of superbly educated individuals will maintain its freedom.
In Lincoln’s day the culture of learning was based around books. Today, as Neil Postman points out in his excellent book Amusing Ourselves to Death, the culture of learning is based on television and internet technology.

All of our forms of public discourse are based less and less on books and more and more on electronic media.

Most of the major decisions of society are made in five places—families, churches, schools, businesses and governments—and four of the five are moving consistently away from books toward electronic media.

Politics is now almost exclusively an electronic event, more and more people attend church in front of their television set, businesses survive through electronic marketing, and schools are “computerizing” as quickly as possible—the wave of the future, we are told, is virtual education, virtual politics, e-business and electronic evangelizing.

Even the family is increasingly virtual—parents and children communicate with fax and email, and family time is increasingly spent in front of the television set, except for those off in their own rooms surfing the net.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like the latest hit movie or website as much as anyone, and I believe that television and internet technology are of great benefit to society—they significantly empower business and greatly enhance entertainment.

But they have also displaced books as the source of cultural learning, and this is a very discouraging development because of the impact of society’s morals; but that is not my chief point here.

My point is that it is bad to replace books with television and internet because of the consequences to education and freedom.

Specifically, the medium of the electronic screen teaches at least five deadly fallacies about education, and consequently freedom:

Fallacy Number 1: Learning should be fun.

 

To be continued……

5 Comments

  1. John Eberhard
    Feb 19, 2012

    I agree. And the TV is probably one of the biggest culprits in evolving a sort of shortened attention span for the civilization. We are fed sound bites instead of actual full fledged information.

    • Shanon Brooks
      Feb 19, 2012

      John, I hope to see you at FOL in California in March.

  2. Allen Levie
    Feb 19, 2012

    Agreed. The new visual media needs to be so well integrated and utilized that it increases and optimizes the time students spend with face to face interaction, time in the books and time with the physical pen and paper.

  3. Gene F. Danforth
    Feb 20, 2012

    Very True
    We home schooled our children. Our son went back to public school in the 10th grade. He saw how it had changed. Teachers walking the hall with radios. Teachers acting more like police than shairers of knowledge etc. etc. We brought him to take a G.E.D. test. He passed. Then went streight over to the community college and enrolled in electronic engineering. At that time his friends were still being dumbed down in public school.
    There are many examples like this where we live.Even the university has departed from their standard programs.

  4. Ammon Nelson
    Feb 20, 2012

    I agree that our attention span is a nation crises, and I also agree that this is largely due to the increase in electronic entertainment. However, I don’t agree that there is something inherent in electronic media which is naturally worse than books. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    I used to spend a lot of my online time on Facebook, casually browsing random and thoughtless posts, or spending hours on end maintaining a garden or building a virtual house (embarassed look).
    This was obviously a monumental waste of precious time and I am working hard to correct this trend of the past, and when I intentionally look through and weed out the mindless drivel from my Facebook wall, and only post and comment on what I find to be intellectually stimulating for myself, facebook has become a good source to explore new ideas and further my own education – just one more venue (and a very inexpensive and convenient one at that) for exploring and expanding my understanding of truth. My experience with Facebook is only one example of how electronic media has been an integral part in my ongoing education – another being Dr. Brooks’ blog.

    That being said, I am anxiously looking forward to the continuation of this series. Attention span is definitely a major crisis in America and the world.

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