May I Have (Some of) Your Attention Please?

“There'll be one corporation selling one little box / It'll do what you want and tell you what you want and cost whatever you got”

Greg Brown “Where is Maria?”

I was once told at a PD session that the ADHD brain is the brain of the future.  At the time I found it unsettling to consider this possibility.  I still do.  The way I understood the speaker’s delivery was that this was no bad thing, but rather a sort of evolutionary step toward living in an information and distraction saturated culture.  All non-ADHD folk would calcify in tar pits while the fittest carried on with the business of survival.

This unnerved me because I thought, what if it’s true?  It made sense given what I was seeing in my classroom.  I’d started to get students who were texting, which at the time was the only thing they could really do, though the iPhone was about to hit it big in another year or two.  I was using software to monitor my students in the computer labs so that I could keep them on task.  Maybe, I came to dread, the ADHD brain is the future—but in the sense that there is disorder present—the “D” in ADHD.

Here are some things I have heard as we’ve digitized our culture more and more.

  • Why do students need to know the longest river in the world when they can google it?
  • Students don’t need to worry about their reading level, the computer program will read to them.
  • Bots are already writing some articles, so why focus on that?

The items above have been said to me by educators.  These speak to the idea that there is just not enough attention available for any one thing.  There is so much input at any time, that to try to determine what is important from what is not becomes an impediment to progress.  But to think in these terms becomes problematic, because that ability to determine what is crucial is what we must teach students.  To teach students that the only thing of importance is to get the gist of something, and then save the hard work for later is short-changing them and our culture.  It is irresponsible.  Furthermore, to ask students to use the same tool they use for entertainment and social networking for the purpose of work confuses the work process.  As for me, I have trouble not checking my twitter feed when I’m writing a blog post.  It can be like tying one or both hands behind your back as you attempt productivity.

I’ll leave you with this sample pairing of questions I used in my Senior English class as part of a survey to “get a read on where we stood on issues as a class.”

  • Should the government require private companies to bear the financial responsibilities of increasing the income level of the underemployed?
  • Should the government raise the minimum wage?

Is the process manipulative?  Blatantly.  Regardless of the level of student, honors or low-level, every class voted itself out of a raise in minimum wage when the tally was done.  The students only gave it part of their attention when they took the survey, but after the results were made known, I had all of their attention.