Attention is a very interesting subject and one that is much deeper than meets the eye. One of the most interesting ideas I encountered and explored while homeschooling was the concept of attention.
Pay Attention!!! This is a command that teachers frequently — constantly direct at children, individually as well as collectively. This “Pay Attention” demand, in fact, is a demand that is repeatedly made of each child throughout their entire childhood at school, in particular, and also at home. I don’t remember ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder at all from my own childhood and youth, but as early as when my first child was two, I began hearing about this kid and that kid who were identified as attention-deficient.
Before going any further, I would like to tell you that I have noticed something interesting about my three homeschooled children, none of whom attended grade school until 5th grade. They pay attention very, even unusually, well. Furthermore, they are able, unlike many if not most kids who attended school all along, to fit school textbook concepts into the proper larger real-world context.
My fourth child provides a contrast. J entered public school in first grade. By third grade, the teachers began to complain to me about his lack of attention. He doesn’t pay attention to the teachers — tunes them out— and is frequently off in daydreamland.
If you are outside somewhere and you stand still for a little while and watch, you will notice that our society is literally running rather than walking. The hurried, harried pace is societal. People rush off to work, they rush their kids off to daycare and school, they rush around the streets and highways in cars, they rush through the day.
Once kids are at school or daycare, they are kept busy all day. They are directed by adult workers whose own needs require cooperative behavior from the group of children, as much for the sake of their sanity as for the processing and management of another work day.
Now any mother who has stayed at home and raised her own kids can attest to at least a couple of home truths about children. They are generally very unreasonable until about age seven. Their emotional displays and behavior are often completely outrageous and explosive. They can be extremely defiant, no matter what type of upbringing and parenting they are receiving. In short, being around children for all or most of the day, whether you are a parent or a teacher, is extremely challenging.
I wonder if kids are not getting the space and time to just ‘be’. I wonder if our society doesn’t value space and time to just ‘be’ — or simply doesn’t have the space or time to value just ‘being’ even if they wanted to. I’ve often wondered if time itself, is actually speeding up somehow. Not only do children no longer spend large quantities of their youth wandering around alone or with friends with ‘nothing to do’, but the very fact that they are with adults –or gaming, on computers etc.– throughout their childhood, all day, every day, limits or eliminates empty space and time.
I’ve also wondered if there is a certain lack of adult ‘being there’ for kids. I remember the first ADD-labeled child I knew, at Ella’s 3-year-old preschool. His parents both had hectic professional schedules. I wondered then if perhaps rushing babies off to daycare, abrupt separations from caregivers on a daily basis from infancy, and a mother whose preoccupations were divided between baby and career might be difficult for the baby. In short, I wondered if a lack of adult ‘just being there’, or Attention, might be a serious problem for babies and small children.
To get a little metaphysical, Attention is a kind of space/time within. A person who can’t pay attention, is a person whose own inner space is over-occupied, whose mind is hyper, whereas a person who listens with his being, who ‘pays attention’ is a person who has silent, open space within.