Saturday, June 4, 2011

Study and Attention

In an essay of Simone Weil's "Reflections on the Right Use of Studies with a View to the Love of God", I find the paragraph
 Although most people seem unaware of it today, the development of the faculty of attention  forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies. Most school tasks have a certain intrinsic interest as well, but such an interest is secondary. All tasks that really call upon the attention are interesting for the same reason and to an almost equal degree.
Her interest in the essay is on attention in prayer; in another essay in the same collection, she writes of reciting the Lord's Prayer (in Greek) every morning with complete attention.

She makes an excellent case for developing the faculty of attention. Clearly she had that faculty herself. Yet I wonder how far studying in any system I've met develops that faculty. I seem to remember a lot of looking at the window and daydreaming in my own school days. More recently the physicians have been helping the teachers. I suppose the kids sit stiller, but are they more attentive?

Nancy Mitford may have been more practical when in Love in a Cold Climate she suggested that the appeal of fox-hunting is that it makes the stupidest person concentrate for long periods. (I would not know about that, having small acquaintance with horses and none with hunting. Still, I can imagine that inattention could lead to painful falls.)

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