Is it possible? Can we give our children a disorder? No, of course we can’t. And while the definitive cause of Attention Deficit Disorders is unknown, experts will agree that genetics and distinct neurological patterns are at play. Additionally, there is much research as to ways that the environment, genetics, lifestyle choices and other factors can both exacerbate and mitigate the symptoms of Attention Disorder.
I recently came across the following article: Attention Must Be Paid! Schools need to teach students to maintain attention, not cater to short-attention spans.
In it, author Barry Schwartz makes some interesting and valid points. He states, “Again and again, we are told in this information-overloaded digital age, complex and subtle arguments just won’t hold the reader’s or viewer’s attention.” And further, “By catering to diminished attention, we are making a colossal and unconscionable mistake. The world is a complex and subtle place, and efforts to understand it and improve it must match its complexity and subtlety. We are treating as unalterable a characteristic that can be changed.”
Is Schwartz on to something? While we cannot cause a neurological disorder, can we potentially exacerbate the symptoms of, or even mirror the symptoms of ADD/ADHD in typically functioning students?
It’s a scary thought, actually.
Schwartz asserts that his focuses is on issues of motivation, not the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Yet he continues, “Maintaining attention is a skill. It has to be trained, and it has to be practiced. If we cater to short attention spans by offering materials that can be managed with short attention spans, the skill will not develop. The “attention muscle” will not be exercised and strengthened. It is as if you complain to a personal trainer about your weak biceps and the trainer tells you not to lift heavy things. Just as we don’t expect people to develop their biceps by lifting two-pound weights, we can’t expect them to develop their attention by reading 140-character tweets, 200-word blog posts, or 300-word newspaper articles.”
While interesting, I do not fully agree. Since the advent of Twitter and those 140-character tweets, I am actually reading more about trends in my field (I found Schwartz’s article, didn’t I?) and I am far more connected to colleagues through what is referred to as a PLN (Personal Learning Network). Further, short blog posts enable me to read more content, more frequently. I can sustain attention, but in my busy life I don’t always want to. (I will acknowledge that I didn’t grow up in a digital age; I’m a digital immigrant, not a digital native. Maybe there is a real difference.)
What do you think? Can we train our “attention muscle”? Do we need to? What are the implications for educating students with disabilities? And how might this affect supplemental religious and faith-based education?