Attention Span: Our National Education Crisis, Part Onewebdev
Click Here For Part Two
I have a number of different topics to cover over the next couple of months. I will post most of these in the form of series. Sometimes, as these series can be multi-parts (as many as ten), I will introduce a new series before a given series is completed. Don’t worry, I also read books this way. I never seem to be able to finish one book before I start another, hence I will have 5 or 6 books on the nightstand all partially read.
This article was originally published as a newsletter article for the college students of Dr. Oliver DeMille, later it was published on the TJEd.org website and is published here by permission of the author.
On October 16, 1854, in Peoria, Illinois, Stephen Douglas finished his 3-hour address and sat down. Abraham Lincoln stood.
He “reminded the audience that it was already 5 pm,” and then told them that it would take him at least as long as Mr. Douglas to refute his speech point by point, and that Mr. Douglas would require at least an hour of rebuttal .
He recommended that everyone take a one-hour dinner break, and then return for the four additional hours of lecture. The audience amiably agreed, and matters proceeded as Lincoln had outlined.
“What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory?”
This was only one of seven debates, and many people attended as many as they could.
In contrast, I was invited as a guest on the early morning NBC station newscast in Yuma, Arizona the day after the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colorado.
The primary purpose of my visit was to deliver lectures at the local community college and then give a speech at an annual foundation banquet—the title of my speech was along the lines of “What Jefferson Would Do to Fix Modern Problems.”
The Columbine coverage took up most of the hour, and when it came time for our interview the anchor turned to me and said, without any preview, something like: “What would Thomas Jefferson think about this Columbine tragedy—you have 30 seconds.”
I don’t remember my exact answer, but I tried to communicate that Thomas Jefferson would not try to analyze and solve such a problem in thirty seconds, and until our means of dealing with serious national problems stops being handled in 30-second sound bite opinions we will continue to see such problems—indeed, they will get worse.
With that our interview was over, we unhooked our microphones and left the studio.
But the event has troubled me ever since. Hundreds of television professionals asked similar questions over the next few days, and have done so repeatedly with hundreds of events since—answers are given in thirty second sound bites, people shake their head at the day’s latest shocking news, and then they go on about their work.
This is how we deal with problems in America today—and then we conclude by calling on government to fix everything.
We express opinions–in soundbites on television, at work and social events, and in restaurants and taxis. Then we shake our heads and go back to our lives.
We live on a steady diet of opinions, opinions, opinions. In 30-second doses. And then we forget and move on.
What is the difference between these two audiences—those who listened attentively for seven hours to Lincoln and Douglas and came back for more, and those of us who hear and express opinions lightly and then move on?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but these two audiences are drastically different—in their culture, their education, their habits and in their capacity to be free.
The group who heard Lincoln were capable of education, and capable of freedom. The latter group is largely incapable of either unless something changes.
Specifically, a great education ultimately comes down to one thing. Those who have it can gain a superb education. Those who don’t cannot. A nation of people with it can earn its freedom. A nation without it is either not free or in the process of losing its freedom.
If you are going to be a successful leader in the future, you must develop this trait. It is not just a nice thing to have, or a good thing—it is essential; it is vital.
Without it you cannot be a statesman and the world will be led by whoever has it—whether they are virtuous or not, good or evil, dedicated to moving the cause of liberty or some other cause.
You will probably not like to hear what I have to say about it—because it will mean that you have to change, and change is hard; I didn’t like it when I learned it–because I had to change.
Jefferson probably didn’t like it either, but he did it. Lincoln probably didn’t like it; but he did it. You must have this trait if you want to be a successful learner and become a leader.
The nation must have leaders with this trait if it is to stay free.
So, if I say things you don’t like, ignore that. Don’t ask, “Do I like what he’s saying?” Ask, “is it true? And what changes will I make because it’s true?”
Each of us needs this trait because each of us wants to fulfill our mission in life, to really make a difference in the world. So, even if it is hard to get this trait–and it is–it is worth it, and it is important.
The vital trait I speak of is attention span.
To be continued…..