Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

learning attention

Here at Baylor's Honors Program, we offer first year seminars that are meant to introduce our students to the challenges and benefits of honors-level work. I'm going to be teaching one of those next year, and here are some of the possibilities I've been considering:

(1) The Two Cultures: C.P. Snow wrote fifty years ago that the sciences and the humanities were drawing farther and farther apart, and that this severance socially dangerous. Was he right? Have things changed since then? If so, for the better or the worse? If there is a gap to be bridged, what can we do to bridge it?

(2) The Future of the Book: With the ever-increasing availability of e-books and other forms of digital reading, are we seeing the imminent demise of the bound-in-paper book, the codex? If so, what effects will the digitization of text have on the reading (and writing, and researching) experience? We'll investigate these questions with some attention to the history of the codex and especially its role in the shaping of Christian culture.

(3) Attention: Are digital technologies destroying our capacity to pay attention — or are they just changing it, in some ways for the better? In this class we will try to understand what attention is, why it has been thought important in prayer, study, and personal relationships, and how it may best be nurtured as our technological environment changes.

(4) Poetry as Theology: Can poetry not just describe spiritual experience but actually be a way of doing Christian theology? Of seriously contributing to the work of theology? Poets studied will include Dante, John Milton, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and Gjertrud Schnackenberg, among others.

I asked my current students which they would prefer, and the first option got the most votes. (They also convinced me that the last one would probably be better as an upper-level course.)

I would enjoy teaching any of these, but the one I think is most important is the third. I'm inclined to think that every college should offer a required first-year course on attention and attentiveness. Attention is costly -- there's a reason why we speak of paying attention -- and as a resource it is easy to deplete though also renewable. Simply to make students aware of the costs and the renewability would be a major service to them, I think.


Post a Comment

[Basic HTML tags can be used in this comment field.]