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HOW ATTENTION MAY BE SECURED
E have now tracked our fact through sensation, perception, and consciousness, to attention. What will attention do with it? This question cannot now be answered wisely. We must first study this power of attention. It is most significant. Is it always the same? Is it easily controlled? Is it always active? You should at this point make note of the power of attention as it manifests itself while you study these words. Do you focus on this line your entire attention? Is it easy for some outside fact, calling through the senses, to destroy your attention? Can I readily shift your attention? What peculiar quality in this discussion seems to hold your attention most steadily? What can you most readily give up, what do you find yourself holding to most tenaciously?
In the preceding chapter the question was raised: "How may attention be secured?" The answer to this is important, because, as we have seen, without attention there is no fixedness in thought. This will be apparent to anybody who will for a moment consider the stream of thought
that passes under the focus of consciousness. It is one minute one thing and another minute another thing, and so on through an almost endless series.
Arresting the Stream of Percepts
It is not to be understood that there is no connection between the different percepts in the stream of thought. There probably is, but the connection is oftentimes so subtle that we fail to recognize it, and in general it is of such a character as to make it practically useless for educational purposes. It is only when attention arrests the stream of thought, and holds the focus of consciousness upon one distinct aspect of this stream of thought, that anything like vivid, connected thought arises in the soul. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to understand something of the fundamental laws that control attention, and something of the skill which a teacher needs to possess in order to be sure to command the attention of the pupil.
If now we ask what it is that causes attention to fasten upon one and not another of the different areas of thought in the mind, to hold the focus of consciousness at this instead of some other place, we have reached the fundamental question. In each case it is some agency of the soul that does it. We can secure it in no
other way. No outside influence can do more than produce the conditions within the soul that result in attention. Why does my mind in any given moment rest upon this instead of some other thing? What directs attention? The answer to this question a teacher needs to consider carefully.
The area of attention is not so great as that of consciousness. Real education has to do not with all that is in consciousness but only with that part which lies within the area of attention. There are three areas of possible knowledge in the soul. (1) The widest area, which may be called the beyondconscious (sometimes referred
Three Areas in
to as the sub-conscious area); (2) the area of conscious knowledge; and (3) the limited area within these which is the vivid area of attention. Wundt likens the different areas to the whole field of vision when one looks out upon a landscape. There is the vague fringe of practically unnoted objects, the less extended circle of objects seen, and the specific object upon which one focuses his attention. Everything in teaching depends upon the skill of the teacher in fixing attention upon the specific things the pupil should consider. Our attention rests upon those things which are for us objects of interest, and the degree of our attention to any given thing is but
the expression in terms of mental activity of the soul's interest in that thing.
Two of the three types of attention are here to be distinguished. Voluntary attention is the act of the will compelling attention to rest upon the subject under consideration. It is usually, and especially in children, a relatively weak form of attention. The power of the will is not sufficiently strong to fix attention for any consider
able time upon a given theme or group of facts. We sometimes endeavor to secure this type of attention by saying, "Now, children, give me your attention." We cannot command attention. Again, we resort to threats, to scolding, to abuse, as if in these agencies we had found some efficacious control over the attention. It is needless to say that all these are useless.
The second type of attention is usually called involuntary or positive attention, by which we simply indicate that it is not under the control of the will. By what, then, is it controlled? Our involuntary attention rests upon those things which are for us objects of interest. Where there is no interest, there is no positive attention. Where there is no positive attention, there is sel
dom clear knowledge in consciousness. Where there is no clear knowledge in consciousness,
there is confusion and darkness, the vague borderland of superstition and of doubt, and of all the other ills which may break into the human soul, and take possession of what ought to be a steadfast and clear-minded spirit, if properly taught.
Thus interest controls involuntary attention. Through interest we give ourselves to the lesson presented. We are interested in a thing when we are affected by it. Whether the thing presented is pleasurable or painful it matters not. What a large field of study opens up at this point! Voluntary attention is always fleeting. It cannot be prolonged. But interest is abiding, and interest controls involuntary attention. Hence involuntary attention is vastly more significant as a requisite mental state for the learner than is voluntary attention.
The teacher needs to note here how very difficult it is to teach the child in opposition to his interests. It is of course true that through voluntary attention we may be able to do so, but it is doubtful whether the result justifies the struggle by which it is secured. How anxiously we endeavor to secure in our pupils the fullest attention to the great truths of religion. Think of the punishments, the penalties, the exhortations, that have been employed to this end! Per