Tuesday, December 17

Now You See It. . .and what happens when you do

I love books that make me think. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (2011) is one of the books, though the title is likely to exhaust you! In spite of its unwieldy and highly academic-sounding title, this book is quite readable and fascinating. And it's about learning.

This is one of those books with lots of underlining, notes in the margins, exclamation points, stars, arrows, and more to remind me what moved me, inspired me, or challenged me as I read it. Lots of dog-eared pages. I would love to use this text in a class or a workshop. LOVE it.

The author, Dr. Cathy N. Davidson, has been one of my educational heroes for a long time. She writes with clarity, humor, passion, and, of course, insightful intelligence.

One of the things Dr. Davidson addresses in this book is attention blindness. This piece from the Smithsonian calls it inattentional blindness, but it's the same thing. As Davidson notes, "Whatever you see means there is something you do not see" (p. 290). You can read more about this concept in her blog entry, Why You May Be Blind to a Good Idea (and What to Do About It). There are two basic lessons about attention blindness: 1) Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there and 2) No one person can see the whole picture.

This reminds me of the parable poem of the blind men and the elephant, but, more relevantly, of a writing activity during which students write a description of an object or scene from their perspective, having no idea what others might be seeing.

Dr. Davidson further states:
If I were to instill one simple lesson from all the science and all the stories in this book, it would be that with the right practice and the right tools, we can begin to see what we've been missing. With the right tools and the right people to share them with, we have new options.
From infancy on, we are learning what to pay attention to, what to value, what is important, what counts. Whether on the largest level of our institutions or the most immediate level of concentrating on the task before us, whether in the classroom or at work or in our sense of ourselves as human being, what we value and what we pay attention to can blind us to everything else we could be seeing. The fact that we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.
Why is this important? Because sometimes we can make ourselves miserable seeing only what we think we are supposed to see. When there is a difference between expectation and reality, we feel like failures. In one generation, our world has changed radically. Our habits and practices have been transformed seemingly overnight. But our key institutions of school and work have not kept up. We're often in a position of judging our new lives by old standards. We can feel loss and feel as if we are lost, failed, living in a condition of deficit.
The changes of the digital age are not going to go away, and they are not going to slow down in the future. They'll accelerate. It's time to reconsider the traditional standards and expectations handed down to us from the linear, assembly-line arrangements of the industrial age and to think about better ways to structure and to measure our interactive digital lives.
By retraining our focus, we can learn to take advantage of a contemporary world that may, at first, seem distracting or unproductive. By working with others who do not share our values, skills, and point of view, change becomes not only possible but productive--and sometimes, if we're lucky, exhilarating (p. 291).
Even if we are not overtly open to change and learning, our brains are constantly learning, unlearning, relearning. But we have to be willing to see it. We have to be willing to open our eyes and our minds. We have to be willing to experience change in ways that might seem alarming, even dangerous to our comfortable status quo. We have to be willing to ask the hard questions and then push through to the harder questions.

And once we see, we have to be willing to do and we have to be willing to continue to see.

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