Sunday 27 March 2011

Paying attention

Attention to the child is the key to the teacher’s success, and the child’s own quality of attention is the key to the learning process, or so Simone Weil asserts in her essay “Reflections of the Right Use of School Studies”. She almost goes as far as to say that the subject studied and its contents are irrelevant; the important thing, the real goal of study, is the “development of attention”. And why? Because “prayer consists of attention”, and all worldly study is really a stretching of the soul towards prayer.

“Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted. It always has its effect on the spiritual plane and in consequence on the lower one of the intelligence, for all spiritual light lightens the mind.” An attempt to grasp one truth – even if it fails – will assist us in grasping another. “The useless efforts made by the Cure d’Ars, for long and painful years, in his attempt to learn Latin bore fruit in the marvellous discernment that enabled him to see the very soul of his penitents behind their words and even their silences.”

Attention is desire; it is the desire for light, for truth, for understanding, for possession. It follows, according to Weil, that the intelligence “grows and bears fruit in joy”, and that the promise or anticipation of joy is what arouses the effort of attention: it is what makes students of us.