Attention, literature and education.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The study draws on both educational philosophy and literary works in order to illuminate its central idea. This idea is that attention, a vital pedagogical achievement, possesses preeminent worth in education. Yet institutionally, the state schools of Aotearoa New Zealand, with their recent move toward so-called Modern Learning Environments, have retreated very far from maintaining or marshalling regard for this idea.
Drawing on the philosophical writings of two mid twentieth-century philosophers, Simone Weil and Iris Murdoch, this thesis argues that a person advances towards achieving attention by becoming better attuned to think well. A kind of conscientiousness in this endeavour is possible in every person, just as a potentiality to appreciate what is beautiful is seeded in us all. Attention improves persons not only in what they grasp and how they grasp things, but also thereby improves persons in the very quality of their being. The morally most choice-worthy way to be is on the one hand respectful of the experience and perspectives of others, while on the other hand it is also self-respecting, imaginative, judicious, curious, reflective, and alive.
Literary interpretation, according to both Weil and Murdoch, possesses a special pedagogical potency, and is the readiest and most easily encountered training ground for attention. To explore the worth of their conviction, the thesis considers four literary works and, with respect to each, examines the pedagogically significant accomplishments that attentive literary reading enables.
If one is to grow one’s power of attention, then one’s eyes must often fall on examples worthier than one’s own to follow; mentors are needed. This thesis contends that revitalizing attention is the defining educational imperative of our age. It calls for re-empowerment of the teacher as mentor. The hope towards which this thesis builds is that opportunities for pedagogical attention may again be reclaimed, fostered, and celebrated.