Attending and Remembering

We moved to Washington State in 1994 when my oldest daughter was in fourth grade. She had the good fortune to attend a brand new school, the first connected to the World Wide Web and fully equipped with computers. In fourth grade, students in her district studied ancient Egypt. However, her class faced a new challenge; rather than fighting over the four books in the library about ancient Egypt, the class was able to cruise libraries full of information on the subject on the Web. Suddenly it was a challenge to focus attention: to search, sort, connect, edit, and synthesize–skills we have not yet developed as adults—the shift from information scarcity to information abundance.

Attending is defined as the ability to focus awareness. School psychologists usually associate it with listening, but as we all learn to drink from the information fire hose, attending takes on a broader and more significant meaning. It is the ability to shift, sort and synthesize by focusing learning around a few important ideas or goals. It is a new skill for most of us, one that we are learning right along with the kids. The flood of information on the Web, on TV, in trade publications, magazines and newspapers, constantly challenges us to take control of our awareness and focus our learning.

Remembering is reflection on where we’ve come from, individually and as a society, the discipline of reminding ourselves what is important. Like defragmenting your hard drive, remembering clears the mind and makes space for more. Poetry is remembering, not just what happened to you, but in the deepest sense who you are. Rilke explained it this way:

Poems are not, as many people think, simply emotions …they are experiences…It is not enough to have the memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into your very blood, into glances and gesture, only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in the midst and goes forth from him.

Poetry is also attending, focused awareness, the essence of a moment in time, wakefulness so intense that it must be shared. Attending is focused learning at the boundary, the investment of our senses in an unfiltered way to all that is new and unexplored. And when your senses are completely full, the silence of remembering resets awareness. Poetry is attending and remembering, a buoy and an anchor:

Poetic form is both the ship and the anchor.  It is at once a buoyancy and a holding, allowing for the simultaneous gratification of whatever is centrifugal and centripetal in mind and body.  (Louis MacNeice)

Attending and remembering are the disciplines of learning and renewal in a knowledge-based society. Poetry is the art form that uniquely captures and encourages that which is most important in a time of change. All of this said simply to suggest that it is a good time to share some poems.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Shafeen Charania

I love this idea attending and remembering! I wrote recently about the concept of inverted classrooms (by Glenn Pratt) as a way of changing the role of teachers to that of helping create those poetic outcomes...

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