Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Tale of the Sleeping Fish: A Parable of Mental Habits

Attention, the power of turning the whole force of the mind upon the subject brought before it.

Concentration, which differs from attention in that the mind is actively engaged on some given problem rather than passively receptive.

Intellectual Volition, the power, that is, of making ourselves think of a given subject at a given time;––most of us know how trying our refractory minds are in this matter, but, if the child is accustomed to take pleasure in the effort as effort, the man will find it easy to make himself think of what he will. ~ Charlotte Mason
Once upon a time, there were fourteen fish — thirteen swam around while one slept behind a plant. As they were new to this tank, they weren't quite familiar with how things were done. They didn't realize when they were to be fed, much less in what direction their banquet would appear.

One morning, the fish were quite hungry, but they didn't realize it was time for a feeding. They heard a strange creaking sound but hadn't yet connected it to the arrival of food. After the tank lid was opened, a boy and his friend sprinkled fish flakes on top of the water. The two watched the fish and waited and waited and waited for something to happen. None of the fish noticed the food floating above them. The boy and his friend giggled about the fish that were oblivious to their meal.

After several very long minutes, one fish flake slowly drifted down. The boy and his friend began to wonder which fish would spot it first. None of the fish paid attention to the flake until it fell halfway down the tank. Suddenly, the white fish with red blotches spotted the food and gobbled it up. The other thirteen fish didn't even know they had missed something. The boy and his friend began to giggle some more.

That fish remembered where the food came from and swam to the surface of the water. It gobbled up flake after flake. Then, another fish noticed its friend eating food at the surface and joined the feast. Before another minute passed, five fish had gobbled up most of the fish flakes. The boy and his friend tossed in more flakes and, by then, all the fish were at the surface gobbling food — all but one fish — the one sleeping behind the plant.

The boy and his friend watched and watched and waited and waited for that sleepy fish to wake up. It looked awake for its eyes were open. Clearly, it had no idea what it was missing. The boy and his friend waited for several minutes and then the jaws of the sleepy one began to move as if it were chewing. Perhaps, it heard the sound of its friends eating.

Its mouth grew wider and it chewed almost like a cow. It slowly drifted up from behind the plant. Then, the fish realized it has almost slept through breakfast. It zoomed to the surface of the water! Since the food was nearly gone, the boy and his friend sprinkled a few more flakes for the sleepy head.

Morals of the Story

Attention - Children are born with natural curiosity unless something hinders it. Sometimes, physical or brain issues get in the way. Sometimes, the education system encourages them to pay attention to earn cheap rewards (grades, test scores, awards, candy). When offered nourishing food (ideas found in living books and real things) and allowed to explore them with an active mind, they eventually learn to pay attention. Some take longer than others to join the feast.

Concentration - Children who have stayed too long in a stultifying atmosphere take awhile to wake up. My friend who fed the fish in this true fish tale, came to our school, highly resistant. He associated school with people who said "GREAT JOB" and "CALM DOWN". He associated school with long, tedious tasks and nothing that interested him in the least. He associated school with being asked to do things that were outside of his zone of proximal development.

As a result, he had developed the habit of balking when asked to do most things. It took some time and patience but we focused on developing a relationship with him. We kept lessons short and offered interesting things for him to do with free time. We consistently expected him to do little things within his reach and letting him do things he finds interesting — things like poring over animal books and magazines, feeding the fish, replenishing the bird feeders, cleaning the pond, working in the compost bin and garden, etc.

There was a time when a drawing in a nature notebook was "too hard" or "too boring." Now, he draws something and writes a sentence. He even drew a comic of the fish tale because he found the fish tale hilarious. Below is the nature notebook entry he made the day the school got the fish. He has gone from concentrating on how to get out of work to doing it so he can concentrate on what interests him.

Intellectual Volition - Some take a long time to find intrinsic motivation, especially if the education system hasn't been a good fit. Eventually, the sleepiest of minds or resistant minds or unfocused minds will find enough living ideas to find pleasure in the effort.

Anxiety the Note of a Transition Stage––Every new power, whether mechanical or spiritual, requires adjustment before it can be used to the full.... But to perceive that there is much which we ought to do and not to know exactly what it is, nor how to do it, does not add to the pleasure of life or to ease in living. We become worried, restless, anxious; and in the transition stage between the development of this new power and the adjustment which comes with time and experience, the fuller life, which is certainly ours, fails to make us either happier or more useful. ~ Charlotte Mason

1 comment:

Carol said...

I love how you've done this, Tammy.