After a few years’ steady use of the internet, journalist Nicholas Carr began to worry about his “inability to pay attention to one thing for more than a couple of minutes.” In his bestselling exposé, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains (2010), Carr pinned the blame for his wandering mind squarely on technology. This is only the most recent warning on the subject. Two decades ago psychologist Edward S. Reed judged that “we are allowing our mental resources to erode,” and he wrote before the internet became either a household tool or a hand-held preoccupation (see Reed’s The Necessity of Experience, Yale, 1996).
It would seem difficult to deny that ours is now a culture of distraction, and so it is inspiring to see a grammar school squarely confront the challenge of the smart phone, and indeed throw down the gauntlet before it. “Real education,” write the authors of The Educational Plan of St. Jerome Classical School, “requires a space where children can experience a measure of freedom from these technologies and develop independently of them.” Such candor is refreshing, yet what is remarkable about the vision of St. Jerome’s is how it not only opposes our technological distractions but also includes—and arguably at its center—a coherent and principled plan to inculcate the opposing habits of attention.