Attention to detail is a key to success in many areas of life, academics not the least

As I continue to give attention to attention, I am struck by how important it is and how lacking it is.  Attention to small details, the nuances of a thing, is fundamental to becoming master of that thing.  Let me give one rather flippant but nonetheless real illustration.

As you have nothing better to do, you wander into a shooting range in your neighborhood.  There you find someone willing to allow you a few rounds on their Glock.  They hand you the dark heavy weapon and now the rest is up to you.  Ear protection in place, target at the end of the range, you simply have to shoot it.  But right here is where detail and your attention to it come into play.  The following are all questions with real important answers, and only a detailed knowledge of the gun and its protocol will provide those answers.

A)     How do I aim so as to hit my target?  I know the folks in the movies seem to squint one eye and look down the barrel, but is that what they are really doing?

B)      Am I supposed to simply pull the trigger, or is there something I am to cock?

C)      And what will happen to me when I pull the trigger.  Again, the movies make it look easy, but will it recoil?

D)     And with that possible danger of recoil, am I holding the gun appropriately?  Am I as burly as Vin Diesel?  Will this thing kick right up and break my nose? (Wait, that is three separate questions!)

E)      Why does the trigger feel “locked”?  Is this on “safety”?  Does this gun have a safety?  How would I know?

F)      For that matter, is this gun loaded?  How many bullets does it have?

I could go on, because I think there are more questions in the chamber (sorry), but I think my point is made.  Details can be powerful.  And only one’s attention to those details bring them “home” to our use.  This same exercise could be applied to dozens of “skills” or actions such as driving a car, shooting a free throw, cooking a recipe, etc.

Attention to the details is perhaps what makes the largest difference in most academic exercises as well.  We draw a lot of distinction between someone who knows a thing generally and one who can relate large amounts of detail about that same thing, be it the carcass of a frog, the classification of a sentence, the Battle of Hastings, etc.  One might say that most of what moves a student from “passing” to excelling (“C” to “A”) is their grasp of the details.  Have you ever had a student who knew more about the subject at hand than you as teacher?

So what is my point?  Attention is not something best suited to generalities.  It seeks the details.  The time, close observation, “turning it around in the hand” necessary to accomplish this is at war with most modern methods of teaching.  This is because having scattered or streamlined “details” or parts to the thing is not enough, they must be synthesized into a comprehensive and sensible whole.  Attention to the details and their place in reality, seeing the forest and each tree, is the key to a whole lot in life.  Hey, I will go so far as to say it is something every employer will pay a lot to have in an employee.  But maybe I am confusing education and vocational training?


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