High school teacher Frank Breslin explains how the constant distractions of our society undermine students’ ability to concentrate or even pay attention to what happens in school.

Breslin reminds me of Diana Senechal’s wonderful book “The Republic of Noise.” If you haven’t read it, you should.

Breslin writes:

“A factor over which teachers have no control and that plays an enormous role in making it hard for children to learn is the restlessness of American society itself, its lack of self-discipline, its inability to sit still, its constant dashing about, its hatred of silence, its disregard for rules, its absence of manners, its inability to engage in civilized discourse and the public’s blithe acceptance of such boorishness as a matter of course. These habits of mind infect children even before they enter school.”

The schools must struggle to capture the attention of students who are accustomed to nonstop entertainment and noise: “The classroom today is in a losing battle for the attention of noise-addicted, distraction-ridden, pumped-up poseurs and video-gamers in an America that breaks down all sense of boundaries, decorum and self-restraint. This overstimulated culture makes students virtually incapable of being receptive to the deeper substance and structures of learning, which assume inner calm, monastic silence, attention to nuance, sustained concentration, Job-like patience and endless hard work. Very few students are equal to this, while many cannot even sit still and listen.”

The legislators demand high test scores, but teachers must deal with the reality of our society:

“The essential problem teachers are up against today is a form of national schizophrenia, a radical disconnect between what the public wants of its schools and an American culture of bedlam and bluster, which does all in its power to undermine students’ ability to focus and learn.”

In effect, the public expects the schools to create the conditions of a different world, a world that is fast disappearing, in large part due to the combination of commercial avarice and public indifference. And the policymakers are all too willing to blame teachers for the disconnect.