Selective Listening

The students in my American Lit class have developed a habit of listening quite…selectively.  For example, a sentence such as “Tomorrow, we’ll be spending the whole class working on the group projects that are due next week” will almost certainly elicit the following response: “We have to do a project that takes up the whole class and it’s due tomorrow?!?!”  Sometimes, this selective listening is quite funny.  Occasionally, it’s hilarious.

Yesterday, we were discussing Stephen Crane’s “An Episode of War,” which is about a soldier who gets shot in the arm and subsequently has his arm amputated. I told the students that during that time, soldiers would frequently die from infections, because people didn’t yet know about germs, and the conditions of surgery were often quite unsanitary.  I told them that this was also why some women died in childbirth.

Then I said, “Okay, take out a piece of paper and draw a plot diagram of Crane’s ‘Episode.'” One student looked up at me, confused.  “Why do we have to do that?” she asked.  “Well,” replied, “I want to know what you remember about it.  Be as specific and detailed as you can.”  She looked absolutely horrified, and I asked her what was wrong.

Apparently, all she’d heard from the previous discussion was “childbirth” and “draw a diagram.”


2 thoughts on “Selective Listening

  1. Selective listening doesn’t seem to be a human condition that’s limited to students or ados. Have you listened to a speech by a politician, (pick your own side) then listen to one of the talking heads analyze it? It’s like a lady of the night discussing the qualifications to get into the nunnery. Fortunately, we canines never listen selectively.
    I hope your Geometry class listens more completely in the future.

    • So true–we rarely take the time to listen to each other any more. We’re so focused on our own thoughts and ideas that we hardly put any effort into truly understanding other perspectives. Good observation!

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