Monday, January 15, 2007

Audio Nutrition

logo pinched from The Teaching Company's web site...I hope they appreciate the free publicity

When I was younger, I listened to a lot of music and heavy metal in particular. After marrying, I reduced the amount of time spent listening to music more and more and now I rarely listen to any at all. I'm not sure if this is age, sensitivity to the emotions music can elicit in me, or simply a lack of interest in new music and being largely bored with the old.

These days, I'd sooner listen to spoken word rather than music. It could be that all the isolation from English living in Japan brings this about. It's impossible to say.

Over a long period of time, I've been listening to a lecture series on the High Middle Ages. The series is 24 lectures that last from 30-45 minutes and cover a broad range of topics. I finally finished the last lecture this evening. There are two things about the experience which I found remarkable. First of all, it was easier to follow and far more interesting to listen to lectures now as an adult than it was when I was in college or high school. The thought has occurred to me from time to time that 'education is wasted on youth' as they are often presented with the type of information they aren't ready to hear and have difficulty absorbing. While I considered myself a good student who was attentive in classes, I still think listening to lectures is something you benefit more from with age and maturity.

The other point was that I found that, despite my interest level and control over the delivery of content, I still found myself drifting in thought away from what I was listening to and had to consciously tune back in. Often, this sort of drift was cued by the fact that I almost always listened while cooking or doing housework and some thought about the task at hand distracted me. Had I sat at my desk with a notebook, I may have paid more attention but I doubt it.

The truth is that all our minds are meant to wonder. When I was studying psychology, I learned that we have an average duration of interest that lasts 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, we will lose more and more focus if we don't get a break. It's not that we have short attention spans. It's my guess that there may be a chemical process going on whereby your brain no longer operates at peak efficiency when attempting to store and process new information. Knowing of this common limitation, I often wonder why classes are so long in all levels of education. It seems we constantly try to fit the square pegs of our limited attention into the round hole of hour-long (or longer) class times.

Anyway, I learned a lot of interesting things from this series and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history. Some of the things of interest that I recall off the top of my head were:
  • Tales of chivalry (e.g., Arthurian legends) were stories written to spread chivalric code to knights who were not scholarly. The tales were not true but meant to be behavioral guides.
  • The Spanish Inquisition was not as widespread or as cruel as is commonly believed. It's not that it was a good thing by any stretch of the imagination but there were very strict rules by which one could be accused of heresy (such as only literate Christians could be accused) and several methods by which one could prove false accusation (by proving people accused you because they hated you).
  • The origin of giving an apple to teachers is based in the practice of not paying teachers and their being grateful to be left this food to eat when they had no money. Teachers were expected to impart knowledge without pay because their wisdom was a gift from God. (I mentioned this in a blogcritics piece I wrote.)

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