Attention Surplus Syndrome

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The Article

Dear Spring 2006 students:
The mainstream media isn’t on to it yet, but there is a new psychological malady sweeping the nation – especially prevalent in our institutions of higher learning. I call it Attention Surplus Syndrome. Perhaps the media will start to discuss it once they find an appropriate acronym. Until then, you’ll just have to rely on my brief description of the syndrome, which is based upon my observations as a college professor.

Attention Surplus Syndrome is characterized by the four major symptoms I will discuss in the next few paragraphs. Interestingly, few people suffering from Attention Surplus Syndrome exhibit just one or two of the symptoms. Where one is present, the other three usually follow.

Lateness. In order to be on time to class one must first recognize that there is an actual objective reality independent of one’s feelings. The Office of Campus Diversity does not feel that this is correct but they are wrong. They are wrong about almost everything including the notion that there is no such thing as right or wrong.

So, in my class, students are required to buy a watch and set it to the real time that is easily accessible on the Weather Channel. Students cannot come in late and tell me they really felt like they were on time. Nor am I interested in any excuses for their tardiness. I made it through a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate program without ever being a single second late for any class. You can make it to my class on time this semester. We only meet 42 times. You can just skip class on the days that you are overwhelmed by the oppressive white, patriarchal, heterosexist, Bourgeois concept of punctuality.

Of course, there is one drawback to my policy. Since you are required to be on time, you won’t be able to draw attention to yourself by running into class huffing and puffing after my lecture has already started. But that’s okay. This class is all about learning. It’s not all about you.

Interruptive-ness. For some reason, the kindergarten hand-raising lesson I learned when I was five years old is no longer taught in our public schools. It’s really quite simple so just pay attention to the following:

It is better to raise your hand and allow the professor to call on you than it is to simply blurt out your commentary before the professor has completed a thought or sentence.

It is also a good idea to get the notes you missed (from all the days you skipped) from a fellow student outside of class. When you pass notebooks back and forth during class saying “dude, I can’t read your @#$%ing hand-writing” you tend to call attention to yourself and away from the lecture.

But, of course, that is really the goal for some of you, isn’t it. It is more fun to be the center of attention than it is to be one of 40 passive listeners in a college classroom. But, regardless, in my class you won’t be a blurter, a constant hand-raiser, or a notebook passer. That’s just not okay. This class is all about learning. It’s not all about you.

Cell phone addiction. You know who you are. You can’t live without your cell phone. It is your security blanket. After every class, you run out into the hall and pull it out to check the “calls received” function. When you have no missed calls, you feel blue. When you have them you feel good enough, you feel smart enough, and you feel like – dog-gone-it! – people might just like you.

But there is a problem. I don’t allow cell phones in class. The reason is really simple: You can’t seem to remember to turn off the ringer and so your phone interrupts me.

And, of course, there’s another problem: Those who do turn off the ringer sometimes like to text message friends during my lectures.

And, there’s a third problem: People are starting to cheat on exams by storing test information in their cell phones. You didn’t think I knew that, did you?

That is why cell phones are banned in my class. I know you don’t like it because you get less attention when you are without your cell phone. But that’s okay. This class is all about learning. It’s not all about you.

And, by the way, if I see you with a cell phone during an exam, you are presumed guilty of cheating until you can prove yourself innocent. Your trial will have one juror. That juror is named Mike Adams.

Excuse-making. There’s really no excuse for making excuses, is there? So, in my class we just don’t do it. Maybe you really did have an abortion last week. Maybe your girlfriend really did give you herpes. Maybe you really are too stupid to set an alarm clock. But, by refusing to listen to your excuses, I protect you from communicating to me the extent of your inability to take responsibility for your own conduct. Since you won’t be bothering me with these excuses, chances are I will not, at any point, come to the conclusion that you are a whiner or a loser. Instead, we will just focus on learning.

I know you don’t like it when you can’t share your excuses for failure. That’s because you get more attention (and sympathy) when you do. But that’s okay. This class is all about learning. It’s not all about you.

The good news about Attention Surplus Syndrome is that most of you don’t have it. You will be punctual, cell phone-less, non-interruptive, non-excuse-making scholars over the course of the next few months. And, for your consideration of others, you will be richly rewarded. In fact, of your three exams, I will double the highest grade you make this semester and divide by four — instead of just dividing by three.

But, those of you suffering from Attention Surplus Syndrome will suffer a different fate. Every time you exhibit your psychological problem — by being late, or interruptive, or toting a cell phone in my class, or by simply wasting my time with idiotic excuses — I will calmly email you a list of my class rules. The copy you are reading today is free. Each subsequent copy will cost you two points on your final average.

My philosophy of teaching is so simple it can be summarized in these two sentences: I only care about learning and retention, not your yearning for attention. If students show their ASS in my class, they do not pass.

Are there any questions before we start?

Mike S. Adams
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