Please, pay attention!

By Emmanuel Ayegba. Emmanuel, 26, lives in Ilorin, Nigeria. He is a writer and a student of Biology at the University of Ilorin. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Please, pay attention!

At six, I kept a sharp-outlook. I was always trim and smart, and I often answered most of the questions in my class, but I was not learning; I was only listening to reply, and not paying attention to understanding. “What is the square root of forty-nine?” “Seven…?” I answered Mrs. Johnson in a maths class. “Clap for him.” She said, grimly. I will never forget that day; for the joy I felt. “I couldn’t be better.” I whispered to myself as more than eleven other children lend me the moment in class that morning. I sat by the window side, and I was very happy as I watched the sun rose slowly at the Eastern horizon.

I always enjoyed moments like that in my formal school. Because I was best at rote memorization, I answered questions as they came; especially the ones that required stating facts, rather than much reasoning. I trained myself to listen- to- reply-sharply rather than to enjoy learning and understanding. Now in my new school, everyone is already considering me a deserving child too, for I have been answering several questions.

Five weeks was already gone into the term, but I was not really learning much. Even though I was answering more questions than the other kids, they were far better than I was. “What number will you multiply by itself to give you forty-nine?” “Hmmmm..” I hummed softly to myself and faced the concrete-paved floors of my class for several minutes. I couldn’t sharply answer Mrs Johnson anymore in the next period. “Oh man! I’m sure you don’t want to say it.” She said. But in reality, I didn’t even know what she was asking me either. I only knew square root of numbers by rote memorization. I simply didn’t pay attention to learn that square root means a number multiplied by itself. In my formal school, we only memorized it in the lower classes; we didn’t give much attention to the meaning. Mrs. Johnson was simply asking me the same question she asked earlier in a different way, but I was entirely confused; as I didn’t understand earlier-on what I ought to. I was following the joyless standard of listening to reply and get claps rather than to really understand.

“How old are you?” “Eight years.” I said back to Mrs. Long. “You’re welcome to the upper class.” She beamed. “I heard you are bright…?” “I’m just getting lucky.” I smiled back at her, but I was delighted once more. I liked such praises more than the real education itself. Since then, I became Mrs. Long’s target for the class’ heavy questions. “What repairs the body’s worn-out cells?” “proteins!” Felicia, who sat behind me replied Mrs. Long’s question correctly. And we all clapped for her resoundingly. “I wish I was asked that question.” I muttered to myself. I thought within me that it was a very cheap question. “What class of food would you recommend for the fast healing of wound?” “Hmm… I’m not so sure.” I managed to reply to Mrs Long. I was deeply ashamed when Felicia yelled-out the same answer once-more. I was only sucking facts as they came, not really understanding them. And the teachers here seemed to be good at asking application questions. They twisted what I knew to appear like I didn’t even know them, and that was not helping me but revealing my inadequacy.

When I was fifteen, I hadn’t realized yet that understanding pays more than cramming for mere answers. I was not used to reasoning out answers and racking my brain much. I hinged solely on learning by rote memorization and rarely chewed up underlying mechanism of most concepts.

“If it takes two people four days to complete a task, how long can the same task take one person?” “Eight days.” Anne replied and got the answer correctly without jotting even a dot. The teacher was thrilled, then he turned to me. He considered me the best in the class, but that was for rote memorization and not real understanding of concepts. “If it takes four minutes to boil two eggs, how long would it take to boil one of such egg?” He asked. “Eight minutes.” I answered straight; then the whole class giggled. I wanted to actually do as Anne did, but it failed me. Most of our given data were the same, just the objects and units that were different in our questions. “How come we supposed to have different answers?” I asked Mr. Well ignorantly. And everyone scoffed, cynically. I felt more foolish the way everyone reacted towards me and my humble question that day. I could recite large data and facts off hand, but I was escalating in ignorance.

“Why are you laughing?” Mr. Well asked the whole class. The answer the other children gave was like fire to my soul. “He didn’t understand proportion at all.” Everyone yelled and giggled much-more. Since then, I began to think about the word “understand” like it has some other nebulous meanings. “Is there anything more?” I asked myself in self-pity. Mr. Well was nice, he simply called me behind and put me through the concepts. “Don’t answer rashly next time, OK? Always pay attention.” He cautioned me out of love, but not in the other children’s presence. Ever since, I became more conscious of how I listened; and I started examining facts with acerbic wit and sour dispositions. Even when someone spoke to me, I wouldn’t just answer straightly, I would place myself in the speaker’s position for better review and proper understanding. I began to make use of my dictionary frequently. Just to ascertain the meaning of a word, I could consult more than three different dictionaries.

As I realized I was not paying attention to real learning in class, I thought that I was the only person who used to listen peripherally, but I was wrong; not only me; then I found it true the words of Stephen R. Covey, that: ‘most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’

Now I’m twenty-six; I lean across the desk of Mr. Bell: we were both classroom teachers in the same school. I was in his class to ask him for the globe at his class library, when a seven-year-old girl walked in with a sour disposition. “Why are you so late?” Mr. Bell asked her without replying her greetings. “I was not freed on time at home.” She said sadly. “Then go on your knees and grovel.” He thundered. “I’m sure you were either disobedient or didn’t wake up early to complete your chores in time, and you are going to pay for it here.” He complained without allowing her more words. “you missed a whole period… Very bad.” He whined.

The girl’s name was Leila and she was very stubborn. Leila’s recalcitrance made her notorious in school, but she had never come late to school. And Mr Bell was too impatient to ask why. “See me in my class during break.” I said to her as I walked out of their class. I knew something was wrong with her from her mien; as she was not as lively as she used to be. “My mum and dad died over the weekend, so I was asked to stay back today; but rather than cry at home, I chose to wash the time in class. It took time for my relatives to understand me and allow me to even dress up and come back to school.” She explained to me from behind my desk in tears during break. I couldn’t help her stop crying, I only joined her instead. She was severely punished for being brave enough to come to school after her parents’ death. Mr. Bell didn’t listen to understand her at all, he only listened to reply and meet-out punishments. And that is exactly what so many people do; listening to reply and not to understand.

So many of us don’t often use to realize that a word can have more than one meaning. We are always too careful at replying and carefree at understanding. And that is why we don’t always show empathy for people in trouble than say ‘sorry’; we don’t always put ourselves in their positions and understand their plight deeply. It’s very hard for some governments to help their people; since they don’t really listen to the masses’ cry to understand, but to reply with several lip promises. We only hear half of what we need; because it’s enough to reply; but understanding serves the world better. And that is why we have thousands of university graduates with fine degrees who are not improving the world around them. They only listened in school to reply quizzes and vivas and to pass exams, but not to understand concepts they can use to better the world.

Please, pay attention!

3 comments on “Please, pay attention!

  1. Timothy O.N on

    Without mincing words, I am highly optimistic that one of your articles will surely win a silverware. They are edible and well articulated. Born out of Passion and genuine creativity. I am challenged beyond measure.
    A deligent man is bound to stand before kings not mean men.

    Reply

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