Course Receives National Attention for Lessons in Embracing Distractions

A group of freshmen are hard at work on their first research paper smelling the roses.

In the middle of the garden, the professor asks a student how to lace hi-top Converse Chuck Taylors. The professor, Deen Entsminger, is wearing a green T-shirt that reads, “They say I have A.D.D. but they just don’t understand. Oh, look! A chicken!”

Likewise the first-year seminar is titled “Oh, Look, a Chicken!” Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing and is where Entsminger teaches students how to focus using nontraditional techniques.

Students must write papers using their personal research on the five senses. Entsminger reads aloud illustrated books The Simple People and Toby’s Toe to teach lessons about what to value by being alive. Students listen to music while doodling in class. Another project requires students to put themselves in situations where they will be distracted and write a reflection tracking how they got back to their original intent.

“Because the course is all about ways of knowing, I want to embrace the fact that we are distracted as a culture, why are we distracted, how can we embrace it and how do we get back to the thing that we were doing in the first place,” Entsminger said. “Once the students start paying attention to what distracts them, it helps them figure out whether those things were worthwhile. They figure out, ‘I’m spending way too much time on Facebook,’ or ‘I’m spending way too much time getting a cup of coffee.’ And they find out how to better use their time.”

But nothing hones his point better than its course description: “’Oh, look! A Chicken!’….This course will pursue ways of knowing through embracing [little ants, carrying a morsel of food across the table] what it means to be a distracted [I could sure enjoy a peanut butter sandwich right now] learner as well as [OMG--I get to go to the beach this summer] developing an awareness [I need to trim my fingernails] of one’s senses. The instructor teaches in the school of music, [do I hear water dripping?] so there will be an element related to that woven [spiders are amazing] into the course. [oh, it's the fish tank behind me] Those registering for this section may even learn to juggle [I'll be right down, I just have to finish this...what was I working on?].”

“I was very interested from reading the course description, and I heard good things about this teacher,” said video production major Shelby Goldsmith, of Ardmore, Ala. She glances up at Entsminger who has his arms spread in an Eagle stance while waving his hands as if small wings. Goldsmith lowers her voice to a whisper.“He believes all conversation is meaningful. That’s why just waits.” In a few seconds classroom chatter slowly quiets to a hush.

MentalFloss.com and CNN listed the one-hour course as one of 22 Fascinating and Bizarre Classes Offered This Semester. It joins the ranks of a philosophy course on The Wire at Georgetown University, a study on Disney at UCLA and the sociology of Lady Gaga at the University of South Carolina.

“It looks like I am in pop culture now,” said Entsminger, who is teaching the course for the fourth year. “But this is just my way of framing it. I am a product of education back in to ‘50s and ‘60s when if a boy couldn’tsit in his seat, they just told us to sit down because they hadn’t discovered (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ) yet. I have grown up my whole life being a distracted learner.”

Among the students are business and performing arts majors and athletes as well as students who struggle with learning disabilities.

“This class is my life,” said musical theater major Michael Karl, of Houston, Texas, who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder in elementary school. “This class is a unique experience where we go outside and explore and learn ourselves.”

“I have trouble with distractions and can look out a window and see a car go by and forget what I am doing,’ said commercial guitar major Chase Graham, of Greensboro, N.C. “Instead of getting rid of distractions, I want to use them as tools to learn.”


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