If you wanted to study with Nadia Boulanger, that was likely the first question she would ask you.
“If you can live without music then thank the Lord, and goodbye.”
Of course, this question—and its consequences—are luxuries of the private teacher. But Mlle. Boulanger was no ordinary private teacher. I rarely reflect on “what-was-it-like-to-live-back-then” scenarios, but I admit to wishing I could have spent even the briefest of time studying with her. But there is enough written about her and her classes to understand that much of what she advocated was dedication, discipline, and most of all, attentiveness.
“Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.”
Rather than bemoaning the damage being wrought by the digital age, or getting mired in telling stories of “how things used to be”, perhaps firm-but-positive emphasis on attentiveness might set the stage for discovery in ways largely absent in the classroom today.
I agree that attentiveness isn’t really something that can be taught, at least in the sense that you cannot bestow it upon a student. But a teacher can guide a willing student, bringing attention to details that the inexperienced may not yet notice. It may be that the student has never once “tasted” what it’s like to be attentive—to notice details in things both within and without themselves—and therefore hasn’t experienced the satisfaction of learning something new. A single experience is sometimes all that it takes, and that is something which only happens within a personal, dynamic exchange of ideas. Because of this, I think dedicated educators are needed now more than ever, despite what some claim are advances and achievements in online degrees and “distance learning”.
(See this post at Orange Crate Art about intellectual disengagement in higher education.)