Nearly every practicing teacher has had experiences with students withdrawing from what is happening in the classroom. Some sink into a kind of lassitude; others, into a cloud of boredom. The philosopher Martin Heidegger said that boredom was a response to a feeling of meaninglessness. When we recall the 19th-century poets' complaints of “ennui” or boredom in the face of an industrial world that felt alien to them, that offered nothing relevant to their interests or desires, we can understand what Henry David Thoreau would call the “somnolence” of those submerged in the ordinary.

The effort to arouse the inattentive may be described by the metaphor of awakening them. The phenomenologist Alfred Schutz used the term wide-awakeness to describe what he called the plane of ...

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