Just a short one.

Over dinner tonight the phrase actively listening came up. Haha. Oh dear. To listen actively, as opposed to inactively. You know, like when you’re not listening? Or even passive listening. Like when you’re listening but … wait. Hang on. To be passive is to allow something to happen without trying to change it. So, passive listening is when you’re listening but not getting involved? Hmm, but to listen is to pay attention, or to try to hear something.

So, to actively listen is to participate in paying attention; to listen is to pay attention; and to passively listen is to, what, allow listening to occcur without really noticing it’s going on ..? No. Just stop it. Stop it or I’m taking my ball back.

You’re either listening or you ain’t.

I quite like semantics. I think it’s important. And because of that I want this nonsense to stop. Students are either listening or not. They’re either involved or they’re not. Call them passive if you want, but don’t suggest that Caitlin was only passively listening. No. She wasn’t listening.

Let’s try some other examples and see if they make as little sense.

  • Active walking vs passive walking. In the former the subject is participating in walking whilst in the latter the subject only allows walking to happen. Yes, we can all wander off when we’re thinking about something, and so we might suggest this is passive, but we’re still walking.
  • Active typing vs passive typing. Again, there’s the whole stream-of-consciousness thing for the latter, but is there really passive typing? It’s still typing. It might be slow or furious, feather-fingered or clunky, but it’s still typing.
  • Active surfing vs passive surfing. If you’re actively trying to surf then you are, indeed, surfing, and if you’re accidentally surfing then – no matter how inconceivable this may be – you’re still surfing: no adjective is required to make sense of the subsequent word, in noun or verb form. You could, I suppose, not be trying very hard but you’re still doing it.
  • Active engagement vs passive engagement. ‘The students were mostly actively engaged in the task at hand, although a minority were only passively engaged.’ What?

There may well be times when we want to preface a description with active, but not when we’re describing what’s going on in a lesson.

They’re either listening or they ain’t.