The Power of Boredom

SET High students sit outside on the verge of giggling, unplugged from devices and holding a Readers Digest from 1967.

The Power of Boredom

“You can do anything you want with this blank piece of paper, but for the next 45 minutes, this is what you have,” said Dr. Neil McCurdy, Principal of School for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SET High). No smartphones. No videos. No soundbytes. No buttons or screens. No digital anything. What’s the point?

SET High is not your typical tuition-free public high school. With our 12:1 student-to-teacher ratio and our innovative curriculum designs, our academic environment is brimming with passion, curiosity, self-discovery and a few brain-nourishing challenges. That day when Dr. McCurdy subbed a class, he decided it was a good idea to teach the power of slowing down.

Distraction Action

It’s no secret that today’s high school students (and the rest of the planet) are reliant on smartphones and many other digital devices. Our brains are wired for the instant gratification and reward of Liking, Sharing, and Posting on social media. Add on top of that the fast-paced rush of conquering games, one-upping friends on a chat string, and simultaneously playing entertaining videos- this is all day distraction to the max. The sad truth is that our brain activity suffers from it, despite what multi-taskers assume. Just look at the 50+ years of distracted driving studies and all the results pointing to our distraction doom.

Finding the Why in Wu Wei

Scientists can literally see the powerful benefits of our brain relaxing and slowing down. Some philosophy academics point to an Ancient Chinese practice called wu wei, or the art of doing nothing. This concept tested in brain activity studies proves the philosophy holds up. We humans accomplish more by doing less. Quite a paradox, right? If we teach our students how to slow down, turn off the distractions, and relax the brain, we can teach them the power of boredom. When we do that, the student’s brains will open up capacity for accepting new perceptions, or be susceptible to creativity and innovation.

The Sweet Spot of Slow

“Trying to engage students is competing with this crazy world of YouTube and video games and constant stimuli, constant things fighting for attention. And if you think about it, listening to a lecture, being in a classroom, is actually pretty boring in contrast,” explained Dr McCurdy. “I think we need to be deliberate about teaching those students how to actually slow down and how to be bored.

“Boredom is seen as a negative, but boredom is actually where there’s that kind of vacuum of stimuli, and what prompts us to be creative, and to fill that void with something else. So anyway, this is what I kind of explained to the students and I gave them a blank piece of paper and basically said, ‘This is what you have.’

What did the students do with their 45 minutes with a blank sheet of paper? Some of the kids made paper airplanes while others filled their sheet with numbers. Some of the kids did drawings, others worked on stories. This tracks with our success with Chalk Space.

“Obviously, we can’t have school doing that in every class for 45 minutes. That’s not the idea, but I think we do need to do something to kind of shock the system,” said Dr. McCurdy.

Consider the quiet reward of unplugging, slowing down, and relaxing into boredom. Imagine the open space in your mind for new perceptions, ideas, and inspiration. This is what SET High is all about, developing a new generation of leaders with the mindSET to change the world for the better. If you are looking for an accepting and challenging tuition-free public high school in San Diego, we invite you to check out SET High. We’re enrolling all year!

About SET High 

SET High offers each student individual attention from multi-talented, highly qualified teachers. Students build a healthy camaraderie with classmates inside an intellectually rigorous environment that brings out individual talents and personality, helping develop character and direction in life. With a wide variety of electives, flexible scheduling, dual enrollment college classes and more — our students regularly exceed academic and personal expectations. Enrolling now!