Educators continually ask about the best means to engage students and how best to capture attention. These concerns often make the problematic assumption that students can directly govern their own attention. In order to address the role and limits of attention in education, some theorists have sought to recover the significance of silence or mindfulness in schools, but I argue that these approaches are too simplistic. A more fundamental examination of our conceptions of identity and agency reveals a Cartesian and Kantian foundationalism. This assumed subjectivity establishes too simplistic a conception of the agency of students in directing attention. I critically engage with these conceptions by drawing on a range of diverse sources, primarily modern Continental philosophy and Christian mystical theology.