Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The value of gifts

What is it about the "one size fits all school" that bothers many of us so much? Why does the standardized approach bring out the radical in so many people in or interested in education? What is that ticks me off so about todays schools?

I think it has to do with gifts.

Every person is given different gifts. The various gifts afforded different people vary both in degree and nature. Everyone knows tha certain people do certain things well while others are able in totally different ways. I am a teacher and a woodworker. I do both things extremely well. I am able to get to kids that others can't even begin to deal with in their classes. I literally never knew who would try to sneak in my classes from period to period. My lessons are creative and filled with unique events. Kids who had trouble with the system sought me out.

But, I am certainly not the person who you want to organize an event. My desk was always a disaster. Most assuredly I would have been fired several times over if I had not had people blocking for me with my paperwork. Occassionally I would have a cleaning fit. My desk would be hopelessly clean. Students would come into my room and roll their eyes when they saw my neatly organized desk. They all knew that there was zero chance for me to keep it that way until the end of the period. And, by the end of the period I would have it trashed again. I have no gifts in the area of organization. You want me to come up with a unique way to help some kid understand the theory of relativity. You do not want me to plan some schoolwide event.

So, what do my lack of organizational skills have to do with modern schools? Modern schools do not care anything about individual gifts and development. Schools are organized to be factories. They are very efficient at delivering a plain vanilla curriclum. Schools may be good at delivering basic content. What most schools do not do is help any individual child realize their God given gifts.

Public education has been normed down. They try to reach the median. Schools do not reach children who are given gifts that do not fit into the institutional structure. Heaven help the gifted young musician or mathmatician. There is not hope for a child who has the potential to be a brilliant creative writer. In fact, I do not believe that traditionally organized schools do much for any child. I believe they don't because I have never met the "median" child. I have never met a child who is "average".

The greater tragedy is that I have seen so many children whose particular gifts and personality traits doom them in the traditional education system. There is no hope for some kids. There frequently hope for the child who is a gifted football player. There is not much hope for a child who can be a gifted musician.

Some years ago I was blessed to be included in a trip to England through the University of Houston. The purpose of the trip was to look at schools for gifted children. One of the schools we attended was the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music at Bath. That was a day filled with miracles. One of the miracles was a young man who played a cello recital for us. We sat down in a small room. A cello leaned against a chair in front of us. If memory serves the headmaster told us that the situation would be informal as the kids were involved in the regular school day. A moment later in walked a young teenager dressed in physical ed. clothes. He was introduced. I wish I could remember his name. His hair was tousled, he was a bit sweaty. The boy had just come off the soccer field in p.e. Then he sat down and played with skill and maturity that left us all in awe and me in tears. After he played he ran out the door and back to the soccer field.

What would happen to such a child in America's schools today? Almost certainly he would never have developed his gifts. Almost certainly he would have been normed down to the lowest common denominator of his talents.

Schools should let the musicians play. They should let the mathematicians calculate, the poets write and the debaters argue. They should let those who live for science investigate. Young builders should build. Yes, everyone must be able to spell and balance their checkbook. But, how much better to let children develop the gifts they have been given by God and become what they were created to be.



Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Good point. I personally think this is more a symptom than a cause of the rot in our educational system, but I completely agree.

I was very lucky during my youth, in that I was in an affluent area that developed programs to challenge gifted kids. My normal school routine up until high school was to show no effort, do no homework, refrain from participation. It's not that I didn't understand what occurred in class, I had no problem scoring highly on any test we had. It was just that I couldn't slow myself down to that level. Once a week I was able to go to the "TAG" (Talented and Gifted) program. It was my only outlet during the week that I looked forward to. Once I reached high school, my school had a strong AP curriculum that was demanding enough to keep me interested. And last, my parents were always able to keep me involved in activities (chess, etc) that would help me to exercise my brain outside of school.

I think that most kids don't have that option, either at home or at school. I think the problem, however, is that the schools can't do the simple things well. They can't seem to teach the basics, and spend their resources on trying to teach the basics. I think the lack of specialization is a result of the schools failing in other areas, not the cause of the other failures.

4:50 PM  
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