Mostly, I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around what people consider necessary skills or necessary knowledge versus sheer talent.
So, what exactly do we expect kids to know and be able to do? Does talent fit in this answer? Or do we explain away that some people have God-given talents that most don’t have… and that’s okay?
Here’s my thought process:
Point 1: I was born with an incredible memory. My parents did not force me to perform memory exercises over and over and over until it clicked. That’s just how I was born. Because of this memory ability, I learned how to read as a toddler. This advantage helped me to excel in school, especially in those classes that rarely asked more of me than simple recall or application. I was a test-taking whiz!
Point 2: In music, I would say that I have a lot of “gifts.” Because of my parents’ encouragement and, at some points, insistence, that I practice, I learned to excel in areas of music… however, I was surrounded by music at a very young age. I was singing into a microphone before I could walk. My dad is an extremely talented musician. Interestingly enough, both my siblings and I are considered very musical people. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and practice time, and it has paid off. How much of our “talents” would you say are natural? How much did our environment factor into our abilities? How much of it was our desire to practice and improve? And how much of it was our passion for music?
Point 3: Although I love softball and golf, I have to admit that am a terrible basketball player. Horrible. Painfully horrible! My dad used to take us out to our backyard and either throw baseballs at us (to help us not fear the ball) or practice dribbling and jump shots. From the ages of 10-18, I played softball competitively. I loved softball, and I practiced a lot. I have never played basketball competitively. I practiced dribbling for hours, as well as many, many jump shots. I practiced layups, but I hated it. In fact, I hated everything about basketball except watching others play. No matter how hard I practiced, I was never as good as the other kids on my basketball teams. I feared the time in the game when the coach would put me in, because I didn’t play well… and I didn’t really WANT to play.
My dad never gave up on me. He set very high expectations for me and told me that all I needed was more hard work. I would be a dribbling machine, if I would just practice more.
But here’s the deal… all the years of practice did help me improve my game, but I was still awful… and I HATED it.
Many reading this post might argue that you have to have talent to be a musician or a basketball player. I don’t agree. You can learn to sing in tune, and you can learn to dribble. Maybe the degree to how well you do those things lies within your natural talents… but I think it’s more likely found within your own passion.
Many might also defend the point that memorizing facts is an essential skill. Again, I don’t agree. These things come more naturally to some than they do others. It doesn’t mean we stop setting high expectations for each individual, but it does mean that we need to recognize that some people do not memorize as well as others.
So, here’s where my thought processes are leading me:
- What are those things in school we expect students to be able to do? That, with some hard work and practice, they will be able to excel in those skills?
- At what point do we cut kids some slack for those things they don’t love? What is a necessary skill versus one we could just let go?
I’m not arguing to let children pick and choose exclusively what they learn in school. Kids need exposure to a variety of experiences, along with someone helping them to keep raising the bar on what they are able to do. I really believe in continually pushing up that bar to help kids challenge themselves and accomplish a task they couldn’t perform at first.
At some point in their academic ‘careers,’ however, is it foolish for us as educators and parents to keep expecting the same goals for all kids? If they must all get A’s on their report cards, like Amy Chua’s children, or pass certain standardized tests- some of them will reach that goal easily. Others will have to work fairly hard to get to that point. Some might continue to work hard over and over until frustration sets in- and then they might stop caring about ever achieving anything. We tell them that, with hard work and a positive attitude, they can accomplish anything… but is that true? Can we accomplish anything simply through determination and hours upon hours of practice?
I practiced layups for hours upon hours. I know HOW to do a layup, and I can tell someone else how to do it… but to this day, I’m still not able to make a layup consistently. The difference here is – making a layup was not a skill I needed to graduate and no one really cared about it (other than my dad).
Maybe a better question is this: When do kids get to choose to follow their OWN passions and grow in those areas? What is the magical age for them to start making these decisions? I asked my parents this question once, and they thought it might be college-age. I’m afraid that’s too late for most kids.
What do YOU think?