Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jane's Right. Talent Shouldn't be Rewarded...It Should be Revered.

Jane Friedman recently wrote an article entitled "Why Do We Think Talent Ought to Be Rewarded?"  The article defines three key concepts, which are talent, skills, and determination or grit. Friedman concludes that she admires tenacious people, but in the end she doesn't give a damn about talent.

Here's the thing. As a teacher of too many years to count, I come across gifted children who have the potential to do earth-changing things. The problem is few people, other than their nutty music teacher, encourage them. At the elementary age, precociousness often accompanies giftedness, and most adults grow weary of children who challenge them at every turn. And while talent is innate, in order for it too reach its full potential the other two key concepts must be there as well.

This subject brings three students to mind.

The Gifted Leader
Sharp witted, cute-as-a-button, and smart, people naturally flock to this student. He's not the most popular kid in the school, and yet, he has a possy that would jump off a cliff if he asked. At an early age he understood his influence on others. His home life isn't the best in the west, and so no one fosters skill sets or determination. I fear that in middle/high school he will never even consider the debate team or student council, but opt instead to lead in other forums. Ones that might end him being on the wrong side of the law.

The Gifted Musician
Every year, our fifth grades create a variety show. This year, one group wanted to create a band, and when I explained that three weeks wasn't really enough time to get it together, a meek voice squeaks "well, I can play the piano". I pull out the bench, motioning him to show me.

What came next I've never seen in my twenty some years of teaching. He didn't just play ... he owned the instrument.

Giving a rendition of Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, which would have rivaled any professional recording, left me speechless. The room rocked with cheers as student flocked to the piano to watch him play. Tears streamed down his face, and I shooed the children away and pulled him into the hall. "What's wrong? You have a gift few have been given." I said. He wiped his face, his eyes still fixed on his shoes. "Yeah, but lots of people are better than me, and I've only been taking a few years." A few years? And already look at what he'd accomplished.

My compassion surged as I realized that, while his skills had been developed, his determination was being smothered by an adult somewhere. Whether his parents or his piano teacher, their need to "keep it real" was oppressing his gift, and ultimately, his will to try.

"The Gifted Thespian"
And then we come to one of my favorite girlies in all the world. Intelligent, incredible sense of humor, and the hunger to perform, this one's destined for the theatre. Always with a flair for the dramatic, she tells stories that keeps her peers rapt attention. She sings like a bird, loves to dance, but this one has an understanding for the fine line that separates comedy and drama. I've always put her in my "Shia Labeouf" category. In many ways, she's  a comedic genius. Unlike the other two, though, she has support in every area in her life. She's gifted and she knows it, but she also has money for classes to develop her skills, and she has family and friends that nurture her dreams. I look forward to seeing her future unfold.

Some may argue that talent is not needed to be successful. But I believe gifts spark a passion within. Gifts are what cause us to get up at four in the morning to write. They are the driving force behind the desire to learn, the inherent need to persevere.

And for this reason, I don't believe gifts should be rewarded ... they should be revered.