How often have we watched people rise to the top of their field exploiting whatever gift or talent they have, only to relish their sudden demise and fall from public grace? Apart from the sports pages, why else would the Sunday papers exist?
Maybe it’s a peculiarly British trait, this notion of not really wanting people to be better than we are and, when they are, to resent them for it. Perhaps it’s related to a class thing, where we have been taught to ‘know our station’ in life, to know exactly where we stand in the John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett line up (and if you don’t recognise that reference have a look here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0DUsGSMwZY and then use the clip as a teaching resource for your next PSHE lesson).
Or perhaps it originated in the 1960s and the push for a comprehensive system of education where the ‘grammar school/secondary modern’; ‘brains/good with your hands’ divide no longer reigned and we decided that all children were equal and all deserved the same opportunities, something that somehow came to mean that all children were the same and all deserve the same. Maybe this is why the notion of gifted and talented children has caused such resentment and consternation in so many members of the teaching profession for whom the idea of some children being ‘better’ than others seems to fit so uncomfortably with their egalitarian ideals.
Yet, as any of you who grew up with an elder brother will know, ‘equal’ and ‘fair’ aren’t the same things at all.
Everyone has an equal right to be educated. And by educated I mean educated in truest sense. To have the very best of what each child brings to school brought out and developed as far as is possible as part of that child’s journey to adulthood. Whatever ‘subject’ we teach we are a teacher of children and it is our moral, ethical and professional responsibility to act on that daily in helping all children start to become all they can be. Yet education is not the same as being ‘schooled’, a process by which children are trained to pass tests that are important in so much that they measure a country’s ability to get children to pass these tests, regardless of their ability to be creative or brave or honourable or to be able to think deeply or even think for themselves.
Which brings us to talent. Equality of rights does not mean equality of ability. And also to motivation. Equality of rights does not mean I have to use those rights. Everybody can join the school football team but not everyone does. Everybody can enter the school library (or ‘learning resource centre’ as they are now known, although with the current changes in the direction of UK education they will probably soon be called ‘libraries’ again , with books in Latin) but some children wouldn’t be seen dead in there, unless they were hiding. Not everyone wants to be part of the school musical, despite the best efforts of ‘Glee’. And, anyway, a bit like public speaking and being on TV, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
Which brings us to dopamine. If you are looking for ways to engage learners and fire them up to learn effectively, enthusiastically and enjoyably then this neurochemical really is ‘teacher’s little helper’. Dopamine is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that is linked to memory, to learning and to attention. What is the secret to firing the learning brain with the right amount of dopamine to make learning almost effortless? Reward and the anticipation of reward. In other words, doing something that get a kick out of doing and also knowing you are about to something that you get a kick out of doing.
Which brings us, finally, to the title of this book, ‘Young, Gifted and Bored’, a name that springs from Dr David George’s pioneering work in education for many years and from his recent focus on what are known as ‘gifted underachievers’. These are the young people in our classrooms who have so much to offer, who fit the best current definition of ‘gifted and talented’ but whose energies are not tapped by current teaching practice, whose time is spent avoiding using those talents or using them - and getting their dopamine fix - to create disruption and mayhem in the classroom. What Dr David is suggesting is that if we seek to understand their natures and their needs better, if we adapt the way we work with these young people in our schools and homes, if we seek to let them exploit their strengths, if we challenge them to be better than they are, even if that means being better than the young person sitting next to them or, heaven forefend, better than we are, then maybe we can rescue them from their own boredom and frustration with a school system that is failing them not because it is too hard but because it is too easy.
There is phrase which Dr David uses that can be traced back to John F Kennedy, if not further, and that is relevant for all teachers who perhaps struggle with the very concept of gifted and talented and children. It is that ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’. In other words, take up Dr David’s challenge and stretch yourself to stretch the young, gifted and bored in your care. In doing so, all your learners will benefit and learn to discover the pleasure of successfully blowing whatever trumpet they have.
Somewhere above what looks like Brazil