Talent and School

What is the purpose of school and what should school do for the students who attend? This is a question often contemplated but rarely answered. According to Sir Ken Robinson, the purpose of school should be to help students discover their natural talent and to develop that talent. I would tend to agree with his position and have heard none better. But, what if one’s talent is outside the scope of what happens at school? We know that people have up to nine different forms of intelligence, and the happenings of a typical American high school only serve to measure about two or three of those forms. So what about the potentially thousands of students who have intelligence, talent, and passion that are apart from reading, writing, and interpreting?

The short answer is that most are forced to believe that they must succumb to the system and find something within the scope of what traditional schools offer. Students with passions in art, music, athletics, filming, and countless other areas have consistently been coerced or forced into relinquishing those passions and the dreams that go with them to choose a life path that will allow them to have some stability. We tell our children, either directly or indirectly, that their passions don’t matter. What matters is finding a career that can provide one with a salary that will allow for a nice life with a nice house and a nice family and a nice car. The truth is that one can make money doing almost anything and being a professional artist or musician is just as meaningful, if not more, than having any type of professional job.

What if we stopped coercing our students into playing it safe and attending college and major in something that they either don’t care about or don’t know about and started encouraging them to follow their passions and chase their dreams? What if we taught students that it was OK not to go to college and to take a chance? After all, what better time to take a chance in life then one is 18? The time to take a chance and following a dream is not when one is 50, 60, or 70. The truth is that people are their most energetic, passionate, and full of life when they are young lending such an age to taking a chance and making things happen. Much of school works to systematically remove the energy and passion that students have and instead instill complacency and boredom.

What our students need from school is not advice to play it safe, make the smart choice, and study something that they don’t care about. What students, teachers, and public education needs instead is the belief that young people, especially those who show passion toward something they have come to love, should be encouraged to take a chance and see if they can become great. Because it is only through taking chances and following dreams that we truly open ourselves up to the possibility of discovering our purpose in life.

I teach a student who has figured this important life lesson out, perhaps on his own, despite the advice of many around him. He has a natural talent and passion for skateboarding. I’m not talking about someone who steps on a skateboard a few times a summer and proclaims to be the next Tony Hawk. Instead, this is someone who has dedicated much of his waking hours, aside from the time when the state requires that he sit in classrooms, to developing his craft and becoming great at what he loves. Now, why on earth would someone with a natural talent and passion for something like skateboarding take the next four years of his life and study accounting? The simple and traditional answer would be that accounting could just be a good backup plan should the skating gig not pan out. But, anyone who has ever crafted a backup plan knows that is only done in anticipation that the first plan is going to fail. And, to truly take a shot at being great, the passion cannot take a backseat to anything else. Inevitably, someone who majors in accounting but minors in art because of a passion for it becomes enveloped in their study of accounting and art is forgotten. They are not then an artist and never really have themselves a shot at becoming one. To be a great artist, one has to live art.

So let us use this intelligent young man who I have had the pleasure to teach as an example of what our education system should be doing. Rather than attempting to funnel an endless stream of customers from basic to higher ed, we should instead be helping our students find their passions and preparing them to follow their dreams associated with them. Because there is no age limit on when someone can start college, but there most certainly is a limit on when one can follow their dreams at becoming great. Some may question this approach and say that college is needed to prepare one for the general rigors of life. But if this is true then what is the purpose of the first 13 years of public education? In my opinion, 13 years should be plenty of time to prepare anyone to handle the general demands of life, and if this preparation is not happening then major changes need to occur to ensure that it does.

So, here is to taking chances, following dreams, and letting the chips fall where they may. After all, there will always be a college somewhere with an accounting program waiting to take your money if things don’t work out on the half-pipe.

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