Only the “bright” allowed to shine…

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In the latest Sun-Herald in Sydney, there is an eight page spread about how parents should choose an independent school. obviously it has had significant input from various independent schools as well as including a 39-point checklist for things to look for when choosing the right school for your child. It spoke of looking at the individual needs of the child, the extra curricular opportunities,as well as the policies in regard to religion, homework and bullying. Countless articles and advertisements spoke of how schools value the students’ individuality in their quest to achieve their potential.

Nothing much to write home about here you might think, let alone enough ammunition for a blog piece!

Then I read the piece regarding accelerated learning, and in thirteen words it shone a light on what I believe is a glaring flaw in the education of our children as it stands in the majority of schools today.

In bold type The Sun Herald proclaimed, “Research shows that if bright children aren’t challenged… then they will underperform”

Indeed they will, and not only underperform in the particular field that they are strong, but elsewhere in their studies/school/ and possibly life.

The problem I have is not with the statement itself, rather I take issue with the way in which we interpret and act on the statement. In schools we run accelerated learning programs for our “brightest” students.

Accelerated learning is when schools react to the ability of the child, and teaches them with regard to their aptitude rather than their age. So a Year 7 student could well be studying at a Year 9 level, if they are considered “bright” enough.

Accelerated learning takes place predominantly in maths and the languages – that is to say schools identify “brightness” with aptitude in these fields.

And because schools do… generally speaking, so do parents.

By identifying “brightness” in the narrow band offered by academics, they dismiss intelligence in other fields as insignificant. How many of us have been told (or told someone) “Don’t waste your time on that, you won’t get a job doing it…” As if intelligence can only be quantified by earning potential.

Now I’m not saying that accelerated learning is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it is a great idea. It just needs to be applied across the board.

Now more than ever, parents and schools need to identify exactly how are their children intelligent, and they need to be given the flexibility in the curriculum to push these students in the same way we do the gifted mathematician.

I wonder how many talented artists, musicians, poets, writers, sculptors, carpenters, mechanics, acrobats, dancers, comedians or actors are underperforming right now because their talents have not been recognised or validated by their school or parents? Moreover, how many of these potentially brilliant individuals are lost to their field in their early years through lack of recognition or validation? Imagine if accelerated learning in these particular fields was the norm rather than the exception. Imagine the levels of engagement in their learning across the student population.

The Moral Imperative

Too many people end up doing things they hate. They endure what they do rather than enjoy it. (Thanks Sir Ken!) 

I firmly believe that this plays a significant role (along with other factors) in the rising levels of depression. Furthermore I believe they have ended up in this situation because of their education. (See my last blog entry)

If I’m right, then the moral imperative for education and parents in the 21st century is to help students identify, nurture and validate their strengths and passions regardless of their academic or non-academic nature.

The World Health Organisation tells us we are set on a course for a depression epidemic… this could just head it off.


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9 Comments on “Only the “bright” allowed to shine…

  1. Great post Dan. It’s an ongoing controversial topic though isn’t it? Even students themselves convince themselves that they need to be brilliant at maths and language to be considered clever or intelligent. I agree wholeheartedly about valuing and encouraging skills in all areas and also with the idea that people end up in jobs in which they are miserable because it was thought to be the right thing to do. We have a family member who has been in that exact situation and it’s a sad thing that he has many other skills that would have better utilised in another profession even if he hadn’t been paid so well. It isn’t (or shouldn’t be) all about the income or the prestigge that a job can bring.

    Thank you for sharing this post.

  2. Well said. There is nothing that saddens me more than wasted potential. It is incredible to think that a child can go through school and come out the other end not knowing the one thing they are best at. Worse, such a child can come out thinking they are ‘dumb’ or ‘a failure’ because they have measured up to the education system’s definition of what counts for success.

    • Thanks for your comment Peter. For this to happen though, we need to redefine what people think of when they think “education”.

  3. The “archway effect”: if you take a stream of brilliant and talented people and send them under an archway, it is entirely likely that from under the archway will emerge a stream of brilliant and talented people.

    It’s not so obvious at the secondary level, but at tertiary level you see it all the time. At Harvard, for instance, they don’t take on board the class dunce. You have to be highly brilliant and talented to even get into the place.

    The archway effect therefore implies that many educational institutions benefit more from the calibre of the students than the students benefit from the calibre of the institutions they attend. This simple observation lies at the heart of the great education rip-off.

  4. I am glad that you acknowledge the role of parents in identifying and supporting their kids. Like it or not, schools are traditionally steeped into academics and so focus on academics – and brightness and weakness – in it is practically a given. This is not to say it’s right or wrong, it just is and questioning the status quo is often good.

    Pursuit of excellence in academics is a good thing, especially if it’s not the only thing. It is not the be all and end all for the vast majority. Apropos, I’m glad it is for some as human progress would attest.

    Finally, the imperative you say is true not just in the realm of morals, particularly as adults responsible for the overall well-being of our kids or those in our duty of care as educators. I posted a bit about this – Follow your bliss. That post ended with a question of “how” so if you can help answer, please leave a comment accordingly.

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  6. Pingback: Do we need to re-think Gifted & Talented in school? | Dan Haesler

  7. I’m a parent who has a 10 year old son. I wanted him to try the university OC classes and was initially told yes, it’s for children who are gifted or who love learning. I thought great!! Went home and told my son about them, and he was really keen to try the science workshops. Then the next day i got an email that the classes are for gifted and talented students and that students need a letter from their teacher (etc) to verify that they would basically be capable of doing the classes at their standard pace. Now… the problem is that my son goes to a school where he has been bullied. When the teacher was aware of this, she phoned me, i contacted her, we exchanged emails, and she verbally confirmed that he was being bullied. AFter a while, when the problem didn’t go away, she started to blame my son. The best part is that when i tried to get a report from her, which i was told would be written… all denied that bullying ever took place or that a report ever existed… and she claimed in a letter (one paragraph – neither signed nor dated) that she had only ever spoken to my ex-husband. Since then things have gotten worse at times with teachers behaving in a very nasty manner towards him -not to mention ignoring or trivialising any good work he does. So…..there is no way that such people are going to help him move forward. These classes are therefore dependent on another person’s approval, which needs to be based on objectivity and honesty… and the reality is… that’s not always the case. And when children are treated in a nasty manner, they’re simply too busy trying to deal with all this garbage, instead of simply focusing on their education, friends and playtime – which help them floursh. Gifted/Talented? or simply other words we use today for segregation ….sugar-coated with positive adjectives.

  8. Pingback: Do we need to re-think Gifted & Talented in school? | Dan Haesler

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