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Natural talent, hard work, and education

  • Published at 12:05 am October 28th, 2016
Natural talent, hard work, and education
The grim proclamation was preceded by a scientific thesis that people with natural talent may actually have an advantage over the ones who do not have natural talent. Natural talent exists and people have been aware of this for a long time. The question people try to resolve is the question of its extent. Does natural talent matter after a certain stage? Many believe that it doesn't. Take for example the cases of musical prodigies. If two children start to learn a musical instrument, one with a 'natural talent' for music and the other without such talent, then an observer will see that the child with the natural aptitude for music and playing instrument is learning concepts and skills faster than the other child. The argument against the usefulness of natural talent is that after a certain level, that extra sharpness and cognition in the naturally talented contender will not matter. In other words, as the concepts to be learned and mechanical skills to be acquired get more and more complex, anyone learning those concepts and skills will have to work hard to gain expertise in them, making any extra advantage, that the talented person had, inconsequential. But should it matter either way in regard to education? Should we discriminate against students based on these natural skills? Whether we like it or not, such discrimination exists. There was a time when qualifying for the 'science group' for the SSC exam was deemed prestigious. The system imposed a standard that discriminates against students who do not have natural talent in mathematics and natural sciences. This has perhaps changed now given the increasing propensity for studying business. But BUET students are still revered as the pinnacle of all talents. So, our fascination with technical study is still very much present. Perhaps when the poor people of India saw steam engines and motor vehicles for the first time they automatically attributed their despair to not possessing such technology or attributed the superiority of their rulers to the technology.
The argument against the usefulness of natural talent is that after a certain level, that extra sharpness and cognition in the naturally talented contender will not matter
The efforts to do away with disparity or unequal treatment has, in part, produced, what Chris Hedges calls, obsequious positivity. It is now common practice in good quality English immersion schools, clearly to emulate western models, to give student awards so that they don't feel left out. Even though that sounds very nice it does foster a fantastical world view which is based on wishful thinking. That is not to say that sensitivity of children should not be taken into account or psychological nourishing is not important. But there is an implied lesson in giving children fake awards. The lesson is that you are not important or worthy of respect if you do not achieve the goals set out for you by a higher authority. The moral approach to this should be to teach children that they are entitled to inalienable human dignity no matter what they achieve; if we believe in inalienable human dignity, that is. But our education system is a strict meritocracy, not very unlike the models it aspired to emulate, only inferior. John Taylor Gatto, veteran school teacher and author, opened his book “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling” with a description of a place where people are required to dress in uniforms, be within confinement and must do what they are told. The readers are then invited to guess what that place was. Whatever picture the description conjures up in the reader's imagination, whether they think it was a description of a school or a prison, they are forced see that these two places have a lot in common. In the end the pondering over natural talent versus hard work seems pointless. What really matters is whether we can equip students with the necessary tools to inquire and ask the right questions. Because that is the whole purpose of education.
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