Tuesday, October 5, 2010

No Gifted Children?

Last week, I patiently awaited the arrival of a customer for a lunch meeting at an outdoor cafe on a rare hot day in San Francisco. In between pretending to examine the menu or swirl around the slowly dissolving ice cubes in my water glass, I strained my ear to spy on the conversation at the adjacent table. A man, dining with a female colleague raved about a genius book he had just finished reading that argued that there was no such thing as a gifted child. He cited that Tiger Woods simply had practiced more hours than most children expose themselves to. Mozart was born to a fabulous music teacher. The prodigious advancements made by any youth, he summarized, was due to erroneous factors that were not due to their natural gifts or talents.

Although there is certainly merit to the fact that excessive practice and a masterful instructor at a young age will aid in producing highly skilled student, the credit can't be all due to external factors. Regardless of the efforts of any teacher, or the hours clocked on the putting green, without a superior affinity for the sport or for composition, no incredulous notoriety or success will ensue.

During all four summers in college I taught youth tennis. I watched as some recreational players with a gift for the sport took down juniors years older weathered with tournament experience, years of polished, private instruction and hours of practice sessions on the courts. Even though the seasoned players were accruing the hours and learning from well-trained teaching pros, they found themselves trumped by novice players that for some reason easily mastered the wit, skills and power of the sport in a fraction of the time.

Although I feel incredibly egotistical to tout my own gift of writing, I do remember always having a sense of linguistic prowess and precision over my fellow classmates. I wasn't the top student, but when it came to free writing, I'd melt away into the pages as I scribbled away, words lining up and falling into place like snowflakes coating bare, winter lawns: it came naturally, gently, and my words would flow in a pristine cadence. I found comfort in the practice of writing, recording fiction stories or recording my feelings was a personal sanctuary for me. I don't believe myself to be a prodigy by any means, but I do count myself among the ranks of other aspiring writers gifted with a talent for words.

The premise that no one is special and no one is gifted is pessimistic and deflating. It certainly takes additional resources to successfully mold a prodigy, but at the core and heart of the elements necessary is one: being gifted.

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