There’s a reason that you see so many photos of the same activities on this blog. Because I’m not a big fan of dabbling. I want the kids to find what they are great at and focus on that. There is a wide body of research to show that being great at something feels a lot better than dabbling.
We should use this research to guide education, because nowhere in the world is well-roundedness still valuable. The last time you actually needed to be well-rounded was when the landed gentry was trying to marry off one of their daughters in the 1500’s. Then, it was good to find a woman who could dance, speak a bit of French, cook enough to supervise the household help, and play a bit of piano and keep up with male conversation about politics if need be. That’s well rounded.
Why does anyone still think well-roundedness is a worthy goal? Probably because that’s what schools focus on teaching. But it’s a misguided goal. Because you make less money if you do not specialize. You do not get into a top college without specializing. And, in theory, each personality type (here are the sixteen) has special gifts, and if you have good mentoring as a child then you learn to leverage your natural speciality. Some people are great at doing things, some people are great at thinking things. Why bother forcing the doers to think? It’s not what they will be passionate about.
Elisa is a woman who sends me amazing research about homeschooling. Each day my inbox is peppered with small gifts of thoughtful analysis with links to articles that I can’t download. Like this one, about how kids who are gifted should be guided to a specialty.
Elisa is finding great articles from academic publications. I will have to tell you what they say, because even though the US government funds universities and makes the Ivory Tower possible, academics continue to publish in journals that are not free to the taxpayer. It’s absurd. I am not alone in thinking this is a colossal rip off. The Economist thinks so as well.
But that article Elisa sent me? Here’s a great quote:
Our current curricula and instruction for gifted students may very well be discouraging pursuits of scholarly productivity or artistry by focusing too much on well-roundedness. Too much focus on general education during secondary school might be robbing our young people of the opportunity to explore a topic in great depth, and to develop the beginnings of expertise. The advantage of gifted children pursuing specialization in an area of interest is that they find other young people who share their interests through the internet, out-of-school programs, or school clubs. These peer support systems provide positive social supports for pursuing academic or performance careers — at least up to university level.
The article assumes that the only gifted kind of kid is intellectual. But really, each kid is gifted in something, because that’s what strengths finder tests are all about. We each have special strengths. Maybe not strengths worthy of Carnegie Hall, but special all the same. So if we each have gifts then we should each specialize. And this is where homeschooling really matters— it can give kids freedom to find their strengths and leverage them to specialize.
You could say early specialization is too early. But we each specialize by dint of our parents’ choices. For example, city kids learn about cities. Farm kids learn about farms. If your parents love movies, you watch them. I have taken my kids to a movie one time in their whole life. So specialties start arising early on anyway; why not make them relevant to the kids’ strengths?
A diatribe against college by an anonymous professor has received lots of attention. One of his arguments is about the futility of teaching most people to write. Because you have to be a reader to be a writer. I taught creative writing at Boston University, and I totally agree. I could tell after the first assignment who read books and who didn’t.
This is true of body types as well. I was a figure skater growing up. I skated three days a week at 5am and most days after school as well. But I couldn’t do double-rotation jumps. I’m simply too large. I am tall and big-boned. I am too heavy to rotate in the air twice, even as a very skinny fifth-grader. I wish someone had told me to stop focusing on figure skating because it would never work for me. I wish someone had helped me find what I’d be great at.
On my career blog there is huge discussion about how essential specialization is as an adult, and how difficult it is to figure out what to do as an adult. It makes sense, then, that education should focus more on helping people leverage the talents they have. Many, many highly capable people are left out in the cold from a well-rounded education.
And here’s something about Elisa. She wants to figure out what to do with her career. She is so so smart and capable and interesting to talk with. But no one taught her to focus on what makes her special so that she could market herself in the workforce. You cannot really market yourself as having a high IQ. There has to be more. So she’s a good example of how if someone had helped her marshal her talents as a child, she would be more able to leverage her individual gifts as an adult. She would have the confidence that you get from having done things before, as a kid.