What is the difference between a “gifted” violin student and a “normal” student? Some would say that it’s “talent,” something inborn and genetically predisposed, that prompts an individual to excel at a certain set of tasks. However, when I look at individuals who are deemed “gifted” or “talented” it is not their genetics that catch my eye, but their mental dexterity and work ethic. This mental fortitude allows them to problem solve and apprehend information critical to enhancing their abilities. In other words, the distinguishing feature of “talented students” is how they think. This factor can be influenced by genetics but also stems from life choices and environmental factors, such as education and parenting.
The issue with assuming a student is “gifted,” solely by virtue of their genetics, underestimates the individual’s choices and the influence of their education. It also implies that unless an individual is born with a predisposition for an activity that the individual has little to no chance of developing the skill sets needed to be successful in that activity.
Suppose for an instance that we accept the proposition that “talent” is the product of skilled critical thinking processes and that those processes can be influenced by education and parenting. If this is true, any child could be deemed “talented” in whatever skill set they choose, if teachers and parents devote themselves to helping children learn critical thinking skills.
Some may argue that such a claim underestimates the power of genetics and I will concede that genetics may limit an individual’s abilities. However, as a society we still do not know enough about how genetics manifest in behavior to make claims about an individual’s potential. In this regard, limiting the prospective abilities of a child based on an adult’s interpretation of their inborn skill level, is at best reckless and at worst irresponsible. It then falls to the parent and teacher to not limit a child based on the adult’s biases but give them the best opportunities for success.
The question then becomes, what is the best way in which to help the child? Classic education over the last 100 years has tried to advance education by divorcing mind and body. John Dewey claims that this philosophy has led to the degradation of learning. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I would agree with Dewey. The separation of one’s mental activities from their physical is unproductive. The best thing we can do is develop the child’s mental dexterity by also developing the awareness of their physical being.
The term pyscho-physical re-education and neuromuscular re-education were adopted as brief explanations for the Alexander Technique because of the philosophical emphasis that the mind and body are not separate. In fact, many students of the Technique report that as their awareness of their physical state improves their thinking processes also develops in positive ways. If this phenomenon is true, then the best way we can help all students become “talented” is to encourage their education based on the principles of the Alexander Technique.