Hidden Talents Manifesto

Every student has obstacles to learning, from diagnosed disabilities to simple time pressures. But the greatest obstacles to learning are teachers who give up too easily, who only teach one way, who discourage exploration and questioning, or who have low expectations of student abilities. A great teacher takes responsibility for adapting and continually improving, to help every student learn as much as they can, in the way that works best for them.

Everybody learns differently, but most classes in most schools and universities are organized exactly the same way. A student who can learn that way, who may even be good at learning that way, will do just fine. But a student who learns differently is set up for failure from the very beginning, and I’ve known lots of intelligent people who couldn’t be “successful” in conventional educational settings.

Every child comes into the world with a natural hunger for learning. About four years later they will start asking, “Why?” But by 18, only the most persistent young people will still be asking. Most people are smarter than they think, but they’ve never developed their abilities and don’t know how to think analytically. They’ve become accustomed to teachers telling them what to do, and if they do what the teachers say they get the right answers and are rewarded with good grades. True learning is much deeper than that! Great teachers encourage students to think, explore, ask questions, and find solutions that make sense to them, not just follow a list of steps like trained monkeys.

In education, we often hear statistics on the low retention rates after a class is over. But when students really understand, they can apply their skills to different kinds of problems, and they’ll be able to remember and use those skills for the rest of their lives. The way to accomplish this result is to relate classroom learning to real-world problems, from the very beginning. When students learn an academic topic in the context of how it relates to what they already know, they naturally form connections in their brains so that new information or skill is handy when they need it. On top of that, they’ll be more interested in learning because they see how it will benefit them.

To varying degrees, we’ve all (students, teachers, and parents) been affected by the conformist mentality of formal education and the misconception that high grades are the measuring stick for effective learning. But with patience and persistence, we can learn to adapt to individual learning differences and strive for a deeper, richer level of understanding. Will you join me on this exhilarating journey?