Tracy-Ann McGhie-Sinclair | What’s right with us
Our society has become obsessed with highlighting people’s shortcomings. This is quite evident in the way we talk about our leaders, partners, and even the unassuming man going about his business. This relentless focus on deficits has caused us to overlook the tremendous natural, hidden, and even immediately apparent talents of our people.
A more frightening reality is that this fixation has found its way into our classrooms. At the core of our fundamentally flawed education system is the objective to maximise students’ potential so that they can contribute to national development and compete effectively in the global economy (Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, 2020).
In embracing this purpose, however, we need to ask ourselves these questions: do we really want to maximise students’ God-given potentials? Or, are we forcing them to be who they are not by demanding excellence in areas in which they do not naturally excel or want to pursue?
From the first day students enter the education system to the day they exit, they are required to take several diagnostic tests in core subject areas; these are administered to identify strengths and weaknesses. Once identified, the strengths are often rewarded with apathy, while much focus is placed on the deficiencies. Arguably, this is so because identifying and overcoming shortcoming is a critical part of the fabric of our culture. Consequently, parents in pursuit of excellence for their children, and teachers, who are dubbed ‘the fixer’, concoct various ways of correcting these weaknesses.
With unmatched zeal and enthusiasm, teachers purchase additional instructional materials, organise and dedicate their spare time to offering extra classes. All done in the hope of pacifying parents, while sometimes attempting the impossible: prodding children to learn specific academic content.
Deficits identified in mathematics, language arts, and science indicate that children must dedicate additional hours to drilling and practising. Students who eventually do well in these subjects, whether naturally or by way of major intervention, are lauded. Others who seem to be interested in unconventional areas and the aesthetics are sometimes labelled as underachievers, simply because their unique ways of thinking and learning are not addressed by a language and numerical classroom.
I vehemently argue that students who excel in alternative areas should be given the same amount of attention, and that adequate reinforcement be provided for them so that their natural talents can be cultivated. Additionally, equal emphasis and accolades should be associated with pursuing and excelling in these subjects.
Cognitive psychologist Howard Gardner theorised that besides intellectual capacity, there are eight other intelligences that account for potential in children and adults. These intelligences range from the use of words, numbers, pictures, and music, to the importance of understanding and relating to others, introspection and self-reflection, physical movement and being in tune with nature.
Let us consider Johnny, who sits and daydreams in maths class, but when he goes to art class he comes alive. He is sensitive to lines, colours, shapes, and form. He can visualise and draw anything that his teacher tells him. By Gardner’s standards, Johnny is intelligent and talented and could become a great artist or sculptor one day. Johnny should then be encouraged to embrace these talents and improve on these skills.
Many educators have embraced the theory of multiple intelligences, and several are prepared to diversify the way they prepare and execute their lessons. As a proponent of this theory, I strongly suggest that administrators and other stakeholders use it to redesign the way our children are taught.
As parents, we want our children to grow up, secure white-collar jobs and thereafter, become productive members of society. Truth be told, only the minority will secure white-collar jobs. The majority will work hard, performing manual labour to provide for themselves and their families. Is there something wrong with this picture? Certainly not!
If you were to ask many blue- or pink-collar workers how they feel about their jobs, I am sure they would respond by telling you, “It gud man, a my bread and butter dis”. While their jobs are obviously different from that of men who dress in jackets and ties or white gowns, they, too, are productive members of society and are contributing to national development.
LIVE LIFE WITH A ‘STRENGTHS’ APPROACH
I suggest that parents and educators help children identify, develop, and harness their natural abilities and pursue positive interests. When energy is invested in identifying and developing strengths, there is far more capacity for growth and potential for greatness. Undoubtedly, one needs to be cognisant of his or her weaknesses, and, with time, work to improve one’s self.
But there is no need to be fixated on these deficiencies and live life feeling defeated because you do not fit into the mould manufactured by society.
It is quite rewarding to see children become accepting of themselves and flourish, doing what they love. It is equally fulfilling when we as adults embrace our true selves, pursue jobs that naturally align with our talents and appreciate who we are, instead of worrying over who we are not.
Let us do what we are good at, encourage ourselves and our children to live life with a ‘strengths’ approach!
Dr Tracy-Ann McGhie-Sinclair is the acting head of the School of Early Childhood, Primary and the Creative Arts at Church Teachers’ College, Mandeville. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.