By Harold C. Lyon, Jr.
Talk given in Munich Germany to the Alumni Academy of the Heidelberg
Life Science Academy for Gifted Students at the Castle Schwaneck, March 26,
Forty years ago a man named Gorgi Lazonov from Bulgaria developed
a way to teach two years of a foreign language in six weeks. His technique was
to have his students sit back in reclining chairs and relax and try not
to learn. His claim was that this opened
up vast parts of their unused brain capacity.
What we do know is that they learned complex languages very fast.
The U.S. State Department used Dr. Lazonov as a consultant to teach accelerated
language classes to foreign service officers – even before he was free to
travel west from Bulgaria.
I'd like to invite you to relax for the next half
hour. Don't try hard to understand my
talk. Just relax and be with it. I'm going to try to be somewhat spontaneous as
I share thoughts about gifted students.
One message is that to the degree that we can be spontaneous, to the
degree that we can respond to one another's energies in the moment, we have
much more of our potential available for learning. And to the degree that we have a rote, fixed
set of responses to life, the way we are often conditioned to in our school systems,
we limit our potential to a fraction of what it could be. It is estimated that
we realize 5 to 15% of our potential in our lifetimes - a tragic waste of what
we could have.
Risking being in the here & now
We each have an "ego boundary" -- a particular
space surrounding us and when we're inside that space we're safe and secure. When we get out near the edge of it we become more
anxious. If you go far enough out, you
can venture into what I call "psychotic"
space. But these boundaries are elastic, and by taking risks you stretch your
ego boundaries until you have a very large space in which to roam around and explore. Then
it's a longer way out to the periphery where you become anxious. And my thesis is that when you risk
stretching these boundaries, you have far more of your potential
available. But society tends to
encourage us to restrict ourselves to very narrow ego boundaries, wanting us to
be predictable. And so we tend to kill
off divergent thinking and creativity often before our teen years. A challenge as teachers, students and parents
is to help expand those ego boundaries, to provide a safe space for that risk
taking – a safety net for the freedom to fail.
Consider that a day in your life is a precious gift to give
to yourself or another. There's never
another day exactly like this one - it's unique. When you are spontaneously here and now in the moment, you
have so much of your natural magnificence and potential available to share with
your students, friends, and family. To illustrate this, consider for a moment
doctor told you that you had only one
month left to live. How would you spend
those precious 30 days? What would you
say to those people who are special in your life, if you had only a month to
live? Those are the important things that we often neglect to say -- that we're
embarrassed to say. Let me suggest that
you soon say, and do, some of those things
that you would if you had only one month left to live. Share some of these
things with your students, family, loved ones and I predict that a lot more of
your potential will be available to you and to them.
Opening to miracles
It is said that aerodynamic experts have studied the
bumblebee and have concluded that the bumblebee really cannot fly - it appears
impossible scientifically. His body is
too heavy for his small wings. The
bumblebee doesn't know that, so he goes ahead and flies anyway. It's these kinds of miracles that we can have
in our classrooms -- in each child. I'm
a believer in miracles. After miracles
occur there is always a linear explanation for why they occur. But you have to have a lot of faith and
intention to allow them to come about. You must have a context for miracles for
them to come about. You can't predict a butterfly from a caterpillar. It is
very difficult scientifically. And you
don't see caterpillars running around on logs, leaping off trying hard to
achieve flight. They'd never stay still
long enough to grow that cocoon and become.
There's a significant
difference between doing and being. We need to learn to be
along with our great capacity to do.
Being is infinite -- it's boundless.
Doing has limits to it. It's
finite, and we burn ourselves out by overdoing.
The most significant doing flows as a natural extension from our being.
In being one can expand to a context far beyond the content of
doing and that's what we as teachers can offer children. When you expand from finite content (or
doing) to context (or being), miracles quite naturally occur within that
infinite context. One of the first steps
is to believe in such miracles. St.
Augustine said, "Surely he who does not believe in miracles, will never
take part in one."
Years ago when I
served in the Federal Government, I was driving to work in the spring and
watched, each morning, a large tulip bed right across the street from the Tital
basin in Washington, D.C. Every spring
there's a race for glory between the cherry blossoms and these tulips. I saw a sprinkling of twenty or thirty of the
tulip blossoms blooming ahead of the rest, in this otherwise uniform bed of
thousands of green leaves. On my way home that evening, I noticed a National
Park gardener on his hands and knees clipping off these early blooming blossoms
to keep uniformity in the tulip bed! I
thought for a minute, that could only happen in the bureaucracy. And then I realized that it happens every day
in our classrooms when we clip off the blossoms of the early bloomers… to keep
uniformity in the classroom.
Thinking and being for ourselves
While participating in a New Age World Congress in
Florence, Italy in 1978, the great inventor-architect-philosopher, R.
Buckminister Fuller, then in his twilight years, was provided the rare space to
freely and spontaneously talk before our group for three hours a day for five
days about his theories, his as yet not fully formulated ideas, and his life.
As he spoke about gifted children, he began to change that label to "New
Age Children." I liked the term,
not only because there are so many elitist concerns with the "gifted and
talented" label, but also because by the term New Age Children we were
talking about a broader definition of gifted children including those with
intuitive gifts, and those with spiritual and artistic gifts, and the divergent
thinkers like Bucky Fuller. He shared
with us that he really deserved little credit for all of his many
discoveries. He claimed that the
knowledge is already up there and all one has to do is break loose from
institutional ways of thinking to grasp it.
He said he deserved little credit for that, but he did deserve credit
for beginning to think for himself 40 years before. He suggested that even the
slowest child in the classroom has the capacity to be as bright as the
brightest. And that the brightest child has the potential to be so far ahead of
what we expect that it's almost frightening.
We need to begin to free up that incredible potential that we all have.
Person-Centered Education -- the cognitive integrated with
Our classrooms tend to focus purely on cognitive
intellectual development where we push the student down
an intellectual track with little attention paid to the affective development
-- to their capacities for love, empathy and awareness, and their communication
skills. We need to integrate the
affective with the cognitive and this is what we call person-centered or
confluent education. It's an integration
of those two, and when you do that, both kinds of learning will peak and be
more indelible. In my early work with “Sesame Street” we fought to put into
every show the affective component and values to make the cognitive teaching
and learning more indelible and it worked!
Families, churches and society need to help foster the spiritual aspects
of the child as well -- another important dimension of the whole person to
Abraham Maslow said
that we need to treasure "The emotional jags of
the child in the classroom" -- those "peak" experiences, as
that's where real learning takes place.
In my own life, as I look back over the more important learning
experiences I have had, very few of them came within academic classrooms. Rather they came from crises - from tragedies
in my life. The Chinese character for crisis
is the same as the one for opportunity. In the East, they understand this
better than we do in the West. We need
to pay attention to those kinds of learning experiences, which are often the
spontaneous ones -- the ones we don't plan -- often the unthinkables or those
our society has no system to hold or explain or accept. And in the midst of the
painful crisis, we are unable to see the benefits until later.
The traits found in successful teachers
Carl Rogers has done very significant research in terms of
the traits of the successful therapist.
Four other people who have contributed to this work, Drs. Reinhard Tausch
(Professor Emeritus from University of Hamburg), the late David Aspy and his
wife, Cheryl, and the late Flora Roebuck. Over thirty five years they performed
comprehensive empirical studies, taking Roger's findings for therapists and
applying them to teachers. Tausch and
his wife, Annie Marie replacated these studies with Teutonic thoroughness in
Germany. The three traits of the successful therapist, found by Rogers, were corroborated
by Tausch, Aspy, and Roebuck to exist in the successful teacher. The first is the one to which I just alluded:
genuineness or realness on the part of the
teacher: the ability to be a human being with strengths and weaknesses, to be
genuine with your students. This trait
is also called congruence.
The second trait is empathic understanding, or the ability to put
yourself in the student's shoes and see the world from his perspective. The
third trait is prizing or unconditional positive regard. It's just the opposite of apathy. It's caring
enough about the uniqueness of an individual to celebrate that uniqueness. When a teacher has these traits, trust is
established. The student trusts that the
teacher is there not to catch them up in all their faults, but to facilitate
the discovery process. Trust evolves
largely from the other three traits, I believe.
I add a fifth trait - competence in the subject matter, but it wasn't in
the study, and I put it last on the list. It seems to be the main one we focus
on in training teachers. It appears difficult to train people in these
traits. They are the kinds of traits you
have to discover through your own growth and peak experiences. Tausch, Aspy,
and Roebuck’s research studies are significant in showing that teachers can be
trained in these person-centered methods. The data show that students of
teachers with these traits have higher achievement scores as well as many other
positive outcomes. It's empirical data
that leads to the conclusion that we must focus on the education of the whole person.
The Aspys and Roebuck suggest that the governing trait of
these is empathy. The teachers with high
empathy tended to have the other traits as well. And so they studied high empathy teachers
comprehensively and thoroughly in many locations and settings over many years
and found significant evidence that the students in classrooms taught by high
empathy teachers had significantly higher achievement scores. They also smiled more, and so did their
students. The high empathy teachers
tended to have greater influence the earlier the students were exposed to
them. First grade students with high
empathy teachers achieved a ten-point IQ differential by the end of the
year. And by the end of the second
grade, a further l0-point differential between students of high and low empathy
teachers was attained, just from the effect of that first grade high empathy
teacher. So the earlier the stimulus,
the better. We've known this, but we
have paid lip service to it. Aspy and Roebuck also found that it was easier to
train elementary school teachers in empathy skills than it was high school
teachers, or, for that matter, university professors. In fact, they concluded that we ought to have
good first grade teachers helping university professors learn how to relate better
with their students. They also found
that these high empathy teachers tended to have good physical condition. The cut-off criterion for good physical
condition was that they could walk or run a mile in 12 minutes or less, which
is not very fast. Seventy-year-old
joggers are doing it better than that.
But 90% of the teachers in their studies over age 35 said they could
not (I would say they would not) walk or run a mile in 12 minutes or
less. Those teachers that were in good
physical condition and had high empathy skills, started out the week on Monday
at a certain level of energy and ended up on Friday at a higher peak level of
energy. They retained their empathy
skills while those with lower physical condition did not retain the skills as
indelibly. Teachers with low empathy and low physical condition ended up
exhausted on Friday. So this says
something about high empathy teachers, therapists, and people. As I look around
at the people I respect, I find a lot of them have these traits.
Are the same traits found in successful managers?
Another study by
Rensis Likert at the University of Michigan, corroborated this research.
After looking at 5,000 organizations, he found that the high-producing managers
also tend to have these traits. Low-producing
managers tend to think of people as tools to get the job done while the high
producers think of people as unique individuals.
One way to summarize this research is to say that high
empathy teachers tend to see deeper inside the student for their inner
beauty as opposed to surface beauty. Our
grading system tends to be kind of a surface beauty orientation rather than a
measure of inner beauty.
In 1968, I worked with the White House Task Force on the
Gifted and I took them to my old alma mater, West Point, to meet with the
Social Sciences Department where they had 12 Rhodes Scholars on the faculty – a
concentration of gifted people. We asked
them what made the biggest difference in their lives, and they all had the same
answer -- that there was a mentor in their lives -- and they began to name the
mentors. Three of them named the same
man, who ironically also had a significant influence on me. He was a person who saw our inner
beauty. He had these traits that this
research shows to be significant. He
wasn't worried about our brass being polished or our shoes being shined, but
was really looking within for inner beauty instead of focusing on the
surface. The multi billion dollar
cosmetic industry is based on surface beauty.
We need to see deeper than that, as we look at our children and one
Robert G. Ingersoll said, "If we had done a thousand years ago as
kings told us, we would have all been slaves. If
we had done as the priests told us, we would have all been idiots. If we had done as the doctors told us, we
would have all been dead. This world has
been saved by our disobedience."
There's a lot of latent potential in that aliveness that sometimes seems
hidden within the mischievous or darker side of the naughty child.
Seeing versus looking
I knew a psychiatrist who built much of his
practice on the difference between seeing and looking. He described looking, as a highly cognitive
"head trip" where it's “mainline” from eyes to brain - We sort people
out, judge them, and evaluate them. I
evaluate children when I look at them.
But seeing is a here-and-now "groking" (to use the term
from the old science fiction novel, Stranger
in a Strange Land). It's a sensing
process that goes from eyes to heart. Seeing
is accepting, right here and now. When we see children... we can be
with them instead of doing to them - this being is infinite - boundless.
Our Bio Clocks
Another factor which has a lot to do with our
potential is our varied readiness for learning.
Each of our bio-clocks is different.
There are morning people and evening people. We found that when you test a child in the
evening - one who is a morning person -- he might score significantly lower and
vice versa. We need to pay attention to
this readiness which is unique for each child.
The motivation which triggers the readiness for learning needs to come
from within the person instead of being forced from outside. My wonderful old alma mater, West Point, was
an institution for forced learning. We cadets used to say that, "It was a
$200,000 education… crammed down our throats nickel by nickel."
When I was Director of Education for the Gifted
& Talented I received phone calls from parents who wanted to force their
two-year old gifted child to learn how to read.
Don’t force your child to read, but help her to discover the scent of
the forest, the smell of the ocean, the expressions on people's faces, and body
language. Then the reading of words will
come as a natural way to express those feelings, much faster than it will
through our linear, programmed kind of learning. We need to surround gifted
children with highly conscious mentors, aware empathic teachers who will play
for the long-shot that the child will open to the whole universe which is
within each of us.
We are experiencing breakthroughs in scientific
discovery and levels of awareness and consciousness. The work with porpoises is an interesting
example. If you take a porpoise away
from a group of porpoises, the remaining porpoises will run into one another
for about a month until they build new energy fields. Those energy fields are not unique to
porpoises. We all have them. PET Scans enable us to photograph those energy
fields which appear as auras that are different for different individuals. When a child leaves the home or goes off to
college, the community or family that is left is a different one and has to
adjust to new energy patterns, just as do our classrooms.
The genetic work on DNA and the RNA molecules is
causing us to face complex moral decisions about whether and how we should
bring into the world incredibly bright and gifted individuals. Work in fertilization of the human ova at a
certain optimal moment also promises potential for bringing healthier, more
aware and more intelligent individuals into society. The early work in prenatal
care by Dr. LeBoyer ("Birth Without Violence") was exciting in terms
of what it means to individual potential.
Some African mothers talk to their children in utero from the moment of
conception on, and when that child is born it is already 9 months old instead
of starting to learn at the moment of birth.
They stimulate that unborn child with songs and by naming the child
before birth. Research done on the 126 children who were in Dr, LeBoyer's initial
group showed they were incredibly intelligent, free from most childhood
diseases, and most astonishing, out of 126, a hundred of them are ambidextrous
-- which says something about the damage we do to one-half of the brain during
the modern technological birth process!
Joseph Chilton Pierce, who wrote, The Magical Child, many years ago
birthed 100 monkeys, using our modern technological birth procedures including
the "saddle-block," 100% of which sustained brain damage. How many
humans also suffer such damage? In our
modern birth procedure, the anesthetic goes directly from the mother to the
child's lungs who needs them to breathe for that first dramatic breath. Its lungs are incapacitated by the
anesthetic, and to compound things further, we cut off a supplementary source
of oxygen by cutting the umbilical immediately.
We douse the child's eyes with Silver Nitrate in case the mother might
happen to have syphilis (which we already know she doesn't), and we slap the
child on the rear end - an apt initiation into a tough society. We then put him into a crib and give him a
plastic bottle. No wonder this child bonds to material objects. African mothers
who Joseph Chilton Pierce studied, birthed their children naturally in their
huts. The mother puts the child on her stomach and she massages every inch of
the child, just as the mother cat licks every bit of the new-born kitten. In large litters of twelve or more kittens
the mother cat is sometimes too tired to do the licking and those kittens often
turn out to be spastic. The African mothers instinctively do this. The child can hear the mother's heart beat
and the mother then bites through the umbilical (maybe five minutes later) and
puts the child to her breast and goes out to show it off to her friends. She has eye contact with that child most of
its first few months of life. Dr. Chilton Pierce showed me color slides of
these children holding up their heads 12 hours after birth, and smiling in a
mirror, which our children (birthed through the modern process) don't do for 2
1/2 months! These children are
incredibly intelligent and bright.
Pierce told me an interesting story: These
children -- diaper-less -- were lined up with their mothers holding them to see
the doctor and he wondered why the children were not messing on their
mothers. So he asked them, "What do
you do when the child has to urinate?" They answered, "We take them
to the bushes." He asked, "How
do you know when the child has to go?" They laughed and said, "How do
you know when you have to go?" They are so bonded to the child that they
sense when the child needs to urinate!
We're finding that the knowledge that our
grandmothers had was wisdom. Mother's milk is the most appropriate and vital
food for infants. Every minute spent at
the mother's breast for an infant can have far greater significance than all
the expensive private schools that the child might attend later. That nurture, that warmth and the unknown
ingredients of mother's milk is, apparently, far more significant than we know. All of these discoveries. some of which are
older ones we are rediscovering, offer us new opportunities in terms of
Burton White, a Harvard professor, found that
between 8 and 22 months a child is literally consumed by curiosity. He claims that this is the period in which
the basis for creativity and curiosity is really formed. It's also the time when the mother is saying,
"No! No! No!" and killing off that creativity. Dr. White discovered ways in which a mother
can create childproof environments which are very stimulating during that
crucial period of development for creativity.
So we're on the frontier of fascinating breakthroughs, the level of
which we have only a glimpse.
Some time ago, just before her death, Margaret Mead
shared with me that she found gifted children who could hear and see ten times
greater than what is considered normal.
She told me about one child who frequently had nightmares and was sent,
with little positive result, to a psychiatrist for treatment. One night he woke up screaming and told his
parents a gruesome story about a murder.
They later found out that in the apartment building a floor above them
there was a murder. This child with an extraordinary hearing sense had
heard it in detail and even helped solve the crime by giving some of the
details to the police. Think of the
assault on that child's senses living in the inner city had been! We need to pay attention to some of these
uncommon extraordinary gifts that we are learning exist in greater percentages
than we ever thought, disguised as unexplainable phenomena and sometimes
labeled as learning disabilities or neuroses or psychoses.
Advocates for person-centered education are
outnumbered by the apathetic. We need to
join together in mutual support groups to amass our energies, power, and
creativity into that critical mass which is needed to bring about a
transformation or a renaissance in education. We have that potential. Let's all bury the minor differences and
squabbles which invariably seem to surface between individuals, organizations,
states and nations to pool our considerable energies in behalf of this world's
most neglected, yet valuable natural resource - our gifted and talented
children. The difference we make, makes
all the difference in the world, for their realizing their potential.
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