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Talent-Based Education: A Christian Perspective

By Ian Hodge
August 01, 2003

Peter Drucker, in his 1989 book, The New Realities, highlighted what he saw to be the major cultural shifts in the 20th century. The farming sector, once the largest sector of every economy, had shrunk to a mere few percent of the population, yet the general wealth of the farming sector had not deteriorated. Together with the broad population, farmers were better off.

What replaced the farming sector, argues Drucker, was manufacturing. This was the economic revolution that turned the world upside down in the 20th century. America's economic supremacy was built on manufacturing, but now it too is in jeopardy.

The Future of Jobs
Recent news publications have carried scores of articles on the decline of manufacturing and its resultant unemployment for many Americans. By 2015, it has been predicted, up to three million jobs will be lost, mainly in the manufacturing sector. The manufacturing sector will shrink just as the farming sector has done.

The remarkable feature of the decline in the manufacturing sector has been the accuracy of predictions like that of Peter Drucker. With insight, Drucker correctly foresaw the decline of American manufacturing. With equal foresight, he has seen the replacement of manufacturing and blue-collar workers with the information age and white-collar, educated workers who apply their skills in very narrow and specialist fields within the economy.

The loss of the farming sector did not spell the end of the American economy. Nor will the loss of manufacturing spell the decline of America's economy. Just as so many mechanical gains displaced farm workers, so too are mechanical and technological gains replacing manufacturing workers. Robots replace assembly-line workers in so many instances, reducing the number of manufacturing workers required.

Just as the decline of farming did not occur without something to replace it, so too the decline in manufacturing has not occurred in a vacuum. But the changes in the social fabric require a new kind of worker, a knowledge worker who brings a specialist skill to the marketplace that can be utilized again and again in company after company. No longer is this specialist required on a permanent basis, but his skills must be transferable from company to company, and in some instances, from industry to industry. In fact, it is the broad-based knowledge worker who can successfully apply his skills across the business sector who is less likely to be unemployed in the marketplace of tomorrow.

Knowledge: the Job of the Future
Now, if knowledge and the application of knowledge is the requirement of the immediate future — leaving aside the necessity to make long-range forecasts for the moment — then it is clear that education must change fundamentally in order to keep the "knowledge society" on its toes. These educational requirements fall into two broad categories.

The first of these is the category of curriculum content. In this regard, education seems to have an answer, except that it cannot bring the glue that sticks all the pieces of the curriculum together. There is no lack of curricula available for schooling today, but something is missing. At the end of the day, value, ethics, and morals are the necessary things that allow information to be used in meaningful ways. An education without purpose and meaning can hardly be called education, just as education in wrong facts would not be considered education.

But ethics is the Achilles heel of modern — that is secular — education. The commitment to the private interpretation of what makes good morals creates the world of the individual, an anarchistic conglomerate of millions of competing ideas of what makes right and wrong. No society has ever functioned on this basis and none ever will, for the anarchism is the fuel for the politicized society that sees the political order providing the glue that keeps social order intact.

The second category of education relates the application of the curriculum to the individual. In Christian theology, the idea of calling, not just in general, but with some specificity, is identified. Individuals, it is argued, are given unique gifts. Some are called to be pastors, lawyers, accountants, musicians, engineers, or secretaries. Others are called to be salespersons. The challenge is to determine not only which calling an individual has, but when such a calling occurs. If it occurs at an early age, then there is a case for restructuring education so that the child's gifts are developed early. This has been called talent-based education.1

It is often argued that the young do not know what they want to do in later life, and therefore education needs to be general so that the child can exercise a choice at the appropriate time. But this can easily be confused with a particular job, rather than a particular calling. For example, consider those who manufactured horse buggies in the early 20th century when the automobile was on the horizon. Was their calling to be a horse buggy manufacturer, or was their calling to be an automobile manufacturer? That is, was their calling and gifts of such a nature that they could be applied to changing circumstances?

A Refined Understanding of Calling
When we understand a calling in this way, it is easy to see that callings might be more general, but are application specific. One can be a musician, for example, but can apply that to an instrument such as piano, violin, or voice, or, as some do, take his training as a musician in one area and apply it to conducting. For another example, some are gifted teachers who can apply that skill across different disciplines, but their calling is to be a teacher.

Used in this sense, it is easy to see how a calling can be applied to a changing economy. We do not have to remain in the horse and buggy era to exercise our talents. We can be a part of the future, using our gifts and knowledge without tying ourselves to the present.

Talent based education is not a new concept, but one that is having renewal in recent years. Sporting prodigies are today most likely to be taken out of school to be given special education in their chosen sport. In the past, this was certainly an aspect of training for many musicians who made it to the top, and there is no reason not to give the concept a wider application. The specialized music schools could be an example to provide special mechanics' schools, tradesmen's schools, and so forth.

Not only does talent based education recognize the unique gifts of the individual, but educators are also beginning to realize that children bring their own learning styles to the classroom at home or at school. The traditional classroom style teaching works well for those who like a teacher standing up front talking to them. Some of us, however, would rather learn on our own through books and other media. We are content to stay out of the classroom and find our own way through the maze of learning opportunities that exist in the world today.

Five learning styles have been identified. These have been called the performing disposition, the producing disposition, the inventing disposition, the inspiring disposition and the creating disposition.2 Just as personality profiling is an important aspect of business in building lasting relationships among staff by recognizing an individual's unique personality,3 so too learning styles are an important recognition of the uniqueness of the individual when it comes to learning.

That education faces great challenges today is recognized almost universally. Taking a fundamental approach to education that recognizes calling and the uniqueness of the individual's calling before God offers a fresh approach that should improve education. After all, we would now educate to the individual's strengths rather than to his weaknesses. And this, says Drucker, is the only way to educate for high performance.4

Unfortunately, there are no foolproof tests to apply to determine the talents of a child. But if the Bible is a guide to life, we see, especially in the Old Testament, families delegated with responsibilities within the Israelite community. There was no "free choice" of occupation for many. They were called to fulfil particular functions (Num. 3, 4). Such a picture flies in the face of our view about the individual person, but fits with the Biblical pattern of family. In the Bible, the family owned property, not the individual, and families, rather than individuals, had callings which were to be fulfilled through multiple generations.

If this is the case, then it is easier to determine talent-based education, and children would follow in their father's or mother's footsteps. This does not mean they would be buggy makers if the father was a buggy maker, but it might mean they were in some kind of manufacturing venture. Just as it might not mean that if the father was a violinist, the children might be musicians applying themselves to the organ, or piano, or even conducting. But music would be a family activity and therefore govern the children's education.

To some degree, education along these lines is evident today. Good musicians are often the sons or daughters of musicians, just as some of the famous composers were in their day. R. J. Rushdoony was the son of a pastor, and could speak of multiple generations of the family devoted to a pastoral calling; some church pastors or, in the case of Rush, a pastor and Biblical scholar.

It seems the "knowledge society" is going to need knowledge specialists, those imbued with a calling in particular areas. The reconstruction of education allowing talent-based education, where those with a gift for math can specialize in math, or those with a calling in music can become the best musicians because their whole life is dedicated to this art, is long overdue. The general school is for those whose calling is to be a generalist. For the rest of us, specialist music schools, specialist sporting schools, or whatever, can become a place where talent is harnessed, trained and directed to God's glory and the betterment of our fellow-man.

Notes

1. Mariaemma Willis & Victoria Kindle Hodson, Discover Your Child's Learning Style (Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing, 1999).

2. ibid., ch.5, "Dispositions: The Way the World Sees Us."

3. See David W Merrill & Roger H. Reid, Personal Styles and Effective Performance (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1999 [1991]); Robert Bolton & Dorothy Grover Bolton, Social Style / Management Style: Developing Productive Work Relationships (New York: Amacom, 1984).

4. Peter F. Drucker, The New Realities (London: Mandarin, 1989), 229.


Topics: Education

Ian Hodge

Ian Hodge, Ph.D. (1947–2016) was a long-term supporter of Chalcedon and an occasional contributor to Faith for All of Life. He was also a business consultant in Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand, and a prominent piano teacher in Australia.

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