John N. Gardner
It’s important to check in with students on a regular basis. Given the pace of their change, we can get out of touch very fast. I have reflected on the fact that some of the higher education leaders that have the greatest impact on students through their policy making authority and other forms of influence may rarely actually talk to students.
Decades ago, I taught Sociology 101. And one of the core introductory topics was that of social stratification. I remember having my students read a case study on “student nurses.” One of the points of this reading was that many college students chose a major because of preconceptions about a professional occupation, in this case, nursing, thinking that it was going to be all about “helping people.” But they quickly have to learn that in college it’s all about the sciences. If you can’t hack it in the sciences, you aren’t going to get your degree. And then if they do earn a degree they have to learn that the paths to professional advancement take them further and further away from the people they initially wanted to help in the practice of nursing. That is to say they end up supervising others who are less well educated and may actually have little or no direct patient contact. The same parallels can be drawn with many other professions, including my own: higher education administration, change, and continuous improvement.
So, in my current role in higher education where I do strategic planning with colleges and universities to help them improve their performance with new and transfer students, I am no longer part of a single institution and thus do not have access to my own students. For me, that has been a very difficult adjustment, a form of withdrawal. Being the student-focused junkie that I am then, I have had to develop some counterbalancing strategies. One of them is asking my hosts for any campus I visit, often one a week, to arrange for me at least one session with students. This isn’t ideal but it is much better than no student contact at all.
A few weeks ago I was on the campus of York College of City University of New York. York is a four-year, regional university, non-residential and very diverse. Very inspiring. I met with four students who were all members of a co-curricular student organization, the National Society of Leadership and Success, about which I had known nothing before this visit.
But in talking to these students, it quickly became apparent to me that it was the most meaningful thing they had done in college. These students were at different levels, first-year, sophomore, junior, and senior. One had transferred in from a SUNY community college. They were pursuing different majors. Two were male, two female. None of them were WASP’s like me. But it struck me that all of them were having experiences in this group that were common, including:
- Very positive interaction with the faculty advisor, whom they mentioned frequently by name and with respect and affection. This professor has responsibility for the campus radio station.
- The aspiration, no matter what their ultimate occupation, to “give back” to their communities.
- A keener understanding of what exactly their “community” is, its needs and importance.
- A strong inclination to perform some form(s) of public service.
- The importance of developing “character”, and staying true to that character.
- A variety of success oriented activities that led them to practice reflection about the course of their lives.
- A set of experiences that had led them to take greater control of their lives.
- A commitment to sustain the group and provide support for their fellow students to persist in college.
- An achieved comfort level in interacting with higher education faculty and staff.
- The development of interpersonal communication and assertiveness skills that further facilitated the self esteem and comfort level necessary to interact with University officials; things like a good handshake and eye contact.
- The realization that becoming successful as a college student means striving for more than being “popular”.
As I interacted with these students I remembered that during the quarter century that I directed the University 101 first-year seminar at the University of South Carolina, many of the instructors, including me, would have as a course requirement, that the students were to join something—any group as long as it was sanctioned by the University and was engaging in legal behavior. We were aware of the research correlating group affiliation and college persistence and we wanted to intentionally bring about these outcomes. My visit to York was a much more recent example of the power of group affiliation and the importance of encouraging/facilitating students joining such groups. Several of the students made reference to a Student Affairs officer who had told them about or literally had led them to join the group. What a hugely influential role that is. Most of us could be doing exactly this for our students.
And this reminded me once again: during the college years, the greatest influence on students is the influence of other students. That is far too important for us to leave that to chance.
Thank you, York College, for the reminder and illustration.
In the most recent issue of The Chronicle there was a huge spread about the challenges of teaching developmental English in an urban, DC area community college. Very moving piece actually which included a profile on the instructor. He revealed to the reporter that early in his teaching career he became physically ill from his nervousness about teaching—as in sick to his stomach, vomiting. This reminded me of my mild anxiety attacks and accompanying nausea when I first started teaching. But it led to an epiphany.
In January of 1967 I arrived at my permanent Air Force duty assignment, as a psychiatric social worker, at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. As I have written about before in one of these postings, my squadron commander gave me a direct order to do college teaching and proceeded to arrange to make it happen. Two weeks later I started teaching my first college class, a night class, on a Friday night, at a regional two-year campus of the University of South Carolina. My class was at 7.30. My work day in the Psychiatric Clinic ended at 4.30 and I had to hit the road for a 65 mile drive on rural, two lane roads through what then I regarded as the heart of darkness. In those days there were still signs on restaurant doors pronouncing “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” and I knew that meant liberal Yankees like me.
For the first 6-8 weeks or so of teaching what was my first college course, I was so nervous, and I mean really anxious, that I had no appetite at all. I could not eat. Actually, I was nauseous. And I didn’t need therapy myself to know that was going on. My self-administered diagnosis was what the American Pyschiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM, my professional bible in that period of my life) labeled “adult situational reaction.” I was just one week ahead of my students every week in terms of my preparation. I felt I was clueless about what I was doing. I had not had any instruction at all about being an effective college teacher. All I knew were my own professors for models, and I remembered the best and worst of them vividly. Yes, college teaching was making me sick. Thank goodness I didn’t experience these symptoms any other time of the week except immediately before going to class.
And then suddenly, after 6-8 weeks or so, my symptoms abated and I became asymptomatic. I allowed myself to have dinner before I taught. And because this was 1967 almost 20 years before we raised the legal drinking age to 21, I also allowed myself to go out with some of my students after class ended at 10.00PM and, yes, drank with my students, and, of course, talked with them (that’s it).
So had happened to me? How had I overcome my anxiety?
I guess the first thing was that I learned that thorough preparation for a stress inducing event is one way to manage stress and its symptoms.
Secondly, recognizing that public speaking is one of Americans’ greatest fears, and remembering my grade in Speech 101 was a D, I realized that anxiety often accompanies feelings of lack of control. The assumption in this case is incorrect, and that is that the speaker, the professor, has no ability to control his audience and their reactions. I quickly was learning that there were all kinds of things I could legitimately do to, in effect, “control” the reactions of my students to my communication in the anxiety producing process of public speaking.
But I think that what was really most responsible for my loss of anxiety and nausea before teaching was that I had had an epiphany!
I had discovered the most pleasing thing of my life, college teaching. I had never before done anything that was so much fun. And I had discovered that was because college teaching involves the four things I loved to do the most. I put that observation in the context of being a 23 year old, healthy, red blooded, heterosexual, young, single, man. The one thing I loved to do the most was not a sexual act. I am being totally honest, maybe even TMI. Teaching brought me pleasure much longer than sex and I could do it guilt free with many people, simultaneously too. And it was teaching that led me to discover something I had never discovered in college or graduate school.
To teach, I had to do the four things I most loved to do.
First of all, in order to teach you have to have some knowledge, and information to impart to your students. Ideally you might throw in some wisdom and experience but at 23 years of age I am not sure I had a lot of wisdom or experience. But I did have knowledge which I had gotten from reading. So the first thing I loved to do in order to teach was read. And I was a reader. I had always been a reader. I loved reading. It had never occurred to me that I could be paid for reading. There was no such thing at my little liberal arts college known as “career planning” in which a career counselor might have helped me discover that ideal occupational choice involves doing something professionally and for remuneration that you love to do. OK, first thing then is reading.
Secondly, in order to teach you have to write something down after you have read—and that writing becomes the notes, the text, the manuscript, you use in teaching. And I loved to write. And I was getting paid, albeit modestly, $500 a course, to write.
Thirdly, teaching required first reading, then writing, and then speaking. I knew I was an extrovert. I knew I had always loved to talk. And teachers have to talk, after they have read (or done something) to acquire knowledge, and written down that knowledge.
And finally, the fourth component of teaching I discovered was helping students. And I really enjoyed helping my students. I had discovered that college teaching is a “helping” profession.
So there I had it. I had moved from doing something that made me sick to something that showed me how to put together the four things I most loved to do: reading, writing, talking and helping people.
How are you helping your students discover how to convert the things they most love to do into a legal way to eventually earn a living?
John N. Gardner
This posting is inspired by something I have started doing in the autumn of my career—going to an annual meeting for Presidents. After all, I am a president of a non-profit organization that serves American higher education and this means that many of the people my Institute staff colleagues and I are serving are presidents and chancellors.
The meeting in particular is higher education’s oldest gathering for its senior leaders, the annual meeting of The American Council on Education. This is the academy’s most senior policy advocacy stakeholder group.
And this year’s annual meeting was all about The Completion Agenda: the intense focus on increasing graduation and completion rates. Everybody seemed to get the importance of this, all except I suppose the elites for whom this has never been a problem. The idea of this being the preoccupying focus of any meeting when I started my work on “the freshman year experience” back in the 1970’s would have been unthinkable. So I tell myself that even though my country is retreating from most components of the social justice agenda, that it least it is focused on the completion agenda. And I am thankful for that.
But does everybody get it? Well, of course not. The senior leaders get it. But there are many in the academy that are not invested in this issue. And who might they be?
Well, they are the faculty and staff in institutions that are experiencing very rapid growth rates seemingly no matter what the state of student success practices. When the students keep coming no matter what we do, it is understandable that some of us educators don’t really have to buy into the completion agenda.
And then there is the professoriate. Many of us still think in these ways, understandably I could argue:
- What is all this fuss about? Many of today’s students do not belong in college. They lack the requisite levels of maturity and academic preparation, and focus, too.
- I don’t really understand why retention/completion is any of my responsibility. Instead, it’s the responsibility of parents, families, and the admissions officers who should be recruiting me better students. And it definitely is the responsibility of the students themselves.
- All this talk about retention is really the substitution of a business model for an educational paradigm for what we should be doing in higher education. This counting of students for revenue purposes is just one more insidious example of the corporatization of the academy and I am not having any of it.
- This talk about retention and completion: completion for what? The discussion totally misses the purposes of higher education to which I have dedicated my whole professional life.
- This focus on retention/completion is just one further example of the dumbing down of the academy. And I am not having any part of it.
- Retention is an absolute minimum standard for students. It says nothing about what they are learning; what they can do; what value we have added. Surely we can have a more substantive conversation and resulting set of goals for higher education than this minimalist approach.
- The question shouldn’t be “what can/should we do to retain more students?” It should be: “What can we do to increase student learning?” Or “What would we have to do to create an excellent first year of college? If we did that, we could greatly increase our retention!”
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not blaming my faculty colleagues for not getting on the completion agenda bandwagon. They have thoughtful objections concerns about this focus and must be heard. If we don’t address these ways of looking at our completion agenda challenges we can never be more successful. I understand why many of my colleagues view this student success work in these lights. This is a challenge I embrace. Long live academic freedom so that all of us are more explicit, honest and purposeful about the purposes of higher education. We must constructively address these skeptics about the merits of the completion agenda.
John N. Gardner
I am writing this several days after attending the 32nd annual First-Year Experience Conference. During that event several educators raised the point with me about the importance of mentoring and, more specifically, how does one go about finding a mentor? Sounds like a simple question. Some of us who have naturally fallen into a mentoring process by the good fortune of having someone offer to be a mentor may find it hard to understand why someone would even have to ask how to find a mentor.
While I don’t have any empirical data on this, my experience suggests to me that most of my fellow higher educators if they have been mentored at all, have been in an informal relationship structure and not one that the institution intentionally provided. This is in spite of the fact that there are enough academic studies to justify colleges and universities establishing formal mentoring structures. The evidence is compelling; those organizations that have such have higher employee morale, see less turnover, and more rapid upward employee mobility. And this is particularly important for women and members of other underrepresented groups.
Of course, this also relates to the field of student success where we have long realized the importance of providing at least one significant “other” for every entering college student. This could be an academic advisor, classroom instructor, counselor, or peer mentor. And we know after forty years of looking at the impact of college that the greatest influence on students during the college years is the influence of other students. This would suggest the special importance of students mentoring students—and of having the students you want mentoring students doing that!
That was what really struck Betsy Barefoot and I when we were working on the research study, “Institutions of Excellence” back in 2002. In our study we had the privilege and pleasure to study the unique approach to the first year at the United States Military Academy, where every first-year student is assigned an upper class mentor. What is particularly unique about this structure is that the mentor, the more advanced student, is held accountable for the performance of the mentee. Just imagine the impact if we could replicate that mentoring model in conventional higher education settings! That would enable us to intentionally teach students how to be responsible as the core learning objective. A colleague of mine, Dr. Michael Siegel, now of Suffolk University, and I wrote a case study of the West Point mentoring model and other elements of their first-year (Plebe) experience, which was published in the 2005 Jossey-Bass book, Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College (Barefoot, Gardner, et al)
When I was teaching the first-year seminar at the University of South Carolina one of our recommended assignments for the students was one that would result in the “mentor paper.” We tasked each student with viewing the first term of college as a period in which success, both immediate and longer term, would be engendered by the selection of a mentor. We discussed why to select one, how to do so, and who might be possible mentors. And then we required the students to submit an end-of-term paper describing the mentoring relationship they had entered and its outcomes to date. I would tell my students if they couldn’t find anyone else, they would be stuck with me in this role. One of the persistent outcomes from University 101 for forty years now is higher retention rates for course participants. Mentoring may be a factor in this outcome.
Back to the original question: how to find a mentor? One consideration is whether or not to seek one who is also an employee of the same organization that employs you—let’s call this an internal mentor. There are pros and cons to that. The pros: this person will know the organization well and the other players. Cons: there are things you ideally might want to share but may not wish to divulge. An additional consideration there would be whether to find a person in the immediate unit in which you are appointed or another unit in the institution but not in your reporting lines. Another possibility, of course, is to select someone in a comparable specialty but not employed at the same institution. A further alternative would be to select somebody whose personhood and accomplishments you admire but is of some entirely different profession. I think there should be some common features to any of these types of individuals, including:
- they are at least a half to full generation older than you
- they have core values that are consistent with your own
- they have demonstrated themselves to be trustworthy
- they have shown a pronounced inclination to the sponsorship of others
- they have accomplished themselves in ways that you respect, and are perhaps replicable by you
- they are approachable
- you have heard them speak about someone who mentored them
For reasons I do not fully understand, I think people feel awkward about asking someone to accept them in a mentor/mentee relationship. Perhaps the concern is that the person being asked may think there is something less than fully desirable about the person asking because the request reveals that no one has yet adopted the person as a mentee. Personally, I think that reaction is highly unlikely. Instead of anticipating that presenting such a request would be potentially embarrassing, I think a more appropriate and accurate way of looking at this is to view it as extending a very high compliment to the person being asked. This doesn’t exactly happen every day. And a person who has accomplished significantly to deserve being a mentor will know how to react and put the requestor at ease. One of any mentor’s qualities should be empathy and there is likelihood the mentor made a similar request some time previously of someone else, and then benefited significantly from that mentorship.
I entitled this piece “How would I find a mentor?” I never answered that question with respect to myself. My first mentor, my first President at the University of South Carolina, found me. He adopted me. I never had to ask him. But I certainly did thank him and honor him. He made a death bed request of me not to ever give up my work on the first year. And I am honoring that today some 32 years later. My next mentor was my Dean. And he adopted me too. I also had a fellow student mentor when I was in college, who was a year ahead of me. Later in our lives, we reversed roles and I mentored him. I could go on. I have had a long list of mentors and I never asked one of them. But I realize I am different in this regard. So if you don’t have one, I urge you to become more intentional about this and ask someone. As I used to tell my students when I was teaching them the principles of public speaking, about which they were terrified: “what is the worst thing that could happen to you if this doesn’t go well?” Asking someone to mentor you should be relatively low stakes if you don’t receive the desired outcome… and potentially high stakes if you do.
John N. Gardner
Several years ago my wife and I made our first visit to South Africa and we noted and I blogged at the time about my strong reaction to the repeated references I heard to the importance of social justice. The main thrust of my observation was that we used to talk that way in the United States, back in the 60’s and 70’s but rarely do I hear such language in the 21st century, even on college and university campuses. And when I do, it is only on campuses in the bluest of the blue states.
I am reminded of and write about this again today because I am writing this posting after a two-day visit to a Canadian research university. I have just spent an intensive interactive experience with about 65 faculty, administrators, staff and students sequestered in a fairly confined meeting space. So I was able to hang on every word.
And the one word I heard repeatedly, that I don’t hear in similar settings in my country was the word “equity.” The word was used in the context of why this institution could or could not do certain things—because they either would or would not support the national commitment to “equity.” As was put to me multiple times: “We are committed to equity.” I just don’t hear my fellow Americans talking that way.
I lived in Canada for five years when I was a child. I had an excellent education there. And I have visited twenty of so Canadian post secondary institutions in my adult life and hosted numerous Canadian/American conferences on the first year. So, more than most Americans I consider myself understanding of and sensitive to the elements of Canadian history and culture. I know how much more carefully they observe us, follow us, and think about us and our influence than we do them. And while they love to visit Florida and Arizona in the winter, they definitely do not want to be like us.
And one of the ways they do not want to be like us is our retreat from the national goal of equity. They are very aware of the enormous differences of distribution of wealth in the US and how this plays out in disparities in higher education access, resources, attainment, and so many other areas of American life.
I left Canada reflecting on the meaning, significance and power of just that one little word. And I am reminded that for my adult professional life I have been pursuing my own version of equity: justice for first-year students. I am encouraged that my readers share this commitment with me.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a very thoughtful, insightful friend, who knows me pretty well overall. And I respect his perceptions of things greatly. We were talking about my work and he described me as an “ideologue.” This label stunned me. Then I thought, no, I better sit back and consider it.
Part of the context of our conversation arose out of a discussion we were having about the spate of recent comparisons between Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama; and in the case of Lincoln the popular attention he has been receiving recently driven by the film “Lincoln”; and in our current President’s case, the focus of his second Inaugural address. The comparison of both revolved around their capacity to focus, keeping their eye on the prize, with unwavering concentration on a single driven purpose; in the case of Lincoln, this being, of course, the securing of the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery. Further context was a January 27, 2013 Sunday New York Times article in the Business section, talking about the use of Lincoln as a case study in business schools of CEO management styles.
When the conversation turned to me, I took umbrage, sort of, and challenged that descriptor of “ideologue.” My friend hastily qualified that he had not meant this as a negative at all and offered alternative language to elaborate on what he meant. That language was on the order of me leading a charge, at times a kind of “battering ram” (his words, not mine), and he even used the term “crusade.” That word in term reminded me of the ideologues who organized and led the crusades and slit the throats of the resisting “infidels.”
So, John, does the shoe fit?
Let me deconstruct the definition, briefly:
1. “impractical”; perhaps at times, but usually I would have to say I am the ultimate pragmatist who tries very hard to practice of the art of the possible. I am sure that when I launched the first-year experience movement and began attempting to persuade the academy to take the first year more seriously, that I had plenty of skeptical observers who were saying this attempt was not very “practical.” And by that they would have meant realistic or promising. I believe I have proved them wrong.
2. “idealist”: yes, absolutely, I own that. In fact, my largest single current professional preoccupation is with a process called Foundations of Excellence ® which has engaged 245 colleges and universities in the use of an idealistic and aspirational set of “Foundational Dimensions of Excellence” (see www.jngi.org). So, yes, there are many manifestations to my idealism. This is a central part of my character, core values and behaviors, dating to my high school days when I first came out of the closet to challenge my peer group with a more idealistic argument to do something which they didn’t want to do (I lost that argument—but that is another story).
3. “blindly partisan”: I admit that I am “partisan” but I would not acknowledge the “blindly.” I believe that to the extent humanly possible I recognize and respect educational philosophies and practices that are different from my own. I understand those differences and often acknowledge their merits. When this comes to politics, the gift of academic freedom has given me the opportunity to be comfortably more partisan than many (without fear of retribution like losing my job), but I think and hope in a very civil way.
4. “theorist”: yes, I own that. I have developed theories for a more preferable state of affairs for first-year, sophomore, transfer, and senior students. I have written and spoken extensively on my views about how to enhance student success in these transitions.
5. “adherent of a particular ideology.” Yes, I own that too. So what then is that ideology? Well, it is my philosophy of student success (unabridged):
a. Successful access to and attainment in higher education is the principal channel of upward social mobility in the United States.
b. Rates of failure and attrition are unacceptable and represent an enormous waste of human resources and capital. The largest amounts of failure and attrition during the college experience take place during or at the completion of the first year (or the equivalent thereof).
c. Necessary changes in pedagogies, policies, and curriculum must be based on sound assessment practices and findings, but this assessment must be mission-related and must pay appropriate respect to the vast diversity of American postsecondary institutional types. Institutions want and need to be able to compare their performance in the first college year with peer institutions and/or with aspirational groups in terms of learning outcomes vis a vis recognized, desirable standards.
d. The public demand for accountability is increasing and will continue to do so. In order to satisfy this demand, campuses must have more data on their student characteristics, what those students experience in college, how and what they are learning, and whether they are improving and receiving value-added knowledge and experiences.
e. Any efforts to improve the beginning college experience must be more connected to the K-12 pipeline than they are today. Although there are many notable efforts, the pre-college and college experiences are still largely unconnected.
f. Any effort to more seriously improve academic success during the first college year must involve more of the faculty and must be legitimized by the disciplinary cultures and bodies which measure and determine the criteria for success and advancement of faculty in their subcultures. A central issue is faculty resistance to change and the resulting need to vastly increase faculty buy-in to these proposed first-year initiatives.
g. The roles of campus chief executive, chief academic and chief financial officers, and trustees are also critical for mobilizing institutional change, for determining priorities, and for finding and allocating necessary personnel and fiscal resources; more attention must be paid to the knowledge of the first college year possessed by these four leadership categories and how they act upon this knowledge. In addition all important campus middle managers—deans and department heads—who either promote or inhibit change, must also be addressed in like fashion. Another key cohort is the institutional research professionals and other colleagues who are responsible for assessment and reaccreditation self-studies.
h. The most dominant perception held by the public and its elected representatives in terms of where responsibility for college student learning/failure rests is that the problems we face in higher education attainment are most fundamentally due to the failure of college students to take sufficient responsibility for their own learning. Pat Callan’s NationalCenter for Public Policy and Higher Education, in its 1999 report “Taking Responsibility,” stated the following:
We also found agreement on what these leaders take to be the most serious problem facing higher education. For these leaders, the real obstacle is not the price tag, but the fact that many students are not sufficiently prepared to take advantage of a college education . . . the most critical factor in higher education is the responsibility taken by students themselves.
While we recognize the enormous importance of student responsibility as a basis for their learning, we will not join in full agreement this chorus of student bashing and blaming the victim. Instead, we believe that responsibility has to be jointly and equally shared by the postsecondary institutions that have admitted these students and by the students themselves.
i. The first college year should be transformational; pedagogies of engagement are known, necessary, and desirable, and student learning in the first year also must be tied to issues of civic concern.
The foundation of all the outcomes we desire from American higher education, for better or worse, is laid in the first college year. Unfortunately, most campuses have very little research-based data on the effectiveness of their first college year, and thus more assessment of that year (and the tools to do so) is in order.
As my regular readers may recall, I live with my wife in a small mountain town of about 6000 people (Brevard, N.C.). We love it here. And one of the things we love about it is that it is so easy to get involved, feel connected, and take the pulse of the community. We did that in one particular manner recently by going to a “youth talent show” sponsored by the local Arts Council.
On any given day I really don’t know what to think about what kind of country we are. We have certainly become a country of polar opposites—rather than “polar” I guess I should reference other geographic markers, such bi-coastal, urban vs. rural, etc. And human group markers, such as age, gender, ethnicity, race, etc. In just the past few months, there has been significant movement on the one hand to embrace immigrants and people of different sexual orientations; and there has been movement to elevate the safety of all children over the rights of a minority, gun owners who oppose any restrictions to the unlimited right to bear arms; and the marshaling of massive resistance to all these directions. And if all of that wasn’t enough, well here this week the Board of Directors of the Boy Scouts of American actually met and discussed what to do about its traditional policy of denying membership and involvement at any level to gay males. Just what is our country coming to? I feel very torn between all these currents.
But I know that the future of all these issues are going to be decided by the youth of our country as they gradually age, gain the franchise, etc. And there is much evidence they are not nearly as hung up on the same issues that divide their parents. This makes me hopeful. I certainly saw that when I was teaching my students in South Carolina.
I have often suggested to fellow educators that if they want to see who is coming in the pipeline to our colleges and universities, spend some time on a high school campus. I do that several times a year and do pro bono work with kids that are either committed to going to college or at least considering it. I gain as much from these sessions as I do.
Another way to get a fix on who is coming to college and what their interests and talents are would be to go to a local talent show, of ages say up to eight years off from going to college. We did this recently. I was not surprised to see that females were much more willing in this subgroup anyway to display talents publicly than males. The overrepresentation of one gender was significant, but not unusual. I was also pleased to see kids of different socio-economic, racial and ethnic groups performing together, even in this very rural, “red”, southern setting. The conveying of talent through music was the most common form of expression. Too bad that opportunity seems to fall of drastically once kids get to college. There, for most of them, the real action, what matters, for credit, is definitely not the musical expression of talent.
Another thing I enjoyed about this event was that it was nice to see parents applauding and hugging their kids for some other kind of performance than athletics.
The most moving expression of talent was a composition written and sung by four females as a memorial to the victims of the Newtown shootings. We often think kids forget all too quickly, but I have never believed that. They know and remember what really matters.
Surely your community, local high school, and middle school, have talent shows you could check out and get a sneak preview of who’s in the future high performing pipeline.