John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

A Good Way to Get “Up”: Go to a Talent Show

February 12, 2013John N. GardnerInsights0

John Gardner
President

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.

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