DAVID SHENK AND GENIUS
Practise makes Perfect
David Shenk in his book “The Genius in All of Us,” referenced in Michael Goves most recent speech, argues that we have before us not a “talent scarcity” but a “latent talent abundance.” Our problem “isn’t our inadequate genetic assets,” but “our inability, so far, to tap into what we already have.” Talent is not a thing,” says David Shenk, “it’s a PROCESS.” This is actually quite an arresting thought. Talent doesn’t just come from genes, says Shenk. It comes from the way your genes interact with the environment. This means that, with enough effort, some people can learn how to be excellent at things. The truth is he says “that few of us know our true limits, that the vast majority of us have not even come close to tapping what scientists call our ‘unactualized potential’.” Shenk writes. “Genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses and other genes.” That means there can be no guaranteed genetic windfalls, or fixed genetic limits, bestowed at the moment of conception. Instead there is a continually unfolding interaction between our heredity and our world, a process that may be in some measure under our control. . Forget about genes as unchanging “blueprints” and talent as a “gift,” all tied up in a bow. “We cannot allow ourselves to think that way anymore,” Whatever you wish to do well, Shenk writes, you must do over and over again, even if it results frequent failures. This is known as “deliberate practice,” and over time it can actually produce changes in the brain, making new heights of achievement possible But he is careful to say that we are not born without limits — it’s just that none of us can know what those limits are “before we’ve applied enormous resources and invested vast amounts of time.” He relates his own struggle to achieve. “My attitude toward my own writing is simple: I assume that everything I write is rubbish until I have demonstrated otherwise. I will routinely write and rewrite a sentence, paragraph and/or chapter 20, 30, 40 times — as many times as it takes to feel satisfied.”
Gove used Shenks book to argue that there is plenty of evidence that our children are not, due to their genes or due to their environment (poor background broken home etc), pre-destined to fail at school . Our children can succeed if given the right support and encouraged to stretch themselves. Outstanding state schools can and do demonstrate this, by showing no significant achievement gaps based on their pupils background. Maybe we make too many assumptions about a childs potential or ‘intelligence’ based on too little information.