Passion/Talent Based Learning (“PTBL”): A Frank No Non-Sense Preliminary Conceptual Model

Passion/Talent Based LearningPassion and talent are necessary precursors for competency and skill set development. Passion is the fuel and driver for success in any field. Talent speaks for itself. It is often nature and/or G-d given. Skill sets cannot be built if the student’s passions are not assessed, stimulated and trained up.

Competency-based learning has a deservedly rich history. Noted scholars have contributed to, and enhanced this field (Dubois & Rothwell, Shandler, Spencer, and many others).

There are nearly 700,000 high school dropouts in America: year after year. Forty percent of inner city students do not graduate on time, if at all. This is a national tragedy which has huge cost factors, financially and spiritually, across a myriad of dimensions for our culture. And we can pay for this failure in perpetuity in terms of social service costs, and even jail time. Gordon writes about “The Great Stagnation of American Education.” Since 1990 educational attainment has “slowed to a crawl.” It’s time to innovate!

Inner city students are often multi-talented: they excel in art, music, dance, sport, and other activities. They have energy, imagination, and they are bored. They frequently act out as a function of depression, and a need for stimulation. The boredom factor cannot be underestimated in their environment. Many are “latent freedom writers” waiting to be developed. Too many, however, engage in criminal activity, and often become “cradle to prison” statistics.

Readin’, writin’, and rithmetic’, are marginally relevant for these students, at least for now. Over 40% of all public school students are in special education programs. Many are learning disabled and cognitively impaired.

We must meet these young people where they are, and stimulate their passions and expand their talents. In turn their learning issues often remit, and their cognitive functioning can even improve in concert with their deepening commitment to skill set development and amplification. The force and power of passion and talent can never be under estimated.

If a kid is a master graffiti artist, “capture” him and throw him in a room with graphic arts instructors and the latest and greatest Apple products. Train him up! Help him gain mastery of his talent fueled by his passion. Later, after genuine and earned self-esteem is achieved, he can start to focus more vigilantly on reading, writing, and balancing a checkbook. First things first: harness the passion, reinforce the talent. Grow the person from the inside out.

If a kid is a master auto thief, “capture” him and throw him in a room with security and electronics experts with state of the art equipment. Train him up. Make him an expert in the field. Grow his self-esteem and ego based on achievement and production within standardized job norms.

Corporate America needs to be enlisted in this process big time. There are huge oceans of passion and talent waiting to be harvested in America’s inner cities. Innovation is limitless. The inner city is an open natural arena for corporate initiatives waiting to be mined.

The basic academic skills have a better chance of being taught and mastered after real life/real job skill sets are developed. “Showing up” is a big part of success. You have to be there to play/work there. And the theory maintains that mastery, self-esteem, and pride in performance will generalize and reinforce gain across traditional academic skill tracks after these students get into a groove.

As a culture we project our own norms, values, expectations, “head-sets,” and beliefs onto kids/potential learners/students. We often create curricula which has little relevance for many students. Not all students can become “Renaissance People,” nor should they. Different strengths in brain functioning require different educational technologies. The “core” is within the student; forcing a “core” onto students frequently creates resistance, avoidance, angst, pain. We all know the drill.

Two models have relevance for PTBL: the Waldorf education model pioneered by Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher in 1919, and the University of Miami football recruiting model created by Howard Schnellenberger in 1979. These seemingly wildly disparate models share certain commonalities relevant for PTBL.

Waldorf education is the largest independent alternative education movement in the world. It is a humanistic approach which stresses the role of imagination in the learning process and the value of integrating academic, artistic and practical activities. The goal is to develop people with free, morally responsible and integrated personalities who are socially competent. The student’s capacity for imagination and their inherent talents is the subject of the educational process. The educational assessment process is primarily qualitative, not quantitative.

When Howard Schnellenberger took over as Head Coach at the University of Miami he announced his intention to win a national championship within five years, and he initiated a recruiting strategy aimed at finding and retaining the best local talent. He spoke of mining the “State of Miami.” There was an abundance of talent in Miami’s inner city pockets. The rest is history. The “U” football program and the other majors in the state (FSU and University of Florida) have been legendary.

The essential point is that Steiner and Schnellenberger had the foresight and vision to understand that imagination and talent were supreme drivers of skill set development and achievement. These two educators approached students in a unique manner. And they awakened and harnessed passion enabling talent to thrive.

My model is grass roots and expansive. We are on the brink of disaster in terms of a lack of educational success with a huge segment of our people. We will pay one way, or we pay in other ways.  My model speaks to a critical issue in our culture: sustainability. It’s time to brainstorm like never before, and break down rigid structures that sustain failure and promote methods which do not meet huge numbers of students where they are truly at, struggling just to survive, often in multi-challenging circumstances at home, in school, and in the ‘hood. Each and every student represents a microcosm of our culture’s success going forward.

Christopher Bayer, Ph.D.
Psychologist & Psychoanalyst
NYU Postdoctoral Psychology Program, 1982
1324 Lexington Avenue, Suite 225
New York, New York 10128

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