Aztecs vs Greeks
...The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.
We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist.
And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.
The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities--in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them.
That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.
The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.
The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good.
The encouragement of wisdom requires an advanced knowledge of history. Never has the aphorism about the fate of those who ignore history been more true.
All of the above are antithetical to the mindset that prevails in today's schools at every level. The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.
In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did.
Speaking for myself, attending Covenant Zone's Blue Revolution meetings for an entire year has been a tremendous education for me, as I've been tested and challenged like never before by my fellow blue scarf covenanters. I emerge with many new facts and figures, but most importantly, I look back and see a way to become a better person, in the ways that matter most: through strengthening of character.
It all comes back to character, that mysterious uniqueness separating us so gloriously from the other living things with which we share our world.
Having knowledge is one thing, but how you use it, the things you choose to do and especially, the things you choose not to do: this is the difference that schools are at pains to teach its students. Is it even their business? Probably not, for the decisions we make as growing and changing human beings, on subjects that matter the most, Family, Faith, and Fortune, must come from teachers whose credentials are the lives they themselves have lived... credentials no "school" can match.
Entering these three arenas, we approach their individual challenges recognizing the confounding mystery that surrounds each of them, that no school can fully resolve for us. These three puzzles require a lifetime of experiences, relived again and again by those around us, to even begin to be understood. Therefore the more we compare our notes with our fellow gladiators in the arena, generation after generation, nation after nation, covenant to covenant, the more we can dare to believe that we continue to march towards further penetration of their mystery.
The nearer we get, the more we realize: all three are, somehow, all the same thing.
I read Charles Murray's editorial today through the eyes of a student of a year's worth of blue scarf gatherings, and I discover I am seeing a different article than one I would have read had I never gathered the nerve to attend that first meeting so long ago. The degree of difference I perceive in myself, between then and today, is due to two gifted teachers, who never made their pupil feel like he wore a dunce cap no matter how unequal his status may have been.
Happy Anniversary, fellow blue revolutionaries!