Our students are all brilliant

Ovo-cirque-du-soleil-662x1024Multiple intelligences and learning styles have taken a bit of a beating lately for reasons I have not followed too closely. Yet tonight I was reminded of the role they all play in our lives and the difference it can make if we know what our genius is and find a way to live our life by it.

My wife and I took our kids to see Cirque du Soleil here in San Francisco tonight. All night I could think only of how many of these geniuses bouncing around on nets, tightropes, trapezes, and walls probably hated sitting in class and most likely couldn't wait to leave school every day so they could get to the place where they felt at home flying through the air with others.

I thought the same thing the other day as I paid $3300 for repairs on my car to a car shop where the mechanics were, as Sir Ken Robinson would say, "in their element." As I am when in the classroom.Maya

I don't mean to imply acrobats and circus folks can't be great students. The woman in  the picture is Maya Kesselman, and she was in my freshman and senior English classes where she worked so hard and did so well. But she came alive when she was swinging around on rings, ropes, or what look like drapes to me but no doubt have some other name. (She is studying circus in Belgium now…)

This obsession our society is developing with test scores and standardization ignores the truth that it takes some kids more time to find out and act on their gifts. I graduated at the very bottom of my class. No idea what I could do (besides play tennis very well). So junior college. And that summer after freshman year a job as a camp counselor working with kids. Never had done it before. But by the end of that summer I knew what I was supposed to do, though it would still take me years to learn how and still more years to come to get better.

Let's try to remember that that kid in third period (or fourth, or seventh–or all of them!) who seems so zero today in our class may have been up all night blogging about some topic, or creating music he hasn't yet found the courage to share, or was tending to his grandmother with a gentleness and humility he never has cause to show in our class but will some day show those whom he cares for as a nurse, a doctor, or some other such role.

Oh, and of all the images tonight that meant the most: my daughter's eyes wide with wonder at all these people did and the sound of my son to my right wowwing all night with awe while I held my wife's hand in the dark of the circus tent on a rainy night in San Francisco.

4 Responses to “Our students are all brilliant”

  1. Kathryn L. Keene M.Ed. January 21, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Great post. Next Tuesday, I’m traveling to Cambridge with a few students and teachers to listen to Howard Gardner speak about his 25 years researching the MI Theory. My life changed when I learned about it 15 years ago. It is also the cornerstone of my program. Anything I can do to deliver information in more interesting ways is important to me. Nice connection to the acrobats…

  2. Thanks for the perspective, Mr. Burke! I enjoyed reading this.

  3. Allyson Simonton January 22, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m just starting a teaching credential program and will soon be in the classroom teaching English despite the fact that I wasn’t an English major and I look about the same age as my soon-to-be students.
    Thanks for reminding me to dig deeper with the students who don’t seem to be interested.

  4. Thank you for a beautiful story with such a powerful message. I love that your kids were in awe and you got to see your former student in such an amazing display of talent. Yes, “our kids” are brilliant yet at times I feel like a lone cheerleader when I look at kids through a “strengths lens”. It’s up to us to give kids the time and experiences to find their unique gifts. All teachers should believe in the brilliance. Thank you.

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