Saturday, April 12, 2008

Even Mozart Wasn't Good at Everything

I read an interesting article on the WSJ Leisure & Arts page (I won't be able to post a link for awhile, sorry.) In the article, writer Terry Teachout discusses the recently authenticated 1783 Mozart portrait by Joseph Hickel called "Man in a Red Coat". In the article, called "Who Cares What Mozart Looked Like?," Teachout argues that Shakespeare--another master we know little about--has had a much greater influence on Western culture simply because he is a phantom. We have to imagine what kind of a man he is and thus "Might the near anonymity of the genius ... make it easier for us to apply them to ourselves?"

He continues: "Alas, that doesn't work so well with Mozart. Not only do we have a pretty good idea of what he looked like, but we can read hundreds of his letters, and it is hard to square their youthful naîveté with the uncanny power of his music. One of Mozart's friends described him as a man 'in whose personal intercourse there was absolutely no other sign of unusual power of intellect and almost no trace of intellectual culture, nor of any scholarly or other higher interests.'"

This last bit is why I'm writing. Would young Mozart be considered gifted in today's culture? Perhaps--we do like our Suzuki prodigies. But what if his one uncanny power was language? What if it was the ability to trace patterns in human behavior over the course of history or to understand complicated scientific concepts in a short amount of time? Would that child be recognized as gifted? What if the child was gifted in language and history but not in anything else?

The problem is that although students are supposed to be recognized as gifted for excelling in a single subject area, most people seem to believe that in order to merit special programming a child has to be globally gifted. This is simply not true. Most gifted kids, like Mozart, are not gifted in every area of endeavor. Most are not even geniuses in one area of endeavor. However, they do have learning differences that need to be recognized and addressed.

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