Early Expertise: Gumming up the Works

As parents, teachers, and mentors we have a strong influence on children. In their pre-adolescent years, parents are the single most significant influence on the lives of their children. Beyond that, there are competing influences of teachers and friends. Once adolescence kicks in, we all lose out to peer influence. It is arguable about whether parents can retain or regain that ground but we know what we know based on research, experience, and fairly legitimate wisdom.

The legend lives on

All that being said to set the stage for how we, as adults, can shipwreck the development of Expertise.

While the development of Expert level skills must begin at interest, the identification of that interest is a genuine challenge. I have used the example of my daughter and her knack for spotting airplanes. We were looking at pictures with her and one of those was an airplane. Very soon afterwards, we were driving south of the city and she saw an airplane departing from the airport. It was low enough to be seen out of the side windows of the car in the distance. She yelled, “Airplane! There’s an airplane!” and we were delighted that she made that connection from picture to real life and that she remember the name. All very commonplace in the life of a young child, right?

Let us take a simplistic approach to make a point. What if we thought that her recognition of that airplane was based on an inner love of airplanes? What if we then decided to take a turn off the highway and watch airplanes take-off and land for a few hours that day? What if we purchased toy airplanes, constructed paper airplanes, and rented movie after movie about airplanes?

The likely outcome: Our daughter would think that we had a deep love and value of airplanes. She would probably like airplanes because we like airplanes so much. We spent all that time together doing things and talking about airplanes. She might even start initiating activities that revolved around airplanes which would have an entirely new influence.

Let us be extreme.

Fáilte Romhat!

Cut to 20 years later and she is piloting a jumbo jet across the wide Atlantic. She deplanes. She sits in Baile Átha Cliath airport eating her lunch and complaining that she does not really like flying but it is a job and pays well with decent benefits. She is, like many others, a competent pilot. Why not an Expert? She was never really interested.

So, what happened?

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One Comment

  • Reminds me of when I took ballet for two years. I don’t think I was especially good at it, but I really liked it. I liked the warm up exercises. I liked being the Parson in the Owl and the Pussycat.

    When it came time for a third year of ballet, however, my mom didn’t sign me up. I didn’t complain about it. I kept my disappointment to myself.

    Years later I discovered that the reason my mom didn’t sign me up for Year Three was that, as a child, she also took ballet, and she assumed, like her, that I disliked it. Kind of begs the question of why sign me up for ballet to begin with?

    Maybe parents should ask their children, what would you like to do? Or what captivates you?

    I love gardening. My husband loves sailing. Our kids have been exposed to both, but there’s no big push to get them involved.

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