One recent SAn instance is the young jazz drummer who is currently the youngest student enrolled at UCT. In such cases, it could of course always be argued that the ability to master the craft in question has always been latent in the child anyway, so it is hard to see how one might test or falsify the hypothesis. What is clear is that exposure is essential, and the earlier, the better.
Yup. Perhaps it is possible to turn any average kid into Mozart or Einstein, but the school cannot do it. It is way too late by the time kids get to school.
Now one solution that is implemented by the school I work for is to have a preschool, where kids are enrolled while still in diapers, and they spend their whole day there, every day, in the presence of adults who supervise them, play with them, stimulate them and speak nothing but English to them. I find that kids that went through that process do indeed cope way better when they reach primary school than kids who spent their first few years on grandma's back in a Limpopo township. But preschool or not, the vast majority of kids are still dumb as a brick, so I am increasingly of the opinion that Einsteins and Mozarts are born, not made, or at least, that they cannot be made without the potential already being there.
One has to ask then, given that the vast majority of kids will one day do menial or technical work, why do we have so many academic schools and virtually no vocational ones? The reasons, I suspect, are almost entirely political. Denying reality has becoming a national pastime.
But when it comes to physical activities such as sport, we’re not too wary to say to kids, “Sorry, but you’re just not good enough to play on the school/provincial/national team.” In stark opposition to the assumption that all young children are greedy intellectual sponges, we see SA’s abysmal literacy and numeracy rates among school leavers, even those who made matric.
This is something that struck me too: when it comes to sport, we have no problem at all with the belief that there are talented and untalented kids. But when we hold the same belief about academic prowess, we are suddenly evil elitists (not to mention Eurocentric - oh, the horror.)
I don’t know what the answer is but it seems we need an urgent rethink of basic education in the light of national priorities and the national status quo. Trying to copy what is done in other countries is probably not optimal to begin with. Then again, does the government genuinely have an interest in an educated populace of sovereign individuals capable of eschewing groupthink?
If my thesis is correct, the government will never have to worry about a populace capable of critical thinking. That will remain the domain of a small number of individuals, whether we have good schools or bad ones. What we DO have at the moment though, is a school system that not only fails to teach kids how to think, it fails to teach them anything at all. They leave school with no skills of any kind. At the school where I work, the principal goes through staff at an incredible rate, hiring and firing assistants on an almost weekly basis. The only ones who manage to stick it out are immigrants, who are willing to actually work and are not the products of South Africa's public school system.
Regarding those drawings, I’m not sure what sort of feedback you would like. While there are minor differences between them, the two drawings are clearly of the same scene. Did you show the pupils a photo or drawing and ask them to render the scene from memory? Or did you first explain to them the basic ideas around perspective and focal points, and then describe to them in words the scene you would like them to draw? Something else? That is, what is the process that prompted the drawings to take the arrangement they have? Did you place any restrictions or special requirements? The reason I ask is because this process is important in order to gauge the degree of abstraction and contemplation that was needed to produce the drawings, as this would affect their instructive value.
The reason why I wanted some skeptical feedback is because the kids themselves, the school principal, the parents and all my friends are in ecstasy about those drawings and apparently think I have almost god-like powers as teacher. This is wonderful for the ego, but the thing is, the reason why the drawings all look good, and also all look the same, is because I showed the kids how to make them, step by step, making my own drawing on a big piece of paper stuck onto the board and then having them follow along.
Which is to say, I followed the Japanese/Korean model: I eschewed trying to get them to be creative and instead showed them how to do it, and strictly made sure everyone was following my instructions and not goofing off (something at which ten year-old kids are experts :-). Silly spoonfeeding or sensible way to do it? I genuinely don't know, but I know from personal experience that the vast majority of primary school kids cannot work independently at all. Without someone showing them how to do it, they would never get anywhere close to making a drawing in perspective, or indeed doing anything else.
If my assumptions are correct, this way of doing will in no way prevent genuinely talented kids from quickly progressing beyond what I teach them, while the non-talented ones will have acquired at least a basic skill. On the other hand, they don't learn to take any initiative. But perhaps most of them simply can't anyway. That seems to be the assumption in Asian countries.
I once attended a Japanese fair hosted by a Japanese school in Johannesburg (where the children of diplomats and business people on long term assignments are schooled). I was quite astonished at the academic and artistic skills of those kids; even grade ones made absolutely beautiful brush drawings and flower arrangements. What was very striking though was the same phenomenon you see with my own students' drawings above: it all looked the same. The kids were not exercising autonomous creativity; they were in all probability following instructions step by step.
As I mentioned before, I genuinely don't know if this is perhaps the way to go. It doesn't seem to prevent talented Japanese from becoming hugely accomplished scientists and engineers. During above-mentioned drawing lesson, another thing struck me: the class was remarkably quiet and studious. Even a lad who usually spends more or less all his time teasing girls, throwing things around and generally disrupting the class, was glued to his drawing for a whole hour and was making a real effort (and his drawing worked out well, just like everyone else's). Had I simply given them paper and told them to be creative and "just draw something, whatever you like", most of them would have done nothing at all.
In terms of their execution, the requirement seems to have been pencil and ruler. Some of the elements are disproportionate (most obviously, the lines on the road) but this is something one finds frequently in African art.
You see it a lot in children's art in general, and indeed in the art of any untrained adults. I have been drawing for almost three decades and I still make proportion errors myself. :-)
Anyway, my impression with the drawing lesson was that the kids greatly enjoyed it, and all seemed to feel a genuine sense of accomplishment at their drawings - many adults told me and the kids they would not be able to make drawings like that. But did the children learn critical artistic thought? Probably not.
Anyway, as I said, art is perhaps not the most critical of their subjects. What bothers me most is that while all of them can read quite fluently, virtually none of them understands a word of what they read. But I suppose that's a topic for another thread. :-)