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Writing & Education

Today I will post the second essay. The issue is fairly polemic and I tried to be a bit provocative along the text. To put you in the context I will give a short explanation: A guy named Bruno Bettelheim wrote an essay about grouping the “gifted children” in special classrooms. “Gifted children” would be those ones who prematurely present some remarkable talent, whether it be in music, sport, science... As proposed, I wrote a response to his arguments. There are moments that I develop his ideas and others I disagree. Unfortunately I do not have an electronic version of his paper; anyway, my first paragraph tries to summarize his opinions.

I did not avoid clichés and, this time, no one reviewed the text. (Hope you don’t mind with any grammar mistakes or word choice).

Hoje eu vou postar o segundo texto. O assunto e certamente polemico e eu tentei ser um pouco provocativo ao longo do texto. Para colocar quem for ler dentro do contexto, vou escrever uma breve explicação:

Um cara chamado Bruno Bettelheim escreveu um texto sobre agrupar “crianças talentosas” em classes especiais. “Crianças talentosas” seriam aquelas que demonstram algum notável talento prematuramente, seja em musica, esporte, ciências… Como proposto, eu escrevi uma resposta aos seus argumentos. Em alguns momentos eu desenvolvo suas ideias e em outros discordo. Infelizmente eu não tenho a versão eletrônica do texto dele; ainda assim, meu primeiro paragrafo tenta resumir suas opiniões.

Eu não evitei clichés e, dessa vez, ninguém realmente revisou o texto.


In his essay Bruno Bettelheim argues against grouping the gifted children in special classroom. He states that such attitude “may create serious problems for them [gifted children] and for society”. To support his idea, Bettelheim starts with a counterargument about the belief that gifted children become easily bored in regular classes. He claims that feeling bored may be a direct response of someone who lacks the ability in managing his anxieties. Then, the author says that even if the classes were easy for the students, they would fulfill their intellectual necessities in the free time, extending their interests and appreciations on many subjects. Also, by studying in regular classes, these children would have a “feeling of security” due to their capacity of learning fast and easily, increasing their confidence when facing intellectual problems. In a slow-pace class, these students would have no big worries, and as a result, they would be more spontaneous and improve their critical judgment. In addition, by mixing the gifted and average students in the same class, non-gifted children could improve their abilities by example. Finally, he argues about the needs of the society, saying that perhaps now, we need more scientists and engineers quickly; but in 30 years, what would be our necessities? As a final conclusion he asserts that “special education of gifted children do not rest on scientifically solid ground” and suggests that we would need “carefully balanced and controlled experiments” to understand the consequences when grouping these children.

I agree with him in many aspects of his ideas. I do not think to segregate students in full time could be a very health way to improve abilities and capacities. Education is not a factory of mass production where you select determined raw material and forward to the production line. It is a rather complex process. Many factors and variables may be taken into account, ranging from the social interaction, self-knowledge to cognitive development. Still, I think that, together with regular classes, some special classes or activities may be offered. For example, athletics may be players in a school soccer team, musicians have space in a school band, or remarkable students meet in weekly reading and discussion groups.

In the beginning of his essay, Bettelheim writes about boredom and anxiety, arguing that a bored child may be in fact an anxious child. He points out the findings of psychoanalyze to support his statement. I was intrigued and a bit surprised about such argument, although I should say that thinking acutely it makes senses. When someone is always uncontrollably searching for something, it may be hard to stop. The biggest challenge is not being challenged. In such cases, anxiety can be very high and the feeling of boredom may be a straight reflex, as a direct response to this endless searching. Certainly the pressure for results that some gifted children carry on themselves is not the best way to have a balanced life. As Bettelheim says: “to feed his neurotic defense mechanisms may serve some needs of society, but to nourish his neurosis certainly does not help him as a human being”. This neurotic behavior might be stimulated, and, ultimately, might have some benefits for society. For example, it could be good for the next generations the growth of a workaholic medicine researcher who primarily sleeps and studies. He would hardly stop and probably feel easily bored in any activity other than his job. As a result, the successful doctor could develop unique vaccines to prevent diseases, as well as technically remarkable medicines. In the end, he would be remembered for many following years. Then, I would ask: Was he ever satisfied? The society filled its demand, but what about the doctor?

Also, I would argue that, frequently, brilliant minds need psychological help. The talent can be evident and impressive; when exposed for few moments it may amaze our intellect, eyes and senses. Still, we do not know what the gifted is thinking about it, as a human being with all his intricate amount of feelings and thoughts. Fernando Pessoa, a genius Portuguese poet, has many times shared his intimae thoughts with us. Melancholically, he wrote: “Não conto gozar a minha vida; nem gozá-la penso; Só quero torná-la grande, ainda que para isso tenha de ser o meu corpo e minha alma a lenha desse fogo. Só quero torná-la de toda a humanidade; ainda que para isso tenha que perder como minha”. [Do not enjoy my life story, nor enjoy it I think; I just want to make it big, although it has to be my body and my soul to fuel this fire. I just want to make it to all mankind, for it has yet to lose as mine]. The list of musicians is rather long too, and in the extreme cases I sadly remember strong and unique names such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elis Regina or Amy Winehouse. Probably they had difficulties in managing their tremendous talent and dying early was a tragic – irremediable – collateral effect. The cineaste Woody Allen likes to approach this theme. The devoted director and screenwriter points out in his plots some of the relationships troubles and self-struggles faced by artists (e.g. Sweet and London [1999], Vicky Cristina Barcelona [2008]) or very intelligent people (e.g. Whatever works [2009]).

Following this reasoning, I think that teachers and relatives should have a holistic view towards their children. Arguably, the child is building his personality. The musician will probably be more sensitive and the engineer more analytic. Thus, to separate them to have special and isolated education may have many different responses.

Still in the point of boredom, which argues that gifted children become easily bored in classroom, I think that sometimes, even if it is interpreted as a psychological defense to anxiety, it may have some true fundament. At the same time that they could develop anxieties, they can be bored – these two feelings still related. Bettelheim states: “Psychology, like nature, does not permit a vacuum”. Here the author introduces his idea that these children might fulfill their intellectual interests in the unscheduled time. I agree and believe that it can be true. Many scientists are also musicians, writers and have a broad interest on many subjects. The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould loved music, literature, baseball, science fiction movies, the Renaissance architecture, besides to speak French, German, Russian, and Italian. Going back in time, the genius Leonardo Da Vinci painted “Mona Lisa” and studied anatomy, Goethe wrote “Faust” and technical books about botany, and Aristotle expressed his thoughts from physics to psychology. Yet, all of them could be bored in classroom, sometime. But, as the anxieties and pressures, they can learn how to manage it. Every life, gifted or not, has an amount of tediousness and boredom. And it is boring, I know. When it is too much and starts to prejudice the child performance and healthy, something has to be done. They have to feel good and confident, as any person should.

Finally, I think that many of my ideas are compatible with those of Bruno Bettelheim, although I have a more moderate point of view. As Bruno, I do not agree with grouping the gifted children in separate classes or even schools. However, I think that may be healthy for them to have opportunity extra class or in class to develop their specifically skills. Perhaps it could be a good idea some academic mobility and elective disciplines. But things have to have their own time. Our actual society is hurriedly searching for fast and practical results. As the Machiavelli maximum, “the ends justify the means”, were markedly present. Sometimes it is good to stop and take a look around; just to make the means more important than the end.

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