When my children were in elementary school, our school district had a program known as the “Gifted and Talented Program,” or “G&T” for short. If your child was lucky enough to be one of the chosen, he or she would have access to special programs that would not only enlighten but challenge, to help prepare the child for life. So when my older son was selected for testing, I was ecstatic, certain he would be plucked from the pedestrian sameness of the “regular” classroom and elevated to the ranks of one of “the gifted.”
But when that paper came home from school announcing he had not met the program’s requirements, I was compelled to call the director of the program, certain she had erred in her judgment. “My son gets consistent top grades, in every class, and has since kindergarten,” I said, trying to keep the shriek that was cluttering my head from inflecting my voice. I was an adult, after all. I could discuss this woman’s obvious lack of vision without stooping to childish jibes or name-calling. I only wish she had been as caring in her remarks to me.
“Your child is certainly bright,” she said in this bored tone, as if she’d been repeating the same remark to every other rejected child’s parent. “But he’s not gifted.”
If any reading this are mothers, you know the kind of rage that phrase will elicit, and I was no exception. Still, I kept my cool. “Excuse me?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“I mean his verbal skills are extraordinary, but the math skills aren’t at a level which would enable him to keep up in this program. We want to challenge the children, not set them up for failure.”
Okay, I knew that language was his strength and he had to work a bit in math — she had me there — but I was still angry, and for one of the few times in my life I didn’t bite my tongue, didn’t try to stabilize the rocking boat.
“I understand that he might not be appropriate for your program,” I said, my voice trembling with the disgust I felt for this woman, this so-called educator whose self-righteous whims might make or break a child’s school career. “But you’re so wrong about him. He is gifted. In fact, every child is gifted in one way or another, and it appalls me that you, the director of a public education program, hold such a view.”
By now my heart was hammering against my chest, and my breathing was jerking and spiking to the point I feared I would start hyperventilating, so I slammed the phone back into its cradle and tried to forget about that horrible woman and her lame “G&T” program. I never spoke to her again, never even considered allowing my younger son to be tested for the program. And of course they both did fine, each excelling in areas where their strengths lay, areas where each was gifted.
And I do believe that. My defense of my child, of all children, hadn’t been empty rhetoric. I do believe that each child born is gifted with something that can (and should) be used to better the world. I believe God made us that way. Some are born leaders, skilled at designing long-term strategies, while others are skilled at putting those strategies into action. Some are born with the ability to sing, or to pull sounds from instruments that make us think of the heavens. Others can translate what they see before them into works of art that capture humanity, or nature, in perfect truth, the same way mathematicians can create reason out of random numbers. Some are skilled healers, others skilled orators who can argue for justice. Our gifts and abilities are many but share one common denominator: Each is a vital cog that brings order and happiness to this machine we call the world.
To me, the hard part isn’t necessarily figuring out what each person’s gift is (I believe it’s what creates that passion in each soul), it’s figuring out how to use the gift on a daily basis. It’s even more difficult to determine how to make a living at it. That’s the goal I dreamed for my children: that each would be able to make an honest living at whatever fulfills that passion in his soul. It’s a lofty dream, I know, one that few ever attain. But in my view, it’s the what God and nature intended, and it’s what I want for my children, and myself.
Others, like my sister, are much more pragmatic. While I’ve been known to whine over the years about being bored in one job or another (some of which paid quite well), feeling unfulfilled and unchallenged, she has counseled to suck it up, count your blessings and make as much money as possible so you can afford to do what you love in your down time.
She makes a good point, but I still can’t help but think that if you’re doing what you love, you don’t see each day as an endurance test to pass the time until the five o’clock whistle blows. So I wonder, on a day like today, Labor Day, a day we set aside to celebrate the efforts and ingenuity of the American worker, how do you feel? How many are content to toil away in jobs that leave them unfulfilled but pay well, saving their “gifts” for simple avocation or fun? And how many have taken that leap of faith, thrown worries of monies to the wind, and set their goals on fulfilling nature’s promise by using those gifts every day?
I’m fortunate that I have now a job which allows me to use my passion, at least within the context of my responsibilities, but what about you? Do you labor for money, or love?