153. Specialists

It’s a fact of life that there are people who are especially good at some things. Often, they’re people who aren’t so good at other things, and they cling to their specialties for the sake of their self-esteem. There are some people who don’t seem to be good at anything, and that causes problems. And there are others who seem to be good at everything, and that can cause other problems. But for this article, I’ll focus on the children who are undeniably good at only some things.
The child who’s great at math, soccer, drawing, or whatever can easily slide into the role of specialist. It can be fun to be in that role, and can do wonders for the child’s self-confidence. It can start to define the child. I’ve known children who were undisputed champions at what they did well.
Stephanie, who was in my sixth grade class, could draw horses better than anyone. The horses she drew not only looked like horses; she took that for granted. She drew horses that were doing things – rearing, or pulling carts. If a horse needed to be drawn, Stephanie got the job. I tried drawing horses occasionally, but I never showed anyone. I knew what they’d say: “It’s not like Stephanie’s.” And it wasn’t. I’m cautious, now, about letting myself think of a child as a specialist. It may not be fair to the child; it can distract me from noticing the other things the child does well. It can also be unfair to other children; they’ve got skill, too, and sometimes it’s right on the specialist’s turf. Or if they don’t excel, or even come close, they still ought to feel that they have potential. I still remember the day when I heard someone tell my mother, after spending some time with my brother and me, that one of us was smart and the other was good-looking. It was meant as two compliments, but neither my brother nor I heard any compliment. We heard that one of us was stupid and the other was ugly. It’s better to consider the whole child, not dwell too long on one strength the child has. I wonder what Stephanie is doing now. I wonder whether she used her talent to build a career for herself. I suspect that she was good at drawing things other than horses. She may also have had talent as a photographer, or an architect, and maybe she developed that talent. And I’d like you to consider the possibility that she is now a professor of economics at Duke University, or a jazz musician. Or both. And good at what she does.

Comments are closed.