John Mighton – Becoming Visible in 2011 – Rising to our Children’s Potential

John Mighton was one of the fifty-eight who responded to my question: What would you like to become visible in 2011?

John is an award winning playwright, author, mathematician, occasional movie actor and founder of JUMP.  John has a wise and thoughtful eye. While he 'sees' the true potential in each of us he is dedicating his life to ensuring our children get the teachers they deserve.  Here is John's answer to Becoming Visible. 

Rising to Our Children's True Potential

Every society is beset by invisible problems that are among the most difficult to solve, for no other reason than because they are invisible.

The ancient Greeks who conceived of the first democracies were innovative thinkers, but they still took it for granted that some people are born to be slaves, and that women should be excluded from politics. Imagine the male politicians of the day, engaged in a bitter debate over whether they should raise taxes or build a new road?  In the face of the larger issues plaguing Greek society, such debates would clearly be beside the point.

And even now, after the long, painful struggle for democracy in the modern world, the issues that preoccupy our politicians and our media often seem to be beside the point.

Perhaps we have made such slow progress in solving highly visible problems, such as global warming, poverty and systemic violence because, like the ancient Greeks, we are incapable of seeing the deeper causes of these problems as problems in themselves.

There is one such problem that I would like to see become more visible in the next year:  as a society we have accepted without question one of the most destructive tenets of education, namely that children are born with vastly different mental abilities and that only a small minority can be expected to love or excel at learning. The intellectual poverty which we have imposed on the majority of children, out of ignorance of their true potential, may be a major cause of material poverty, because it makes our society less capable of distributing wealth in a fair, rational or sustainable way.

A teacher in Toronto using the JUMP Math program tested her students at the beginning grade of five using a standardized test of mathematical aptitude and found they differed greatly in their abilities and backgrounds. Some scored as low as the 9th percentile and some as high as the 75th, with the average score in the 55th percentile (this range represents a difference of about four grade levels). A year later, the average score for the students was in the 98th percentile with a range of 4 marks. After two years with the same teacher, the entire class signed up for the Pythagoras competition (which is normally only written by top students) and all but three of the students received awards of distinction (with those three coming within a few marks of distinction).

New research in cognitive science suggests that this kind of result should be commonplace. The brain possesses far more potential than anyone suspected, and is capable of developing surprising new abilities with rigorous instruction and practice. (For a summary of this research see David Shenk's book The Genius in All of US: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, IQ and Talent is Wrong, or "The Expert Mind" an article that appeared in Scientific American in 2006.)

If we taught children according to their true potential, and helped them develop their natural passion for discovery and creativity, they would be less driven by insecurity and more capable of adding up the consequences of their actions. They would spend less time worrying about the priority and ownership of ideas, and more time appreciating their actual beauty and the beauty of the struggle to create or discover those ideas.

NOTE: Click the featured Section-Becoming Visible 2011 on the right side of your screen to read the other contributions.

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Click here to read my previous post on John.

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