Simon Caira

Personal Coach, Peak Performance Techniques

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If it's true that our gifts, passions and identity were educated out of us as we grew up, how can we reclaim and rekindle these gifts?



Sir Ken Robinson asks that we be mindful of the 'really extraordinary capacities that children have - their capacities for innovation,' and he contends, 'All kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.'


He says, 'We don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.'

He believes - and I tend to agree - that 'many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized.'

Have you been steered away from your true talents in order to follow a more conventional route to success? Or was it your sense of identity that was in some way challenged and even squandered?


Sir Ken believes that a child's ability to take a chance, to not be frightened of being wrong, is lost by the time they become adults. If this is true I guess it's fair to say there are a lot of us running around with limiting core beliefs that inherently hold us back from our originality and creativity. Beliefs like: I'm frightened to make mistakes, or, I'm scared to be wrong.


Identity statements and beliefs govern our thoughts, behaviors, actions and outcomes. I wonder if you agree that you had your identity, creativity and talents educated out of you and what can be done to rekindle the fire of lost passions and to rebuild those latent talents, qualities and abilities?

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    Lejan .

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    Nov 20 2013: Let us do what we did before we grew up - let us be playful again to find us again.
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      Nov 20 2013: Hi Lejan. Your comment reminds me of something I read recently in Paolo Coelho's Manuscript Found In Accra. It says the question of finding direction in one's life and giving our lives meaning is done in many ways, however there are those that, instead of wrestlng with the question or taking others' opinions as the truth, go back to what filled them with enthusiasm when they were children and devote their life to it.

      I like that idea. And the word enthusiasm has always fascinated me:

      enthusiasm. noun
      1. Intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.
      2. A thing that arouses feelings of intense and eager enjoyment.
      The source of the word is the Greek enthousiasmos, which ultimately comes from the adjective entheos, "having the god within," formed from en, "in, within," and theos, "god."

      Having the god within...
      So maybe it's really worth going back through your wonderful memories to that thing that lit you up during your childhood. That passion. Your entheos.

      "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," said the very quotable Ralph Waldo Emerson
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      Nov 20 2013: Lejan and Simon,
      I wholeheartedly agree that allowing ourselves to be playful, generally supports passion, enthusiasm, and joyful exploration of the life adventure with curiosity!

      Children naturally have these qualities, and then at a certain point in their lives, are often told to "grow up", and be an adult. We are multi sensory, multi dimensional human beings, and there is NOTHING that says we cannot be playful, have curiosity, joy, passion, enthusiasm AND responsibility compassion, empathy, etc.

      Although we may have been taught that child-like qualities are not appropriate for an adult, those qualities are always part of us. It is a matter of remembering, practicing and "being" in every moment.
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    Nov 22 2013: I think Sir Ken is largely right. However, once one wakes up to the lost opportunities in a less-than-perfect upbringing, you can always do something about it.
    I quit my well-paid secure academic post in the year 2000 (good year for a change, I thought) without having any game-plan except I was curious to know if I had anything creative and original left in me to express and contribute. It has been a long journey into the inner world, at times despairing and wondering if I had acted too rashly, but I predict it will be worthwhile in the end.
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      Nov 22 2013: I expect you have seen this talk by this enormously popular speaker: http://www.ted.com/talks/randy_pausch_really_achieving_your_childhood_dreams.html

      I agree that one can often do something closely connected to what one once imagined doing. Sometimes it needs to happen alongside other projects. And some projects are more compatible than others.
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        Nov 22 2013: Hello Fritzie,
        Thank you for the link, which I have just watched.
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      Dec 3 2013: Hi Joshua,
      Good luck on your journey. Just wondering: Are we more capable of realigning with our dreams if we are on our own? And what kind of support do we require from those around us when decide to change direction?
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        Dec 3 2013: Hi Simon,
        I think it's harder on one's own. That's why I like to find like-minded people who accept me as I am and thereby give me support (emotional, practical, non-judgemental, friendship); I'm part of a "men's group" which meets fortnightly for support which fulfills part of that. And I'm very fortunate to have a loving and supportive wife too.
        In the bigger scheme of things, I see it as a journey to try and live authentically "in the world, but not of it", whatever the material outcome looks like. I have long since said good-bye to the comfort of a professional career, its status (and its pension!) but I would not have had it any other way - which indicates I guess I'm on the right track. Sometimes you have to jump first, and sort things out afterwards - otherwise if you want to make a change in direction, you might never do it. It's probably easier if one is very clear about the new direction - which probably means it has been growing alongside as a hobby or something. I took a more open-ended plunge.
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          Dec 3 2013: I could relate to every part of your answer, Joshua.
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    Nov 20 2013: I think the more common scenario is that children have potential in lots of areas, both those in academic subjects, creative writing, art/music, languages, and sports that are part of almost every school, and areas that are less commonly included in schools, like mechanical applications or cooking or sewing. As students go through school they do work in a whole range of areas but ultimately tend to focus on one or two, not continuing to develop themselves in the others. It's a strategy of specializing in a couple of things rather than remaining superficially connected to many.

    In some cases they may choose to develop themselves in areas where they really shine or that seem most promising in terms of job opportunities. These are not always their favorite areas. For example, a kid's favorite subject may be drama but he knows there is very little professional opportunity in that area and so decides he would rather prepare himself in engineering because work in that area seems more satisfying than waiting tables or working white sales while going to auditions that pan out only for the very few.

    I am impressed by how many people down the line pick up some of the other interests that really captivate them alongside whatever else they are doing. I have known teachers who play amateur sports, doctors who quilt, professors who play guitar or drum with a band, realtors who paint, and sales associates who are museum docents.

    I think realizing one can pursue a secondary interest on the side, picking up those activities even having ignored them for a decade or more is typically quite feasible. Sometimes it needs to be a less time consuming variant. For example, it would be hard to be two things full time at the same time.

    Relatedly, Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way claims that too many people think they can't write a book unless they quit their day jobs. She argues they can make a commitment to do both and that the experiences of life and work enrich the writing project.
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      Nov 20 2013: Hi Fritzie. Thanks for your input. I would have benefitted greatly by classes in things like DIY, Basic Car Maintenance, Cooking, Sewing, Nutrition. We can dream. And that's a nice thought from Julia Cameraon and I agree that outside of the workplace it's healthy in so many ways to be involved with something you are passionate about to enrich your life. With regard to Sir Ken Robinson's fears, is it possible that we have so many limitations in our own self-belief that sitting down to write a book is something most people would never even attempt because not only have they got time restrictions, they also don't have that internal belief that they'd have something worthwhile to offer?
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        Nov 20 2013: Simon,
        Do you think/feel we genuinely have "so many limitations"? Or is that something we may have been taught to accept? Perhaps you answered the question....."in our own self-belief"? It may be something one believes about him/herself that is not true?
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          Dec 3 2013: Hi Colleen,
          I guess it's fair to say that I believe we have been taught to accept so many limitations. I hold a great vision of potential in every human being and also in our communities.What interests me is how we can break free from limitations. It's been on my mind for a couple of decades now. I believe that our identity beliefs and statements are temporary and are worth checking to see if they support a vision of who you'd like to be and how you'd like to experience your life. For me, one of the most important factors is that our identity beliefs run so much of our thoughts, actions and behaviors that they are like little engines, driving us towards, or away from, situations and outcomes based on who we believe we are and what we deem to be true about ourselves, our lives and the world we live in and experience. Invest in your identity beliefs. If you'd care to read http://simoncaira.blogspot.co.uk/
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        Nov 20 2013: I am old enough that we did take such courses at school - required courses in cooking and sewing.. Nutrition is typically offered now, I think, in secondary school. My high school son is doing such a unit right now. And the last secondary school at which I taught had an auto shop on the grounds for high school students to take auto shop. It must depend where you go to school.

        I do think people make evaluation of which possible undertakings they would be good enough at to succeed and which not and tend to pursue those that offer them a greater chance of a rewarding experience. What people undertake depends in part how successful they feel they would need to be to call it a worthwhile use of time. Would they be happy to have spent the time were their work never published other than self-published? For some, the answer is yes and for others no.

        I would guess there are more hobby writers and hobby artists than at any time in history, particularly with the ease with which anyone can blog and in art, the various resources and communities of practice on the internet. Nanowrimo is going on right now for people who would like to take a crack at writing a novel and need a community to help them stay on course.

        There are great DIY sites also. You might enjoy the TED talk by Dale Dougherty, the originator of Make magazine. And here is a comical TED talk by a Canadian orofessor about what keeps people from pursuing their interests: http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html

        The best book I have encountered on the subject for someone who wants to break through is Steven Pressfield's War of Art. He coined the term Resistance to capture the common barrier within people that keeps them from moving forward.
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        Dec 3 2013: Hi Simon,
        I agree that we have sometimes been taught to accept limitations. I also "hold a great vision of potential in every human being and also in our communities."

        You write...."What interests me is how we can break free from limitations."

        How about starting by recognizing limitations? That is the first step in my perception. If we are aware of certain limitations, why would we want to hold onto them?

        I totally agree, as you say, our identity beliefs and statements may be temporary and are worth checking to see if they support our chosen life goals. Sometimes, people blindly hold onto beliefs and practices that may not adequately support their life goals. Once we recognize that, there is a possibility for change.

        Do our identity beliefs run our thoughts, actions and behaviors? Or do our thoughts, actions and behaviors influence our beliefs? Perhaps both?".

        I observe that when people accept certain beliefs as their own, the thoughts, actions and behaviors usually serve to reinforce those beliefs.

        When we may be seeking to change beliefs, or reconnect with qualities that we may think/feel were "educated out of us", we can change the thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors into something which may support a new, or reconnected belief.

        Changing our thinking, may change our feelings, which may contribute to changing our life experience:>)
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    Nov 20 2013: I will offer 2 answers to your question.
    Short answer: Move our bodies in ways, and hold postures as they were held, before being told to sit down 8 hours a day. Meaning moving as a child. Or moving as humans moved before we started sitting 8 hours a day in school.
    Long answer: I believe children sit through education and get judged by people who are not family. The child has notions of right and wrong from their parents, and also notions of right and wrong from education system.
    A long time ago what was right got a person food, and what was wrong got them killed. This lifestyle probably cultivated instincts. These instincts direct a person's behavior when reacting to stimuli. I believe this to be the essence of a person.
    These instincts were/are forsaken when children are forced to sit in a classroom.
    I believe I was steered away from my true talents when I attempted to get a business degree. All I thought about was busting through the window and enjoying the day outdoors. I approached my philosophy professor one day after class. Can't remember his exact words, but he communicated, if this is not the place for you, then don't be here.
    I dropped out and got a construction job. Found that I was content doing anything, as long as it was outdoors.
    I think group exercise, or rituals involving intricate movements, can be practiced to rekindle the fire of lost passions and rebuild the latent talents, qualities, and abilities. I believe this for 2 reasons:
    1. This is the way things were done for thousands of years.
    2. This way works for me.
    If a group of people practices a set sequence of movements, then values of community and purpose arise. If practiced enough times, an individual may discover certain movements that are easier or more difficult than others, their strengths and weaknesses.
    I think the solution is contained in an individual's journey when seeking these forsaken rituals.
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      Nov 20 2013: Hi Michael. Great to hear you made the leap to the outdoors.
      I completely relate to your ideas about group exercise and that a group of people practicing a sequence of movements can bring community and purpose. From my own experience, back in the late 70's there was a dance hall called the Hammersmith Palais. On a Monday night soul and disco was played and there were times when a couple of guys (one is still a friend of mine) would lead lines of people dancing all in unison with some simple steps. I'm talking a hundred or more people all getting down and funky. It was fantastic to be a part of and something I'll always remember. It felt geat.
      Group drumming is a powerful connector I found as well.
      My father-in-law, whose in his 80's, attends a Tai Chi gathering every morning in his local park. About 30 people gather to perform the movements each day.
      I wonder... What's the reason that this type of gathering and movement is so beneficial?
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        Nov 20 2013: Oh man, that disco sounds fun. Probably a great amount of contrast to the group Tai Chi gathering.
        Benefits I found when training Martial Arts in groups:
        Movements have a history to them. They were set long ago, and cultivated over hundreds of years. This lineage gives purpose(movements have benefited people in the past, and if no one continues to practice, then the movements will not benefit anyone in the future).
        Everyone moves as an individual, while moving as part of a community. All feeling similar sensations of weather, air, etc...
        Going to the same place and performing the same movements every morning means the eyes will look at the same places. Then more subtle changes of the environment can be observed, maybe lead to seeing relations to the world that surrounds, becoming part of nature.
        I think consistency is the value here. Consistent practice provides something to relate other aspects of life to. I don't think it has to be Martial Arts practice, that's just what I interested in. No money for disco these days.
  • Dec 15 2013: Play.
    Play outside. Play some board games. Use your body in playing outside as well as in kinesthetic play with board games.
    Play non-competitive sports.
    That's a first step in the right direction. It seems the sense of play is lost first.

    Fearfulness of mistakes is a form of perfectionism. To break that up a bit, find an activity that you cannot possibly be best at and get involved in it.

    Both of those are key steps I would suggest in breaking up creative paralysis, i.e. two dynamite sticks to blast out the blockage..
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    Dec 9 2013: The path to reclaim the gifts starts first of all with becoming aware that we might have something unique of our own and that it's worth trying to find it. It's about starting to ask questions as you ask hereby like: "Have you been steered away from your true talents in order to follow a more conventional route to success? Or was it your sense of identity that was in some way challenged and even squandered?
"

    From here on it depends personally upon each one's capacity, circumstances and luck, if & how he//she is going to proceed, and whether they reach what they are looking for.
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    Dec 9 2013: I saw a very thought provoking message on Twitter this weekend that has been haunting me ever since: Can you remember who you were before the world showed you who you were supposed to be? Simon's question is about creativity and I think that's where our very basic essence begins. The labels that I've come to inhabit in my adult life really have nothing to do with what I remember as my basic "being" when I was very young. I felt creative even before I was able to use that word, in the sense that I used to think about thinking - pondering the nature of consciousness. So I think looking back and working to recapture very early memories of what we loved when we were very young, our earliest memories of wonder and excitement, could be one path toward recapturing our core passions. Great question!
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      Dec 9 2013: This talk is quite related to your post: http://www.ted.com/talks/randy_pausch_really_achieving_your_childhood_dreams.html

      One question I find interesting is what makes some people retain a strong connection to who they always were, despite the environmental influences surrounding them, and who loses that.

      The answer surely lies partly in a person's fundamental, inherent dispositions, but also in whether the formative environment at crucial times either encouraged authenticity or by chance good fortune encouraged values and perspectives that resonated with "who they were."

      I feel, for example, that I came of age at the time that was probably best for me.
  • Dec 4 2013: my answer to your question : imagination & cerebration & accurate observation .
    in fact I'm agree with you .
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    Dec 3 2013: Yes I agree mostly, we learn how to be at school, while we are young and impressionable and ready to believe what adults tell us. Of course not all kids are listening! I know people who bemoan the lack of competition in our schools. They predict our nations demise because the kids aren't being taught to win at all costs. Seems to me there is still too much competition in schools. The structure of schools and exams is always looking to find out who did best. Even if the teachers don't say it out loud. I think it is competition which adds fuel to fear of failure which in turn promotes "i can't do it" thinking.

    I read a lovely story in "switch" by Dan and Chip Dale about a teacher, Molly Howard, (see full story here: http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2010/08/25/a-b-c-and-not-yet-embracing-our-identities-as-successful-changemakers/ )who turned around some struggling students. One of the changes she made was to change the grading system to A, B, C and not yet. Teaching kids to actively develop a "growth mindset" (Dr. C. Dweck et al) I think would be a great thing. What are your thoughts on how each childs innate creativity/gifts can be nutured?
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      Dec 3 2013: You write that you know people who predict "our nation's demise because the kids are not being taught to win at all costs." Could you provide a link or do you refer in your claim only to some personal acquaintances in the UK (as you write you know people who hold this position)?

      I have worked in this field for decades (though not in the UK) and have never heard anyone anywhere make such a claim.
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        Dec 3 2013: My parents Fritzie think schools should encourage competition more. Still I am nearly over it :) I am very glad to hear you have not heard this before.
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          Dec 3 2013: I see. I do know there are many people who extol the virtues of athletic competition for kids and many who recognize the value to some students of activities like recreational math competitions or science fairs as club activities, but I have never heard anyone argue that it is valuable for kids to be taught to win at all costs. In fact those I know who coach athletics often believe part of its value is to teach sportsmanship.
      • Dec 5 2013: Fritzie, I just read an opinion article in today's Wall Street Journal which seems to mirror what Morya was saying. (Excerpt from Title: The Human Wealth of Nations, Dec. 4, 2013)
        "Since 1998, the Program for International Student Assessment, or Pisa, has ranked 15-year-old kids around the world on common reading, math and science tests. The U.S. brings up the middle—again—among 65 education systems that make up fourth-fifths of the global economy. …..
        U.S. performance hasn't budged in a decade. For 2012, U.S. students placed 26th in mathematics, a bit below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average, and 17th in reading and 21st in science, close to the average. The U.S. slipped in all categories compared to international competitors, plunging from 11th in reading as recently as 2009.
        American teenagers seem especially weak in core academic subjects with high cognitive demands, such as translating concepts into solutions for real-world problems. A quarter never become proficient in math. In Shanghai and Korea, the comparable figure is 10% or fewer. Some 7% of U.S. students reached the top two scientific performance levels, compared with 17% in Finland and an amazing 27% in Shanghai. …..
        Perhaps most depressingly, the data show no statistically significant U.S. achievement improvement over time. None. In an era when it pays to be thankful for small mercies, at least we're not getting worse, but America's relative standing is falling as other countries improve.
        Such results should trouble anyone concerned about America's economic future and the human capital produced by the K-12 system. Economies grow by exploiting scarce resources, people most of all. The ultimate source of wealth is ourselves, and the Pisa findings suggest that U.S. schools are failing tomorrow's labor force. Too few students are being prepared with the skills they'll need to compete in a world-wide market and sustain American economic dominance....."
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          Dec 5 2013: Yes, I am very familiar with the PISA results.
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        Dec 9 2013: Fritzie, When I was a kid we had the same coaches my parents had, we had awards for most improved, best sportsman, etc ... In todays world we do not accept second place or as Patton said America will not abide a loser. It is hard for me to recall any one who came in second .... the coach at USC lost three games and was fired over the phone on the plane ride home. Perhaps we are in effect teaching our kids that winning is everything.

        I try to teach the value of the individual to the success of the team. However, most can tell you the names of the last three quarterbacks of the football teams but cannot name the valedictorian of any year. We have an assembly for the State Champions but do not acknowledge the academic marathon team and their efforts.

        I would hope that different administrators send different messages .... but to be the richest, most popular, win it all, mentality is with us. There is the top of the heap and then everyone else.

        With respect. Bob.
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          Dec 9 2013: I actually have seen lots and lots of academic trophies, though not often in school displays.

          I agree that part of the coach's job is to make sure the team knows what matters. I think coaches are extremely effective in setting the tone for the team.

          I have coached academic champions, all of whom knew that I didn't care whether they won but only whether they trained to be excellent. But then, I always knew I was a strange person in some respects to coach.
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        Dec 9 2013: Last year I proposed to have the shop class build a trophy case to put in the front foyer specifically for The top grads, academic trophies, college graduates, etc .... I titled it a tradition of success.

        I think your philosophy of doing your best and I will be proud of you is the correct approach ... that success is the result of hard work ... these are life lessons that are of high value.

        Strange duck .... no way .... we need more just like you to instill values. Thank you.
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    Dec 1 2013: Aspects of our creative talents and capacities for innovation were probably squelched long before most of us began our formal education. Parents, siblings, relatives and neighbours began forcing their perceptions of right and wrong and began chanting the "Don't do that!" mantra long before we entered the hallowed halls of Kindergarten and First Grade.

    Barring an epiphany, it is up to the individual to identify and reclaim their particular creative spark(s).
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      Dec 3 2013: You've got me curious: Is there a way to induce an epiphany to find what it is that really makes you happy based on what made you delighted when you were a young child?
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        Dec 4 2013: Epiphanies, like dust motes, are floating about (perhaps dust mote are, in fact, cleverly disguised epiphanies [L'sOL]). At any rate, the raw materials for epiphanies are usually at hand; what does seem to be lacking is our youthful innocence and trust in each other, and a lack of appreciation for our present-day good fortune.
  • Nov 25 2013: It is a very interesting question. I rather not think of it as I was educated to grow out of my gifts and passions but I was shown how those who were elder than me thought at that time what was the right knowledge. So, I appreciate their effort and our felt need to revolutionize learning in schools is simply a call for adaptation to a changed environment. Yes, I admit, some of my gifts and passions were not cultivated and to be honest if they were, I have a strong feeling that I wouldn't have been doing the things I do today. I think its the whole system and the way it is synchronized to shape people's minds that does it and not only schools. Psychologists have looked at what is the most influential factor that shapes our personalities and they still haven't agreed on any one. Some say it is your parental upbringing and others say it is the larger social world and groups you socialize with. When I was young still in primary school I used to be haunted by the question 'why do I exist?'. I even asked my mother and I am sure it worried her!!! I also used to sing and draw very well. The schools I went to didn't care much to enhance these gifts and passions of mine but they didn't kill them. Education was not and still isn't personalized for each kid and I am still not sure if it should be...and to what extent...and what the associated costs would be. I believe that no one can take away your gifts and passions and they will find a way to emerge again even after decades in your life...This is obvious in the stories of people who quit their jobs for something else that they derive great pleasure from. So I believe that we cant kill these gifts and passions but they can remain in the infancy stage or get hidden inside us but tend to grow and will emerge in various degrees. The key lies in getting exposed to the right environment that can nurture your gifts and passions even after 20 years and it is up to you to decide when you want to bring them out.
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      Dec 3 2013: Very thought provoking comments Ida. Thanks.
  • Nov 21 2013: I agree that it's likely that children are, generally. more creative or daring than adults. But the school system may or may not the only cause of their loss of such creativity. For example, before there were formal school system, people tended to be acting like a "grown-up" when they grew into adulthood. Humans have an innate ability to change or adapt to the survival instinct of "rather be safe than sorry" attitude. Part of this attitude was probably "taught" from their parents or guardian. Or it might be due to the gradual change of one's attitude to be more timid and less adventurous because of the consideration of one's responsibility to his/her family, and is fearful of the failure resulted from his/her adventure. This is rather a real worthwhile consideration justified by the tragedies caused by the "childish" adventure of someone who eventually died, severely injured or lost all his/her wealth and left all his/her family in poverty or become orphans. However, I wouldn't say that the modern government controlled school system is completely guiltless. I would say that if there are all private schools, complemented with charity schools for the poor, that would be better than the the all gov controlled school system or no-schools-at-all system.
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      Dec 3 2013: Thanks for your comment Bart.
      Just wondering, do you know if there is a country that runs a schooling sytem like the one you suggest?
      • Dec 3 2013: First, I want to say that according to a report cited by the aei.org, as a result of the deterioration of U.S. education system, the present crop of high school graduates are probably having PISA proficiency equal to the 8th graders in the countries with better education systems. So, how can the parents who are just the product of our failed system in the past 20-30 years to supplement the school teaching? I like the 2nd suggestion by aei.org copied below:
        "A second possibility is that the system constructed in the Progressive Era will gradually be replaced by a new set of actors and institutions. Each of the institutions that serve a major function in the current system faces challengers that are seeking to replace it. Charter operators such as KIPP, Green Dot, and Achievement First are competing with traditional public schools; Teach For America, TNTP, and a variety of other alternative certification providers are creating new routes for entering teachers; charter networks have created their own teacher preparation institutions such as Relay Graduate School of Education in New York and the High Tech High Graduate School of Education in San Diego to replace traditional education school training; and foundations like the Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation are actively funding economists and others from outside the usual educational research world to do what they view as more rigorous analysis.
        Consequently, a longstanding cartel now has an active challenger. While numerically still small in comparison to the much larger traditional cohort, this group of challengers has received enormous media attention, has considerable influence in a number of major cities (for example, in Washington, DC, New York, and New Orleans), and has increasingly had its ideas incorporated into federal policy.[6]"
        The only way is to gradually and radically change the entire system by infusing of "new blood" teachers based on carefully designed training programs.
      • Dec 4 2013: Let me answer your question in two sections. The first is the section included in the above about the new model proposed by the aei.org. for the U. S. private education system.
        The second is a model by the education authority in Finland, which has been ranked in the top 5 during the past years consistently. You may find the references in Google Search easily.
        In my opinion, there are 2 essential ingredients for a good education system. 1. Teach the students HOW TO LEARN, rather than regimentation to memorizing without understanding. For instance, the Finnish students are led by teachers with individual attention and are not formally tested until the 9th or 10th grade. 2. The teachers were trained with much more special knowledge, better than the "college of education mills" in the U. S. which usually are consisted of lower qualifications like that of the physics or engineering majors. Furthermore, once hired by the schools, they have the free hands to model the teaching methods, and they are usually better paid because they do have advanced degrees above the bachelors' . In other words, the most important reason for K-12 education is always the quality of the teachers AND the freedom of the teaching approach. If the government binds the hands of the teachers with all kind of restraint, then, even a very good teacher will become a mediocre one, and the student's initiative and creativity will be suppressed.
        I was educated in a first rate "provincial" high school in Shanghai, China many years ago. At that time, the principal later on became the minister of education for the whole country and many of our teachers were elected as model teacher of honor. And even as recently as few years ago, the the high school students from Shanghai were again ranked at the top in the recent PISA test competition internationally. I say that the quality of the students in most countries are probably not so much different, but the result certainly depends on the education system.