Are some people just naturally talented?

I’ve been continuing University of London’s ‘What future for education’ course on Coursera this week.

In this week’s lesson Gordon Stobart was suggesting that there is no innate ability that causes learning, but that ability depends on stimulation from our environments. He seems to think that stimulation helps to train us to learn better, and the advantages accrue to the point where some people are seen playing soccer or chess or painting and people say, ‘They’re a natural,’ when they have actually just practised and practised. Stobart reckons that in school some kids never learn because school doesn’t allow them to do the things they are interested in, and that if they were offered the opportunity they would practise and practise until they were experts.

I remember that when I was a young child I was sent to a remedial gym every week for a period of time because I’d been assessed as having poor coordination. What I pick up from that experience is that it was understood that I would just always have poor coordination, but it was expected that with practise I could learn better coordination. However, the program was ended because of government cuts. For most of my schooling I had trouble in physical education – although I enjoyed it earlier on when I didn’t understand that I was perceived as uncoordinated.

However, during high school I was able to learn how to kick a soccer ball and kick an AFL football. In university I was able to learn to throw a rugby ball and afterwards when I got involved in community development work in the inner city I was able to learn to bowl a cricket ball. I never became a great player at any of these games, but I was able to learn a lot more because other players took the time to show me the techniques – something that wasn’t possible in physical education classes.

I can’t really participate in these kind of sports now because I have an arthritic condition, and my coordination has probably deteriorated a bit for that reason. (I notice that Stobart didn’t talk about physical barriers to learning a particular skill.) I wonder what my experience of physical education would have been like if I could have had one-on-one assistance all through my schooling.

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