I was asked today what term I would use instead of gifted and talented, a phrase that I have always loathed, and I referred the questioner to my book Trivium 21c and, in particular, to page 139 where I wrote the following:
Being Awake; Being Alive
The theatre practitioner Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) had the idea that an artist should be ‘alive within the score’. For this, they had to submit to their necessity’, ‘be in harmony with their necessity’, and be like someone ‘burning at the stake, signalling through the flames’. By being aware of our mortality, doing what we do as though it could be our last breath, we achieve an intensity of purpose both in rehearsal and performance. It was this that Étienne Decroux (1898-1991), the teacher of Marcel Marceau, and a Marxist atheist, called the moment of having ‘God within you’. The word ‘enthusiasm’ reflects this – it is drawn from the Greek en theos, meaning ‘with God’. Enthusiasm is a necessary pursuit and should not be denigrated into meaning something lesser. Enthusiasm is the search for essence, that moment of ‘flow’, but also of intensity and work that is essential for high achievement. This is the idea of mastery: discipline, focus, work, beauty even in ugliness, truth, and the pursuit of in-depth knowledge. This is, perhaps, what Plato thought of as ‘being awake’.
Gifted and Talented is a problematic phrase in so many ways but especially because it implies no effort is needed, it has an air of ‘I’m so gifted and talented I really don’t need to try,’ it has an arrogance at its core. En Theos has a relationship at its core, here one is at ‘one with the work, the task, the discipline and the art’. It is this that makes the term rise above all other attempts at trying to mark out distinction.
In schools we can use the following terms: ‘She is a maths enthusiast’; ‘His enthusiasms are in modern and ancient languages’; We celebrate our pupils enthusiasms through our ‘En Theos’ programme; ‘She is able to enthuse her fellow pupils through her captaining of the football team’; We have noticed how enthusiastic he is in ‘food technology’ and we hope to be able to give him an opportunity to test his enthusiasm through regular work experience at a local restaurant’.
So ditch gifted and talented and embrace enthusiasms instead.