What Helps a Child toward Adult Achievement

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Young violinist
Young violinist practices Suzuki method

Children are socialized from the earliest ages to language, culture, movement, attention, perception, emotional expression, expectations, values and motivations. The idea that vocation and what the child chooses to pursue is somehow external to the process of socialization is not in accord with everything that we know about the critical nature of early life experience. Perhaps this idea takes root because we like to live with the illusion that we determine our own fate to a greater degree than is true –or that God gives a special calling through the intermediary of direct inspiration. God, after all, works in many ways, and these include culture, family, and socialization –in addition to inspiration.

Shinichi Suzuki

Suzuki had a great insight that the training of child to be a violinist begins not just with practice, but with hearing music, observing the parents make music, and play –long before formal expectations to imitate melodic lines. Through this early exposure, the violin and music becomes incorporated into fantasy, emotional expression, and interpersonal communication –ingrained in the vocabulary of day-to-day life.

Boy golfer
Training begins early

Other Pursuits

In the same way, a child may be socialized into other technical skills, avocations, and vocations. This generalization accords with the observation that families instill skills and traditions that link family and offspring in the areas of music, military service, politics, and the professions. Some of the areas of skill, knowledge, and expertise seem more easily communicated than others. Some appear to require more in the way of “connections” than others, yet the skills required for unusual achievement begin early. What program is required to optimize development in these various areas?

Clearly some areas require greater manual dexterity and skill in movement, some in interpersonal communication and expression, some in originality of thought and creative inspiration. Do these skills develop in an orderly way? Are some skills necessary but not sufficient for the development of other skills?

Experience, practice, knowledge, and motivation are interdependent. To instill in a child and set of attitudes and motivations toward an end requires the design of environments. What elements should be present in an environment to provide a foundation with depth and breadth to support singular achievement?

An environment designed to bias a child toward a particular vocation or avocation should include associated paraphernalia, pictures and representations, games, exercises, stories, activities, and education provided in an age-appropriate manner.

If the parent desires to prepare the child for a career in music, then play instruments need to be provided. The parent needs to model the desired behavior. The child is rewarded by parental approval for appropriate performance of exercises graded in maturity. Music needs to be played. Pictures displayed and stories of musician heroes told. Trips to concerts, adventures in music camps, lessons, individual and group exercises support development. Above all, music performance, composition, and production as a vocation that brings unity, coherence, meaning, dignity, and lessons about the life require emphasis. Technical skill without heart, motivation, or desire bears little fruit.

Similarly if the parent desires to prepare the child of a career in an area of sports, the same principles apply. To incline the child to golf or tennis, provide miniature clubs or rackets. Parents model and play with their children. Outings, camps and lessons are required. The likeness of heroes of the game are visible in the household, stories and fiction are read.

Boy in uniform
Discipline begins early.

Military School as a Model Environment

Prior to the rise of professionalism as an avenue to wealth, power, and reputation, service in the military perhaps provided the major career option to the upwardly mobile middle class. Military training was presumed to build character, good habits, comradeship, authority, firmness of judgment, and a host of virtues. Military boarding schools for children were established in the United States as early as 1830 and the primary model for education for 19th century colleges in Southern States required military training and uniforms. Before the World War I, military education, along with religious education, was general education. In current culture, military boarding schools are viewed as an alternative for parents with difficult to manage children. This change in niche reflects value changes in the broader culture. The emphasis of 19th century values is out of synch with electronic mass media and modernism. Nevertheless in current culture, military service and training remain significant antecedents for leadership positions, for elected office, diplomacy, and national and university presidencies.

The traditional military boarding school made use of the broad principles of early exposure and immersion in military culture with uniforms, drills, medals, honors, and war games. In military school hallways and gathering places were pictures of heroes, commandants, and memorabilia. Boarding school experience began as early as six years old and continued through college. Military boarding school, when compatible with broader cultural values, illustrates how early, integrated experience influences values, manners, and carriage in addition to knowledge and technical skill.