Paul Potts, Susan Boyle, and the problem of undiscovered talent in schools

I’ve probably watched this video clip of Paul Potts a dozen times and I still choke up when I see it [click on picture to see video]:


Now Britain has Susan Boyle:


There’s a lot of undiscovered potential out there. As schools and societies, we often fail to create the conditions in which talent can be nurtured, recognized, and utilized. I hope that one of the lasting impacts of this Internet age will be that people’s skills and talents get noticed and used more effectively. Sure, there still will be a lot of junk that will get in the way of this happening. But the potential for ordinary citizens to express their talents and reach others is greater than it ever has been before.

Do you have a story of undiscovered talent in your local school organization? I bet you do…

10 Responses to “Paul Potts, Susan Boyle, and the problem of undiscovered talent in schools”

  1. I’ve often thought about all the little things that happen everyday in schools that we don’t quite catch. I’m sure we miss a ton of talent on many levels in our schools as we allow students to slide under the radar. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  2. I can’t help but think of the crayon slide from the other day with this. These two would be shuffled into the “insignificant many” pile without having any chance to show off their non-book talents. Especially in today’s schools, their talents do not represent those of the “critical few.” And that is a shame.

  3. Personally, I’ve found the whole media mini-storm about Susan Boyle to be a little bit offensive. Why are we all so shocked that someone in their (gasp) 40’s who isn’t terribly attractive has talent? Who would have guessed that you don’t have to look like Britney Spears to be able to sing (not that Britney can).

    But that doesn’t take anything away from what you’re saying. Yes, there is undiscovered talent in our classrooms. I’m a big fan of using video production in school because of it. The students who dance and sing, lead and organize, or have an incredible eye for design never get to show those talents if it were not for the movie projects.

  4. Scott:

    the executive director of our state board of education has used the Potts video in several presentations to local school boards, explaining that this is why all students need to be prepared with the same rigorous, relevant curriculum in high school. We don’t know what any of them may choose to become. If we make decisions in 8th grade about who should take what high school track (college prep v. vocational, e.g.), we may make these stories even less likely to occur.

  5. It is sad that schools don’t have enough time to explore the nonacademic talents of our students. I try to incorporate singing and acting into my lessons from time to time, but wonder how many Susan’s and Paul’s I’ve taught over a thirty-three year career.

  6. There are so many things that we miss about our students.Maybe it’s time to slow down our giving information process and start paying attention to the little things happening around us.

  7. I have written a blog post with almost exactly the same idea! Yes, I worry that the ‘ordinary’ kids slip under the radar and don’t get the nurturing that they need. For this reason I’m hosting a Talent Show at our school this year. It won’t be a competition, but we will do a bit of sifting of the ‘talents’ that sign up, and choose the 12 best acts. I’m hoping we discover some unexpected talent. Can you imagine what it would have meant for Susan Boyle if she was discovered at a young age?

  8. I wrote a little piece about student competitions for Education|Evolving in 2003…

    Google “student competitions” and look at the sheer # of hits that come up. All sorts of students willing to take on difficult challenges; often for zero academic credit.

    Why? Because they are motivated by the opportunities to explore talents they cannot in school. And that doesn’t mean they’re nonacademic talents. I interviewed some adults who run the competitions:

    “Typically, the highly motivated students
    compete. Kids in the Siemens competition
    aren’t playing computer games; they’re writing them. They’re not playing
    with electronic toys; they’re building
    them. They do science, and compete, because
    they like it. They do math for fun. Six
    hour math marathons, sometimes. When
    asked why, students say they enjoy it.”

    ….students are eager for a break from memorizing “stuff” for tests. “Kids who participate in the competitions are screaming for an opportunity to think,” she reported. Students tell her, “This is the only place I can think! I like it; even though it’s hard.”

  9. Just goes to show that looks aren’t everything. I’m willing to go out on a limb and bet that Susan Boyle is currently the most searched for person on the internet.

    People seem to have forgotten about Paul Potts a little bit, but I think this Susan Boyle thing is going to stick. She’s going to be a star for a long time to come…

  10. We are now falling over ourselves to recognise hidden talents, that we are now having to push any talent – and can’t just leave kids to be kids and worry about their talents when they are ready to pop up – trust me, they will rise at the right moment.

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