Talent Education

I haven’t quit my day job yet–in fact, I have several day jobs, including violin instructor to a dozen students age five to fifty-one. My teaching methods are heavily influenced by the philosophies of Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist who believed in the high potential of every human being, not just the seemingly gifted.

“[T]he only superior quality a child can have at birth,” wrote Suzuki in 1978, “is the ability to adapt itself with more speed and sensitivity to its environment than others.”

Talent, according to Suzuki and his many adherents, is not inborn or inherited, but acquired through a process founded on the mother tongue concept; all children of every culture, when immersed in their language from birth, learn to speak their native tongue with expertise. Similar immersion in a musical home environment, assures Suzuki, develops an equal fluency in music.

He gives the example of a wild nightingale. In Japan, baby birds are captured to be used as pets, and put under the tutelage of a tame “master bird.” Exposure to the master’s fine voice eventually develops an equally beautiful song in the young nightingale. “Talent,” skillful ability, is nurtured, with astonishing results.

But how does this philosophy fit with the Christian belief that talent–musical, literary, and otherwise–is a gift from God? Matthew 25 is often cited as an example of God-given abilities requiring faithful stewardship. John Calvin, in his Institutes, agrees that “the talents which we possess are not from ourselves.”

Is every human born with equal potential? Does so much hang on the ability to adapt yourself with speed and sensitivity? At what point does created talent become acquired talent? What are your thoughts?