What is a gift? Is anyone born with a gift? Does the gift exist? For philosopher Lucien Sève, it doesn’t.
I learned about gifts in two moments in my life. First, in my childhood, in a patriarchal and Christian family, I learned that I, by drawing and painting better than my peers, had a gift. And this gift was something divine, like a gift that God gave to me for a living (read between the lines a certain Protestantism, as in Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”). Well, many people believe – as I believed – that because you have a gift, you should feel privileged, almost chosen with a mission, and honor that gift. It’s okay to think like that, but this is just a way of thinking, within a Christian approach.
And where does this idea that the gift is divine come from? Well, it comes from the Bible. The Bible is the base book from which Christian thought is built. It seems obvious to say that, but the Bible was written by men – it was not written alone, by itself. And these men spoke about the Holy Spirit, about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Namely, there are seven gifts:
- The gift of wisdom
- The gift of understanding
- The gift of advice
- The gift of science
- The Gift of Mercy
- The gift of the fortress
- The gift of God fearing
So, I really saw myself as a child with a gift for drawing. This realization was heightened when I was 12 years old, and I won a national contest by a television station. I had promised God that if I won the contest, I would graduate from Industrial Design, not International Relations (which I would like as a Plan B). And so I kept my promise. I studied Product Design at UEMG (Universidade do Estado de Minas Gerais) from 2007 to 2010. Then I did a Master’s degree in Production Engineering at UFMG, and currently, I have two PhDs, one in Production Engineering also at UFMG, and the other one to fulfill my Soul Desire Plan B – at the International Institute for Social Studies, Erasmus University of Rotterdam.
It was in one of the PhD classes in Production Engineering, with a very beloved and famous ergonomics professor, that I learned about the concept of gift from a philosophical perspective. I will explain, because this gift approach must come out of the university walls, be translated and popularized.
For the French Marxist philosopher Lucien Sève, the idea of a gift does not exist. From here, I translate from Spanish one of the presentations done by one of my colleagues of past and unidentified classes in our PhD course.
We believe in gifts
We often hear it said:
“Your son is not talented.“
“Women or some people are “incapable” by nature.”
“It is written in the brain of a child who will be silly or intelligent, suitable or inappropriate for this or that intellectual activity.”
“Recognize that this child is missing something innate because education has completely failed.”
- … is not talented…
- … unable …
- … dizzy…
- … Not smart…
- … not fit…
- … something innate is missing…
These expressions all account for the existence and belief in gifts.
The word “gift” …
… is a much more dangerous term than we thought as it is comfortable, popular and seems to have no consequences.
“Lack of Gifts” is a double drama:
- For the educator, it is a check of helplessness, a confession of failure.
- For parents, it means desolation, the ruin of hope.
What is the purpose of this research?
Thus, the purpose of this work/research/text is to:
demonstrate that the diversity of intellectual abilities is not a fatal consequence of the diversity of biological gifts and that while these biological gifts have some impact on psychic development, it is the social conditions of this development that decide everything.
Thus, the issue does not refer essentially to individual pedagogical errors, but rather to a society and a policy.
The belief in “gifts” is reinforced by traditional theoretical justifications, in particular by scientific-looking materialism that Lucien Sève believes can deduce its determination for inheritance.
In turn, belief in “gifts” is the enormous experience that the failures in education provide.
What is intelligence?
Here it is necessary to clarify the meaning of the word “intelligence” as a certain way of doing something, doing some tasks, solving some problems.
Intelligence is an aspect of man’s activity, so it cannot be conceived as a thing, a substance, a faculty, but as a relationship; a relationship between the individual and his social world.
There is no organism that can be explained without the medium.
In this case, it is immediately apparent that every child’s failure in the course of his education, far from being an indication of the only “lack of gifts,” is also an indication of the proposed or imposed task of the educational system that defined this task, the social world that supports this educational system.
Why should school failure be regarded as student failure rather than school failure, that is, the original failure of society and politics?
Thus, the end that capitalism attributes to the whole educational process is questioned.
This goal is not to proclaim everyone’s equal right “to the maximum development their personality allows”, but rather to provide, to the extent necessary and in the interest of capital, the minimum of culture to the minimum of people.
In practice, children that are called “fools” fall as victims to a broken social regime, which at the same time inflicts serious intellectual mutilations and ignores their abilities,
how would they react
in other conditions.
Intellectual activity is not directly determined by these biological gifts, the anatomical and physiological peculiarities of a human brain.
The brain has possibilities that will be revealed by activation: maneuvering and interaction of the waves of a nerve influences the nervous system in various sectors. And the determination of this lies in the whole social activity of the individual.
An individual’s level of intelligence, far from remaining constant, is constantly changing related to social conditions.
How could we explain these constant and far-reaching modifications if we imagine that intelligence is inscribed in the anatomy of the brain? After all, the brain is a 7-year-old organ from which even cells are not renewed for life!
However, some people may say that there are many cases of inheritance of intelligence, striking examples of families passing on aptitude, gifts, abilities, from parent to child. But is this assumption true?
Beethoven tells us that he confirms the “law of inheritance” because his father was a court musician. But they tell us nothing about his mother, who was the daughter of a chef and a waiter.
It would not be explained simply by the greater number of opportunities it represents, by early auditory training or the choice of the music profession for children in societal conditions and at times when the musician’s work was normally transmitted from parent to child like any craft or liberal trade.
To say that “a child is not gifted” is the same as to maintain an assumption in pseudoscientific terms that one does not know what it would take – or that nothing could be done – to develop one’s intelligence.
It is, therefore, a useful alibi for a school policy based on “Malthusianism of intelligence”. Moreover, it is a functionally undemocratic ideology.
In the case of a man, it is not in biological heritage that the progress of species is fixed, but in social heritage (instruments of production, institutions, language, culture, etc.).
From the beginning, the whole life of the individual in all its aspects is marked by biological parameters. This is evident. Your whole life is marked, however, nothing is decided, because what decides is always in the end further development, that is, social history.
“The human essence
is not really anything else
than the set of social relations.”
Well, going back to my personal story, where I believed I had some gift (as people told me), I didn’t see my own effort to draw well. I was a seven-year-old who woke up early to watch a program on television that taught how to draw. It was broadcasted super early on television, between 5 am and 8 am. And I kept learning from the program instructor (Philip Hallawell, a great artist). Besides, I spent my pocket money buying Barbie drawing magazines on silk paper and copying the Barbies. Moreover, when I saw the fellow kids drawing the armor of the Knights of the Zodiac, I wanted to compete with them, wanted to draw better than them. So there was definitely a personal effort and a social environment that allowed me to develop that skill. Drawing was a training, not a gift.
I have no gifts. In fact, I have discipline in developing some skills. Knowing how to draw is not innate, it is not a divine gift. And the more you practice for years, the more it becomes a habit until the skill looks natural, it seems like this gift idea.
The gifts do not exist. What exists is practice, hard work, and a social environment that allows you to develop your skills.
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