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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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I have one student~ who lives and breathes fishing. He knows more about different types of fish~ fishing gear~ and fishing conditions than most adults. He has read dozens of books and magazines on the subject~ written his own E-book on fishing~ and serves as a fishing guide for his father and other family members.

I think its safe to say hes obsessed with fishing.

In fact~ it can be quite common for gifted children and those highly curious and enthusiastic about learning to become temporarily or permanently obsessed with one particular topic.

However~ I have seen teachers discourage students from pursuing their passions. This fish-loving boy was told on several occasions to read something else or pursue a different project. Although well-meaning~ I would like teachers and other adults to consider another viewpoint before discouraging children from focusing on their interests.

Consider the following list of people:
Andrew Carnegie
Thomas Edison
John D. Rockefeller
Henry Ford
Charles Darwin
Bill Gates

What do they have in common? They were all focused on singular areas. They were passionate about a particular field or topic and put all their energy behind it.

Dr. Judd Biasiotto~ a sports psychologist~ writes about the connection between greatness and obsession~ using famous competitors as an example. Chess legend Bobby Fisher woke up every morning and went to bed every night dreaming about chess. Basketball great Michael Jordan focused all his energies on being the best in basketball.

Dr. Carol Dweck~ a Stanford University professor and pioneer behind the Growth Mindset research~ references the link researchers have made between becoming highly motivated by a passion and accomplishment.

Their work suggests that creative genius itself grows out of the ability to sustain intense commitment for extended lengths of time in the face of obstacles. They tell us that many well-known geniusesEdison~ Darwin~ even Einsteinwere ordinary bright children who became obsessed with something and because of that obsession ended up making enormous contributions.

In my own experience~ it is those students who have discovered and followed their own passions that seem to accomplish the most. Their energies are harnessed in one area~ and despite their age or lack of experience~ they gain incredible insight into a particular topic.

Now~ I want to be clear that we dont necessarily want to teach all children that they need to achieve greatness or become the next Thomas Edison. In fact~ I believe many people would not find happiness in living the kind of lives that some of these great contributors lead. But helping a child discover and learn to pursue an area they enjoy can help them in regards to finding a fulfilling hobby~ building a successful career~ or who knows~ maybe making a major contribution to society.

As educators~ I think we need to be aware of the enormous power of becoming obsessed with a
topic and putting all our mental strength behind it. We need to consider healthy~ practical ways to
allow the child to pursue his or her interests~ without discouraging them or making them feel as they are doing something wrong.

In my next blog~ Id like to share strategies for helping students harness their passions gained from experience working with gifted children. Until then~ I want to share a quote from Albert Einstein that is worth remembering. He apparently offered this answer when asked about his amazing accomplishments:

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."
Thank you~