By Harold C. Lyon, Jr.

Talk given in Munich Germany to the Alumni Academy of the Heidelberg Life Science Academy for Gifted Students at the Castle Schwaneck, March 26, 2008

Forty years ago a man named Gorgi Lazonov from Bulgaria developed a way to teach two years of a foreign language in six weeks. His technique was to have his students sit back in reclining chairs and relax and try not to learn.  His claim was that this opened up vast parts of their unused brain capacity.  What we do know is that they learned complex languages very fast. The U.S. State Department used Dr. Lazonov as a consultant to teach accelerated language classes to foreign service officers – even before he was free to travel west from Bulgaria.

I'd like to invite you to relax for the next half hour.  Don't try hard to understand my talk. Just relax and be with it. I'm going to try to be somewhat spontaneous as I share thoughts about gifted students.  One message is that to the degree that we can be spontaneous, to the degree that we can respond to one another's energies in the moment, we have much more of our potential available for learning.  And to the degree that we have a rote, fixed set of responses to life, the way we are often conditioned to in our school systems, we limit our potential to a fraction of what it could be. It is estimated that we realize 5 to 15% of our potential in our lifetimes - a tragic waste of what we could have.

Risking being in the here & now

We each have an "ego boundary" -- a particular space surrounding us and when we're inside that space we're safe and secure. When we get out near the edge of it we become more anxious.  If you go far enough out, you can venture into what I call "psychotic" space. But these boundaries are elastic, and by taking risks you stretch your ego boundaries until you have a very large space in which to roam around and explore.  Then it's a longer way out to the periphery where you become anxious.  And my thesis is that when you risk stretching these boundaries, you have far more of your potential available.  But society tends to encourage us to restrict ourselves to very narrow ego boundaries, wanting us to be predictable.  And so we tend to kill off divergent thinking and creativity often before our teen years.  A challenge as teachers, students and parents is to help expand those ego boundaries, to provide a safe space for that risk taking – a safety net for the freedom to fail.

Consider that a day in your life is a precious gift to give to yourself or another.  There's never another day exactly like this one - it's unique.  When you are spontaneously here and now in the moment, you have so much of your natural magnificence and potential available to share with your students, friends, and family. To illustrate this, consider for a moment that your doctor told you that you had only one month left to live.  How would you spend those precious 30 days?  What would you say to those people who are special in your life, if you had only a month to live?  Those are the important things that we often neglect to say -- that we're embarrassed to say.  Let me suggest that you soon say, and do, some of those things that you would if you had only one month left to live. Share some of these things with your students, family, loved ones and I predict that a lot more of your potential will be available to you and to them.

Opening to miracles

It is said that aerodynamic experts have studied the bumblebee and have concluded that the bumblebee really cannot fly - it appears impossible scientifically.  His body is too heavy for his small wings.  The bumblebee doesn't know that, so he goes ahead and flies anyway.  It's these kinds of miracles that we can have in our classrooms -- in each child.  I'm a believer in miracles.  After miracles occur there is always a linear explanation for why they occur.  But you have to have a lot of faith and intention to allow them to come about. You must have a context for miracles for them to come about. You can't predict a butterfly from a caterpillar. It is very difficult scientifically.  And you don't see caterpillars running around on logs, leaping off trying hard to achieve flight.  They'd never stay still long enough to grow that cocoon and become. 

There's a significant difference between doing and being. We need to learn to be along with our great capacity to do.  Being is infinite -- it's boundless.  Doing has limits to it.  It's finite, and we burn ourselves out by overdoing.  The most significant doing flows as a natural extension from our being. In being one can expand to a context far beyond the content of doing and that's what we as teachers can offer children.  When you expand from finite content (or doing) to context (or being), miracles quite naturally occur within that infinite context.  One of the first steps is to believe in such miracles.  St. Augustine said, "Surely he who does not believe in miracles, will never take part in one."

Years ago when I served in the Federal Government, I was driving to work in the spring and watched, each morning, a large tulip bed right across the street from the Tital basin in Washington, D.C.  Every spring there's a race for glory between the cherry blossoms and these tulips.  I saw a sprinkling of twenty or thirty of the tulip blossoms blooming ahead of the rest, in this otherwise uniform bed of thousands of green leaves. On my way home that evening, I noticed a National Park gardener on his hands and knees clipping off these early blooming blossoms to keep uniformity in the tulip bed!  I thought for a minute, that could only happen in the bureaucracy.  And then I realized that it happens every day in our classrooms when we clip off the blossoms of the early bloomers… to keep uniformity in the classroom.

Thinking and being for ourselves

While participating in a New Age World Congress in Florence, Italy in 1978, the great inventor-architect-philosopher, R. Buckminister Fuller, then in his twilight years, was provided the rare space to freely and spontaneously talk before our group for three hours a day for five days about his theories, his as yet not fully formulated ideas, and his life. As he spoke about gifted children, he began to change that label to "New Age Children."  I liked the term, not only because there are so many elitist concerns with the "gifted and talented" label, but also because by the term New Age Children we were talking about a broader definition of gifted children including those with intuitive gifts, and those with spiritual and artistic gifts, and the divergent thinkers like Bucky Fuller.  He shared with us that he really deserved little credit for all of his many discoveries.  He claimed that the knowledge is already up there and all one has to do is break loose from institutional ways of thinking to grasp it.  He said he deserved little credit for that, but he did deserve credit for beginning to think for himself 40 years before. He suggested that even the slowest child in the classroom has the capacity to be as bright as the brightest. And that the brightest child has the potential to be so far ahead of what we expect that it's almost frightening.  We need to begin to free up that incredible potential that we all have.

Person-Centered Education -- the cognitive integrated with the affective

Our classrooms tend to focus purely on cognitive intellectual development where we push the student down an intellectual track with little attention paid to the affective development -- to their capacities for love, empathy and awareness, and their communication skills.  We need to integrate the affective with the cognitive and this is what we call person-centered or confluent education.  It's an integration of those two, and when you do that, both kinds of learning will peak and be more indelible. In my early work with “Sesame Street” we fought to put into every show the affective component and values to make the cognitive teaching and learning more indelible and it worked!  Families, churches and society need to help foster the spiritual aspects of the child as well -- another important dimension of the whole person to consider.

Abraham Maslow said that we need to treasure "The emotional jags of the child in the classroom" -- those "peak" experiences, as that's where real learning takes place.  In my own life, as I look back over the more important learning experiences I have had, very few of them came within academic classrooms.  Rather they came from crises - from tragedies in my life.  The Chinese character for crisis is the same as the one for opportunity. In the East, they understand this better than we do in the West.  We need to pay attention to those kinds of learning experiences, which are often the spontaneous ones -- the ones we don't plan -- often the unthinkables or those our society has no system to hold or explain or accept. And in the midst of the painful crisis, we are unable to see the benefits until later.

The traits found in successful teachers

Carl Rogers has done very significant research in terms of the traits of the successful therapist.[1] Four other people who have contributed to this work, Drs. Reinhard Tausch (Professor Emeritus from University of Hamburg), the late David Aspy and his wife, Cheryl, and the late Flora Roebuck. Over thirty five years they performed comprehensive empirical studies, taking Roger's findings for therapists and applying them to teachers.  Tausch and his wife, Annie Marie replacated these studies with Teutonic thoroughness in Germany. The three traits of the successful therapist, found by Rogers, were corroborated by Tausch, Aspy, and Roebuck to exist in the successful teacher.[2]  The first is the one to which I just alluded: genuineness or realness on the part of the teacher: the ability to be a human being with strengths and weaknesses, to be genuine with your students.  This trait is also called congruence.  The second trait is empathic understanding, or the ability to put yourself in the student's shoes and see the world from his perspective. The third trait is prizing or unconditional positive regard.  It's just the opposite of apathy. It's caring enough about the uniqueness of an individual to celebrate that uniqueness.  When a teacher has these traits, trust is established.  The student trusts that the teacher is there not to catch them up in all their faults, but to facilitate the discovery process.  Trust evolves largely from the other three traits, I believe.  I add a fifth trait - competence in the subject matter, but it wasn't in the study, and I put it last on the list. It seems to be the main one we focus on in training teachers. It appears difficult to train people in these traits.  They are the kinds of traits you have to discover through your own growth and peak experiences. Tausch, Aspy, and Roebuck’s research studies are significant in showing that teachers can be trained in these person-centered methods. The data show that students of teachers with these traits have higher achievement scores as well as many other positive outcomes.  It's empirical data that leads to the conclusion that we must focus on the education of the whole person.

The Aspys and Roebuck suggest that the governing trait of these is empathy.  The teachers with high empathy tended to have the other traits as well.  And so they studied high empathy teachers comprehensively and thoroughly in many locations and settings over many years and found significant evidence that the students in classrooms taught by high empathy teachers had significantly higher achievement scores.  They also smiled more, and so did their students.  The high empathy teachers tended to have greater influence the earlier the students were exposed to them.  First grade students with high empathy teachers achieved a ten-point IQ differential by the end of the year.  And by the end of the second grade, a further l0-point differential between students of high and low empathy teachers was attained, just from the effect of that first grade high empathy teacher.  So the earlier the stimulus, the better.  We've known this, but we have paid lip service to it. Aspy and Roebuck also found that it was easier to train elementary school teachers in empathy skills than it was high school teachers, or, for that matter, university professors.  In fact, they concluded that we ought to have good first grade teachers helping university professors learn how to relate better with their students.  They also found that these high empathy teachers tended to have good physical condition.  The cut-off criterion for good physical condition was that they could walk or run a mile in 12 minutes or less, which is not very fast.  Seventy-year-old joggers are doing it better than that.  But 90% of the teachers in their studies over age 35 said they could not (I would say they would not) walk or run a mile in 12 minutes or less.  Those teachers that were in good physical condition and had high empathy skills, started out the week on Monday at a certain level of energy and ended up on Friday at a higher peak level of energy.  They retained their empathy skills while those with lower physical condition did not retain the skills as indelibly. Teachers with low empathy and low physical condition ended up exhausted on Friday.  So this says something about high empathy teachers, therapists, and people. As I look around at the people I respect, I find a lot of them have these traits.

Are the same traits found in successful managers?

Another study by Rensis Likert at the University of Michigan, corroborated this research.[3] After looking at 5,000 organizations, he found that the high-producing managers also tend to have these traits.   Low-producing managers tend to think of people as tools to get the job done while the high producers think of people as unique individuals.

One way to summarize this research is to say that high empathy teachers tend to see deeper inside the student for their inner beauty as opposed to surface beauty.  Our grading system tends to be kind of a surface beauty orientation rather than a measure of inner beauty.

In 1968, I worked with the White House Task Force on the Gifted and I took them to my old alma mater, West Point, to meet with the Social Sciences Department where they had 12 Rhodes Scholars on the faculty – a concentration of gifted people.  We asked them what made the biggest difference in their lives, and they all had the same answer -- that there was a mentor in their lives -- and they began to name the mentors.  Three of them named the same man, who ironically also had a significant influence on me.  He was a person who saw our inner beauty.  He had these traits that this research shows to be significant.  He wasn't worried about our brass being polished or our shoes being shined, but was really looking within for inner beauty instead of focusing on the surface.  The multi billion dollar cosmetic industry is based on surface beauty.  We need to see deeper than that, as we look at our children and one another.

Robert G. Ingersoll said,  "If we had done a thousand years ago as the

kings told us, we would have all been slaves. If we had done as the priests told us, we would have all been idiots.  If we had done as the doctors told us, we would have all been dead.  This world has been saved by our disobedience."  There's a lot of latent potential in that aliveness that sometimes seems hidden within the mischievous or darker side of the naughty child.

Seeing versus looking

I knew a psychiatrist who built much of his practice on the difference between seeing and looking.  He described looking, as a highly cognitive "head trip" where it's “mainline” from eyes to brain - We sort people out, judge them, and evaluate them.  I evaluate children when I look at them.  But seeing is a here-and-now "groking" (to use the term from the old science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land).  It's a sensing process that goes from eyes to heart.  Seeing is accepting, right here and now. When we see children... we can be with them instead of doing to them - this being is infinite - boundless.

Our Bio Clocks

Another factor which has a lot to do with our potential is our varied readiness for learning.  Each of our bio-clocks is different.  There are morning people and evening people.  We found that when you test a child in the evening - one who is a morning person -- he might score significantly lower and vice versa.  We need to pay attention to this readiness which is unique for each child.  The motivation which triggers the readiness for learning needs to come from within the person instead of being forced from outside.  My wonderful old alma mater, West Point, was an institution for forced learning. We cadets used to say that, "It was a $200,000 education… crammed down our throats nickel by nickel." 


When I was Director of Education for the Gifted & Talented I received phone calls from parents who wanted to force their two-year old gifted child to learn how to read.  Don’t force your child to read, but help her to discover the scent of the forest, the smell of the ocean, the expressions on people's faces, and body language.  Then the reading of words will come as a natural way to express those feelings, much faster than it will through our linear, programmed kind of learning. We need to surround gifted children with highly conscious mentors, aware empathic teachers who will play for the long-shot that the child will open to the whole universe which is within each of us.

Breaking through

We are experiencing breakthroughs in scientific discovery and levels of awareness and consciousness.  The work with porpoises is an interesting example.  If you take a porpoise away from a group of porpoises, the remaining porpoises will run into one another for about a month until they build new energy fields.  Those energy fields are not unique to porpoises. We all have them. PET Scans enable us to photograph those energy fields which appear as auras that are different for different individuals.  When a child leaves the home or goes off to college, the community or family that is left is a different one and has to adjust to new energy patterns, just as do our classrooms.


The genetic work on DNA and the RNA molecules is causing us to face complex moral decisions about whether and how we should bring into the world incredibly bright and gifted individuals.  Work in fertilization of the human ova at a certain optimal moment also promises potential for bringing healthier, more aware and more intelligent individuals into society. The early work in prenatal care by Dr. LeBoyer ("Birth Without Violence") was exciting in terms of what it means to individual potential.  Some African mothers talk to their children in utero from the moment of conception on, and when that child is born it is already 9 months old instead of starting to learn at the moment of birth.  They stimulate that unborn child with songs and by naming the child before birth. Research done on the 126 children who were in Dr, LeBoyer's initial group showed they were incredibly intelligent, free from most childhood diseases, and most astonishing, out of 126, a hundred of them are ambidextrous -- which says something about the damage we do to one-half of the brain during the modern technological birth process!


Joseph Chilton Pierce, who wrote, The Magical Child, many years ago birthed 100 monkeys, using our modern technological birth procedures including the "saddle-block," 100% of which sustained brain damage. How many humans also suffer such damage?  In our modern birth procedure, the anesthetic goes directly from the mother to the child's lungs who needs them to breathe for that first dramatic breath.  Its lungs are incapacitated by the anesthetic, and to compound things further, we cut off a supplementary source of oxygen by cutting the umbilical immediately.  We douse the child's eyes with Silver Nitrate in case the mother might happen to have syphilis (which we already know she doesn't), and we slap the child on the rear end - an apt initiation into a tough society.  We then put him into a crib and give him a plastic bottle. No wonder this child bonds to material objects. African mothers who Joseph Chilton Pierce studied, birthed their children naturally in their huts. The mother puts the child on her stomach and she massages every inch of the child, just as the mother cat licks every bit of the new-born kitten.  In large litters of twelve or more kittens the mother cat is sometimes too tired to do the licking and those kittens often turn out to be spastic. The African mothers instinctively do this.  The child can hear the mother's heart beat and the mother then bites through the umbilical (maybe five minutes later) and puts the child to her breast and goes out to show it off to her friends.  She has eye contact with that child most of its first few months of life. Dr. Chilton Pierce showed me color slides of these children holding up their heads 12 hours after birth, and smiling in a mirror, which our children (birthed through the modern process) don't do for 2 1/2 months!  These children are incredibly intelligent and bright.


Pierce told me an interesting story: These children -- diaper-less -- were lined up with their mothers holding them to see the doctor and he wondered why the children were not messing on their mothers.  So he asked them, "What do you do when the child has to urinate?" They answered, "We take them to the bushes."  He asked, "How do you know when the child has to go?" They laughed and said, "How do you know when you have to go?" They are so bonded to the child that they sense when the child needs to urinate!


We're finding that the knowledge that our grandmothers had was wisdom. Mother's milk is the most appropriate and vital food for infants.  Every minute spent at the mother's breast for an infant can have far greater significance than all the expensive private schools that the child might attend later.  That nurture, that warmth and the unknown ingredients of mother's milk is, apparently, far more significant than we know.  All of these discoveries. some of which are older ones we are rediscovering, offer us new opportunities in terms of nurturing children.


Burton White, a Harvard professor, found that between 8 and 22 months a child is literally consumed by curiosity.  He claims that this is the period in which the basis for creativity and curiosity is really formed.  It's also the time when the mother is saying, "No! No! No!" and killing off that creativity.  Dr. White discovered ways in which a mother can create childproof environments which are very stimulating during that crucial period of development for creativity.  So we're on the frontier of fascinating breakthroughs, the level of which we have only a glimpse.


Some time ago, just before her death, Margaret Mead shared with me that she found gifted children who could hear and see ten times greater than what is considered normal.  She told me about one child who frequently had nightmares and was sent, with little positive result, to a psychiatrist for treatment.  One night he woke up screaming and told his parents a gruesome story about a murder.  They later found out that in the apartment building a floor above them there was a murder. This child with an extraordinary hearing sense had heard it in detail and even helped solve the crime by giving some of the details to the police.  Think of the assault on that child's senses living in the inner city had been!  We need to pay attention to some of these uncommon extraordinary gifts that we are learning exist in greater percentages than we ever thought, disguised as unexplainable phenomena and sometimes labeled as learning disabilities or neuroses or psychoses.


Advocates for person-centered education are outnumbered by the apathetic.  We need to join together in mutual support groups to amass our energies, power, and creativity into that critical mass which is needed to bring about a transformation or a renaissance in education. We have that potential.  Let's all bury the minor differences and squabbles which invariably seem to surface between individuals, organizations, states and nations to pool our considerable energies in behalf of this world's most neglected, yet valuable natural resource - our gifted and talented children.   The difference we make, makes all the difference in the world, for their realizing their potential.


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[1] Carl R. Rogers, Freedom to Learn (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co., 1969)

[2]Aspy, D.N., Roebuck, F.N. and Aspy, C.B. “Tomorrow’s Resources are in Today’s Classroom. The Personal And Guidance journal, April 1984. Pp. 455-459.

Aspy, D.N. and Roebuck, F.N.  Kids Don't Learn from People They Don't Like.  HRD Press, Amherst, Mass., 1977

[3] Rensis Likert, New Patterns of Management, (New York: McGraw Hill Book Co.)