I am attending the European Council on High Ability conference in Vienna. The topic of the conference, chosen a year and a half ago is “Talents in Motion: Encouraging the Gifted in the Context of Migration and Intercultural Exchange“. I don’t know if you’ve been watching any news recently that doesn’t deal with the American election, but the EU is going through a crisis around the issue of refugees right now. Refugees are washing up on the shores of Greece, and Greece is asking for help in relocating and resettling them. There are thousands of homeless refugees wandering around Greece. I was talking to one man I met in Athens, and he was on his way to the port of Piraeus with two suitcases full of shoes that his community had collected- one suitcase full of shoes for children, the other for grownups. Shoes. It’s a crisis.
So, this conference is timely. I wonder if the organizers predicted the timeliness of the topic. I am not nearly as up on my foreign affairs or the state of immigrant crisis as many of my colleagues at this conference or in Greece, but even I can tell when a conference theme has a tiger by the tail. “Tiger by the tail” is an idiom that means: “To have become associated with something powerful and potentially dangerous; to have a very difficult problem to solve”.
Which means that I was terribly, terribly impressed when Martine Reicherts- the EU General Director for Education and Culture, the Austrian Secretary of State (whose name I missed), AND Cardinal Christoph Schönborn all spoke in the opening ceremony. That’s pretty “tall cotton”, as my Southern grandmother would say. I can certainly say I’ve never been in a room with a Cardinal and a Secretary of State before. And while the Secretary of State talked about the “need to develop the talents of all and the challenges inherent in integrating these people“, the Cardinal clearly stated “If you are not interested and do not care for other people, you should not be a leader… What a chance for our country and what a promise of talent we have from these refugees“. Martine Reicherts stated that it was critically important in developing ability to learn from and with people who do not think like we do, believe like we do or look like we do. It reminded me of the President of CCGA, Dr. Gregory Aloia, who often states that people only differ in the 4Ds- Dress, Diet, Deity, and Decorum- and that there is an underlying humanity and value in all people. I am not aware enough of the political context to understand the subtle zings or various stances that might have been taken tonight. But I knew that they were being taken. I could feel the breath of the tiger…
Bad joke from our tour guide this morning- “The last time we had a European Union, we called it the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. This one seems like it will be as successful as the last one”. (Which is to say not successful, since the A-H Empire is no more).
I came to this conference because I want to look at how teachers can help students develop their abilities and develop resilience. I want to look at the cultural impacts and teacher mindsets. This venue is a wonderful way to look at how teachers and education professionals are helping students and schools dealing with the challenges- and the possibilities- of students and families in transition. It is impressive to watch politicians, educational leaders and professors come together to wrestle this tiger.