GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY

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FALL 1992

VOLUME SIX, NUMBER FOUR

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We hope your summer has been refreshing and you are now ready for an exciting 1992-93 year of educating the gifted children of America! This will be a difficult year for gifted education programs across this great land because the balance between egalitarianism and individual achievement has been seriously upset in our public schools. American public education has tradi-tionally operated under two important mandates. One is the egalitarian concept of equal opportunity. The second is concerned with encouraging individual initiative so that groups such as the gifted can reach their maximum potential. The current situation has produced an unnecessary and destructive conflict between these two mandates. This can lead not only to the destruction of gifted programs, but can further ravage all of American education.

Cooperative learning is contrary to the philosophy of individual initiative and achievement which has guided our nation's political, social and educational philosophy since its founding. The so-called "school reform movement" has introduced cooperative learning as a curative for our nation's public schools. (The leaders of this movement argue that tracking is destructive to all students.) But these leaders, in their rush to produce yet another bandwagon for educators to hop onto, did little research to determine the impact of cooperative learning upon the gifted. Current research analyses sponsored by The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented have shown that grouping for differentiated instruction is very effective. In addition, papers appearing in this quarterly by Joyce Van Tassel Baska (Winter 1991) and Grace P. Lane (Spring 1992) have forcefully argued for grouping the gifted into differentiated programs.

Since the destruction of gifted education seems to be accelerating at an increasing rate, we must continue to present our best case for programs which enable children of exceptionally high abilities to work together in advanced level differentiated classrooms. State and local boards of education; local, state and federal politicians; and parents and regular education staff must all be alerted to the damaging effects of cooperative learning upon the gifted.

What should we do now as educators of the gifted? As a stopgap, we must help regular classroom teachers adapt their cooperative groups to the gifted. But, we will be performing a serious disservice to gifted students and to this nation if we do not keep up the pressure to maintain and restore differentiated programs. The truth must be upheld that giftedness and differentiation of instruction in special classrooms, centers and schools go hand-in-hand.

Dr. Virginia Ehrlich, Professor Emeritus at Teachers College, Columbia University, has graciously accepted our invitation to discuss her training in the academic world, particularly those experiences related to her research and applied work in the gifted field. Her essay presents a fascinating account of her education at Teachers College under the tutelage of some of the finest professors in the history of American education and psychology. It is a privilege to publish Dr. Ehrlich's article because it describes a highly productive era in academia which regretfully no longer exists.

The article by Joan Smutny discusses the results of national surveys of gifted education conducted by The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. Although the results are quite alarming for educators of the gifted, Ms. Smutny has some excellent prescriptions for dealing with this situation. Her recommendations are based upon her extensive activities in the gifted area such as the editorship of the Illinois Council for The Gifted Journal, and her supervision of numerous summer programs for the gifted (serving 1,800 children) in the Chicago metropolitan area.

We welcome Mike Walters back from his summer vacation in Iceland where he learned many interesting things about the culture and educational system of this small but great country. His essay is a tribute to our magnificent national poet, Walt Whitman, on his centenary. Walters explains why gifted children should carefully study Icelandic sagas and Whitman's poetry. We end this issue with excerpts from Leaves of Grass and Passage to India to emphasize Whitman's belief that America's diversity of peoples can produce a strong, unified nation.

                                                                                            Maurice Fisher, Ph.D. Publisher

                                                                                            giftededpress@comcast.net


A SALUTE TO THE PAST: REMINISCES OF A PIONEER OF GIFTED EDUCATION

BY VIRGINIA Z. EHRLICH, Ed.D.

TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

An invitation to reminisce is irresistible, especially when one has enjoyed the privilege of participation in significant beginnings of critical areas of education. It also presents an occasion to express appreciation for the opportunities provided by outstanding personalities in guiding, inspiring, directing and redirecting efforts toward ultimate concentration in a chosen field of work. Yes, I have had the opportunity to work with many well known personalities and to participate in the beginnings of major developments. However, to understand how this could have been possible, a basic awareness of historical or "time" backgrounds is essential.

HOW COULD IT HAPPEN? How does a first-year college undergraduate, who thought she was heading for a teaching career in foreign languages because it was the most likely source of income, become diverted into the highly specialized fields of statistics and educational research, and eventually a doctorate specializing in psychometrics and educational psychology? For that is what happened to this person. How was it possible for her to meet and learn from such well-known personalities as Robert Pintner, Edward Lee Thorndike, Robert L. Thorndike, Irving Lorge, Ralph Tyler, and others, and to become part of the early beginnings of significant events in the history of testing and education of the gifted?

Very simple! She attended a free college (Hunter) in New York City during the depression years. She needed a job, since even the expense of 5¢ subway fares was too great a burden to ask of a widowed, working mother. Teachers College of Columbia University had sent out a call for students to mark test papers at 35¢ an hour. Two of my friends found out about it and recommended me for the job.

BC: BEFORE CALCULATORS, COMPUTERS AND SCORING MACHINES. My first "psychometric" job was to score papers (mentally, of course) for the Morningside Achievement Tests being developed under the direction of Arthur Gates, known primarily for his work in reading research. Then, there was the endless tallying of alternative responses to items on graph paper for the detailed analyses required in test standardization. At that time, there were no scoring machines, no hand held calculators, and certainly no magic computers. The abacus, which the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians had used 2,500 years ago, was the only device available. There was a small counter that fits into the palm of the hand and that is still used for counting. In item scoring, it would be necessary to depress a button for each correct item or to depress the button as many times as needed to record the rating value of scaled items. Thus, in the early days of my experience with scoring tests, I had only to rely on whatever skill I had in mental addition and subtraction to arrive at a test score.

My experiences with test scoring served as a job reference source, so that I was asked to do similar work for graduate students completing their doctoral dissertations and for other research professors working on special projects. These tasks provided introductions to some truly sophisticated statistical procedures, whose significance was patiently explained to me, and access to the calculators available in the Teachers College Statistics Laboratory. There was the United Listing Machine which looked like a large washing machine, and which moaned and groaned as it provided, in three separate procedures, the basic data for a correlation formula. It also yielded a printed listing useful for checking purposes. There were also large Monroe calculators operating on gear mechanisms that banged along and could provide similar data but no listing for checking purposes.

I should note, also, that for analysis of data with N's of reasonable quantity or for solution of formulae, there were volumes that provided precalculated data. For example, Crelle's Rechentafeln (1898) provided the cross-products of all numbers from 1 to 1,000. Barlow's Tables (Comrie, 1958), which first appeared in print in 1814, gave data for all integers up to 12,500. One had just to copy the correct calculations onto worksheets and proceed from there to the ultimate solution of the appropriate formula. Needless to say, all of this was convenient, but quite tedious.

PINTNER AND MY FIRST PROFESSIONAL PAPER . As always, in preparation for these "final" analyses, there was the task of scoring test or questionnaire papers. I have literally scored (mentally) thousands of test papers, questionnaires, scales and all manner of "psychometric" instruments. One of these was the Bernreuter Personality Inventory. It was designed to measure neurotic tendencies toward introversion and self-sufficiency. The 120 items in the Inventory were rated by values ranging from -7 to +7. After being required to score about 350 of these scales by mental addition and subtraction, it was inevitable that I would seek an easier and faster way. And so it came to pass that I was urged by Professor Rudolph Pintner to write my first paper for a professional journal while I was still a college undergraduate. He was a member of the Teachers College Psychology Department in which I occasionally worked, and was noted for his work in mental ability testing. I had proposed that rating weights be converted to all positive values, so that mental addition could be straightforward and also reduce to some extent the possibility of scoring errors. The idea was especially useful because provision was made for adjusting the resulting score by my method to the published norms for the test.

When Dr. Pintner learned what I proposed to do, he wrote a letter to Professor Bernreuter, who replied by suggesting that I be encouraged to submit my article for publication (Bernreuter, 1932). Patiently, for three years, Dr. Pintner had pushed and prodded, until I finally wrote the article (Ehrlich, 1935). Dr. Pintner was a quiet, gentle person, who seemed to delight in encouraging the abilities of others. It is only in retrospect that I can appreciate the usefulness of the suggested modification, since fewer and fewer scales or tests now resort to the plus-minus rating scheme.

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE MEASURE-MENT OF ABILITIES. During this time, I had acquired another "part-time" job, administering, scoring and maintaining the records for the General Examination, which all graduate students at Teachers College had to take. (Perhaps I should explain here that juggling the various part-time jobs with college attendance, day and evening, required a work-day that began at about 8:00 AM and rarely ended before midnight. I arranged my time to fit my personal schedules.) The division was under the direction of Professor Edward Lee Thorndike, renowned for his contribution to learning theory -- concepts which dominated the field during the early decades of the 20th century. Certainly his observations that learning is guided by "mind set" or total attitude must have impressed me, for it was a fundamental concept of my dissertation, written years later, on the dimensions of attitude toward school (Ehrlich, 1968). My contacts with him were limited. It was more the atmosphere of thought and ideas that reached me, mostly through his graduate students. They frequently used the office facility I occupied and shared with me precious insights on recognizing ability and on analyzing, writing and re-writing test items for identifying intellectual superiority through measurement techniques. (We did the initial spade work for this project.) It was as a result of this research for the General Examination and as "custodian" of the files on hundreds of graduate students, many of whom I knew, that I developed an interest in the nature and nurture of superior intelligence. It was also during this period that I began an interest in reading biographies of intellectual giants, focusing especially on their childhood years.

Professor Thorndike seemed to me a rather shy per- son, who made me think of a giant, shaggy teddy bear. I have never been quite sure whether he recognized me or not as we passed on the street outside Russell Hall on 120th Street. The hesitant smile just made him seem all the more distant.

A LESSON IN SOCIAL BEHAVIOR. I learned more about him through one who was just the opposite -- verbal, certainly not shy, and quite overwhelming in the display of his abilities, Professor Irving Lorge. I happened to be with Lorge in his office one day. He was graciously advising me on possible plans for my continuing graduate work when a call came in. Lorge's reaction was justifiably triumphant. It was, he told me, Professor E. L. Thorndike telling him that his appointment to the Teachers College faculty had finally been approved. As Lorge explained it to me, there had been some petty, irrelevant opposition to Lorge's appointment, but Professor Thorndike stood his ground and fought for his protegé. It was a gratifying moment for Lorge and one which only confirmed for me more deeply my respect and admiration for his mentor.

COMPLEXITY AND SIMPLICITY: PSYCHO-METRICS AND ROBERT THORNDIKE. It was inevitable that, years later, when I had become Director of Gifted Child Studies in the New York City Board of Education, his son, Robert Thorndike, should become my sponsor for the doctorate degree. What a contrast between father and son! Robert Thorndike had a great sense of humor. Knowing of my interest in the young gifted child, he would frequently recall for me anecdotes of his own mischievous childhood.

It was during these "advisory" sessions, as well as in his classes, that I learned about the many subtleties and intricate ramifications of the psychometric field. Dr. Thorndike's major criticism of my thesis, however, seemed to be a need for more conciseness, to condense verbiage. No wonder! His own incredible skills at presenting subject matter tersely, concisely, and in deceptively simple language was an education in itself. One learned quickly, that every sentence uttered in class while he lectured to the far corner of the ceiling, or written in his handouts or texts, needed careful attention to its full significance. This was a man who symbolized intellectual and professional integrity, a model to be honored and to serve as a guide. He made no compromises with popular bias, and could refute misguided notions with a full battery of solid information.

Obviously, R. L.. Thorndike's work in the field of test construction, his collaboration with Irving Lorge in their Test of Cognitive Abilities, his texts in collaboration with Professor Hagen ( who also served on my doctoral committee), and his last major task of revising the Stanford Binet Test of Intelligence and updating the norms had a great influence on my work in the education of the gifted.

THE INCREDIBLE OCCURS. Let me slip back in time. During the early years of my appren-ticeship to the research personnel at the Teachers College Institute of School Experimentation, I had the opportunity to work on studies that covered a wide range of educational concerns, from biological foundations of education, the teaching of physics, unfounded beliefs in science, the Hartshore and May Character Studies, etc. It never occurred to me that the director, Dr. Otis Caldwell, would call me into his office one day and say: "If you can get your B.A. by June of this year, I will appoint you to the Research Faculty of this Institute." The dean at Hunter College had, from time to time, given me a few "exceptions" to carry extra credits beyond the allowed limits, and graciously extended the exception to the single extra credit needed to complete the graduation requirements, conditioned on my maintaining a satisfactory grade point average. On July 1, 1937 a stunned twenty-two year old graduate of Hunter College became the youngest member on the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate School of Teachers College.

THE CRITICAL THINKING TESTS OF DR. RALPH TYLER. I was assigned to work with Dr. J. Wayne Wrightstone, who was involved in test development and research comparing the effec-tiveness of progressive versus traditional practices in education, following Dewey's renowned philosophy of education. On a visit to Ohio State University, Wrightstone discussed some needed test developments with Professor Ralph Tyler. They agreed that what was needed were not more tests of general information in subject areas, but rather some objective measures of skills in critical thinking. On his return from the meeting, Wrightstone suggested that we develop some basic guidelines for tests to measure essentials of inference, generalization, deduction, induction, and other skills needed in acquiring, interpreting, and applying information. Thus, the first test bearing my name as co-author came into being. To the best of my recollection, these were the first of the critical thinking tests, which preceded Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) and which was dedicated to Ralph Tyler. The tests we developed reflected some of the concepts implied in the various sections of the General Examination as conceived by Professor E. L. Thorndike many years earlier.

Not long after Wrightstone and I had embarked on this venture, there was a general, somewhat social meeting whose real function I have forgotten, but which remains highlighted for me. I became impressed during a conversation with a charming gentleman with whom I was sharing notes on testing problems when our host intervened, saying to me: "Virginia, this is Professor Ralph Tyler." With young naiveté, I spluttered, "Not THE Ralph Tyler!" Well, who wouldn't be impressed by such an eminent pioneer in evaluation techniques?

THE ELECTRICAL SCORING MACHINE. Shortly after this episode, Wrightstone became one of the directors of a statewide survey in elementary and secondary education known as: The Regents Inquiry into the Cost and Character of Public Education in the State of New York. As his assistant, I supervised a staff of about 100 workers in processing all the secondary school testing data analyses related to this project. The ultimate purpose of the study was to make recommendations to the legislature for improvements and changes in the education laws of the State. The survey involved 62 general and 12 vocational high schools, and test data from 22,584 students in grades 9 through 12, plus a few postgraduates. This was 1936-37 in the dark ages of hand scoring.

Behold a savior, not for us, but surely for the future! In cooperation with IBM and a creative physics teacher who detested the chore of marking papers, I had the task of testing the efficiency of this inventor's "electric" scoring machine. Imagine our delight when we found that it could, with great accuracy, actually give us a reading of the test score for about 400 papers per hour!

I had assigned two young men to operate the machine and attend to its frequent breakdowns, while the inventor, a fellow named Johnson, raced to our "clinic" to track down and correct difficulties. Our offices were in an appropriate location for the birth of the machine age of testing, since it had been a training branch of the Columbia University School of Medicine in mid-Manhattan. Needless to say, it was up to me to explain the many possibilities of this wonder, including the counting of correct answers on answer sheets, checking for accuracy, and of course extending its utility to making item analyses of the newly constructed tests. No more plus, minus, zero markings on reams of graph paper, and the attendant chores of counting and recounting.

LEARNING FROM GIFTED CHILDREN. By this time, I had married and was blessed with three delightful daughters, who sealed my fate for involvement with gifted children. They attended New York City's public schools during a period when the system was a national leader in educating the gifted in grades 4 through 9. Each of my daughters attended these classes as well as the specialized high schools for the gifted. Two chose to attend the Bronx High School of Science, and one chose the Hunter College High School.

Our home was a frequent meeting place for their schoolmates, whose comments and observations on the educational process were more enlightening than any formal course could provide. My research activities have required my visiting, testing, and/or observing hundreds of classes for the gifted. One learns a great deal about gifted children in this manner, but one learns most from close living and experience with them in the informal settings of private life.

CURRICULUM PLANNING INVOLVES EXPERIENCED CLASSROOM TEACHERS. In my customary fashion of holding part-time jobs, I did a great deal of per diem teaching in schools of Upper Manhattan and Harlem, as well as editing and writing two curriculum teaching manuals. (Both are now out-of-print.) Toward Better International Understanding focused on the United Nations, and involved the active cooperation of the city's experienced social studies teachers, as well as the Education Ministry of the United Nations. Teaching Literature to the Gifted: Grades K-6 pro- vided a special opportunity to review the reactions of several hundred teachers of the gifted to the various curriculum approaches presented. It should be noted that it was customary to invite comments from teachers in the field while preparing such materials. At that time, there were about 1,100 classes for the gifted representing over 33,000 pupils in the City's schools. My recollection is that about one-third of the teachers participated in this venture. Both manuals turned out to be quite successful, not only within the City, but also in other parts of the country.

PROMOTING EDUCATION OF THE GIFTED. Meanwhile, Dr. Wrightstone had become Director of Educational Research in the New York City Board of Education, a center that was recognized during his administration as the most outstanding of all such bureaus in the nation. I had inherited direction of a research project on the use of specialist teachers in classes for the gifted, grades 4, 5, and 6 (Ehrlich, 1967). At about the same time, I rejoined Dr. Wrightstone as a Research Associate in his bureau. By mutual consent of all concerned, I retained my responsibilities for education of the gifted. Thus was born the Gifted Child Studies, under my direction, from which I was able to promote education of the gifted at all levels, K-12. It was in that role that I was offered a generous grant to further the cause of the gifted.

ORIGINS OF THE ASTOR PROGRAM FOR YOUNG GIFTED CHILDREN. The President of the Vincent Astor Foundation had asked for suggestions concerning what I thought might be desirable action to promote education of the gifted in our country. She responded very favorably to my suggestion that we start at an earlier age than was currently practiced, usually grade 4. For years, I had wanted to introduce in New York City an early childhood plan for educating young gifted children between the ages of four and eight, a program which became the first in the nation in a public school system for children in that age group and which eventually attracted international attention and prestige. Contrary to their usual policy, the Foundation sponsored my work for almost six years through the New York City Board of Education and later at Teachers College, Columbia University.

THANK YOU! None of this would have been possible if I had not had the guidance and inspiration provided me so generously by the many professionals I have cited. From them, I learned not only the technical skills essential to the performance of my work but also the need for a thorough mastery of the tools of research, their applications as well as implications and limitations. I experienced the intellectual and professional integrity of workers who made no compromises with political niceties or for personal ambition. I learned to consult the teachings of the past as well as those emerging in current studies.

As must be evident from these notes, I am enormously grateful to all of them for the opportunities they provided me to learn, to master, to explore an exciting and rewarding field of work. From this review of my own experiences, I have become particularly aware of the value of work apprenticeships. Although I eventually organized the required knowledge in formal courses, learning the basics of my field through actual work and personal experience was probably the most fruitful aspect of my education.

FUTURE COMMITMENTS. For many years, my colleagues and I have fought the battle for education of the gifted. We cooperated with the work of the Marland Report (1971). We appeared at USOE hearings on the needs of this group before state legislators, local school groups, and anyone else who gave us the opportunity to present our case. After all these years, we must still remain alert to the incursions of those whose animosity toward gifted children can prompt the use of such derisive terms as "nerd" or "egghead," or who refer to any curricular planning on behalf of the gifted with reports that use unenlightened and undefined terms such as "tracking," "special classes," "ability grouping," "acceleration," "enriched curricula," and so on. They seem to imply that matching practices to the particular needs of children are undemocratic notions and limited to only this "selected" group of children.

It is time that we face the realities of life with some degree of objectivity. We need to distinguish between causal and associative relationships. There is no causal relationship between intellectual ability on the one hand and sex, ethnic background, or poverty on the other. Often, it is the social, psychological, and other associated circumstances of life that may interfere with the display and flourishing of such abilities. One has only to read about the great achievers of the world to know that there can be no truth in such unqualified, biased statements.

We must continue to stand guard against those who refuse to accept natural and social phenomena. All children cannot learn everything. Children are individuals with varying degrees of capacities, cultural and social experiences, personal dispositions. Our goal as educators should be to provide appropriate learning experiences so that all children can function to the best of their abilities and circumstances in the society in which they live, and to encourage the development of any special skills or talents that they possess.

An essential characteristic of a program for the gifted in a public or private school should include a clear, precise definition of the type of giftedness being addressed. Distinctions must be made between intellectual giftedness, and talents. The term "g/t" (gifted and talented) may soothe those concerned with inclusiveness of definitions for political or strategic reasons, but the educational planning must be prepared to address whether and how it plans to develop both intellectual development and whatever "talent" children may have, latent or otherwise.

Studies such as those presented by Howard Gardner in his book, Frames of Mind (1983), help us to clarify our thinking about the meaning of the term "intelligence," but we must distinguish between philosophical discussions and practical and realistic applications in classroom settings.

Certainly we must make a plea to the professional community to use the rich resources of past experiences before embarking on changes that offer little or no improvement. It is discouraging to note the glaring omissions of rich resource material in bibliographies because, as one graduate student once commented to me: "Your references are out-of-date. You list books dating back to 1926!" She was referring to the Terman Genetic Studies of Genius (1925-26).

May we also remind those who object to special classes or programs for the gifted that many improvements in educational practice have their origins in classes for the gifted. These children show us what heights human beings can reach. They reveal for us what achievements the mind can attain if only it is nurtured and permitted to flourish. Their teachers are frequently freer to try new approaches. These, when properly adapted, can then be used for most children. A general pattern of classroom management can emerge, provided it is always clearly understood that the expected levels of performance and learning will have to match characteristics of the children involved.

Somehow, we must not cease our efforts on behalf of gifted children. They remain a vulnerable group whose needs are being increasingly ignored and whose potential for contributing to the welfare of mankind is a most precious asset of any society.

REFERENCES

Bloom, Benjamin S. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. NY: David McKay Co., 1956.

Comrie, L. J. Barlow's Tables. 4th Edition. NY: Chemical Publishing Co., 1958.

Crelle, A. L. Rechentafeln (Calculating Tables). NY: B. Westermann & Co., 1898.

Ehrlich, Virginia Z. Dimensions of Attitude toward School. Doctoral Dissertation. NY: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1968.

Ehrlich, Virginia Z. The Effect of Subject Specialists on Gifted Children and the School Program: Grades 4-6. NY: Board of Education of the City of New York, 1967.

Ehrlich, Virginia Z. (Zerilli, Virginia I.) Notes on Scoring Tests of Multiple Weighted Items. Journal of Educational Psychology, 26(5), May 1935, 395-397. (Written under maiden name.).

Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind. NY: Basic Books, 1983.

Marland, S. P. Education of the Gifted and Talented. Dept. of HEW. Washington, D.C.: USOE, August 1971.

Personal Communication from Prof. Bernreuter at Penn. State College to Prof. Rudolph Pintner, November 30, 1932.

Terman, Lewis. Genetic Studies of Genius. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1925-26.

 

DISCUSSION OF NATIONAL SURVEY OF GIFTED EDUCATION

BY JOAN SMUTNY, Ed.D.

NATIONAL-LOUIS UNIVERSITY, EVANSTON, IL

ACT I, Scene 1: The American public education system, late 20th century. Most gifted and talented students spend the majority of their school time in regular classroom settings, while many, if not most, normal classroom teachers have neither the background nor the experience to meet the needs of these special students.

Enter the National research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut under the leadership of Joseph S. Renzulli, a nationally-renowned researcher in special education for the gifted. Established in May 1990 through a $7.5 million, five-year award from the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, the Center (comprised of a four-member consortium including the Universities of Connecticut, Georgia and Virginia, and Yale University) sets a goal of producing quality applied research that is "problem-based, practice-relevent and consumer oriented." More than 260 public and private elementary and secondary school districts, representing various ethnic, demographic and socio-economic groups throughout the country, serve as major research sites for the institution.

ACT I, Scene 2: Each member university pledges itself to a specific research area: The University of Connecticut will examine the development of educational programs and policy guidelines for state educators and lawmakers; the University of Georgia vows to study how to identify gifted students; the University of Virginia promises to examine issues related to counseling; and Yale University agrees to develop instructional models. Consortium members are challenged to devise ways to identify bright children, study and recommend the most effective teaching practices for these children, examine instructional techniques and materials as well as ways to evaluate them, and recommend guidelines to help states develop regulations and funding procedures for gifted and talented programs in U.S. schools.

Realizing that the large majority of gifted students across America spend all but two to three hours per week in regular classrooms, the Center is surprised that so little research has been conducted on what happens to gifted students in this setting.

ACT II, Scene 1: In 1991, six thousand teachers nationwide take part in a major national study comprised of three individual studies (survey, observation and teacher training) comparing teaching practices which target high ability and average students.

ACT II, Scene 2: Cut to Classroom Practices Survey. In its Classroom Practices Survey, the Center finds that schoolroom teachers make only minor modifications in the regular curriculum to meet the needs of giftyed students. This was true, the survey discovers, for all public and private schools as well as public and private schools with high concentrations of African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American and Native-American students and classrooms in various parts of the country and various types of communities.

While teachers who do provide for the gifted are likely to assign advanced readings, independent projects, enrichment worksheets, etc., gifted children are given no more opportunity than average students to work on an advanced curriculum unit on a selected topic, to participate in a competitive program focusing on thinking skill/problem-solving. The survey also finds that the regular classroom services provided to gifted students inschools with formal gifted programs are similar to those provided in schools without formal programs.

Two conclusions are reached: (1) In districts with gifted programs, the normal teacher relies on the gifted resource teacher to meet the needs of the gifted child; and (2) Teachers of the gifted have little effect on what classroom teachers do to meet the needs of the gifted student.

Based on these findings, the Center calls for the expansion of gifted programs in schools. If budgets are tight, new and more concentrated efforts to help classroom teachers provide gifted students with an enriched curriculum should be instituted. In addition, new approaches should be explored for training teachers to use new materials; also, gifted specialists of the future may be asked to spend larger portions of their time training regular classroom teachers.

ACT II, Scene 3: Cut to Classroom Observation Study. In this study, the Center analyzes both the quantitative and qualitative data indicating that a large amount of gifted or high ability students receive a limited amount of differentiation in reading, language, math, science and social studies instruction. This supports the widely accepted notions that the greatest problem facing gifted and talented students is the lack of challenge in the curriculum based on previous mastery of content and skills taught in the regular classroom, and that gifted and talented students are unclallenged by the instruction provided to them in day-to-day schoolroom activities.

These findings are especially alarming because funding cutbacks are closing the doors on special programs for gifted learners outside the regular classroom in many parts of the country. If this trend continues, the Center finds, the needs of gifted and talented students must become "mainstreamed" and be addressed in the regular classrooms.

ACT II, Scene 4: The Summary. These research findings paint a disturbing portrait of the types of instructional services gifted students receive in regular classrooms across the United States, and should serve as a wake-up call for all those active in the field of education, including teachers, administrators and parents. A summary of these findings is as follows:

● 24 to 70 percent of what is being taught to students of all learning abilities can be eliminated from the normal classroom.

● Gifted students are not challenged in the regular classroom.

● Gifted resource teachers have little impact on schoolroom teachers in regard to meeting the needs of high ability children.

● No instructional or curricular differentiation was found in 84 percent of the activities experienced by the target high ability students.

The study does, however, unearth some promising areas to pursue:

● 90 percent of the teachers who participated in the part of the Center's study that offered limited inservice training, continue to use the teaching techniques they were taught.

● The studies support ability grouping of students in the classroom.

● One of the sub-studies found that with little new investment of money or time, classroom teachers can supplement gifted education and challenge the brightest students.

● Researchers found that making the gifted specialist a resource to students, and training regular classroom teachers, would keep gifted students interested and productive.

ACT III, Scene 1: The Lecture. While the results of these two studies may be disturbing, it is really an opportunity for all of us in the field to clean up our own act. Teachers, school administrators, parents and all those charged with educating our young people must take responsibility in sustaining the continuity and expansiveness of gifted education. Our gifted children should be equipped with torches, not matchsticks, in facing the future, and if they find themselves a few years down the road with no light or vision, we will be pulled down into darkness.

Cookie-cutter learning is not sufficient or valid, and this applies to both the gifted and so-called average child. Education should speak to the individual, for it is only through the individual child that a talent can be nurtured, practiced and expressed. Our gifted and highly talented should not have to languish in a middle-of-the-road curriculum classroom setting which, in trying to address the needs of all children, meets the needs of none or very few.

We need to do more, not less, for our students. Let us take a cue from The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented and do what we can with the resources we have at hand, for in doing so, the fruits of our labors are sure to multiply. Let us increase our efforts to help classroom teachers pro- vide gifted students with an enriched curriculum; let us devise new approaches for training regular classroom teachers so they can provide the most diverse and challenging learning environment for all children.

Let us pick up our own torches, and through enlightened thought and action, make schools and classrooms a place where our children can thrive, fuel their own lamps, and lead our country and the world to a better future.

ACT III, Scene 2: How would you end this little play? Consider the options and think through very carefully what course your decisions will take, for only you will be responsible for the outcome.

 

"The most casual student of history knows that, as a matter of fact, truth does not necessarily vanquish. What is more, truth can never win unless it is promulgated. Truth does not carry within itself an antitoxin to falsehood. The cause of truth must be championed dynamically." William F. Buckley, Jr., 1951.

"'Truth is mighty and will prevail' -- the most majestic compound fracture of fact which any of woman born has yet achieved." Mark Twain, 1882.

 

WALT WHITMAN (1819-1892) AND THE SPIRIT OF ICELAND

BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS             NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

"The American poets are to enclose old and new for America is the race of races. Of them a bard is to be commensurate with a people...." Preface To Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, 1855.

Recently I visited an island nation of bards, Iceland. It is fitting to visit that country in this year of the centennial of Walt Whitman. His spirit continues to reside in contemporary Icelandic culture. This is a result of the continuity of the bardic tradition in Iceland. The written and spoken words possess a unity there which is sadly lacking in contemporary American culture. For example, Halldor Laxness, an Icelandic novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955 uses the language of Icelandic sagas to describe modern Icelandic society. It is interesting that English is among the languages spoken by the multi-lingual Icelanders. Their capital city, Reykjavik, has a bookstore that only sells English language books -- Eymundsson's Bookstore -- and it recently highlighted Walt Whitman's poetry during my visit.

The Icelandic language is derived from Old Norse which was spoken by the original Viking settlers. The population is unique in that it is homogeneous; almost everyone is related to the founding settlers. From the 9th to about the 14th centuries AD, a major literary tradition developed there called "sagas" (an Icelandic word). These sagas contain history, myth, fiction, religion and the social values of the individuals who composed them. They were and still are the national treasure of the Icelandic people who cherish and can recite them verse-by-verse. This tradition has kept their national identity and language intact.

Icelanders refuse to permit the use of new words from modern technology to dilute their language. For example, instead of using the word "computer," they say a string of Icelandic words to describe this electronic machine. In contrast, our American language is being overwhelmed with technological words, bureaucratic constructs, and gibberish.

Walt Whitman composed a saga of the emerging American nation. He was deliberately seeking to develop a national identity which simultaneously expressed shared values and history. Although an idiosyncratic work, Whitman perceived Leaves of Grass as not only a communal expression of our nationhood, but he constantly maintained that it had worldwide meanings. He conscientiously wrote poetry which showed the E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) aspect of the American character. This was precisely the motif of Whitman's saga.

Two years ago while presenting a paper at the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education conference in Philadelphia, Maurice Fisher (the publisher of this quarterly) and I journeyed across the Benjamin Franklin bridge to Camden, New Jersey. There, we visited Walt Whitman's last home now located on the edge of Camden's inner city. The caretaker was an Afro-American woman who grew up next door to Whitman's home. During her childhood, the previous caretaker whetted her appetite for poetry and created in her a devoté of Whitman. Since her college days, she resided in Whitman's house. We had to make an appointment with her to visit this house. While talking to her, we got the impression she was the child Whitman never had. In her guest book, there were many names of esteemed visitors such as Carl Sandburg, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Alan Ginsburg, and the Icelandic writer, Halldor Laxness.

Gifted students will react to the poetry of Whitman as if they were 19th century readers living in the culture of these times. This is due to both the style and content of Whitman's verse for they have a unity of meaning that expresses his holistic sensibility. Whitman was interested in human emotions, political events, biographic information, science, nature, the multi-ethnic composition of American society and world religions. His era did not emphasize the specialization of knowledge.

The gifted individual, while able to focus upon a specialized field of knowledge, brings a broad background to specialized study. Whitman is an intellectual and artistic role model for the gifted because of his interest in and expression of broad fields of knowledge. The saga writers of Iceland also demonstrated the same type of holistic sensibility toward human conduct and knowledge. This is why the gifted student enjoys the saga technique as expressed by both Icelandic saga writers and Walt Whitman.

REFERENCES

Bachman, W. Bryant, Jr. Four Old Icelandic Sagas & Other Tales. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985.

Bradley, Sculley & Blodgett, Harold W. (eds.). Leaves of Grass: Authoritative Text, Whitman on His Art, Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman, A Life. New York: Touchstone Books, 1986.

Laxness, Halldor. The Atom Station. Sag Harbor, NY: Second Chance, 1982.

Simpson, Jacqueline (ed.). Icelandic Folktales and Legends. Berkeley, CA: University California Press, 1972.

Whitman, Walt. The Portable Walt Whitman. New York: The Viking Press, 1973. (With Biographical and Critical Introduction by Mark Van Doren).

Whitman, Walt. Poetry & Prose. Justin Kaplan (ed.). New York: The Library of America, 1982.

Whitman, Walt. The Complete Poems. Penguin Books, 1986.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Justin Kaplan (ed.). New York: Vintage/The Library of America, 1992.

 

IN COMMEMORATION OF WALT WHITMAN'S CENTENARY, WE PRESENT THE FOLLOWING VERSES BY AMERICA'S MOST GIFTED POET

 

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil,

    this air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and

    their parents the same,

I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,

Hoping to cease not till dealth.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,

Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never

    forgotten

I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,

Nature without check with original energy.

From Song of Myself in Leaves of Grass, 1892, Walt Whitman

 

O sun and moon and all you stars! Sirius and Jupiter!

Passage to you!

Passage, immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins!

Away O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!

Cut the hawsers -- haul out -- shake out every sail!

Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long

    enough?....

Sail forth -- steer for the deep waters only,

Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,

For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,

And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!

O farther farther sail!

O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?

O farther, farther, farther sail!

From Passage to India, 1871, Walt Whitman