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The advantages of enrichment versus acceleration have been argued back-and-forth among educators of the gifted for several decades. Although this debate concerning which approach is best for gifted students has not yet been resolved to the satisfaction of both sides, improvements in these approaches over the last decade have led to the the more effective use of differentiated humanities curricula, teaching at Bloom's higher levels of thinking such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation, and special schools/programs for students gifted in mathematics and the sciences. It is important to reopen this debate in the light of significant changes which have occurred in American society during this period of time. Scott Ready revisits the enrichment versus acceleration debate with a new perspective related to current issues of self-development, employment and the Gulf War. He is a mathematician (who studied at Princeton University) and a science writer from Grand Lake, Colorado. Mr. Ready previously wrote an interesting article for our January-March 1989 newsletter on how the study of physics and quantum mechanics can inspire gifted students to become more creative and knowledgeable about science.
We have also included reprints of two critiques of cooperative learning. The first article written by Dr. Patricia O. Tierney for PAGE Update (Spring 1990) represents the viewpoint of an administrator of gifted programs and a board member of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE). She is a Coordinator of the Centers for Advanced Study in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Editor of Page Update. The second article on cooperative learning is from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Update (October 1990), and was written by Scott Willis, a staff writer for this organization. We thank Dr. Tierney and ASCD for permission to reprint these articles.
Based upon these articles on cooperative learning, the expressions of concern we have received from colleagues, and our study of the characteristics of gifted children, we believe that cooperative learning represents a serious threat to differentiated programs for the gifted. Because of state and federal reductions in education budgets, gifted programs are now vulnerable to being seriously reduced or completely eliminated. If such an educational disaster occurs, it may even be "smoothed over" with the excuse that gifted students can be effectively challenged in cooperative learning situations. In our opinion, cooperative learning represents a "Scud missile" attack upon the concept of and justification for teaching gifted children based upon what is known about their learning characteristics, e.g., their self-motivation and desire for independent learning experiences. To combat this attack, it is time for educators of the gifted to use "Patriot missile" defenses based upon how their students can learn most effectively. Would Thomas Edison have produced his greatest inventions under cooperative learning? We doubt it. Would Willa Cather have written her magnificent books about life on the Great Plains in a cooperative learning group? Obviously not.
Dr. Mike Walters has again written a stimulating account of a great American writer, Jack London -- one of the most gifted and non-cooperative learners in our literary history. In today's differentiated classroom, London's books and stories can be effectively used in conjunction with studies of ecology, environmental problems, animal rights, and philosophical examinations of how adversity can produce a better human being.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D. Publisher
LET THERE BE ENOUGH TIME TO DEVELOP GIFTEDNESS:
CONCERNS ABOUT ACCELERATION
By Scott Ready Grand Lake, Colorado
Programs which place students on an accelerated track and those which offer a qualitatively different way of learning need to be clearly distinguished from each other by educators of the gifted. It is well known that gifted students do not approach their studies with the same attitude as other students. For example, as Michael Walters explained in an earlier issue of this newsletter (July-September 1990), gifted students are prone to see issues in shades of gray. Therefore, it is a disservice to place them in the same class in which students are ranked primarily by their performance on multiple-choice exams.
Of course, it costs much less to simply accelerate gifted students and rush them off to college than it costs to provide a special differentially based course of instruction. A student who earns advanced placement college credit and skips a year or two of high school "saves" his local school system a good deal of trouble and money. The student is given the impression that all is well since he or she will be able to fast track into a high paying job (and become a tax payer instead of a liability).
An accelerated program judges what is best for the student according to adult standards. Most students attend college to get a degree and claim its financial rewards, but a young and gifted student comes primarily to learn. My own experience as a recitation instructor for required courses in mathematics made this all too clear. The average student wants to know how to get a B on the next exam and no more. His or her motives and worries over getting ahead are quite different from those of a gifted student who knows that he or she is ahead and would simply like to play. The gifted can afford to "waste" time but are not invited to do so. Instead, they are usually given a barrage of accelerated courses which conditions them to approach their studies in a strictly utilitarian way. Even for them, college becomes a race. If after being rushed into adulthood they become scientists, their "teamwork" may be half feigned. A standard college level course in physics is a whirlwind of topics, each of which could be studied for a year by itself. For those in the class who are already married or over twenty years of age and are anxious to be employed, the pace of instruction is perhaps appropriate. In the second semester of a first year physics course, students are introduced to and rapidly tested on all of the following: advanced Newtonian mechanics, the theory of heat and statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, wave and sound motion, the theory of and properties of light, basic quantum physics and Einstein's theory of special relativity. It's not fun. The course exams are based solely on problem solving -- an area in which students who can score in the top 1% on college entrance exams need the least amount of help.
For the student who has the gift of time and the thirst for knowledge there are marvelous experiments, readings in the original literature and software to delve into and enjoy. But not if the student has a full course load along with his or her peers. It is unfair for bright and young students who ace their way through Newtonian mechanics to then be denied the luxury of applying their skills to "useless" problems in celestial mechanics and science fiction. Yet the founders of physics did just that and "wasted" their time in theology and worse things.
Johannes Kepler swallowed Pythagorean mysticism whole and claimed that the orbits of the known planets and their number could be derived from the five Platonic solids and spheres perfectly nested within one another. Absolute nonsense of course, but it might be that without such rapturous musings, Kepler would not have had the endurance to painstakingly study Tycho Brahe's astronomic observations and discover an 8 arc minute (2/15th degree of an angle) challenge to his ideals. Kepler humbly wrote, "Because these 8 arcmin could not be ignored, they alone have led to a total reformation of astronomy."
Albert Einstein is known to have spent a considerable amount of his time poring over the writings of Spinoza. Any science or engineering student today who takes time out to read Spinoza does so at great peril to his grade point average. It would poison his blandly cultured scientific mind. Yet for Einstein, Spinoza illuminated, "the moral side of our nature -- that internal striving towards the attainment of truth which under the name, amor intellectualis, was so often emphasized by Spinoza." The education of the gifted requires special programs, materials and teachers. The crux of the problem is that there is a great reluctance to fund special differentiated programs, even though it is with the gifted that we can expect the greatest return for our dollar. I have been working on a book entitled, Quantum's Lesson and Einstein's Dilemma. It is a little too thorough in its derivation of key concepts to be a popular science book, and it is too advanced for most high school students who are running on an accelerated track to read it. Better than my own half-completed book is Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind (Oxford University Press, 1989). Here is an excellent book for gifted students to discuss and to follow-up with further research. Unfortunately, the book is just past the reach of high school students and not conventional enough to be college material. The fact that this mathematical book did manage to be a best seller for half of 1990 indicates there is a demand for rigorous and deep material which is of no immediate value. I heartily recommend that fast tracking gifted students slow down and take time to read Penrose's excellent book.
It has naively been assumed that once gifted students enter college, their problems are over. At MIT and Caltech this may be true, although these and other highly competitive schools do have a history of discouraging some very bright students. One cannot expect a few private universities to educate all of our gifted and talented students. For personal and financial reasons many top students choose to attend a state university. Yet in all universities, an alarming number of students who start out majoring in the hard sciences quit. Why? For gifted students it might be because standard courses in science and mathematics give them few opportunities to exercise their gray areas of thinking.
Students are not flocking to the sciences as they did in the sixties. The thrill of Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttle is long gone. The recently launched Hubble telescope is a disaster and will cost us greatly in terms of students who will not major in the hard sciences. For students in Japan and Korea, the fruits of hard scientific labor are daily shown in the high quality products these countries produce. In the United States, particularly during the military build-up of the Reagan years, the work of many of our talented researchers has been classified or buried in the technical jargon and hidden from view. Suddenly, with the U.S. at war in the Persian Gulf, our military hardware is on parade. What will be the impact of the repeated news clips of Stealth fighters and Patriot missiles on students' career plans and course electives?
The military-industrial complex of the U.S. is in its ascendancy again, while the business of making the products we daily use continues to shift to Mexico, Japan, Korea, and later on towards Eastern Europe and even the Arab states which survive the Gulf War. The U.S. has a guaranteed status in the years ahead of being the world's premier exporter of high tech weaponry and superpower diplomacy. Egypt sends in cotton while we send out consultants -- yet which export is more enduring? From 1964-66 I lived in Cairo, Egypt, while my father worked as a consultant with The Ford Foundation giving workshops on American business practices and industrial relations. Much of my father's work was undone by the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt in 1967. Years of consulting work and diplomacy evaporated.
The U.S. is known for taking great risks to reach a high and tenuous moral ground. It is too early to know what the aftermath of the Gulf War will be, but the repercussions in science and math education are sure to be many. One of the first casualties of electronic warfare is the art of studying mathematics for its aesthetic pleasure. The Pythagorean tradition is today comatose and its aesthetic appeal lost. The calculus of Leibniz and Euler has been displaced by the ballistics of Newton and Von Braun. The studies of electricity and light of Maxwell and Einstein have been replaced by Star Wars.
We must offer our top graduates more meaningful and enduring work than classified research. The challenges of gifted education run through the entire educational spectrum and do not end with adulthood.
If a shortage of funds is going to cause our best students to be hurried off to college, then gifted education will become a college level problem as well. According to a 1987 study by the National Science Foundation, The Science and Engineering Pipeline, 40% of the students who enter college with an interest in majoring in science or engineering abandon the sciences within their first year of college. Surely in that 40% there are a number of gifted students who have been ill served. Of those who try to stay the course, only 60% actually graduate with an undergraduate degree in the sciences. No high school would be allowed to exist with such a dropout rate.
In today's technological and competitive world one needs a graduate level of understanding to do innovative work. Presently, 70% of those who have an undergraduate degree in the sciences do not go on to earn a graduate degree in the sciences (PRA Report 67-2, April 1987, p. 2). This is truly unfortunate because it is in graduate school that one finally gets to test one's wings a bit and get to know one's teachers and the many professionals who visit universities. At the top levels of a university, competitive forces are held in check and there is much intellectual color. There, one can find the elements of gifted education which should reside at all levels of education. Accelerated programs for the gifted do not nurture the right attitude for lifelong learning. It's all rush rush rush -- a mad scramble up the corporate ladder. Instead of arranging for the gifted to complete their courses as quickly as possible, one needs to encourage them to make their continuing education a constant and pleasant aspect of their life. It is important that the gifted find their armor intellectualis and be true to it for a rich and meaningful life. Not everyone hears a calling. Particularly for those who don't, their education should not be rushed as if it were something to quickly get behind them. Let there be time to savor all areas of learning. For many, it is the journey and not the destination which suffices.>>
COOPERATIVE LEARNING: WILL IT "BUZZ" THE GIFTED
By Patricia O. Tierney
Pittsburgh Public Schools
(Reprinted with permission of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education UPDATE, Spring 1990, Patricia O. Tierney, Editor)
There is a new crop of educational "buzz words" these days. "Back to Basics" and "Open Classroom" are out; "Cooperative Learning," "Thinking Skills," "Authentic Assessment," "Artifacts" and "Metacognition" are in.
Cooperative Learning is the most seductive of the lot. According to Professor Robert E. Slavin of Johns Hopkins University, a leading advocate of Cooperative Learning, this method refers to a set of instructional procedures in which students work in small, mixed ability learning groups. The groups usually have four members -- one high achiever, two average achievers, and one low achiever. The students in each group are responsible not only for learning the material being taught in class, but also for helping their groupmates learn.
It's wonderful! Let's all learn together! Look at the research from Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon Universities that shows Oriental students do so well in mathematics because they study together and they help each other until everybody masters the concepts. But our Afro-American students often do poorly in freshman calculus -- the all-important gateway to careers in science and engineering. Why? Because Afro-American students study in isolation.
Then look at the isolation of our elementary students. "Sit in your seat. No talking. Don't look at anyone else's paper." When Cooperative Learning is used in grades 2 through 8, basic skills and student attitude toward learning improve. Clearly, cooperative Learning is an idea whose time has come.
But what are the implications for gifted children? They will be the ones who will help the other children to achieve mastery. Very democratic. Very "kind and gentle." Very American.
However, there are still some nagging questions to be answered:
1. What will the gifted learn? Perhaps, several hundred words in their elementary reading program? Various computations, including fractions in time for middle school and possibly pre-algebra in time for high school?
2. How then will cooperative learning in a heterogeneous classroom class benefit the child who is an "independent reader" in the primary grades, or the child who is ready for geometry in grade six?
3. When American students score at or near the bottom of every assessment of students in the industrial nations, whether in writing, science or mathematics, it is of course important to help all children learn more effectively. But what about accelerating those at the top who will be competing or, better still, cooperating in the global market place?
Remember, the SATs have improved a little at the bottom, but scores at the top have been flat since 1972.
In sports, we encourage teamwork and "cooperative learning," but has anyone heard of a varsity team playing with the mainstream gym class on a regular basis? Gifted athletes practice their cooperative learning with their gifted peers. And that is "OK" -- as American as apple pie because we're talking about sports. "Egg heads" are a different story.
It is not American to be too intellectual. It's alright to be smart enough to make "big bucks" like Donald Trump or Eddie Murphy, but reading a lot, or worse -- thinking a lot -- doing weird things in science and math, or writing poems is "uncool" in our culture.
Yet, these are the things gifted children excel in. Some part of their day can be spent in cooperative learning groups in the mainstream. Helping others should be part of their education. And all gifted children are not gifted in all areas; they may need regular education in some subjects. But they also need to learn at their own level -- in cooperative learning groups with their gifted peers, engaging in the higher level thinking skills of analysis, evaluation and original kinds of synthesis.
So parents, educators -- BEWARE that cooperative learning does not become another gimmick for mainstreaming gifted children. Cooperative groups that are working at the appropriate level of acceleration and enrichment to challenge these children are excellent. Cooperative learning groups that are busy with "basics" are not.
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"When a true genius appears in this world you may know him by the sign that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." Jonathan Swift
COOPERATIVE LEARNING FALLOUT? Some See 'Exploitation' of Gifted Students in Mixed-Ability Groups
By Scott Willis
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
[From Willis, Scott (October 1990). ASCD Update 32(8), 6-8. Reprinted with permission of the ASCD. Copyright (c) 1990 by the ASCD. All rights reserved.]
Gifted programs are being eroded by the increasing popularity of cooperative learning, and gifted students are being exploited in cooperative groups, some experts on gifted education charge.
In the mistaken belief that heterogeneous cooperative learning groups benefit all students, schools are curtailing separate programs for the gifted and redirecting funds to approaches that mix students of varying abilities, these experts say. As a result, "programs and funds that ought to be there for the really gifted kids" are disappearing, says William Gustin of the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University.
In many middle schools, the trend to adopt cooperative learning "has threatened to wipe out the gifted program," says Linda Silverman, Director of the Gifted Child Development Center in Denver, Colorado. In her role as consultant, Silverman has visited dozens of communities in the past six months where she has seen "a detrimental effect" on gifted programs from cooperative learning efforts.
The movement to phase out tracking has fueled this trend, observers say. In addition, some schools have been pressured to move to heterogeneous grouping because of low minority representation in their gifted programs, says Grace McDonald, lead supervisor of gifted programs in Broward County, Florida. Instead of trying to identify more gifted minority students or broadening the definition of giftedness, some schools are taking the "easier" route of eliminating the gifted program altogether, she says.
Such actions could be "devastatingly negative for gifted children," predicts John Feldhusen, Director of the Gifted Education Resource Center at Purdue University. "Children at all levels need Learning opportunities that are challenging," he points out. Gifted students in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups are denied such opportunities, he says, because they must work at a pace determined by the group. Consequently, they spend a large portion of their time learning things they already know -- or teaching them to others. Using gifted students as "assistant teachers" is not ethical, he believes, because they have a right to work to their potential.
In heterogeneous cooperative learning groups, gifted students either "carry" the group or get bored and tune out, some observers say. Gifted students report feeling used, resentful, and frustrated by group work with students of lower ability, says Silverman. When they are held to the level and pace of average students, gifted students are "hurt academically, socially, and probably motivationally," adds Julian Stanley, who directs the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth at Johns Hopkins University.
Kathi Kearney, founder of the Hollingworth Center for Highly Gifted Children in South Casco, Maine, believes that working in heterogeneous cooperative groups may be "a particularly difficult situation for a highly gifted girl," because girls feel acute pressure to do what is socially expected -- even if that means performing below their ability in order to fit in.
As a gifted 8th grader at Auburn Middle School in Auburn, Maine, last year, Corrie Cutler says she had to do all the work for her cooperative group in social studies class, because the other students were unable or unwilling to participate. "I don't think it's the student's job to make other students learn or want to learn," she says. "That's the teacher's job." Cutler's frustration drove her to circulate a petition against cooperative learning, which was signed by 30 other students at her school.
Other experts defend the use of heterogeneous cooperative learning groups with all students of all abilities, including the gifted. Robert Slavin, a Johns Hopkins University researcher and expert on cooperative learning, argues that high achievers can gain as much from working in such groups as average and low achievers do.
Slavin has found heterogeneous learning groups to be "consistently effective" for students in the "top third," but he concedes that the effects on the very brightest students -- the top 5 percent or so -- have not been specifically examined. However, he adds that highly gifted students have been included in his studies and that "they've done very well."
Because the use of cooperative learning does not affect the pace of instruction in a classroom, it is misleading to claim that the approach holds bright students back, Slavin says. Further, he emphasizes that cooperative learning is not peer tutoring; all students are presented with new material by the teacher. Students who already know the material should be accelerated in that subject, Slavin believes.
Margo Long, Director of the Center for Gifted Education at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, also believes gifted students can benefit from cooperative learning in mixed-ability groups. Long offers strategies teachers can use to "protect" gifted students from having to shoulder the entire burden of work or having their grade pulled down by the group:
● Occasionally group gifted students together or allow them to choose their own groups.
● When group members take on different roles, make sure gifted students have roles that require higher-order thinking.
● Create projects and assignments
that do not allow groups to depend on one person's efforts.
● Avoid group grades.
Both Slavin and Long argue that gifted students benefit socially from being placed in heterogeneous groups. But that view is hotly contested by other experts. The popular notion that "gifted kids are peculiar ducks who need to be taught proper social behavior" is simply not borne out by research, says Feldhusen. Moreover, gifted students are most likely to learn humility and democratic values among their intellectual peers, says Silverman. "If you really want to create an elitist child, make her the smartest kid in the class for 12 years," she adds drily.
Some experts blame misinterpretation of the research for the belief that the use of cooperative learning justifies scrapping gifted programs. Many readers of the literature have come away with the impression that cooperative learning is a panacea, says Gustin, without recognizing that its effects on students of very high ability have not been researched.
"There is not a shred of evidence" that cooperative learning is the best model for students at the extremes of ability, says Silverman. Although some educators presume that gifted students benefit from heterogeneous learning groups, that conclusion is not supported by hard data, agrees James Gallagher, an education professor at the University of North Carolina -- Chapel Hill and editor of The Journal for the Education of the Gifted.
McDonald believes cooperative learning can be appropriate for gifted students -- provided the gifted are grouped together, as is done in her school system. When there is more than a two-grade-level difference in ability among students in a cooperative group, she says, "I don't think anybody benefits."
Silverman and others worry that placing gifted students in heterogeneous groups denies them the opportunity to develop appropriately. "The gifted are a special education group," she stresses. "They do not profit from being placed with the average." Schools that insist on doing so, she believes, bring everyone to the level of "the lowest common denominator." The willingness some schools have displayed to do that, she says, represents "the antithesis of the search for excellence." >>
(The following question and responses from prominent educators of the gifted were also included in ASCD Update (October 1990) along with above article.)
ISSUE: Recent research has sharply criticized the tracking of students into ability groups. Should gifted students be educated in special programs outside the regular classroom? Responses from:
Linda Silverman, psychologist and Director of the Gifted Child Development Center in Denver, Colorado
Absolutely. There is no research indicating that the gifted are best served in heterogeneous groups. The research on ability grouping has been limited to about 95 percent of the population -- the mid-range of the curve of distribution. Researchers such as Robert Slavin have carefully limited their findings to this mid-range. Therefore, it is thoroughly inappropriate to apply this research to populations with special needs. Nevertheless, widespread misinterpretation of this research has led to the abandonment of needed services for gifted students.
Eliminating programs for the gifted is as unethical as eliminating programs for the retarded. Of course, doing the latter would also be illegal and lead quickly to lawsuits. The regular classroom cannot adequately serve children with severe developmental delays or children who are extraordinarily advanced. The more a child deviates from the norm in either direction, the more curricular modifications are needed. It would be ridiculous to expect a regular classroom teacher to plan a program for self-feeding for one child and beginning calculus for another. Yet, children of the same age may differ to that degree in their development. Special programs are essential for the welfare of children with special needs.
Wilma Lund, Educational Consultant who coordinates gifted education for the state of Illinois
Not necessarily. A regular classroom environment can meet the needs of high-ability students -- under certain circumstances.
In a regular classroom, the teacher must modify curriculum and employ effective teaching strategies to meet all students' needs -- including those of high-ability or gifted students. For too many gifted children in regular classrooms, the level and pace of instruction do not match their ability, and expectations are not sufficiently challenging.
While mainstreaming can work for gifted students, to cast "tracking" as the culprit in an either/or choice between the two alternatives is too simplistic. For some skills -- mathematics, for example -- ability grouping within or outside the classroom is often the most effective approach.
Administrators and teachers must research different instructional strategies and learning settings to determine their effectiveness. Then they must make choices suited to each child's learning styles and abilities. In this way, teachers can become skilled diagnosticians and managers of appropriate programs. Of course, educational systems may not be able to attain this goal if resources are not allocated to effect change.
If educators scrutinize research before choosing strategies and settings, they will help all of their students to reach their full potential.
John Feldhusen, Professor of Education at Purdue University
Yes. The movement to do away with ability grouping is based on the faulty conclusion of researchers such as Jeannie Oakes that heterogeneous grouping is good for low-achieving students and, hence, for all students.
Oakes' 1985 book, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality, is a descriptive study of high-, middle-, and low-achieving classes in 25 American secondary schools. According to Oakes, American schools are doing a very good job with high-track classes, which are "characterized by a greater frequency of active learning activities and more on-task behavior." By contrast, low-track classes, she reports, are scenes of "angry and hostile interactions." In short, Oakes presents a picture of productive learning in high-track classes and grossly off-task conditions in low-track ones.
Incredibly, Oakes, ignoring the dangers of drawing causal inferences from descriptive data, concludes that heterogeneous grouping will solve the problems of low-track students.
We simply do not know if that is so. What is more, we do know that students in high-track classes will learn less in heterogeneous classes, as the research of James and Chen Kulik, as well as research reported by the National Center for Effective Secondary Schools, has clearly shown us.
Instead of eliminating ability grouping, educators should make major efforts to improve instruction in low-track classes and to sustain appropriate and high-quality teaching in middle- and high-track classes. Heterogeneous grouping will create chaos and severely lower achievement for all students at all levels of ability.>>
(Dr. James Gallagher's response to ASCD's question regarding grouping gifted students will be reprinted in a future issue of this newsletter.)
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PORTRAIT OF JACK LONDON: ENVIRONMENTALIST, HUMANIST AND MASTER STORYTELLER
By Michael E. Walters New York City Public Schools
"Human kindness was like a sun shining upon him, and he flourished like a flower planted in good soil." From White Fang by Jack London
There has been a recent revival of interest in the American writer, Jack London (1876-1916) as expressed in a new Walt Disney movie of his famous book, White Fang (1906), and by a postage stamp issued in his honor. Educators of the gifted should have several reasons for participating in this new appreciation of this great American writer.
The first reason concerns a major controversy related to identifying the gifted child. Should identification be primarily based upon standardized test results, or should the adaptive behaviors a child shows to adverse family and economic conditions also be taken into account? Jack London did not receive a formal education, and he represents a clear example of a self-taught individual. The major obstacle to his obtaining a formal education was his economic background, since he was from a very poor working class family at the turn of the 19th century. However, certain individuals in his life noticed that he was gifted, such as librarians in the Oakland, California Public Library. (This fact illustrates why we need good professional librarians to work closely with gifted children.) These librarians were very much aware of his voracious appetite for reading and his sensibility to the written word. Some of the books he particularly liked were The Legends of the Alhambra by Washington Irving, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
The second reason educators of the gifted should appreciate Jack London is that his interests were related to many contemporary problems. For example, ecology was a major theme of his books, and most of them include nature as a background for his stories. However, nature was more than an environmental context; he used different settings such as the Yukon, the Klondike and the Pacific South Seas as metaphorical themes in which nature represented the human being's struggle with life. (President Theodore Roosevelt accused him of being a "nature faker" and an ecological radical.)
Many of his books were also concerned with the humane treatment of animals, e.g., The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906). The plight of the individual during economic crises was another major theme, especially since he experienced much economic adversity during his early years. In order to write The People of the Abyss (1903), he lived among the homeless people of London. This book was one of the first attempts by a writer to describe the suffering of a particular group by participating in its lifestyle.
Drug and alcohol abuse were both literary and personal concerns. His book, John Barleycorn (1913), was an attempt to grapple with his own alcoholism which contributed to his early death at age 40. War, depicted as a struggle for survival, was another recurrent topic; but it was war as a struggle for survival -- whether a human being versus nature as occurred in the world renowned short story, To Build a Fire (1908); a human being in conflict with an animal as shown in another well-known story, Batard (1902); or in an actual war. The latter was presented in his journalistic account of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.
The third reason to become more familiar with Jack London's talents is because his writing was of very high quality. He was obviously a popular writer of his day as evidenced by the wealth he accumulated from his books and stories. But the brilliance of his writing style far surpasses most of today's "best-selling" authors. His popular novels were based upon good stories and contained ideas of great depth about the human condition. The Sea-Wolf (1904) used the concept of the Nietzschean superman to describe the main character, White Fang (1906) emphasized the redemptive power of human kindness, and Martin Eden (1909) examined the impact of education upon producing class distinctions.
Jack London is especially relevant to the interests and personal lives of inner city gifted children. I have taught excerpts from his writings to such students in numerous sixth grade classes. They were not only fascinated by his stories, but they perceived him as a role model for achieving great things in life. Welcome back Jack London!
Foner, Philip S. The Social Writings of Jack London. NYC: Citidal, 1984.
Great Short Works of Jack London. NYC: Harper & Row (Perennial Lib.), 1970.
Library of America, The. Jack London: Novels & Stories. NYC: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1982.
London, Jack. John Barleycorn or Alcoholic Memoirs. NYC: Signet (NAL), 1990.
London, Jack. Martin Eden. NYC: Bantam, 1986.
London, Jack. The Sea Wolf. NYC: Bantam, 1986.
O'Connor, Richard. Jack London, a Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964.
Stone, Irving. Jack London: Sailor on Horseback. NYC: Signet (NAL), 1986.