GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
10201 YUMA COURT
P.O. BOX 1586
MANASSAS, VA 20108
VOLUME SEVEN, NUMBER ONE
LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION: $22.00
New Year's Greetings! We welcome our many new subscribers from Virginia and other states. The articles in this issue will help you to focus upon current problems in gifted education. By writing about "coercive egalitarianism," Stephen Schroeder-Davis, Coordinator of Gifted Services in Elk River, Minnesota, has presented a stimulating article about the social and physical pressures exerted upon gifted children and adolescents to conform to mediocre academic standards. His recommended solutions to this problem may help your gifted students to withstand these pressures. This article was originally published in a shorter version by the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented (May/June 1992 issue of this state's gifted newsletter). Gifted Education Press will publish a book by Schroeder-Davis in the Spring of 1993 which addresses coercive egalitarianism in more detail, and will include lessons related to current fiction (for children and adolescents) concerned with this problem. The second article by Bruce Gurcsik, Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Arin Intermediate Unit in Shelocta, Pennsylvania, illustrates the potential contributions of gifted education theory and practice to educational reform. This article was originally published in Network News & Views (May 1992), a publication of the Educational Excellence Network. Gurcsik empha-sizes that many of the differentiated teaching methods, which have been effectively used with gifted students, can be adapted to the regular education program. His numerous examples of differentiated curricula clearly illustrate a position we have advocated for many years: gifted education programs should serve as a model for the entire school curriculum. The final article by Michael Walters discusses how the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen King can be effectively used to kindle gifted students' sensibility.
Now, we wish to discuss an important matter related to gifted education at the University of Virginia which has implications for all major university programs in gifted education. It concerns the treatment Emeritus Professor of Education, Virgil S. Ward, has received from this University's Curry School of Education regarding an Academic Chair to be established in his name. In this regard, we present the following open letter to the President, Dr. John P. Casteen, III, of the University of Virginia. We welcome the responses of Dr. Casteen, and his faculty and administrative staff to this letter of concern, as well as Dr. Ward's former students, the Donors who provided funds for the Ward Chair, and our subscribers.
Dear Dr. Casteen:
Emeritus Professor of Education Virgil S. Ward has provided the University of Virginia with thirty years of substantive and dedicated service in the field of Differential Education for the Gifted. His theoretical and applied writings in this field have had a great impact, nationally and internationally, upon the design and development of programs for the gifted. The students he has trained through either Masters or Doctoral programs, such as Dr. Joseph Renzulli, Dr. Hans Jellen (deceased), Dr. Margaret Emanuelson, Dr. Esther Goldman, Dr. Michael Walters and myself, Dr. Maurice Fisher, continue to work to improve the education of gifted children. I believe the treatment received by Professor Ward concerning the establishment of an Academic Chair in his name has been unfair in relation to his accomplishments and disgraceful to this great university. In order to resolve this problem in a way that maintains the high standards of ethics and reason established by the founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, please implement the following: (1) As originally intended by Dr. Ward's students and the Donors, name this Chair, the Virgil S. Ward Chair in Differential Education for the Gifted, and (2) appoint Professor Ward, as the first individual to hold it, so that he can establish its tone and direction.
Many educators of the gifted, across Virginia and the nation, look to you for positive leadership in resolving this matter in a way that is agreeable to Dr. Ward, his former students, and the Donors. With much respect for you and the University of Virginia, I am --
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher
Gifted Education Press
COERCIVE EGALITARIANISM: SUBVERTING ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH NEGLECT AND HOSTILITY
BY STEPHEN SCHROEDER-DAVIS COORDINATOR OF
GIFTED SERVICES ELK RIVER, MINNESOTA
"Creative persons have always met with opposition. Columbus was scorned for thinking the world was round. Everyone laughed at the Wright brothers for believing men could fly. It seems to be the lot of innovators in all fields to endure opposition, apathy, and even hate." - E. Paul Torrance, 1963
"Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Theirgoals differed but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received -- hatred. The great creators -- the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors -- stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won." - Ayn Rand, 1947
"Almost every phase of life activity today is in dire need of creative people -- people with vision, people with originality and initiative. This does not mean that new ideas are generally welcomed; many of the greatest ideas have been at least temporarily spurned and their initiators dishonored. Such people are important, however, to the very survival of the human race." [emphasis added] - E. Paul Torrance, 1963
Although the writers cited above were referring specifically to creativity, coercive egalitarianism, which I define as "forced equalization through neglect and/or compulsion" is proliferating in all areas of giftedness and in all fields of endeavor.
There are, in essence, concentric circles of coercive egalitarianism, beginning with our national obsession with equality and compensatory programming and culminating in the typical American school where, ironically, reside the most virulent anti-intellectual, anti-achievement (non) values of any institution in the nation.
This article will examine coercive egalitarianism as it relates specifically to gifted education and will suggest ways of combating this phenomena in schools and at home.
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Hofstadter, 1964) is perhaps the most thorough examination available regarding resentment of intelligence. Hofstadter, who was awarded Pulitzer prizes in 1956 and 1964, details this phenomena in great depth. His comments on American education, now almost three decades old, are particularly relevant today: "But if we turn from the rhetoric of the past to the realities of the present, we are most struck by the volume of criticism suggesting that something very important has been missing from the American passion for education. A host of educational problems has arisen from indifference -- underpaid teachers, over-crowded classrooms, double-schedule schools, broken-down school buildings, inadequate facilities and a number of other failings that come from something else -- the cult of athleticism, marching bands, high-school drum majorettes, ethnic ghetto schools, de-intellectualized curricula, the failure to educate in serious subjects, the neglect of academically gifted children. At times, the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, commercialism, and the standards of the mass media, and these extend upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be proud." (Hofstadter, 1964)
This indictment, written during the "post-sputnik" era, reflects Hofstadter's frustration with (gifted) education during what was arguably its zenith. Things have degenerated for much of the past quarter century, especially for those with outstanding abilities.
Writing for the Atlantic Monthly (November, 1991), Daniel J. Singal examines two crises in education. The crisis receiving the most attention, that of disadvantaged students performing poorly in school, has recently shown improvement, reflected by slow but steady gains in this group's standardized test scores since the 1960's. Alarmingly, despite these gains, overall "test scores have nonetheless gone down, primarily because of the performance of those in the top quartile." (emphasis added) Singal considers this trend to be the "other crisis." He quotes Herman Rudman, educational psychologist and an author of the Stanford Achievement Test for the past thirty years: "This highest cohort of achievers has shown the greatest decline across a variety of subjects as well as across age-level groups."
According to Singal, "In other words, our brightest youngsters, those most likely to be headed for selective colleges, have suffered the most dramatic setbacks over the past two decades..." Needless to say, this includes much of America's gifted population.
Singal then reviewed Barron's Profile's of American Colleges, concentrating on those with the most rigorous entrance standards, and found the following pattern beginning in 1972 (the year the SAT changed its reporting system): the percentage of incoming freshmen scoring over 600 (out of a possible 800) on the verbal portion of the test declined by 4.5% in eleven years; from 11.4% in 1972 to 6.9% in 1983. Despite modest gains in the mid 1980's, verbal scores have remained about the same since. Singal hypothesizes that a graduating senior headed for one of these colleges "would come in roughly fifty to sixty points lower on the verbal section and twenty-five points lower on the math than he or she would have in 1970." These elite schools, such as Columbia, Swarthmore and the University of Chicago have not slipped in rank or become less competitive. Further, the SAT has remained constant, calibrated over time to yield a standard score.
The cause appears to be simply that incoming freshman are not as prepared, competent, or motivated as they were twenty years ago. In Singal's words, "...perusing a twenty-year-old edition of Barron's is an experience equivalent to entering a different world, with tuitions much lower and SAT scores much higher than at most schools today."
As a secondary teacher and coordinator of gifted services, my primary concern is why our students (not just seniors, although they are the most visible) are so woefully ill-equipped for collegiate study.
I believe the fundamental cause is coercive egalitarianism, specifically a burgeoning hostility toward applied ability which has reached suffocating proportions among adolescents. The result is a population of deliberate underachievers unparalleled in our nation's history.
Whether this is a venomous departure from -- or perhaps the ultimate consequence of -- the ambivalence that has existed toward the gifted for so long is open to question. This "ambivalence" has been well documented by dozens of writers and researchers. The primary reason usually offered is the supposed democratic tension invariably described with the mantra "equity versus excellence," but I am convinced something much more insidious is occurring, the effects of which are just now emerging.
Here is how Singal frames the problem: "Two crises are stalking American education. Each poses a major threat to the nation's future. The two are very different in character and will require separate strategies if we wish to solve them; yet to date, almost without exception, those concerned with restoring excellence to our schools have lumped them together.
"The first crisis, which centers on disadvantaged minority children attending inner-city schools, has received considerable attention, as well it should. Put simply, it involves students whose habitats make it very difficult for them to learn. The key issues are more social than educational. These children clearly need dedicated teachers and a sound curriculum, the two staples of a quality school, but the fact remains that most of them will not make significant progress until they also have decent housing, a better diet, and a safer environment in which to live. The second crisis, in contrast, is far more academic than social and to a surprising extent, invisible. It involves approximately half the country's student population -- the group that educators refer to as 'college-bound.' "
I have only one quarrel with his argument, but it is crucial to my thesis: I don't believe the two crises have been "lumped together" or that they are "in contrast." Rather, to a large degree, I believe the first crisis, and our responses to it, has caused the second.
Specifically, our overriding concern with creating (coercing) equity has resulted in calls for the elimination of ability grouping, the pervasiveness of mainstreaming, and funding formulas that rarely acknowledge the existence of the gifted. These policies have, in turn, contributed to a corrosive, oppositional climate in our schools because they force two polarized groups with antithetical value systems to "live" in close proximity to one another each school day. These two groups are the achievers -- who believe in the value of academic effort -- and the nonachievers -- who, for a variety of reasons, do not.
Among the more hostile of the nonachievers, the "ambivalence" toward the gifted implied in the insipid "equity versus excellence" argument quickly degenerates into a precipitous slide past jealousy into what Hofstadter described as "an atmosphere of fervent malice and humorless imbecility" aimed at the (gifted) achiever -- in a word, envy.
ENVY DEFINED AND EXAMINED
Envy may be defined as "a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another's advantages, success, possessions, etc." (The Random House Dictionary, 1987).
This definition only partly elucidates the envious individual's complex psychology and motivations. Ayn Rand wrote chillingly and prophetically of this phenomenon in an article entitled "The Age of Envy" (1971). She begins by explaining that, although never admirable, envy exists on a continuum from the relatively innocent to abjectly evil. Referring to the most injurious variety, she states: "This is particularly clear in the much more virulent cases of hatred, masked as envy, for those who possess personal values or virtues: hatred for a man (or a woman) because he (she) is beautiful or intelligent or successful or happy. In these cases,the creature has no desire and makes no effort to improve its appearance, to develop or use its intelligence, to struggle for success, to practice honesty, to be happy (nothing can make it happy). It knows that the disfigurement or the mental collapse or the failure or the immorality or the misery of its victim would not endow it with his or her value. It does not desire the value: it desires the value's destruction."
An entire book, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour by Helmut Schoeck (1969) addresses this issue. Schoeck quotes a vivid description offered by William L. Davidson in 1912 (emphasis added): "Envy is an emotion that is essentially both selfish and malevolent. It is aimed at persons, and implies dislike of one who possesses what the envious man himself covets or desires, and a wish to harm him. Graspingness for self and ill-will lie at the basis of it. There is in it also a consciousness of inferiority to the person envied and a chafing under this consciousness. He who has got what I envy is felt by me to have the advantage of me, and I resent it. Consequently, I rejoice if he finds that his envied possession does not give him entire satisfaction -- much more, if it actually entails on him dissatisfaction and pain: that simply reduces his superiority in my eyes, and ministers to my feelings of self-importance."
How do envious classmates of gifted students see to it that, "the envied possession does not give entire satisfaction" and "...entails dissatisfaction and pain..."? By punishing the pursuit of excellence through isolation, prejudice, teasing, stereotyping, alienation, and, if all else fails, intimidation and physical violence.
The operational definition of envy then, might be as follows: "A feeling of discontent or covetousness at the sight of another's advantages or successes which becomes so intense, attempts are made to compromise those advantages or successes."
A CONTINUUM OF COERCION
How is envy manifested in schools? Studies and articles reveal a "continuum of coercion" from the relatively benign to the almost incomprehensibly violent.
THE TORRANCE STUDY. In a sixth grade classroom, pioneering researcher E. Paul Torrance (1962) assigned students identified as "high creatives" and four less creative age-peers to work in groups of five to solve a demanding task. A reward would result upon successful task completion. In his observational summary, he reported the following behaviors aimed at the high creatives by their less creative peers: "Techniques of control include open aggression and hostility, criticism, rejection and/or indifference, the use of organizational machinery to limit scope of operations, and exaltation to a position of power involving paper work and administrative responsibility."
THE TANNENBAUM STUDY. In a questionnaire administered to high school juniors, Abraham Tannenbaum (1963), asked students to rank the following six personality characteristics: brilliant-average, studious-nonstudious, athletic-nonathletic. He then conducted a three way analysis of variance designed to assess respondents' views of the most desirable "hypothetical" peer. The preferred trait combination was the "brilliant-nonstudious-athlete" as contrasted with the social pariah possessing the least desirable trait combination, the "brilliant-studious-nonathlete," commonly considered the negative stereotype of the gifted child.
A FOLLOW-UP TO TANNENBAUM. In an attempt to determine teacher attitudes toward athleticism, studiousness, and brilliance, researchers Cramond and Martin (1987) repeated the Tannenbaum study with 100 teachers-in-training enrolled in an undergraduate psychology course. Incredibly, the responses to the six stimulus characters describing the "hypothetical student" were virtually identical. As with the original study, "athleticism" was valued most highly. In both studies, the athlete occupies the top four of eight possible combinations, the non-athlete the bottom four. In both studies, the "brilliant-studious- nonathletic" character was the least desired. The authors conclude that "brilliance" is simply not a determining factor relative to desirability. Rather, it is where the brilliance is "housed," i.e., in an athlete, and preferably a nonstudious one, that seems to make the difference.
The authors then repeated the study, this time with 82 teachers (maximum years of experience was 21) and found virtually the same results! Again, the "athletic" character occupied the top four positions; the "nonathletic" the bottom four. Both preservice and experienced teachers found the "average- nonstudious-athletic" character the most desirable and the "brilliant-studious-nonathletic" individual the least desirable.
Of the three studies, only one group -- the juniors in the original study -- ranked "brilliance" as the preferred trait, and then only when grouped with "nonstudiousness" and "athletic." Both preservice and experienced teachers preferred "average" to "brilliant" as a character descriptor (ouch!).
Finally, all three studies found the "athlete" occupying the top four positions while the "nonathlete" occupied the bottom four.
ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT AND SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE. A more recent study reaffirms those cited above. Using interviews and questionnaires with a sample drawn from 8,000 California and Wisconsin high school students, researchers Brown and Steinberg (1990) sought to examine what they label the "brain-nerd connection." Specifically, they wanted to explore how "noninstructional" considerations affect achievement. Briefly, here are their findings: (1) There are, in fact, a variety of "peer groups" (cliques) in virtually all schools; (2) Students associate "brains" with "nerds"; (3) High achievers resist being labeled a brain; and consequently (4) High achievers employ strategies to avoid the "brain-nerd connection." The strategies employed were: (1) Denial; (2) Distraction (displaying excellence in another realm, preferably athletics); (3) Deviance (the "class clown"); and (4) Underachievement.
FROM PASSIVE COERCION TO PHYSICAL VIOLENCE
Thus far, student-to-student coercive methods have been cruel, but relatively passive, consisting largely of isolation, teasing, and the like. One wonders how the situation could get worse -- until one encounters "The Hidden Hurdle," an article that appeared in the March 16, 1992 issue of Time Magazine.
This article traces the persecution of Za'kettha Blaylock, who is surely representative of thousands of black, urban teens trying desperately to achieve despite physical abuse and death threats from gangs who "specialize in terrorizing bright black students."
Author Sophroinia Scott Gregory points out that "'acting white' has often been the insult of choice used by blacks who stayed behind against those who moved forward." She observes, "The pattern of abuse is a distinctive variation of the nerd bashing that almost all bright, ambitious students -- no matter what their color -- face at some point in their young lives."
Rachel Blates, one of the 8th graders interviewed for the article offers a perfect description of coercive egalitarianism: "Instead of trying to come up with the smart kids, they try to bring you down to their level. They don't realize that if you don't have an education, you won't have anything -- no job, no husband, no home."
Recall the operational definition of envy offered earlier: "A feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another's advantages or successes which becomes so intense, attempts are made to compromise those advantages or successes ."
It is vital to note that those who envy are not merely "indifferent" or even ambivalent toward (gifted) achievers. If this were the case, they would ignore, rather than persecute them. Nor are the envious inspired to follow the achievers' heroic example and emulate their efforts -- if this were the case, they would seek their help rather than threaten to destroy them. Those that envy are also not practicing an "alternative value system" as is sometimes claimed -- they are, in fact, pursuing a non-value, that of destruction, and worse; the destruction of values, effort, and achievement that are not theirs to challenge or destroy.
COMBATING THE PROBLEM
Clearly, this is a problem that transcends "school climate" and the relatively meager resources an individual student, parent, or school district can muster. However, there are strategies available on every level to combat the coercively envious, and the remainder of this article will explore each of these.
An article by Miraca M. Gross (1989) summarizes the problem faced by gifted individuals: "A dilemma peculiar to gifted youth arises through the interaction of the psychosocial drives toward intimacy and achievement, which complement each other in students of average ability, but which place the gifted student in a forced-choice situation. If the gifted child chooses to satisfy the drive for excellence, he or she must risk forfeiting the attainment of intimacy with age peers; if the choice is intimacy, the gifted may be forced into a pattern of systematic and deliberate underachievement to retain membership in the social group."
Now, recall the Torrance study quoted earlier regarding the sixth-grade students who attempted to subvert their creative age-peers through, "open aggression and hostility, criticism, rejection and/or indifference..." Torrance also observed the creative children's responses. They were listed in this order: (1) compliance; (2) clowning and inconsistent performance; (3) silence and apathy or preoccupation; (4) solitary activity; (5) counter-aggressiveness; and (6) indomitable persistence and apparent ignorance of criticism.
It is my thesis that these coping behaviors reflect an ascending degree of self-esteem: children with tenuous esteem reduce or eliminate their efforts (compliance), those with more esteem perform inconsistently, and those few with sufficient self-esteem exhibit "indomitable persistence and apparent ignorance of criticism."
Now consider psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy (1970), which assumes fundamental needs such as safety and belonging must be satisfied before "higher level" needs such as achievement and self-actualization can be pursued. These needs from the lowest to highest levels are: SURVIVAL, SAFETY, BELONGING, SELF ESTEEM, INTELLECTUAL ACHIEVEMENT, AESTHETIC APPRECIATION, SELF ACTUALIZATION.
The problem for the gifted in many schools is that Maslow becomes not a hierarchy, but a paradox, or in the words of Gross (1989), self-actualization becomes a "forced-choice dilemma." Even if "lower" needs are met (and "belonging" may not be perceived as a "lower" need to the gifted child desperate for friends), an individual is then only in a position to pursue "higher" needs: tremendous effort and a vision uncompromised by a need to appease envious classmates is required to go about the often arduous task of creative productivity. Needless to say, many of the gifted cave-in to the emotional extortion of the envious, which is why we are fast becoming a nation of underachievers.
The most vital strategy for individual students then, is to develop as much self-esteem as possible, to serve as an inoculation against peer pressure. If this is coupled with a strong belief in the value of achievement, chances are maximized toward achievement despite coercive measures designed to subvert such efforts.
At the school and district level, Herculean efforts must be initiated and sustained to accomplish the following relative to the gifted: (1) Elevate intellectual achievement to a level of acceptance and prestige equal (dare we say beyond?) that of athletics -- an analogy that grew tiresome years ago, but which unfortunately still applies; (2) Name the issue for what it is -- enough of "equity versus excellence," "ambivalence," and the other euphemisms (we are dealing with coercion, emotional extortion, and physical violence!); (3) Demand, through the courts if necessary, mandating and funding for the gifted that is sufficient to meet their needs -- which is nothing more than every other category of exceptionality receives; and (4) Aggressively disseminate the emerging research that validates the benefits of ability grouping as well as the literature that outlines the most appropriate uses of educational initiatives such as cooperative education and outcomes based education for the gifted.
These measures should be combined with the excellent suggestions made by Singal in his article: (1) Dramatically increase the quality and quantity of assigned readings for students at all grade levels; (2) Bring back required survey courses as the staple of the high school humanities program; (3) Institute a flexible program of ability grouping at both the elementary and secondary school levels; and (4) Attract more bright college students into the teaching profession (for the past decade, SAT scores of prospective teachers have hovered around 400).
Singal also bemoans the "dumbing down" of the curriculum, which he feels causes educators to be more concerned with not "stressing" students as opposed to "stretching" them as we once did. He states: "All over the country, educators today typically judge themselves by how well they can reach the least able student in the system, the slowest one in the class. The prevailing ideology holds that it is much better to give up the prospect of excellence than to take the chance of injuring any student's self-esteem. These attitudes have become so ingrained that in conversations with teachers and administrators one often senses a virtual prejudice against bright students (emphasis added).
The closing paragraph of this section of his excellent article states: "Here it is necessary to be precise: the problem is not the pursuit of equality as such but the bias against excellence that has accompanied it." (emphasis added)
Surely one of the tragic ironies of all-time is that of the Black gangs described in Gregory's Time Magazine article. These children, ignorant of their own history, are unaware that their ancestors literally risked their lives to become literate; that achievement, especially academic achievement, was prized above virtually all else. To have these children carry coercive egalitarianism to the point of physical violence is a sad commentary about both the gangs and the often inhumane culture in which they live.
Finally, a last suggestion, which is at once probably the most urgent and the least likely to be enacted: conditions for these disadvantaged children simply must improve. This is necessary both for the disadvantaged and those they persecute. As Singal has stated, "...the fact remains that most of them (i.e., the disadvantaged) will not make significant progress until they also have decent housing, a better diet, and a safer environment in which to live."
Until this happens -- that is, until our society values all children and is willing to commit resources to help them excel, gifted advocates should consider themselves in a state of siege.
Brown, Bradford B., & Steinberg, Laurence. "Academic Achievement and Social Acceptance." Ed. Digest, March 1990.
Crammond, Bonnie, & Martin, Charles E. "Inservice and Preservice Teachers' Attitudes Toward the Academically Brilliant." Gifted Child Quarterly, Volume 31, No. 1, Winter 1987.
Gregory, Sophroinia Scott. "The Hidden Hurdle." Time, March 16, 1992.
Gross, Miraca U.M. "The Pursuit of Excellence or the Search for Intimacy? The Forced-Choice Dilemma of Gifted Youth." Roeper Review, Volume 11, No. 4, May 1989, 189-194;
Hofstadter, Richard. Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Random House, 1947.
Rand, Ayn. "The Age of Envy." The Objectivist, Vol. 10, No. 7, July 1971.
Schoeck, Helmut. Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour. Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1966.
Singal, Daniel J. "The Other Crisis in American Education." Atlantic Monthly, November 1991.
Tannenbaum, Abraham J. "Adolescent Attitudes Toward Academic Brilliance." New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1962.
Torrance, E.P. "Peer Sanctions Against Highly Creative Children." Education and Creative Potential, U. of Minn., 1963.
LOOK NO FURTHER THAN YOUR GIFTED PROGRAM FOR HELP!
BY BRUCE GURCSIK COORDINATOR OF GIFTED PROGRAMS
ARIN I.U. 28 SHELOCTA, PENNSYLVANIA
A day doesn't go by, it seems, that some new or reworked reform idea doesn't come across my desk. President Bush and his staff with the support of our nation's governors have crafted America 2000 -- an ambitious plan designed to restore America's greatness by setting targets for our schools. Many of our governors and their legislatures have developed more specific alternatives that run the gamut from vouchers that will create an educational marketplace for private sector development to reimbursement that is tied to the results of student and/or district achievement on a state test. Even our individual school districts are exploring change with plans so creative that student graduates are entering the world of work with warrantees much like the one that comes with your automobile or dishwasher. It seems as though change is being courted at every opportunity. So much so, that change has now become the new constant in education. As an educator with a long history of involvement in the education of the gifted, I have supported revisions to the typical, teacher-dominated "learning" environment for many years. My like-
minded colleagues and I encourage abandonment of basal texts and sequential, even-paced instruction. We support more "hands-on" science, independent study and generally greater student involvement in the learning process. Recalling the old adage, "tell me and I'll forget; show me and I'll remember; and involve me and I'll understand," these adjustments seem so logical and long overdue.
In order to learn about a fresh approach to instruction in the regular classroom, a year ago or so I attended a tele-conference on Ted Sizer's "Re: Learning" Project. The video audience would be able not only to view new techniques that would improve achievement, but have the opportunity for interactive commentary with a panel of experts.
Following a brief discussion of the program's strategies and merits, a classroom demonstration was provided in order to illustrate the important features. We saw a social studies class where students were arriving in a room that contained clusters of desks and a teacher who was acting as a learning facilitator. Students were given open-ended projects to develop with assistance from their classmates and the teacher. The activity was described as one where pupils would have an opportunity to direct their own learning rather than being on the receiving end of a lecture. They would be developing the crucial thinking skills that have been excluded from the basic education curriculum up to this time.
My colleagues from the regular education domain received this new gospel with great reverence, praising its potential to right all that was wrong with American education and to provide them with a way to recapture their dignity. Needless to say, I was "underwhelmed" with Dr. Sizer's revelation. Nothing new here for any of us who have taught the gifted. Independence in study and the development of critical thinking skills have been the cornerstone of gifted education for many years. Twenty-five years ago J.P. Guilford (1967) completed his research on the nature of intellect, and clearly defined the nature of problem-solving. Work stations with pupils supporting each other in the learning process are commonplace strategies in just about every class for the gifted. A teacher who functions as a facilitator? Why many of our colleagues who teach the gifted are called just that -- learning facilitators. To my more traditionally trained and experienced colleagues, Sizer's approach radiated the freshness of Renaissance art. To the teacher of the gifted, it resembles cave drawing. One needs only to go back and review the work of Mary Meeker, Virgil Ward, Carl Rogers, John Gowan, Harry Passow, Julian Stanley, John Feldhusen, James Gallagher, Marvin Gold, Dorothy Sisk and others to discover a rich heritage of enlightened thinking toward the development of critical thinking skills that has flourished in gifted classrooms for many years. So rather than re-inventing the wheel, a look down the hall may be all that is necessary.
There are a number of proven strategies commonly found in the gifted classroom which have direct application in the regular program for all levels of learners. Their use and/or adaptation will provide a rich source of curriculum enhancement laden with problem-solving strategies for those basic educators seeking challenging learning opportunities to improve student achievement.
The development of critical thinking skills, an important part of Sizer's approach, is now a national imperative. However, its importance, even for the regular program, has been recognized for years. John Dewey stated that "Learning is learning to think," while Einstein claimed that "imagination is more important than knowledge." (Parker, 1989). More recently, Carl Sagan has stated that we need to be developing students with broad-based abilities rather than possession of a fund of knowledge.
Lauren Resnick from the University of Pittsburgh has defined critical-thinking as receiving/identi- fying information, and interpreting and relating it to other knowledge. Also, it has been termed reflective and reasonable thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do (VanTassel-Baska, 1988). In either context, critical thinking skills will provide our learners with the skills to enter the university and/or work place prepared to meet the ever-changing challenges rather than possession of a broad base of facts of limited value.
Gifted programs abound with strategies that focus on the development of thinking skills. They may be used simply as warm-up activities or highly complex components of serious scientific study. Regardless of their purpose, they have formed a dynamic foundation in the classroom for the gifted learner. Bloom's higher levels of thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) are recommended as fundamental elements of the instructional process. Guides and charts are readily available that enable the most basic activity to be transformed into an exciting and challenging source of thought- provoking problems. Guilford's model with Meeker's applications for the classroom provide a clear way, not only to focus on higher order thinking skills, but to target skills directly to the individual needs of the learner (Meeker, 1969). Torrance (1974) has developed a long standing "future problem-solving program" which includes a clearly outlined approach to the consideration of future problems and specific topics for competitive analysis. Midwest Publications offers a complete range of problem-solving strategies authored by Anita Harnadek (1980). Renzulli (1977) with the support of his colleagues has developed a myriad of strategies in enrichment settings that provide good opportunity to break out of the convergent thinking mold. Lipman (1980) has developed a program that uses logic to challenge the learner. Kohlberg's work (1975) on moral reasoning provides a values or moral issues approach to problem-solving.
A special focus in the critical thinking domain incorporates creativity (Guilford's divergent thinking operation) as a major component. Creative problem-solving has been a mainstay in many gifted programs. Osborn (1963) has been fundamental to this field in introducing mental freewheeling through a flexible procedure that focuses upon brainstorming. Parnes (1977) further refined Osborn's work through the development of the Leadership Training Model. The previously mentioned Triad Model (Renzulli, 1977) incorporates practice activities with the solution of real life problems. William J. J. Gordon (1961) has provided one of the most imaginative approaches to problem-solving through his analogy-based synectics. It is not uncommon to observe students in gifted programs attempting to create the mind shift necessary to personify an object in order to better understand how it works and thus offer an improvement.
We can see that in the area of critical thinking (i.e., curriculum reform) there is a strong history of proven practices which can be easily passed on from the gifted program to the regular classroom. Rather than embarking on this perilous journey unaccompanied, logic suggests that the basic educator seek out gifted program specialists who have the skills and experience necessary to help. This valuable resource cannot be overlooked; it must be drawn into this exciting process of change that faces us all. Perhaps, the ingredients for successful change to a superior educational system are located down the hall in the curriculum of your gifted program.
Gordon, W. Synectics. New York: Hoyer & Brothers, 1961.
Guilford, J.P. The Nature of Human Intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Harnadek, A. Critical Thinking, Books 1 & 2. Pacific Grove, CA: Midwest Publications, 1980.
Kohlberg, L. "The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Moral Education." Phi Delta Kappan. 1975. Vol. 56, 671;
Lipman, M. Philosophy in the Classroom. Philadelphia: Temple University, 1980.
Meeker, M.N. The Structure of Intellect: Its Interpretations and Uses. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill, 1969.
Osborn, A.F. Applied Imagination. New York: Scribners, 1963.
Parnes, S., Noller, R., & Biondi, A. Guide to Creative Action. New York: Scribners, 1977.
Parker, J.P. Instructional Strategies for Teaching the Gifted. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1989.
Renzulli, J. The Enrichment Triad Model. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press, 1977.
Torrance, E.P. "Ways Gifted Children Can Study the Future." Gifted Child Quarterly. 1974. Vol. 18, 65-71.
U.S. Dept. of Education. Source Book, America 2000, An Educational Strategy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Gov. Printing Office, 1991. (1991-298-479/40655).
VanTassel-Baska, J. Comprehensive Curriculum for Gifted Learners. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1988. © Bruce Gurcsik, Ph.D., March 1992.
MARBLE AND MUD:
A COMPARISON OF TWO GREAT HORROR STORY WRITERS
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS, NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
"....Life is made up of marble and mud. And, without all the deeper trust in a comprehensive sympathy above us, we might hence be led to suspect the insult of a sneer, as well as an immitigable frown, on the iron countenance of fate. What is called poetic insight is the gift of discerning, in the sphere of strangely mingled elements, the beauty and the majesty which are compelled to assume a garb so sordid." The House of the Seven Gables (Chapter 2) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
One of the most popular writers in our contemporary era is Stephen King. When one travels outside of the United States, it becomes obvious that King's popularity is universal. If you ask King's fans, what is his main appeal, they will say that the horror story genre appeals to basic human emotions. Yet terror is only the crust of King's literary pie. The main ingredients deal with more complicated and profound emotions and values such as personal loyalty, individual integrity, the struggle of good versus evil, and the need for decent people to stand up and be counted. As Edmund Burke described this situation, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Stephen King is the latest contributor to the unique tapestry of American literature. Among his literary ancestors is Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), who in his time and place, was primarily read as a Gothic writer of ghostly tales. However, today we perceive Hawthorne as a member of high literary culture. His basic emphasis was that of a moralist; in fact, his fiction throbs with a sense of the religious. He also had one of the keenest social consciences of his day. In the beginning of The House of the Seven Gables (1851), he describes the torment of the Pyncheon family as resulting from a previous generation's involvement in social crimes such as witch hunting, persecution of religious dissidents (e.g., Quakers), and the slaughter of Native Americans.
In both Hawthorne and King, moral values and personal choice are significant. The development of moral perception in their main characters is the most dramatic aspect of their stories. Hawthorne asserted in a book review (1846) for The Salem Advertiser that the "profit of art" requires the technique of using metaphysics in fiction to cause, "new intellectual and moral shapes to spring up in the reader's mind." The contrast of Hawthorne's short story, Young Goodman Brown (1835) with Stephen King's novel, Salem's Lot (1975), demonstrates this similar concern and literary tactic. In Hawthorne's story, the protagonist is struggling over his decision to attend a witch conclave composed of all the "decent" clerical and political notables in his area. Although there is a question in this tale concerning whether the protagonist actually attended this event or whether it was a result of his imagination, the real horror that the reader experiences is the sense of social dislocation. This story is a paradigm of mass hysteria. The time and place could easily be the hate rallies in Nazi Germany, the purges in Stalinist Russia, McCarthyism in the 1950s, or the fundamentalist/nationalistic mobs in recent world events.
In King's novel, Salem's Lot, as well as every other work of his, the theme of collective involvement in evil is the most relevant one, e.g., the town comes under the influence of a suave, debonair individual who is seeking to create a vampire community. In Hawthorne's short story, Rappaccini's Daughter (1843), the scientific character, Rappaccini, uses his beautiful daughter to attract victims for his Nazi-like experiments with poisonous plants.
Gifted students, through their sensibility, have the ability to appreciate the literature of Hawthorne and King on the most profound universal levels. I strongly recommend that the gifted read these authors simultaneously. They will appreciate how the best of contemporary popular fiction (e.g., Stephen King's novels) can become a part of high culture in later times. Stephen King, like his mentor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, understands the human condition as being composed of "marble and mud," and the combination of sunshine and shadows. In the following words of Hawthorne at the end of his short story, Drowne's Wooden Image (1843), he describes the personality of the gifted individual: "....We know not how to account for the inferiority of this quaint old figure, as compared with the recorded excellence of the Oaken Lady, unless on the supposition that in every human spirit there is imagination, sensibility, creative power, genius, which, according to circumstances, may either be developed in this world, or shrouded in a mask of dulness until another state of being."