GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
10201 YUMA COURT
P.O. BOX 1586
MANASSAS, VA 20108
VOLUME FOURTEEN, NUMBER ONE
LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION: $22.00
MEMBERS OF NATIONAL ADVISORY PANEL
Dr. James Delisle -- Professor and Co-Director of SENG, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
Dr. Jerry Flack --Univ. Of Colorado-Colorado Springs
Dr. Howard Gardner -- Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Ms. Diane D. Grybek -- Supervisor of Secondary Gifted Programs (Retired), Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa, Florida
Ms. Dorothy Knopper -- Publisher, Open Space Communications, Boulder, Colorado
Mr. James LoGiudice -- Director, Program and Staff Development, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education
Dr. Mary Meeker -- President of SOI Systems, Vida, Oregon
Dr. Adrienne O'Neill - Chief Education Officer, Timken Regional Campus, Canton, Ohio
Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Elk River, Minnesota Schools and Past President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented
Dr. Bruce Shore -- Professor and Director, Giftedness Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Ms. Joan Smutny -- Professor and Director, Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, Evanston, Illinois
Dr. Virgil S. Ward -- Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Ms. Susan Winebrenner -- Consultant, Brooklyn, Michigan
Dr. Ellen Winner - Professor, Boston College
Happy New Year and I hope your programs for the gifted continue to be successful and expand as we enter the new century/millennium! As part of the annual meeting of the Virginia Association for the Gifted, Dr. Howard Gardner presented a keynote speech (October 29, 1999) in which he emphasized the importance of educating children for understanding while using the guiding concepts of Truth, Beauty and Ethics. His book, The Disciplined Mind (1999), includes a detailed discussion of the concepts underlying education for understanding, and he provides detailed examples of his proposed curriculum from music (The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart), biology (Darwin's Theory of Evolution), and history (the Wannsee Conference attended by Nazi Germany's top leaders to plan the extermination of all European Jews). We have a close association with a curriculum that emphasizes understanding and the study of rigorous subject matter. Gifted Education Press has published many books on a differentiated humanities curriculum starting with Humanities Education for Gifted Children (1984) by Michael Walters and Foundations of Humanities Education for Gifted Students (1985) by Michael Walters and James LoGiudice. Other books in this series emphasize the study of philosophy (Teaching Philosophy to Gifted Students  by James LoGiudice, and The Philosophy of Ethics Applied to Everyday Life  by James LoGiudice and Michael Walters). In addition, there are books on history, theatre, Shakespeare and logic. We remain strong advocates of a rigorous differentiated humanities curriculum in gifted education, and believe that our humanities books can still help educators of the gifted fulfill Gardner's recommendations concerning education for understanding.
I would like to welcome two authors who are new to GEPQ. Marylou Kelly Streznewski has published an excellent book entitled, Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential (1999). Her article, based on this book, examines some of the problems and issues concerned with adult giftedness. Rosanna DiMillo Sandell taught American literature, Shakespeare and English Literature at the high school level for twelve years. She is also a lawyer and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in gifted education. Her article addresses some of the advantages of teaching Shakespeare to elementary school children. The poems by Millicent C. Borges are concerned with educators she has known -- we have previously published some of her other poems. Ms. Borges has received a poetry grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and she has been featured in many poetry anthologies such as To Honor a Teacher (1999). Our old standby, Mike Walters, writes about one of his favorite authors, Edgar Allen Poe.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher
Gifted Education Press
UNRECOGNIZED GIFTEDNESS: THE FRUSTRATING CASE OF THE GIFTED ADULT
BY MARYLOU KELLY STREZNEWSKI FURLONG, PENNSYLVANIA
“What then needs to be done that is crucial to the future success of this educational field? One of the biggest problems is that we have been mainly ‘preaching to the choir’ rather than presenting our case for gifted education to average Americans who pay most of the taxes for operating public schools. This is a major challenge which must be addressed if gifted students and their education programs are to survive and thrive.”
This statement by Maurice Fisher in the Winter 1999 issue of GEPQ struck a responsive chord in me, especially the phrase “preaching to the choir.” It is the same phrase I used when as an educator, I diligently attended state and national conferences on gifted education in order to improve my skills. I was excited by the information I gleaned from presentations by the experts and from the books they wrote. However, there came a time when a disheartening insight emerged.
This (in some cases, literally) life-saving knowledge was circulating in a closed loop of dedicated professionals and a few savvy parents. If even 3% of the population is gifted, we are talking about information which needs to reach millions of people. Obviously, this wider audience could not attend the NAGC’s annual conference, and would have little occasion to read the many well-written academic books in the field of gifted studies. But they might read a trade book aimed at an intelligent lay audience; one which explained the nature of giftedness to the public, and shared the lives of gifted adults, in their own voices. As a professional writer, I assigned myself the task of creating such a book.
Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential (John Wiley & Sons, 1999) is an anecdotal study of one hundred gifted adults from 18 to 90, and diversified by gender, family background, occupation, economic status, education, geographic location, ethnic origin, social class and race. I conducted almost three hundred hours of interviews in writing it: in living rooms, in offices, in restaurants, under trees. As I realized the depth and variety of what these non-eminent people have to offer, listened to their accounts of mis-understanding, rejection and frustration, shared their stories of success and communication, my own view of giftedness was enlarged dramatically. It became evident that studying the lives of eminent adults is not enough. We need to investigate, in much more depth than has been done up to now, the lives of gifted people of all ages, in all areas of society.
In the months since the publication of the book, new insights have emerged from giving talks at conferences, to parent groups, and in bookstores. In some cases, old fears have been realized; in others, hopes renewed. The old stereotype, “You know, the kids with glasses we all remember from school,” was resurrected for me by a radio interviewer. When I pointed out that the Terman studies long ago showed gifted people to be taller, stronger, healthier, and even better –looking, she worried out loud about some kind of “Master race theory.” Saddest of all have been the encounters with women (the latest only hours ago) who, over and over say, “Oh yes, the kids are gifted but they get it from my husband, not me.” My hopes were raised by the women in mid-life who have come to respect and honor their own intelligence, and are building exciting lives; and by senior citizens who have never given up enlarging their special gifts.
Overall, I have concluded that there are large numbers of frustrated gifted adults, who can be located by anyone who knows what to look for, who do not find outlets for their potential. We are not paying enough attention to trying to teach gifted people how to cope with their lives in the adult world. Far too many of them find their drive and creativity thwarted by persons or establishments who regard them as either silly or threatening. I am well aware of the school of thinking which designates adults as gifted only if they have achieved something called eminence. I find many difficulties in accepting such thinking.
One: There is an inherent difficulty in changing the terms of the definition of giftedness in the middle of the definition. A recent article in Gifted Child Quarterly (Noble, Subotnik and Arnold, 1999) presented giftedness in adults and children as distinct from one another, stating, “Giftedness in children is linked to potential, in adults to achievement.” In attempting to employ such a method, do we not move from describing qualities within the nature of the person to effects of the actions the older person may or may not have the opportunity to take – and all within the same definition? If we change from characteristics to accomplishments, the characteristics with which we started do not simply go away. The racing brain, the questing mind can be observed at any and every age, and for the sake of the health of the individual person, he or she deserves to know enough about the gift to respect and honor it.
Second: If we accept the practice of trying to define giftedness in two different ways at the same time, some very strange questions and concerns begin to arise. A question I encountered recently holds many pitfalls for the unwary thinker. “If, after several years spent raising children, a formerly gifted girl is elected to Congress or organizes a nature preserve, does she become gifted again?” (The insulting implication that if you are raising children you are no longer gifted hangs in this question.) Where the transition to the non-gifted state takes place remains a mystery. Can criteria be developed for locating the point at which, not having achieved eminence, one is simply expected to settle for being an average person and somehow cast aside the curiosity, the racing mind, the sophisticated questions, the deep sensitivity? If we follow the practice of one standard for children and another for adults, what do we say to the maturing person? “If you haven’t made it by a certain point/age, then you are no longer gifted”? How does this play, as a mental health question, over against all the effort we have put into the self-image of that student?
My favorite question for those who espouse a belief in defining gifted two ways at once concerns the poet Emily Dickinson. Her story is well known: the seven poems published in a minor magazine as a favor by a friend; the fifteen-hundred brilliant compositions tied in ribboned packets, filling the drawers in her house at her death. No eminence there. But surely Dickinson was, in her nature, a gifted person unrecognized in her lifetime. Now that Dickinson and Whitman are acknowledged to be the two major innovators in the creation of American poetry, her eminence is undeniable. Does this mean that Dickinson became gifted after she was dead?
The argument will no doubt be made that if we nurture all children properly, many more will achieve that elusive state of eminence. Even so, only a certain portion of the children we so carefully nurture through gifted programs will attain the highest ranks our society offers. The rest? It is for “the rest” that I wrote Gifted Grownups.
I approached the study of these one hundred gifted adults armed with a set of informal criteria which had developed over twenty years of spotting misplaced gifted students in high school English classes. What did I look for? Speed, intense curiosity, sophistication of thought processes, sensitivity, concentration, energy, and humor. Working on the assumption that giftedness is a function of one’s nature and not necessarily one’s achievements, from among the many definitions available, I came to define a gifted person as one who has a finely tuned and biologically advanced perception system and a mind that works considerably faster than 95% of the population.
Each two to three hour interview I conducted was based on a series of index cards containing questions, statements, and quotes about being smarter than other people. The interviewees were asked to respond to only those cards which interested them, thus avoiding threatening questions. They commented, argued, and validated my initial theory that a smart kid remains a “smart kid” for life; only the costumes change, and the arenas in which they must work out their lives. After completing my study, I came to agree with Webb, Meckstroth &Tolan in Guiding the Gifted Child (1982) that giftedness is not a tacked on extra which can be set aside by gifted children on the journey to adulthood, “…the brain that drives them is so fundamental to everything about them that it cannot be separated from their personhood.”
The implications of what these grown up smart kids told me about their lives are threefold. First, it was obvious that there are a great many gifted people who lack even basic knowledge about their own nature. Counterproductive actions in personal relations and employment can limit the personal happiness they may attain and blunt their possible contributions to the progress of society. Realizing that the discontinuities they experienced were not evidence of a problem, but an indication of competence opened the eyes of many of those I interviewed to their own true nature. Internet reviews from readers continue to affirm this.
Second, a gifted person must be studied in the various contexts in which people live: as a member of a family, a student in school, a participator in human relationships, a member of the workforce, and as a citizen in society. Here, both new and ongoing research can make a significant contribution, by looking at how persons with this particular nature (giftedness) function in these contexts. The study of these dynamic interactions provide much insight into how gifted adults can improve the way they run their lives.
The need for change is the third implication of what these individuals were able to tell me. As was stated above, we simply cannot afford, on either practical or moral grounds, to waste our precious human resources. While improving our schools’ ability to nurture feisty minds, we need to move beyond the school setting to understand that multi talented young people may require many years to discover what they really want to do, and that for all their lives, they will seek stimulation and change. Recognition that giftedness exists throughout one’s life can improve the situation of workers, of bright women and of senior citizens.
If the use of the informal criteria listed above successfully yielded persons who could be defined as gifted, (and they did) then it would seem that this method could have wide applications for use by others such as parents, teachers, employers, spouses, counselors and law enforcement personnel, as they interact with gifted persons of all ages. The mechanisms of these interactions need to be studied.
While depicting the lives of a cross-section of gifted adults, Gifted Grownups offers insight into families, schooling, friendships, marriages, aging and crime – all areas which impact the lives of children. I have come to the firm conclusion that one of the major ways we can help to ensure a better chance in life for our gifted children is to seriously begin the work of recognizing gifted grownups by using our professional expertise to assist them in recognizing themselves. We also need to include ourselves in these considerations. By acknowledging and working to resolve our own issues as gifted adults, think how much time and energy we could free to devote to our children, either as parents or professionals. And to the degree that we help children and adults understand each other, we help society. Accepting this, I see a series of tasks before us in studying the gifted in families, as parents, as teachers, as young adults, in the workplace, with regard to mental health, relationships, women’s issues and senior citizens.
For example, we need much more research on parental attitudes toward their own giftedness. At the Spring conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education this year, I presented my book in the exhibit area. I lost count of the number of parents who said to me, “Oh no, not me. I’m not a gifted grownup. My husband/wife is the one the kids take after.” Their tension and conflict around this question was painfully evident in their faces, their voices and their body language. In talking to parent groups, I have encountered this same kind of denial. It has also been confirmed by teachers in gifted programs. It seems imperative to me that if men and women are to be the best parents for their gifted children, they must be able to recognize and deal with their own issues as gifted adults. How much better for a family to be able to see that they are a dynamically interacting collection of high-powered individuals and can share both the pleasures and the problems of dealing with a world that does not always accept them.
Readers of this journal are well aware of the many daunting tasks which face us in gifted education, and I will not belabor them here. However, there is one area which I believe has received little attention, and that is the mental and emotional well being of teachers who are gifted grownups. If such persons are fortunate enough to be working in gifted programs, they may feel sufficiently challenged and stimulated even while enduring the stress of keeping such programs alive in today’s cost-cutting climate. Others are not so lucky. They teach in schools with lockstep curricula where innovation and challenge, two essentials for a gifted mind, are regarded as “trouble making”. We are aware that educators must engage in the ongoing process of awakening the general public to the needs of the gifted. In some schools that general public includes principals and administrators. In most districts, it includes the school board. But reaching out to colleagues who may be enduring health-damaging frustration is an important task of which we should be ever mindful.
As our young people move beyond conventional schooling into the adult world of college and /or work, they continue to need special understanding. Faculties beyond the average take the gifted person higher, wider and deeper, for longer. Multiple talents require time to be explored, and it can take at least until age thirty to sort it all out. The late John Gowan, (1971) educator and psychologist, said, “Their own longer deeper search for meaningfulness is the extra mile the gifted have to travel.” Families can be helped by developing greater awareness of the extra mile a son or daughter may be traveling. Parents may have to be patient with a student who is caught in a non-stimulating college environment or who wishes to explore other learning options than conventional classrooms.
Young people themselves need to recognize the work of this period as a necessary and productive phase of their lives and accept their special needs. It helps if high school students can be made aware of this in advance. (An interesting question: In how many programs across the country are gifted students taught, in specific detail, about the nature of their own giftedness?) One interviewee who handled this period with grace, advises “staying in the moment and doing your best,” as each new talent or job presents itself. Parents whose patience is being sorely tried by a child who seems unable to “settle down” need to remember their own twenties, and possibly thirties, honestly.
What happens when the gifted children we have nurtured so carefully as parents and teachers encounter the world of corporate America and attempt to negotiate its hazards from thirty to sixty-something? In the interviews, I found that where employment is concerned, gifted adults exhibit an intensity, an insistence on the integrity to do the work at its best, as well as chronic impatience with shoddy work and slow thinkers. Gifted adults work too quickly, get bored, and show it. They raise the standards for everyone else, and that is always resented. They have odd approaches to things, which irritates their coworkers. They ask for more work and make enemies. The idealism of the young person is still there, and can cause problems with authority figures or with fellow executives. In addition, the bright mind has difficulty in accepting the illogical and may be very stubborn in expressing doubts about a project or in criticizing others. And yet, because of heightened sensitivity, this same person may be unusually vulnerable to peer group rejection. College degree or not, gifted adults carry around in their feisty minds questions the books cannot answer . And sometimes they threaten the boss, because that odd approach turns out to be better than the boss’s idea.
Which is why, when the downsizing begins (and this is not a new phenomenon) the smartest employees are often the first to go. Industrial psychologist David Willings told us in 1981, “Job performance is not a significant factor in promotability. Social acceptability, the ability to fit in, to think as the rest of management thinks; these are the factors which make a person promotable. The gifted employee is not readily promotable. This idea that the gifted will get ahead anyway, and if they do not, they were not really gifted, has no basis in fact.”
In the search for maximum profit and efficiency, corporate America needs to be able to take advantage of how the most clever people really operate. It is worth remembering that what we needed in order to run the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century was the eminent few at the top -- and bodies to stand in front of machines and behind plows and tractors. For the twenty-first century, bodies won’t do. We will need every fast-paced, flexible, curious, inventive systems thinker on the planet to manage the high-tech civilization which is imploding in our midst. David Willings (1981) warns us that, “The gifted are a significant factor, if not THE significant factor in the national economy of any country and. . .most of the countries with which I am acquainted are recklessly squandering that resource.”
Too often, employers regard gifted workers as unstable or troublesome and they fail to utilize their innovative approaches to improve company profits. Here is an area where researchers and authorities in the field of gifted studies could enhance the work of industrial psychologists for the benefit of all. The gifted adult threading a way through the maze of the contemporary employment scene may take comfort from one of the interviewees. “I play the game in industry more than I care to, but I have accepted the responsibility for playing the game for now. . .the challenge is to play to win!”
Nowhere in contemporary life is the challenge greater than for gifted women. A powerful statement by Linda Kreger Silverman (1993) could serve as a summary. “Most women are unaware of their giftedness; they are only aware of their pain -- the pain of being different from the way women are supposed to be.” Even if she moves confidently beyond denial or lack of awareness of her gifts, a modern wife and mother is constantly challenged by personal and career responsibilities. Researchers as well as the individuals interviewed in my study call for change.
In “Why Doesn’t Jane Run?” Jacquelynn Eccles of the University of Michigan (1985) warned we must not simply settle for advocating more career opportunities; we must become advocates for honoring motherhood as a profession worthy of the time and talent of smart women. To do this, we will have to change the way the modern workplace is organized, as radical as that may sound. In my own opinion, those who best understand giftedness have a special responsibility to help this to happen. Eccles says:
“Educational and occupational training systems are now designed to mesh well with the life-patterns of men. They also tend to operate on the implicit assumption that (1)late entry into such professions as medicine, law or sciences and (2) less than complete devotion to one's profession are bad ideas. [Are they not, in reality, simply different ideas?] Both of these assumptions need to be evaluated. . .In addition, educational and occupational support programs that are specifically designed for gifted women, who have different life patterns from those of gifted men, need to be developed. . . .Many women are influenced by their desire to spend significant amounts of their time raising their children. . .The assumption that late entry signifies lack of commitment should not be made.”
Mother Nature has decreed that the healthiest children are born to mothers in their twenties. The male patterns of corporate society push women into their thirties and even forties to have children, a long-term disadvantage in women’s and children’s health, and not insignificantly, in health care costs. The workplace must change to provide for a variety of acceptable career paths so that bright women can nurture their bright children as well as their own need for meaningful work. The two accomplished authors of Answers to the Mommy Track (1993) put it quite bluntly. “If we want educated and well trained women to have children in this society, then we must supports the needs of these women and their husbands to take care of training, developing and educating these children.” Nowhere more than here is it obvious that we can help the children by meeting the needs of the adults.
As our population ages, perhaps the second-greatest challenge in the study of gifted adults is our senior citizens. The high-powered brain/mind that drives a gifted person’s life does not switch to low gear simply because the body ages or some chronological milestone has been reached. The persistence of curiosity, the need for stimulation and the drive to DO things does not fade. It cannot be satisfied by a steady diet of bridge, bingo and bus trips, which many well-meaning programs seek to provide. Whether high school dropouts or professionals with advanced degrees, the bright senior citizens I interviewed continue to have both the capacity and the need to learn and grow.
Families can help. Providing stimulating conversation, transportation to cultural activities, recognition of valuable skills, and encouragement to try new activities will not only enhance the dignity of the elderly gifted, but can prevent these valuable citizens from becoming isolated . At this age, finding peers who are still active can be especially difficult, so that younger people can be essential for intellectual companionship.
However, it is the educational institutions where older adults can provide a vital element in hard-pressed gifted programs. Grand parenting programs, if keyed to the special abilities of individuals, could provide the crucial recognition and acceptance which a tiny smart kid may require. Mentoring for special projects with older students by retired professionals is another way in which gifted seniors could serve children while serving their own needs. But how the aging process takes place in an unusually intelligent person is an area where significant research should be undertaken.
Before I began the research for this book, I expected certain things would be true about gifted people. What I did not expect was that no matter where I looked -- education, gifted studies, general psychology, industrial relations, business, social criticism -- all the voices would say the same things about the needs of gifted people and the needs of the twenty-first century. For example, a management consultant warns that a whole new civilization -- super industrialism -- will implode in our midst in the next forty years and that its chief characteristic will be speed. At the same time, an educational researcher tells us that gifted people are complex systems thinkers who can move rapidly in the face of change. No one was putting voices like these together and letting them speak to a wider audience, and this has been one of the major reasons for writing this book.
Gifted Grownups is intended to be an aid to gifted adults in discovering themselves, and in gaining wider recognition for them in society, and by those who share their lives. In addition, it hopes to be a conscious-raising statement that encourages discussion and dialogue in those areas of society where solutions need to be worked out over many years. Not only families and schools, but government, industry, universities and the helping professions must be part of this process. Those whose expertise is specifically in gifted studies can make a vital contribution to the future welfare of gifted children and adults by spreading their knowledge beyond the choirs of academe and into the larger society.
Eccles, J. (1985). Why doesn’t Jane run? Sex differences in educational and occupational patterns, in The gifted and talented: developmental perspectives (p. 240).Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Ferguson, T. and Dunphy, J. (1993. Answers to the mommy track. (p.218). Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press.
Gowan, J. and Bruch, C. (1971) The academically talented student and guidance. (p.33). New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Noble, K.A., Subotnik, R.F., & Arnold, K.D. (1999). To thine own self be true: A new model of female talent development, in Gifted Child Quarterly 43 (3), 146.
Silverman, L.K. (1993). Giftedness and the development of the feminine. Advanced Development, 5, p.42.
Webb, J., Meckstroth, E. & Tolan, S. (1982).Guiding the gifted child. Columbus: Ohio Psychology Publishing Co.
Willings, D. (1981) The gifted at work. Paper presented at the Fourth World Conference on Gifted and Talented Children. NP.
SHAKESPEARE IN THE CLASSROOM: THE BARD IS BACK!
BY ROSANNA DiMILLO SANDELL, M.A., J.D.
There is no doubt that the Bard is back like never before. First there was the overwhelming success of the movie about the poet himself, Shakespeare In Love (1999). And since this Academy Award winning film hit the screens, the interest of American audiences has continued to be pleasantly piqued with a succession of film adaptations of the Bard’s works. For example, in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) we find a remake of The Taming Of The Shrew. The NBC-TV movie, The Tempest, shown in December 1998 is based on Shake- speare’s classic story of the same name. Also in 1999, director Michael Hoffman gave audiences an adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream -- critics called it a winner. In September 1999, Hamlet made its way to the prime-time air waves, and later in the fall of 1999, still another adaptation occurred with the movie O -- setting Othello in the milieu of the varsity sport field.
Not only have the hearts of the general public warmed to “Shakespeare Rediscovered,” the truth is that educators and parents everywhere are secretly rejoicing at this resurgent mass interest in the Bard. To me, from the perspective of a former English teacher who taught Shakespeare electives for over ten years to high school seniors, this resurgence is no less than thrilling! It certainly seems to bury further into the past the memory of the disappointing day when the following exchange occurred between myself and a less-than-eager Shakespearean scholar:
Mrs. Sandell: Andy, how do you like reading Shakespeare?
Andy: I love him, Mrs. Sandell. In fact, I take my book home every night so that whenever I get insomnia, I just open it up, start reading it and within minutes I fall fast asleep!
This burgeoning interest in Shakespeare thrills me for other reasons, too. A few years ago, I began work as a classroom facilitator of elementary level gifted and talented students. At one point, I decided to teach a unit on Shakespeare, intending as the culminating experience a stage production of one of the Bard’s plays. Prior to introducing this unit, I set out to find materials that would be suitable for children of that age group and intellect. Though there were children’s publications that did a good job retelling the stories of Shakespeare’s plots -- e.g., the timeless Tales From Shakespeare (1807) by Charles and Mary Lamb, and The Best of Shakespeare: Retelling of 10 Classic Plays by Edith Nesbit ( Oxford University Press, 1997) -- there were very few works that adapted Shakespeare plays in play form for children. The play adaptations I did find were a far cry from the original in that they contained little, if any, of the original play’s language, poetry, punning and word play. And most were simply too long for young readers -- and young thespians. Though I knew I easily could develop a unit on Shakespeare without having the students perform one of his plays as a culminating experience, I realized from my experience with high school seniors that the way students would really become academically intimate with the Bard, the way they could really learn about him would be by becoming actively engaged in a production of one of his works. In other words, the ideal Shakespeare experience would have to involve student participation in one of his plays.
Years before -- and shortly after my disappointing exchange with young Andy-- I had adapted a number of the plays for high school students taking my Shakespeare course. Though during the semester, the students were engaged in the study of the original text in its entirety, the semester’s culminating event was a production of one of the plays in slightly adapted form. The plays were staged in the school auditorium and were an optional event which teachers -- at their own discretion -- brought their classes. Yet thanks to the support of the majority of those teachers, the Shakespeare students always played to full-houses. Needless to say, the memory of those productions will remain among the fondest I have of my teaching career. I’m sure that my memories and feelings about the event are similar to those of the students who participated in or viewed the plays.
So after mentioning my resource dilemma to one of my colleagues (who had been one of those supportive high school teachers of the recent past) and at her subsequent suggestion, I embarked on a project of rewriting and adapting a number of the Shakespeare plays in a form that would be more palatable to the literary tastes of my younger students. And at the end of one summer not too long ago, I finally finished what I had set out to do: adapt some of the Bard’s plays for children while incorporating portions of the Shakespeare’s original language, poetry, punning and word play. The adaptations also strive to stay true to the plot and characters of the original, are short enough to keep a child interested from start to finish and contain enough speaking parts for the involvement of all students. But I knew that writing the adaptations would be the easy part. The real test would be if the plays could be read and acted out with relative ease by a group of real-life, “flesh and blood” children.
I had the opportunity to field test one of the adapted plays soon after I completed my project. The play I chose to work with first was Romeo and Juliet. I began by handing out the play packet to each student. (Accompanying each play is a play packet. In this small packet, one finds background information on William Shakespeare’s life and times, basic play production information as well as Shakespeare songs and activities.) I began the unit by having the children read and listen to the background information on William Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era included in the play packets.
I then handed out the scripts, since the next order of business was to have students become familiar with the content and format of the play. A review of the play on a scene-by-scene basis was accomplished by the assignment of various roles to different students each day for approximately one week. One of the purposes here was to have students “try on” different roles on different days. One day a student might have been Juliet, on another Lady Capulet, and still on another she might take on the role of audience member. Props such as swords, crowns, trumpets and “dress-up” clothes were provided as students read their parts in front of the classroom.
At the beginning of the second week, after the students had become familiar with the play, I explained the procedure of “auditioning.” I then broke the class into learning pairs. Students then chose a desired part from the play and then practiced the audition procedure with his/her partner. In the middle of the week, formal auditions took place and by the end of the week, students were assigned their parts.
Our first “read-through” occurred during week number three. Students were given yellow highlighting markers so that they could highlight their parts as we came upon them during the read-through. As we read through the script, members of the stage crew noted their responsibilities and the junctures on the scripts when those responsibilities would occur. During week numbers four and five, memorization of lines, in-class rehearsals and blocking took place. Rehearsals on stage took place during weeks four, five and six. And at the end of week six, after much hard work and good fun, the play was successfully produced in front of parents, students and teachers.
Since that first elementary school production, I have since helped stage three more of these plays with gifted elementary school students, the most recent production being a third grade production of The Taming of the Shrew. Though I thought I had seen and felt it all as an educator watching high school seniors “stand and deliver,” I realize now I really hadn’t. After the miniature-sized Romeos, Juliets, Mercutios, Petruchios, Katherinas (the list is endless!) had taken their final bows and after hearing the enthusiastic applause of the audiences after each performance, I knew I had reached a new level of gratification as an educator. In watching children perform Shakespeare (and being a catalyst to their efforts), I had mounted an educational summit equal to Mount Everest -- and felt the exhilaration commensurate with such an expedition!
Shakespeare and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
To know that staging Shakespeare’s plays with gifted and talented children teaches unequivocally to all seven of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences has made it an even more gratifying endeavor for me. Howard Gardner has made all of us aware of the fact that children have a plethora of gifts and talents. In his seminal work, Frames Of Mind (1983), Professor Gardner postulates that intelligence is not a single entity. In his book, Gardner sets forth seven discrete intelligences: Verbal-Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Musi-cal, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Visual-Spatial, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal. Using Shakespeare’s plays as a vehicle of instruction, teachers are afforded a wonderful opportunity to develop the Multiple Intelligences of the gifted child.
Following are some activities I used to engage students in projects that not only pique their interest in the Bard’s work but also nurture their own Multiple Intelligences.
Dramatic sequences from the play are read to and by the class. Students keep a journal that one of the characters from the play (e.g., Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Juliet from Romeo and Juliet) might have kept. Students E-mail letters to students in Stratford, England, Shakespeare’s birthplace, via the KEYPALS program:
http://www.collegebound.com/keypals/europe/main. htm .
Students create a unique version of the Shakespeare play (e.g., one that takes place years in the future, on a different planet or perhaps, a version that has a completely different ending than the original). Students conduct interviews with one of the characters in the play (for example, with Romeo just after he has seen Juliet for the first time or with Petruchio as he develops his plans to “tame” Katherine). They develop a list of homo-phones and then create jokes with puns in them just as the Bard himself might have done. A passage from either the original or the adapted text is memorized, and students recite the memorization to each other or to students in the younger grades. Life boxes (a shoe box containing four to six items a specific character might use daily or as a keepsake) are created. Students then demonstrate the boxes and explain why they chose particular items for their character.
Students build and paint sets for play production from refrigerator and other appliance boxes. Students do many calculations with English currency values (e.g., converting U.S. dollars to English pounds). Venn diagrams can be created to illustrate the personality traits of two different characters from one play or from two different plays. Students apply their skill at liquid measurement to create an Elizabethan repast for themselves and their classmates. A board game is created which is based on the characters, events and setting of the play.
Students create and sing Shakespeare songs to the tune of familiar nursery rhymes. They can design their own versions of Elizabethan instruments such as the lute and the tambourine to accompany their voices. Students listen to music of the Elizabethan period. (Two wonderful CDs we used are Early American Music Festival by the Early Music Consort, Decca Record Company, 1998, and Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance by Vanguard Classics, Omega Record Group, 1997.) Music from Broadway musicals based on Shakespeare’s plays, such as West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate is played in class and listened to.
Students play charades or do pantomimes using events from the play. They stage scenes from the play or the entire play for audiences. Dances which characters in the play might have performed can be choreographed by the students. An Elizabethan game day can be held where students play versions of games Shakespeare himself might have played like lawn bowling, tennis, marbles, juggling and “futeball” (a combination of American soccer and football).
Students create a travel brochure highlighting places to see in the London of Shakespeare’s day. They can design a playbill advertising the play under study. Students draw a scene from any of the plays or create a stage setting for a scene from the play in diarama. Students draw a map of where the action of the play takes place or what the inside of the house or bedroom of one of the play’s characters would look like (e.g., What items would Puck’s [from A Midsummer Night’s Dream] room contain? What posters might be on his wall?)
Students write down and reflect on topics and incidences from the play in their journals. Students write editorials for the “Shakespeare Sun-Times” (a newspaper created by the class containing articles highlighting the major events of the play). Students participate in panel discussions and generate solutions to problems that existed in the play and to similar problems that exist in the world today (e.g., unfounded hatred between people causes devastation of lives in countries today, such as in Kosovo, as it did to the individuals in the play, Romeo and Juliet). Students create a list of self-improvement tips for various characters from the plays (such as Falstaff from The Merry Wives of Windsor, Katherine from The Taming of The Shrew or Oberon from A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Students negotiate a peaceable solution for dilemmas existing between various antagonistic characters such as Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Students reflect in journals or diaries on events in the play or relevant topics pertaining to the play that the teacher might assign. Students might be asked to reflect on questions such as, “If you could have special powers such as Puck and Oberon, how would use them to help others?” or “Have you ever felt like any of the characters in the play? If so, when and what happened?”
A unit focusing on Shakespeare with a play performance as the culminating event is also a wonderful way for teachers to assess what Gardner and his colleagues at Harvard Project Zero called “Genuine Understanding.” In his book, The Unschooled Mind (1991), Gardner says that genuine understandings occur when “students are able to take information and skills they have learned in school or other settings and apply them flexibly and appropriately in a new or at least unanticipated setting.” According to Gardner, some ways a student may demonstrate that he or she has genuine understanding are through a project, an exhibition or a presentation of some sort. Hence, the performance of an adapted Shakespeare play, along with its related discussions and activities, not only becomes a great learning modality but also a good way to assess for genuine understanding.
Ultimately, by using a Shakespeare play as the “engine” that drives an interdisciplinary study while incorporating multiple intelligences, my students have been afforded the opportunity to learn in an engagingly fun way. I know, too, that their study of Shakespeare in elementary school has served as a foundation for a later and more in-depth study of the Bard from Stratford-On-Avon!
Yet before any teacher can embark on such a powerful learning adventure with a Shakespeare play as the driving force, he or she must accept that using the Bard’s work in an adapted or abridged form is more than “okay”: it is a vital and even important way to introduce young people to the Bard’s works.
As historian, Lawrence W. Levine, points out in his book, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy In America (Harvard University Press, 1990) from colonial times through most of the 19th century in America, Shakespeare had been everywhere and considered our country’s “great author.” His plays were adapted, abridged, abbreviated and then produced across the country. In this way, Levine comments that “Shakespeare was not only domesticated; he was humanized.”
But near the end of the 19th century, the tide turned. Purists insisted on unabridged treatment and production of Shakespeare’s plays. The public became rapidly disenchanted, then indifferent. Soon Shakespeare was back on the shelves and, except for intermittent resurrections in publications of the College Board Examiners, remained there for quite some time.
The fact that Shakespeare was, by his own making, a playwright first -- one who wrote for actors and not the professorate, for audiences comprised of groundlings as well as academicians -- has been re-acknowledged in recent times. As Yale University English Professor Harold Bloom writes in his bestseller, Shakespeare: The Invention Of the Human (Riverhead Books, 1998), “In the midst of ruined high culture, there comes out [once again] a deep public love of Shakespeare. . .Milton and Chaucer are doomed because they depend on the mediation of scholars. But Shakespeare is invulnerable in the way are Austen and Dickens.” And, one reason for this, adds Bloom, is the Bard’s “great humor” and characters to whom the masses can relate.
Shakespeare’s works have once again been domesticated and humanized for American readers and audiences. Using Shakespeare in abridged form as a teaching tool, as a vehicle for learning not only about Shakespeare but other life lessons is seeing a resurgence in America’s schools today. In New York City, there is the “Sharing Shakespeare” project for students who are deaf or have a limited grasp of the English language. In Los Angeles, Hobart Boulevard Elementary teacher Rafe Esquith started a Shakespeare program in his school 13 years ago. Here students (who are often from homes where English is a second language) gather after school to memorize lines and “get the feel”for Shakespeare. A Shakespearean production is the group’s culminating activity, and is always well-received by audiences comprised of old and young alike.
Esquith says, “It’s not really about acting. It’s about language, working as a team. It improves the kids’ skills in everything. It strengthens their minds.” He sees the study and production of Shakespeare’s plays as an invaluable vehicle for instruction, “because he tackles the big issues -- love, violence, jealousy, comedy and humorous situations in a language that nobody else has ever duplicated.”
I am very fortunate to have had numerous opportunities to use the production of a Shakespeare play as a vehicle of instruction. I have seen its ability to nurture team-building, its ability to help children learn more about poetry, vocabulary, word play and the lovely language that is Shakespeare. I’ve seen first hand how it’s helped these students better understand themselves and the world around them. Most importantly, I’ve seen the children have a great deal of fun as they learned and have realized that the experience helped to foster a heartfelt interest for a life-long learning of the classics -- and this has been most gratifying of all.
Bloom, Harold (1998). Shakespeare: The Invention Of The Human. New York: Riverhead Books.
Eidenier, Betty (1990). Warp Zone Shakespeare: Active Learning Lessons for the Gifted, Grades Six Through Twelve. Manassas, VA: Gifted Education Press.
Gardner, Howard (1983). Frames Of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, Howard (1991). The Unschooled Mind. New York: Basic Books.
Levine, Lawrence W (1990). Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence Of Cultural Hierarchy In America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Tolson, Jay. “The Return Of The Bard.” U.S. News And World Report. Feb. 1, 1999: 48-49.
Walters, Michael E (1990). Teaching Shakespeare to Gifted Students, Grades Six Through Twelve: An Examination of the Sensibility of Genius. Manassas, VA: Gifted Education Press.
POEMS BY MILLICENT BORGES
(Written for the first female professor at California State University, Long Beach -- Dr. Virginia Ringer, who
The ones who knew you stand
ankle on ankle
around the cherry blossoms,
near your classical air.
To warm marble,
to trace sculpture marks,
to find arms strong unbreakable
to meet prominent eyes
which did not lose
out to a bony skull,
we stand here, in mourning.
We would have wished
better for you, our lady
soul. A stronger finish
for a strong woman.
Instead, we remember how
in class we watched you,
every semester, tell the story
of the prisoners
while you marked
on the blackboard with a paltry
bit of yellow chalk. You told of three
World War II prisoners
confined to cells of lapis excilis,
the stones of no worth,
darkness, save for
a slot of yellow light
seen through the underbelly
of the door. The first was an athlete
in his twenties. For days
his eyes dampened the gravel floor.
and when his tears were gone,
he dried up: an angel in perfect form.
The second, a middle-aged man,
sure of his demons,
tried to crawl to the way out,
by scraping for the tunnel
he knew, like air, must exist.
The skin peeled back
from his nails, and he applauded
hollow sounds until the food
sent under the door was too brittle
for him to swallow.
The third, you said, was a woman,
well into her eighties,
a philosopher at the Sorbonne.
She sat in a solitary cell
until her eyes grew accustomed
to the new darkness: A teleological fish
For two long years she scrawled
on the walls mapping continents,
diagraming poetry, working through old
long-forgotten logic problems.
All that she could remember.
"I'll survive on my knowledge, "
she said to no one.
The sharp point of her contraband
pencil shining in the shadows.
And when the officials opened the
cell door after the war, she had
to be fitted with special goggles
because the sun was now too severe
for her to bear.
Today, your students are sure,
that you exist. Strong somewhere.
Between the men and the angels,
on a cold stone wall, we see you
scratching out the formulas of Lucretius,
reciting the attributes of atoms;
we see you building cities in our souls.
(for Dr. Lee, based upon the poem "Berryman" by W.S. Merwin)
I will tell you how it was in the afternoons just into fall:
the "back to school week," as we then called it.
"Ask the tree--Who am I?" He said, "You can do that facing south."
"Sit underneath with your notebooks and lean against the rough trunk.
Replace your question with your pen."
The second time, he suggested sitting north and asking the tree,
"Where do I come from?" but this time he said, "Change the order of the words
while you are writing."
He indicated that we then should then face west and ask, "What am I doing
in front of the tree or on this earth?" Right there on the grass
he told us to kneel down and turn around until we could face east
and were humble enough to ask the same tree, "Where am I going?"
It was in the early days of the semester before we had written our sonnets
and our villanelles – before Adrienne had made us cry and before Andy
had dressed up like Harvey the invisible rabbit, before Tina had visited
the farmer's market and Karen had cried over her own adjective-ridden poem.
He was far older in lives than the rest of us, yet he once called me an "old
then he laughed his little elfin laugh and nodded.
"Rubber poetry," he snapped out while beating a shamanic drum.
With a tilt of his feet, his heels dug into the linoleum like an over-turned
As for small press publishing, he said to take it and take it some more.
"Frame the rejections and still send more poems -- 2 a week!" he cried, "2 a
He said that the great presence behind all poetry was magic and that
we should listen to our true voices, "First line best line, first word best
and write write write!"
On the last day of class he invited us to ponder over the question of whether
we were poets. "A poet," he said, "is not necessarily published or skilled,
but self-defined and bound to his occupation. He will die if he is not able
"Are you poets?" he cried, never wanting an answer, just another poem.
EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-49) AND THE NATURE OF CREATIVE GENIUS
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE HUMANITIES IN THE SCHOOLS
“ ‘What a number of ideas must have been afloat before such an author could arise!’ ” In a letter to John Neal from Edgar Allan Poe, p. 3, The Unknown Poe (1980). Statement by Shelley about Shakespeare.
Recently, I had two wonderful experiences that led me to reread one of the favorite writers of my teenage period, Edgar Allan Poe. The first was a visit to his cottage which is located in Poe Park in the Bronx, New York. When I was there, no one else was visiting so I had the house entirely to myself. It was as if I had been caught up in a time warp. There were moments when I could sense that Poe was there with me. The second experience was a one person performance about his life in the Levinger Theater at Lehman College, not too far from his cottage. The actor was John Astin who was one of the main characters in the television series, The Adams Family. Mr. Astin performed poems like “The Raven,” and segments of Poe’s stories by placing these works in the context of Poe’s life. This dramatic biography enabled the audience to understand Poe’s writings as reflections of his personality.
When I read Poe’s writings again, I was stunned by not only how they held up as literature, but they also gave me insight into this author’s creative genius. The most immediate response for an adult reader of Poe is to appreciate his range. He was intellectually a Renaissance Man -- his interests and writings included the entire spectrum of the humanities. It is important to observe the intellectual and cultural aspects of his personality since he was both a man of the arts and sciences. Also, he blended the emotional and the cognitive, the theoretical and the sensual. Penguin Classics has published a collection of his stories called The Science Fiction of Edgar Allen Poe (1976), edited by Harold Beaver. Besides the collected stories, the Introduction and Commentary (at the end) are important for appreciating and understanding Poe’s holistic personality. In the Introduction, the editor describes the scientific developments and accomplishments of the early nineteenth century. The fields of chemistry and electro-magnetism laid the groundwork for the scientific discoveries of the twentieth century, e.g., quantum physics. Poe was a student of the “Calculus of Probabilities.” In the middle of the nineteenth century, the British mathematician, James Clerk Maxwell, applied this Calculus of Probabilities to understanding the role of energy and chance in the structure of matter. In the commentary to this book, Beaver describes the intellectual and cultural influences on Poe’s stories, e.g., the balloon experiments of individuals such as the Montgolfier brothers. The activities of these balloonists, and journalistic accounts of lunar observations via telescope (made by the British astronomer, Sir John Herschel) were the foundation for the short story, The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835).
The implications of studying the writings and personality of Poe are important for gifted children. Poe’s life and work will provide them with significant insights into the study of creativity. This trait is more than the simple process of brainstorming and “trick dog” techniques such as using one’s perceptions. Creativity is stimulated by encountering ideas, and it derives from a cocoon enveloped in intellectual and philosophical contexts. It was Poe’s reading about scientific developments and their philosophical implications that resulted in all of his writing. Ideas were the “meat and potatoes” of his thoughts and aesthetic processes. This is similar to the recent work of Howard Gardner (The Disciplined Mind, 1999) concerning the idea that intelligence should be nurtured by a grounding in such disciplines as music, biology and history.
“An objection will be made – that the greatest excess of mental power, however proportionate, does not seem to satisfy our idea of genius, unless we have, in addition, sensibility, passion, energy. . . .” The Unknown Poe, p. 38.