GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (2005) by James R. Hansen. New York: Simon & Schuster. Small town America produced some of our finest astronauts, among them Neil A. Armstrong who was born August 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio (halfway between Toledo and Dayton). Because of the requirements of his father's job with the Ohio state government, the family moved sixteen times to other small towns including Warren, Ravenna, Moulton and Upper Sandusky. From a young age Armstrong was interested in airplanes and wanted to become a pilot. He meticulously built and displayed numerous model airplanes in his bedroom and in other areas of his home. And as a member of the local Boy Scout troop in Wapakoneta, he studied astronomy to qualify for a merit badge. (Hansen indicates that of the 294 individuals selected to be astronauts from 1959 to 2003, more than 200 participated in scouting.) On his sixteenth birthday in August 1946, Armstrong started taking flying lessons from three veteran army pilots at the local Wapakoneta airfield. A few weeks later, he made his first solo flight. By the time he was seventeen, he had flown to Cincinnati to apply for a navy scholarship and West Lafayette, Indiana where he preregistered for classes at Purdue University.
What hints does this book provide about the development of talent and giftedness? The study of biographies such as this one might provide some insights into this question although it is difficult to pinpoint and verify connections. An example of this problem is an incident discussed by Hansen regarding a claim by Jake Zint of Wapakoneta, who said that Neil studied astronomy with him as a teenager. The information was reported in newspapers across the world during June and July 1969, but has since been proven to be completely false.
The small town environment that Armstrong grew up in might have provided a non-distracting setting necessary for developing his intense interests in aeronautics. It appears that individuals in these communities were very effective in focusing children's interests through scouting and science fair activities. Although his public school education was mediocre, the high school principal did arrange for Armstrong to receive special tutoring in trigonometry because this course was a prerequisite for college engineering programs. Trigonometry was not usually offered by this high school. It appears that individuals who lived in these small towns were willing to devote considerable amounts of time to helping children expand their interests and talents. Interestingly, Hansen points out that all seven of the original Mercury program astronauts were from small towns including Alan B. Shepard Jr. (East Derry, New Hampshire), Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom (Mitchell, Indiana), and John H. Glenn Jr. (New Concord, Ohio).
Armstrong studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue University from 1947 to 1955 that included three years as a naval aviator. These were times during which major changes were occurring in aeronautics. Flight was changing from propellor driven to jet powered planes, and major advances were being made in guided missile and rocket technology. In addition, President Harry S. Truman established a 5,000 mile guided-missile test range at Cape Canaveral, Florida that later became Cape Kennedy. Armstrong had to leave Purdue during the Korean War to fly sorties as an aircraft carrier fighter pilot. From 1950-52 he flew seventy-eight perilous combat missions over North Korea, and was awarded the Air Medal and two Gold Stars. He returned to Purdue where he graduated in 1955 with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering. (Later he received a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering for the University of Southern California.) He then became an experimental test pilot, first in Ohio and next in California where he piloted X-15 hypersonic planes. During his X-15 missions he achieved a peak altitude of 207,504 feet and a maximum speed of 3,989 mph (Mach 5.74).
In 1962, NASA named Armstrong as one of its nine new astronauts, and he participated in all phases of the Gemini and Apollo programs in the 1960s. With his fellow-astronauts, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins, he led the Apollo 11 Moon expedition which lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on July16, 1969 and landed on July 20, 1969. After being the first man to step onto the Moon's surface, he uttered the words etched into American and world history, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." The book provides extensive details about the Gemini and Apollo space programs along with a fascinating description of Armstrong's life as a pilot and astronaut. Hansen also describes Armstrong's family life including a great personal tragedy when he was an X-15 pilot - the death of his two-year-old daughter from a brain tumor. He overcame this tragedy to develop his astronaut skills and to eventually become one of America's greatest space heros. Gifted students will find the technical and personal information presented in this book to be inspiring and well worth reading about this exciting period of space exploration.
"In the view of the Original Seven, if the famous ephemeral quality that came to be known as 'The Right Stuff' existed at all, it derived socially from their common upbringing. 'Small-town values are a mark of distinction of the Project Mercury pilots,' Walter Schirra wrote in his autobiography Schirra's Space (1988). John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit, concurred: 'Growing up in a small town gives kids something special.' Children 'make their own decisions' and 'maybe it's no accident that people in the space program, a lot of them tended to come from small towns.'" (Chapter 4: The Virtues of Smallville, p. 37)
"Whether it was with the naked eye or with the monocular, Neil could not help but contemplate how fragile the Earth looked: 'I don't know why you have that impression, but it is so small. It's very colorful, you know. You see an ocean and gaseous layer, a little bit-just a tiny bit-of atmosphere around it, and compared with all the other celestial objects, which in many cases are much more massive and more terrifying, it just looks like it couldn't put up a very good defense against a celestial onslaught.' Buzz and Mike felt likewise, with Buzz thinking how crazy it was for the globe to be so politically and culturally divided: 'From space it has an almost benign quality. Intellectually one could realize there were wars under way on Earth, but emotionally it was impossible to understand such things. . . .'" (Chapter 27: Outward Bound, p. 417)
Recommended Books about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) on the
250th and 300th Anniversaries of Their Birth
Davenport, Marcia (1979). Mozart. New York: Avon Books.
Gay, Peter (1999). Mozart. New York: Viking.
Solomon, Maynard (1995). Mozart: A Life. New York: HarperCollins.
Brands, H.W. (2000). The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Doubleday.
Isaacson, Walter. (2003). Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Van Doren, Carl. (1938). Benjamin Franklin. New York: Viking.
Wood, Gordon S. (2004). The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: The Penguin Press.
"The finale of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony is like the Cathedral of Cologne." Dmitri Shostakovitch, 1906-75.
"If I were a dictator I should make it compulsory for every member of the population between the ages of four and eighty to listen to Mozart for at least a quarter of an hour daily for the coming five years." From Beecham Stories by H. Atkins and A. Newman, 19 .
"Well done is better than well said." "Since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour." "The Doors of Wisdom are never shut." All from Poor Richard's Almanacks (1733-1758) by Benjamin Franklin.
Leonardo da Vinci's Codes of Giftedness
Michael E. Walters
Center For the Study of the Humanities in the Schools
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), a poster child for multiple intelligences, lived during a period of religious humanism that stressed synergy between religious values and the universal human condition. By multiple intelligences, I mean synergy among different types of intelligence working together to solve problems in a creative manner. For example, when it came to painting the Last Supper, this great work of art involved da Vinci's use of both synergy and cross-referencing in problem solving, perceptual-motor activities and reaching logical insights. He cross-referenced this religious theme from the New Testament description of Christ's Last Supper with the artistic study of each individual in the scene. The immediate reference occurred when Christ told his disciples that one of them would betray him. Da Vinci's painting of each disciple's expression displays their unique psychological character. Through his art he combined the religious values of his time with the humanistic treatment of each disciple's personality. When the viewer looks at the Last Supper, he not only sees religious figures but separate human beings with distinct personalities.
Another area where da Vinci used synergy and cross-referencing was in his human anatomy drawings. As Sherwin B. Nuland, MD emphasized in his magnificent book, Leonardo da Vinci (2000, Viking), this genius had both artistic and scientific interests in human anatomy. According to Dr. Nuland, the drawings stimulated progress in medicine because they helped doctors to see patients as unique and complex organisms. This led to further developments in medical science that emphasized the use of empirically supported procedures to cure diseases rather than religious devotion, superstitious practices or unproven treatments.
Two books will help gifted students to understand da Vinci's religious humanism and how it was influenced by synergy and cross-referencing of different intelligences. The first has illustrations and written selections, The Da Vinci Notebooks (2005, Arcade Publishing) by Emma Dickens-Editor. By reading these notebooks, the gifted student will see how da Vinci represented various areas of multiple intelligences. He cross-referenced such topics such as optics, perspective and color when he wrote about painting. These understandings did not come mainly through academic studies but from his own empirical observations and analysis. The second book that would help gifted students is Leonardo da Vinci by Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland (op. cit.). In this book and another one he wrote about Moses Maimonides (2005, Schocken), a medieval Jewish philosopher and physician, Nuland shows that great intellectuals use multiple intelligences in a paradigm of intellectual synergy and cross-referencing.
The true decoding of da Vinci's work involves understanding his mental, cultural and creative processes. This type of decoding is more significant to gifted students than current fictional and occult treatments. Da Vinci's codes were written not for secretive reasons but to advance human understanding, and to protest the political and religious forces of his day. It is important for us to savor and appreciate the historical da Vinci rather than popular culture depictions.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, April-May 2006