GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
VOLUME 16, NUMBER 4
The Rising Tide (2006) by Jeff Shaara. Ballantine Books. New York. This is a historical fiction account of the British and American military campaigns during World War II from the spring of 1942 to the beginning of 1944. Like Shaara's previous books on World War I and the Civil War, he tells the story of major battles in North Africa and Sicily by presenting detailed descriptions of the generals and enlisted men. Each chapter concentrates upon the thoughts and actions of Erwin Rommel (the Desert Fox), Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston S. Churchill, Bernard Montgomery, George Patton, Albert Kesselring, Private Jack Logan (American tank gunner), Sergeant Jesse Adams (American paratrooper), and many others on both the Allied and Axis sides. Shaara based his book on meticulous research gleaned from original documents and discussions with military historians. The fictional part is represented by the thoughts, motives and conversations of each character. In regard to writing this book, the author says:
"You may disagree with my portrayal of certain historical figures. This is, after all, my interpretation of who these people were, and how they responded to events around them. However, I take few liberties with characters whose thoughts and actions are well documented. In all of my books, I take pride in historical accuracy. To portray these events and these characters any other way would be a gross disservice to the legacies of these extraordinary men." (pp. XII-XIII).
Although the final outcomes of the military battles result in a predictable Allied victory, Shaara has a knack for pulling the reader into suspenseful and exciting personal descriptions of particular field operations. The numerous battle maps help to enhance the reader's understanding of troop movements and strategies. What's more, he has skillfully covered the enormous political and logistical barriers that Eisenhower and his staff had to overcome to achieve victory in North Africa, Sicily and on the Italian mainland. Unfortunately, many aspects of World War II have been buried by the present culture of self-gratification and media dominance, but gifted students can recover some of the historical events and sense of mission by reading Shaara's book and other works such as Winston Churchill's The Second World War (six volumes published from 1948-54). The Rising Tide is the first volume in a trilogy ending with the Allied victory in Europe, and we look forward to reading the future volumes.
Edison: A Biography (2003) by Matthew Josephson. History Book Club. New York. This biographical study was originally published in 1959 and received the Francis Parkman Prize in the spring of 1960 from The Society of American Historians. The outstanding historian, Allan Nevins and his colleagues, founded this society in 1939. Matthew Josephson wrote other fine biographies and histories before he focused upon the life and times of Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931). Some of these books were Zola and His Time (1928), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1931), and The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901 (1934). He was a careful and scholarly writer who was particularly interested in replacing myths with thoroughly documented facts. One of the major accomplishments of this biography was to dispel many of the myths concerning Edison's early life, particularly his schooling and learning abilities.
The book contains many aspects of Edison's life and American culture that would be of particular interest to gifted students and their teachers. Among these are: his family background; the small-town society in which he was raised; his stubbornness, determination and insatiable curiosity; the most famous inventions - the phonograph, incandescent light bulb, and moving pictures; his work in organizing America's first technology research in Menlo Park, New Jersey; his understanding of the principles of electricity and the application of this knowledge to designing electrical power plants; and his business ventures with industrial capitalists that resulted in the use of his inventions by the masses.
Edison was born in Milan, Ohio in 1847, the last of seven children. Three of his siblings died of childhood diseases before he was born. This small town was a conduit for farmers, craftsmen and tradesmen who shipped goods on the Huron Canal to Lake Erie, and eventually to the commercial centers of the Eastern Seaboard. It was noted as being the "Odessa" of the Great Lakes since its main exports were large quantities of wheat on a par with the amounts shipped from this Russian city. His father Sam was moderately successful as a manufacturer of wooden shingles, but neither father nor son liked each other. Sam was constantly frustrated by Tom's independence, trouble-making behavior and lack of direction. On the other hand, his mother Nancy understood her son's unique learning style and his constant drive to explore his environment.
The town of Milan provided Tom with many stimulating opportunities for exploration that peaked his curiosity - his father's shingle mill and lumber yard, the workers who operated the Huron Canal and the boatmen, the craftsmen and tradesmen who produced various goods and services, the farms and surrounding countryside including the river and canal, and the animals and oxcarts used to haul wheat to the grain warehouses and canal. Because of the new railroad that was built through this area of Ohio, Sam Edison's business declined in Milan. As a result, he moved his family to Port Huron, Michigan where he tried to start new businesses that were not very successful. Tom was about eight years old when he came to Port Huron. The constant force in his life was his mother who continued teaching her curious son, and allowing him to conduct chemistry experiments in his bedroom and in a basement corner. As for his formal education, the following statement by Josephson indicate its negative effects:
". . . .It is not surprising, therefore, that the Edison boy, who had been growing up according to his own will, as a sort of child of nature, proved to be somewhat difficult in the classroom, his mind apparently refusing the lessons offered in such form. He said: 'I remember I used never to be able to get along at school. I was always at the foot of the class. I used to feel that the teachers did not sympathize with me, and that my father thought I was stupid. . . .'
"After he had been at the school about three months, he overheard the schoolmaster one day saying of him that his mind was 'addled.' In an outburst of temper, Tom Edison stormed out of the schoolroom and ran home, refusing to return." (pp. 19-20).
Nancy was no ordinary home educator during these times because she wanted Tom to study the best ideas and literature gained from reading the works of Gibbon, Shakespeare and Dickens, and from studying books on the physical sciences. His mother's enthusiastic use of these books influenced Edison to become a lifelong reader. Educators of the gifted can learn a great deal about nurturing the creative imagination by reading Josephson's book.
HOW NOT TO TEACH POETRY: The Students Enjoy It!
Ross Butchart Vancouver, Canada
Principle of Teaching: Connect to previous learning. "Good morning ladies and gentlemen. You'll recall that in our initial literature
lesson yesterday we accomplished two purposes: (1) we identified the five major literary forms: novel, drama, short story, poem, essay;
and (2) we learned the difference between the two major directions/approaches to the study of literature: the Socratic and the Aristotelean.
Today, because you are all so intelligent, I feel confident we can expand upon yesterday's lesson."
Principle of Teaching: Anticipatory set: focus the mind of the learner on the purpose of the current lesson. "So let's get going. Today we are going to start our in-depth study of literature by beginning with POETRY." Note: The tone and volume of the collective groan heard from a grade 7 class at this point is remarkably consistent from year to year.
Principle of Teaching: Use techniques of motivation to stimulate interest and challenge negative attitudes. T: "Can I assume there is some reluctance among the multitude here assembled to studying poetry?" S: "Yeah." T: "Why?" S: "Because poetry is boring and uninteresting." T: "How can you say that when you're not giving poetry a chance to defend itself?" (Appeal to sense of fair play.) S: "What do you mean, 'poetry can't defend itself'?" T: "How can poetry defend itself when you don't even know what poetry is? Just tell me how something unknown can mount a self-defense." (Introduce a unique perspective to the discussion.) S: "You're saying we don't know what poetry is?" T: "Brilliant deduction! Let me prove it. I challenge you to come up with a definition for poetry that accommodates every 'poem' you've ever read." (Encourage 'friendly' competition.) Note: At this point you can suggest students work independently, or try to reach consensus in groups of three/four. (Present options to allow students a sense of control. Create an atmosphere that encourages risk-taking.) Note: Students soon realize that this is an impossible task.
Principle of Teaching: Introduce models to: (1) raise the level of interest or concern; and (2) move to the abstract from the concrete.
T: "Since you found trying to come up with a definition a difficult task, let me ask you: 'Are the following poems? Why/Why not. . .' " Hand out copies of the following or have them pre-written on blackboard:
NIGHT THOUGHT OF A TORTOISE SUFFERING FROM INSOMNIA ON A LAWN The world is very flat-- / There is no doubt of that. -E. V. Rieu-
THE PURPLE COW I never saw a Purple Cow, / I never hope to see one; / But I can tell you, anyhow, / I'd rather see than be one. -Gelett Burgess- Note: Discussion - which can be quite animated - is usually divisive on the issue.
Principle of Teaching: Use analogy to take students from the known to the unknown. T: "Since you seem unable to define poetry or come to agreement on the examples I gave, I assume you need some help. So let me propose that poetry is nothing more than a game similar to chess. Now, before we have general mutiny on the good ship Education let me present my reason. The components of the game of chess and the 'game' of poetry are basically the same. . ." Pick up chalk and write on the blackboard/or use O/H projector:
(1) Chess requires a place to play (board) and Poetry requires a place to play (paper, etc.); (2) Chess requires players (almost anyone) and Poetry requires players (anyone who can read and write); (3) Chess requires 'pieces' (pawn, rook, etc.) and Poetry requires 'pieces' (words); (4) Chess assigns different powers to the 'pieces' (pawn v. queen) and Poetry assigns different powers to the 'pieces' (emotive v. neutral words); (5) Chess has rules governing movement and Poetry has some rules governing movement; and (6) Chess has a purpose (checkmate the opposition) whereas Poetry has five purposes: to amuse, to teach, to describe, to tell a story, to express feeling/emotion.
Principle of Teaching: Introduce closure and lesson evaluation through a final challenge. T: "You are now ready to play the 'game' of poetry. And this is how I want you to play. Write me a poem defining poetry. Simple enough. . .Go to it!" Note: The best all-time example I received follows. If you can tell why it was the best example, you are ready to teach poetry: Poetry is: / One day / Egbert/ Tried to/ Raise / Yuks - without success. -Grade 7 Student-
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, April-May 2007