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Sports in America (1976, Fawcett Crest) by James A. Michener - During the fall of 1960, the author, a group of movie stars and a famous sports figure flew into eleven states to provide support for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign. The powerful attraction that athletes have for American citizens was clearly demonstrated when the plane landed one dark and windy evening at a small Nebraska airport. After introducing various Hollywood celebrities and Ethel Kennedy to the crowd with little effect, "a low rumble rose from the crowd. . .and one man shouted, 'It's Stan the Man!' [the baseball great, Stan Musial, of the St. Louis Cardinals]. And a great cry rose from the night, and Musial walked into the glare, a tall, straight man, in his late thirties, an authentic American hero, and the men fell back to let him pass." (p. 300). Michener's book analyzes the reasons why Americans have such a passion for athletes in baseball, football, basketball and other major sports, and by doing so, he helps educators to understand what they must do to produce more interest and support for gifted education programs. Although this book was published over twenty years ago, it is still relevant today in providing information about the relationship between high athletic performance and high intellectual achievement. The thirteen chapters and epilogue provide a comprehensive assessment of the culture of sports in American society; they include such current issues as the relationship between sports and health, children and sports, women and sports, the role of sports in higher education, the aging athlete, what happens to athletes after they retire from sports, and the impact of aggression and violence upon athletes and fans. Educators of the gifted should review Michener's analysis from the perspective of learning how to increase interest and funding for their programs by using some of the concepts and applications that have made sports in America so successful. Michener was both an avid fan of various sports and an athlete. His life demonstrated that great intellectual achievements can go hand-in-hand with a love for the sportsman's life.

Days of Grace: A Memoir (1993, Ballantine Books) by Arthur Ashe and Arnold Rampersad - Following the premature death in 1993 of the world champion tennis player, Arthur Ashe, from AIDS (transmitted by a blood transfusion administered during heart surgery), his hometown supporters in Richmond, Virginia wanted to place his statue along this city's famous Monument Avenue -- a street lined with huge warlike statues of famous Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson. Of course, this location was strongly opposed by the old Confederate sympathizers who are still prominent as the last holdouts of the "Old South." Fortunately, their cause lost again because today one can view the serene likeness of Ashe prominently displayed along this long and wide street near the once segregated tennis courts where he learned the game and developed his world class skills. This book is about a man of high athletic and intellectual abilities whose final struggles with heart disease and AIDS made him an even greater hero than he attained through sports.

During his brilliant tennis career, he played on the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1963-70, 1975 and 1977-78. He was captain of this team from 1981-85. In 1975, he became the first black to win the Wimbledon singles and the World Championship singles. He received worldwide attention on 1970 when the government of South Africa banned him from playing in that country's open tournament because of his outspoken views on apartheid. During his final years, he was involved in setting up an AIDS education and support foundation -- the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

Throughout the book, he demonstrates his humility and intellectual strength. When discussing his father's influence on his life and values, he said, ". . .it is crucial to me that people think of me as honest and principled. In turn, to ensure that they do, I must always act in an honest and principled fashion, no matter the cost." (p. 3). His sensibility to art reveals a man whose interests transcended winning the next tennis game: "Of the old masters, the work of Rembrandt moves me more than any other. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on Fifth Avenue in New York City, I have several times studied his celebrated Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer. . .In other museums in other cities around the world, taking time off from the tennis tournaments that usually had brought me there, I used to seek out his quiet, brooding self-portraits, or his wonderful group paintings, or his more modest but accomplished etchings. . . ." (p. 39). Later in his discussion of Rembrandt, he says, ". . .But although his last years were unhappy, most critics agree that Rembrandt's art in this period was not only technically superior to that of his happier years but also much richer in spiritual and psychological insight. I wasn't surprised to read this judgment, because I have always been a firm believer in the therapeutic value of adversity. Of all people, athletes must reach an accommodation with losing, and learn to make the best of it." (p. 40). For the athletically and intellectually gifted student, there are few role models who are better than Arthur Ashe.


The Joffrey Ballet: Robert Joffrey and the Making of an American Dance Company (1996, The University of Chicago Press) by Sasha Anawalt is about an individual who had an extraordinary ability to express his feelings and understanding of the world through dance and choreography. Although the area of dance has been traditionally ignored by the public schools as a form of giftedness, the author shows that it involves a type of intelligence which is distinct from the areas measured on standardized tests of intelligence. Gardner's Multiple Intelligences theory (1983) would place dance in the area of Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence. Bobby Joffrey (1928-88) demonstrated his extraordinary ability at a young age: "Bobby seemed unstoppable. Years later, when asked, 'How long have you wanted a ballet company?' Bobby responded, 'Since I was nine years old.' Everywhere he went, he danced. One afternoon in fifth grade at Summit Elementary, after weeks of rain, when the physical education teacher had run out of ideas for indoor sports activities, Bobby offered to teach them all how to polka. 'I taught the boys and girls and we polkaed around the room,' he said. 'I was always planning. In school I would do little plays and direct them and make people do things and decorate. . . .' " From The Joffrey Ballet (1996, p. 26) by Sasha Anawalt.

Dance was considered by his peers to be for "sissies." But Joffrey's parents, family and the performing arts community of Seattle, Washington strongly supported his efforts to develop into a world class performer. After studying in Seattle and New York under some of the greatest dance teachers, he formed the Joffrey Ballet Company which became world renowned for its classical and modern dance interpretations. For all youth interested in a career in dance and their teachers, the author tells a fascinating story about how this type of intelligence can be nurtured and fulfilled.




This essay discusses inquiries into Jane Austen and her novels that teachers of the gifted and their students should conduct:

Inquiry 1: How does an individual such as Jane Austen develop the capabilities to write and think without a significant formal education? The answers to this inquiry give us insights into the developmental processes of giftedness, especially of gifted females. Jane Austen was educated primarily at home in her father's private library. She received support in her educational and literary endeavors mainly from her male and female siblings. Her entire life was structured around composing lengthy letters, and the basis for many of her characters was contained in these letters, e.g., "Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on." (From Jane Austen by Tony Tanner -- p. 2, 1985, Harvard University Press).

Inquiry 2: What is Austen's writing style? It is deceptively simple and constantly expressing ironic statements about her characters and their psychological motivations. The gifted student should be encouraged to analyze the irony in her writings.

Inquiry 3: How does an author from a limited environment create a literary tradition that transcends time and place? Despite the fact that Austen's world is that of early 19th century English landed gentry, she is able to make the tensions between the characters universal and continuously relevant to her readers.

Inquiry 4: How does Austen, who never married, become an expert on the problems of marriage from both the female and male points of view? It is a good exercise for gifted students to view her stories from the perspectives of different female and male characters.

Inquiry 5: How do today's gifted students, who live in an electronic environment of computers, television and the cinema, respond to the relatively slow pace of Austen's novels? The action in all of her novels is shown in the moral conflicts and insights of her characters. One group of characters is mainly concerned with social and economic enhancement: "It is everybody's duty to do as well for themselves as they can." (From Mansfield Park, 1814, by Jane Austen). The heroes in her novels are individuals who are ultimately concerned with their personal integrity: "We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be." (From Mansfield Park, 1814, by Jane Austen).

Inquiry 6: How does Jane Austen's sensitivity to the social conditions of women relate to contemporary feminist issues? The major crisis for her heroines is their struggle between a marriage of convenience and one based on love and mutual values. Gifted students can use Austen's novels to compare the status of marriage in Victorian times with our contemporary society.

Inquiry 7: How do Austen's novels compare with those of Charles Dickens? While Austen's world was concerned with rural England, Dickens concentrated on urban-industrial England. Gifted students can vividly realize the social changes that occurred as a result of England's industrialization by comparing the novels of these two authors.

Inquiry 8: What is the special relevance of Jane Austen's letters to gifted female students? They will be moved by the following quote from one of her letters: "What is become of the shyness in the world?" This quote concerns the loss of innocence which is a perennial human condition expressed throughout her letters.

These eight inquiries will enable gifted students to appreciate and understand the significance of Jane Austen as a writer. By reading her books and letters they will learn about the greatness of her literary legacy.

Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright by Gifted Education Press, April-May 1999