BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
Some Of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers from Pre-School to High School by Judith Wynn Halsted (1994). Ohio Psychology Press: Dayton, OH.
This is a comprehensive guide on the importance of books in the lives and education of gifted and intellectually curious students. Besides providing extensive information on how books can be used to foster their emotional and intellectual development, Halsted gives the reader useful background information on the history of current issues in gifted education. Chapter 1 on emotional development discusses some of the functions fulfilled by books in establishing an identity, needing time alone, developing relationships with others, and learning how to use one's ability. Chapter 2 on intellectual development covers many characteristics of giftedness in the verbal and reasoning areas that show these children have strong needs for rigorous reading experiences in both the school and home. These themes are expanded in the Part Two (Chapters 3-5) on the reading process where the author first discusses the role parents should take in guiding their gifted children's reading from the early years through senior high school. In this regard, parents need to use different educational strategies when working with avid or resistant or mature readers (Chapter 3). Halsted then talks about how books can be used to assist in the emotional and intellectual development of gifted children (Chapters 4 and 5). The highlights of these chapters are: (1) in-depth analysis of the advantages of bibliotherapy and detailed demonstrations of its use with the gifted; (2) a discussion of techniques for using books to promote intellectual growth; and (3) what parents can do to stimulate this growth by means of books.
The third and last part (Chapters 6-8) concentrates on the core of an effective reading program. It presents detailed information on selecting challenging books from all areas (Chapters 6 and 7) -- fiction, nonfiction, biography, traditional literature, fantasy and science fiction, and poetry -- and lists some excellent books about children's literature. Chapter 8 includes an annotated bibliography of hundreds of recommended books for the preschool through senior high school levels. Each book is briefly summarized and assigned discussion categories that emphasize its major features for gifted children. In addition, the author includes many relevant questions related to such categories as achievement, aloneness, arrogance, creativity, drive to understand, moral concerns and perfectionism.
It is important that teachers, parents and librarians carefully study and apply the ideas discussed in Some Of My Best Friends Are Books. For the future of books in American society and the education of our most advanced students, Halsted's ideas should be ingrained into every teacher's imagination.
The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate Of Reading In An Electronic Age by Sven Birkerts (1995). Faber and Faber: New York.
For anyone concerned with the future of literature and of books in the 21st century, we highly recommend this series of essays. Birkerts has accomplished a difficult task by doing an insightful analysis of how the reading process affects and interacts with the reader, the writer and American culture. In addition, his discussion of the history of literature in our society clearly shows how television, the computer, CD-ROM, hypertext, and the Internet have caused the culture of reading to decline. He has demonstrated the importance of reading in American society, and has shown how this decline will cause revolutionary changes in our culture and thinking. His dire predictions about the future of reading and literature may not come true since there are many indications that reading is making a comeback as a result of the increase in large, well-stocked and pleasant bookstores, and the expansion of high quality literature in such areas as mysteries and biographies. Although these occurrences appear to contradict the concerns discussed in The Gutenberg Elegies, the author provides some of the best statements about how reading affects the human mind that we have ever encountered. They are certainly more insightful than most of the reading research reports from university schools of education.
The first half of Birkerts' book concentrates on his study of the reading process. These seven chapters are based upon his own experiences as a writer for The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, Harper's and The New Republic. He addresses such topics as the reading sensibility (" 'What is the place of reading, and the reading sensibility in our culture as it has become?' "), the reactions of today's college freshmen to literature, the gains and losses produced by the electronic age, the author's development as a reader and writer, the movement from intensive to extensive reading, the nature of the reading process, the relationship between sensibility and reading, the impact of reading on the psyche, and the interaction between the reader and the writer. Regarding the book world, he says: "The transition from the world we live in to the world of the book is complex and gradual. We do not open to the first page and find ourselves instantly transported from our surroundings and concerns. What happens is a gradual immersion, an exchange in which we hand over our groundedness in the here and now in order to take up our new groundedness in the elsewhere of the book. The more fully we can accomplish this, the more truly we can be said to be reading. . . ." (p. 81).
This book is a symbolic wrestling match between the author and the concepts of literature, reading and the book. His essays provide deep insights into these elusive topics. We believe that Birkerts has won this match through his systematic analysis of every important aspect of reading and the reader. As a resource for gifted students, teachers and parents, it can help them understand the importance of reading in Western society. It is full of relevant observations and phrases such as, "Indeed, the state I occupy while reading often feels more focused, more meaningful, more real, than those that comprise most of my nonreading life. . . ." And it contains numerous questions that provoke thinking about the impact of reading on one's life. Some of these are: "How does a reading memory differ from the memory of an actual event?" "Reading and writing -- reader and writer. Could it be that at some level the two activities are not all that different, that they are just modifications of the ebb and flow of our awareness, ways we have of breaking down and recombining the countless interlocking puzzle pieces inside?" (pp. 107, 113).
The second part of The Gutenberg Elegies stresses the idea that we are at a crossroads in American culture as a result of the information and electronics revolutions. The author discusses such books as Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination (1950) and Alvin Kernan's The Death of Literature (1990) to reinforce this point. Although he downgrades the sense of immediacy produced by these revolutions at the cost of reflective reading and thinking, we see a challenge for gifted children and their educational experiences to produce a meaningful solution by combining the best features of the book and electronic media. After all, who will solve the problems discussed by Birkerts if not gifted individuals.
Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte (1995). Alfred A. Knopf: New York.
The author is a guru of the computer-information age -- a Professor of Media Technology at MIT and Founding Director of the MIT Media Lab, a world-class consultant to international corporations, universities and governments, and a nationally known essayist for Wired magazine. Interestingly, he says at the beginning of the first chapter that he is dyslexic and does not like to read. Regardless of his learning style and media orientation, he has written important and nontechnical essays (many were originally published in Wired) on the history and future of our electronic age. For example, the reader will learn that fiber optic networks will usher in an age of even greater choices for selecting communications media, television shows, and computer programs than currently available. Negroponte is definitely a futurist -- but he is different from most crystal ball gazers because his predictions are based on his, and his colleagues' and graduate students' solid work in multimedia television and computer electronics.
Negroponte emphasizes that the industrial ages of steel and auto manufacturing -- involving the exchange of atoms -- are quickly being replaced by the transmission and compression of bits. These high speed, electronic on-off signals determine communications received from most electronic media. In the present age of bits and bytes, it is not the picture quality of digital television that is important for television manufacturers; rather the bandwidth for communicating these pictures should be their major consideration. As the author shows, televisions designed to receive the higher bandwidths via cable, telephone or satellite will open a new world of interactive and viewer-selected programming. This world will consist of more personalized TV programming by means of thousands of channels worldwide. A computerized selector will choose programs based on viewers' preferences and store them for future viewing. Computers will also become more personalized if Negroponte's predictions come true. As an example, they will be sensitive to the behavior and work habits of their owners, have radically different video displays that will be able to follow a person around a room, and allow computer-human interactions via voice simulations. If these electronic predictions actually occur -- and there is no reason to expect otherwise -- our telephones, televisions and computers might become more humane by being able to adjust to human quirks and needs. This increased sensitivity of electronic devices could expand the horizons of all groups in American society including the gifted, disabled and minorities.
This book also contains discussions of why the FAX machine is a step backwards for high technology, the advantages of using the Internet to communicate around the world, the contradictions of virtual reality, and Seymour Papert's work at MIT in teaching children how to use computers to think and solve problems. Negroponte is a master at showing how the digital age will influence human lives because he has been closely involved with computer developments for the last thirty years. He does not deny that there will be a dark side to this age through "digital vandalism, software piracy, and data thievery." Even more serious, he believes we will witness many job losses caused by automated technology. But he remains optimistic when he states: "Bits are not edible; in that they cannot stop hunger. Computers are not moral; they cannot resolve complex issues like the rights to life and to death. But being digital, nevertheless, does give much cause for optimism. Like a force of nature, the digital age cannot be denied or stopped. It has four very powerful qualities that will result in its ultimate triumph: decentralizing, globalizing, harmonizing, and empowering." (pp. 228-29). Hold on to your keyboards -- you ain't seen nothin yet!
TRIBUTE TO DR. JONAS SALK (1914-95): GIFTEDNESS IN SCIENTIFIC ACTION
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
"Finally, we pursue and carry out this task not because we expect rewards [even though in fact it is arguable they are worthwhile], but because it is good in itself to do so, . . ." Robin Waterfield. Introduction to Plato's Republic, 1994, p. 62.
It is currently in vogue to discuss gifted education and cooperative learning as integral functions. But the life of Jonas Salk demonstrates the fallacy of using this approach to educating the gifted. Throughout Dr. Salk's life, he engaged in the true cooperative learning dynamic that involved his working independently to achieve intellectual stimulation and rewards. From his early days as an elementary school student, he was recognized as being gifted. He attended Townsend Harris High School -- a special school for gifted students in New York City. He then went to the City College of New York in the 1930s which at that time was open to all students who had a certain gpa in the NYC schools. After graduating from CCNY in 1934 at the age of 16, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Medical School of New York University. Upon receiving his medical degree in 1939, he conducted research on viruses. During World War II, he worked as a research assistant for the famous virologist, Dr. Thomas Francis at the University of Michigan. They were trying to create a vaccine for the influenza virus. The United States government did not want a repeat of the influenza epidemic during World War I that took the lives of 44,000 U.S. soldiers. Together they developed a vaccine in 1953 that saved thousands of lives.
In 1947 Salk took over the research laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. He was approached there by Dr. Harry M. Weaver, a professor of anatomy, who was also the research director at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. He offered to support Salk's research into discovering a vaccine for the polio virus. Salk was aided by the collaborative yet independent research of such gifted scientists as Dr. David Bodian and Dr. Isabel Morgan of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Albert Sabin of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and Dr. John Enders of Boston. By using their insights, he discovered that although polio was caused by many viruses, there were three main types which included all of these strains. His vaccine, developed in 1954, created antibodies for all three types, thus achieving a victory over this worldwide affliction that especially affected youth. He was not merely a "discoverer," but a synthesizer of knowledge into a holistic scientific framework.
In 1963 he received financial support to establish a think tank in La Jolla, California that concentrated on discovering the key to such illnesses as cancer. Just before he died, Dr. Salk was investigating a vaccine for AIDS and establishing general knowledge on retro viruses. The collaborative work of gifted persons such as this great medical scientist unfolds in the teamwork of independent researchers, each contributing to a comprehensive solution. It is giftedness that unlocks the pearly gates of collaboration!
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, August-Sept. 1995