BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
GIFTED CHILDREN: MYTHS AND REALITIES BY ELLEN WINNER (1996). BASIC BOOKS: NEW YORK.
This is a unique and essential work in a field that has an abundance of textbooks on identifying and educating gifted children. The typical formula-based textbook includes three to four chapters concerned with defining giftedness and providing examples of gifted children's behavior in the school and home. The remaining chapters usually describe various approaches and in vogue "models" of gifted education. (At least one of these chapters contains an obligatory discussion of creativity -- What is it? How can educators improve it?) In addition to providing readers with only a superficial birds-eye view of gifted children and their education, such textbooks over-emphasize teaching models and approaches. There is not enough in-depth discussion and analysis of their characteristics and behavior.
Winner's book is similar in quality to a few exceptional works in the gifted field such as Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture (1926) by Leta S. Hollingworth and Differential Education for the Gifted (1980) by Virgil S. Ward. It approaches giftedness mainly as a psychological phenomenon of human development rather than a statistical or educational concept. Winner's perspective is that of a psychologist attempting to penetrate the minds of different types of gifted children. Throughout the book, one can sense a struggle to understand these children from a psychological and Piagetian perspective, i.e., by closely observing and analyzing their cognitive development. What makes it an outstanding work in the gifted field is Winner's brilliant analysis and description of these developmental processes in extraordinarily gifted children. She has succeeded in improving the reader's understanding of these children as a result of her insightful and detailed discussions of various types of giftedness. These discussions are based on actual case histories of artistically, musically, verbally and mathematically gifted children. The discussion of artistically gifted children is particularly informative because of the numerous children's drawings used to illustrate their development and the author's insights into these drawings.
Educators of the gifted will like the book's format because it is centered around disproving nine popular myths introduced in Chapter One: (1) Global giftedness -- all gifted children have general intelligence that can produce high performance in all areas; (2) Talented but not gifted -- these are two distinct groups that should be separated into different school programs; (3) Exceptional IQ -- a high IQ is a necessary condition for being gifted; (4)/(5) -- Biology versus environment -- either biology is more important in determining giftedness than environment or vice versa; (6) The driving parent -- gifted children are "made" by pushy parents; (7) Glowing with psychological health -- they are paragons of mental health; (8) All children are gifted -- educators just need to use the correct methods for identifying each child's strengths and gifts; and (9) Gifted children become eminent adults -- being gifted as a child will automatically lead to successful careers and significant creative work as an adult.
Chapters Two through Five are particularly informative concerning: (1) the globally gifted; (2) children who have extraordinary abilities in either language or mathematics; (3) those who are highly gifted in artistic or musical areas; and (4) children who do not have exceptionally high IQs but are gifted in art or music. To illustrate the extremes of the IQ problem, Winner provides many fascinating examples of savants who produce exceptional artistic works and brilliant musical performances. Chapter Six is concerned with The Biology of Giftedness, and includes an interesting discussion of Norman Geschwind's hypothesis (1984) on the relationship between right brain anatomy and functions (mathematics, music and art), non-right-handedness, childhood allergies, and excessive testosterone production during the later stages of fetal development. This discussion demonstrates the important point that future brain research may improve understanding of the biological basis of giftedness.
Chapters Seven through Ten focus on family influences, social-emotional development and characteristics, schooling, and factors that influence success as an adult. Chapter Eleven is a summary of the realities associated with each myth introduced in Chapter One and discussed throughout the book. Educators should be very interested in reading these chapters. For instance, Chapter Nine (Schools: How They Fail, How They Could Help) presents Winner's ideas on educating the gifted. She argues that limited resources for gifted programs should concentrate on the extreme forms of giftedness discussed in the book. Unfortunately, current trends appear to be going in the opposite direction, i.e., watering down gifted programs to a level which is barely distinguishable from general education programs.
Winner's definition of giftedness in Chapter One includes three elements: "precocity," "an insistence on marching to their own drummer," and "a rage to master." This definition and the subsequent narrative provide strong support for maintaining and expanding rigorous programs for gifted students. We enthusiastically recommend Gifted Children: Myths and Realities to all educators, psychologists, graduate students, and parents who want to be enlightened regarding the real world of the gifted.
NEW MAGAZINE FOR PARENTS OF GIFTED CHILDREN -- The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will begin publishing Parenting for High Potential in September 1996. This quarterly publication will contain extensive practical information on providing high potential children with enrichment in the home, and it will also include articles and interviews concerned with improving their education in the public schools. The first issue will have an interview with the coach of the Miami Heat basketball team, Pat Riley, and his wife, Chris. The Rileys discuss how they raise their two very different gifted children. This premier issue will also present an article discussing the role of the gifted in the U.S. Department of Education's "Family Involvement in Education" program. Contact Peter Rosenstein, NAGC Executive Director, for subscription information at: 1707 L Street, N.W.; Suite 550; Washington, D.C. 20036. Telephone: (202) 785-4268.
CD-ROM (PC OR MAC) ON 19TH CENTURY AMERICAN POETS -- American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century by Voyager (One Bridge Street; Irvington, NY 10533-9919). This exciting visual and audio display of hundreds of 19th century poems is derived from the Library of America's two-volume set of the same name. There are six hours of poetry readings by Harold Bloom, Garrison Keillor, Roy Blount, Jr. and numerous contemporary poets such as Rachel Hadas, Michael Harper and Susan Howe. Biographical notes of all of the poets included in this electronic anthology range from Henry Adams to Katharine Lee Bates, William Cullen Bryant, Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes to Sidney Lanier, Emma Lazarus, Abraham Lincoln, Herman Melville, George Santayana, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Walt Whitman. Gifted students who are fascinated by the English language and poetry can use this CD-ROM to engage in intensive searches by poets' names, titles and first lines, biographical information, annotations, liner notes, and chronology. One of the most stimulating parts of the program is the search feature which allows one to identify all poems that include a specific word. For example, a search of all poetic references to "nature" included William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis and To A Waterfowl, James K. Paulding's The Backwoodsman, Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature, and the following beautiful lines by Emily Dickinson: "But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought/And Whoso it befall/Is richer than could be revealed/By mortal numeral --." There are also many American Indian poems, folk songs, spirituals, and good verses by lesser known poets.
VICTOR HUGO STRIKES A CONTEMPORARY NOTE BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS
The Disney Corporation continues to discover the rough jewels of our imagination. While academics debate over the meaning within the classics of literature, Disney banks on the continuous relevancy of these proven gems of human creativity. Its recent release is an animation of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831). This novel has been successfully brought to the screen several times before. However, Disney's genius has been to realize that the animation medium can capture the magical narrative of this tale. This story is a tale, a telling that captures a particular moment -- medieval Paris -- and makes one feel as if the account is taking place in the present. Disney's animation wonderfully places the viewer in a certain time and place, and yet the characters and their struggles are contemporary.
Hugo's style as a writer has been perfectly translated into the animation by blending lyrical realism and romanticism. The lyrical realism is the sense that one is on the streets of Paris during the middle ages. The romanticism involves the poetic manner and symbols Hugo used in his writing style, e.g., bells, gypsies, festivals, love, and pageantry. There is a continuity between this work and another Hugo masterpiece written 30 years later, Les Miserables (1862), which is the power of Hugo's idealism expressed as religious humanism. The Disney animation vividly captures this motif.
This adaptation ends on a happy note; yet the animation style still possesses Hugo's nuances. The scenes inside the cathedral with gargoyles and stained glass windows reinforce the theme of religious humanism. The film is a plea for human tolerance as expressed by songs that protest the injustice of prejudice, and it contrasts the hatred and destruction of religious fanaticism with the love ethic of religious humanism. Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame is truly family entertainment that can be enjoyed by children, teenagers and adults. The gifted child will be especially responsive to this animated adaptation of a great classic of French literature, and gifted teenagers would benefit from contrasting the novel with the film. It is interesting to observe that the current longest running Broadway play is that artistic triumph, Les Miserables (translated into a different medium, the musical). Hugo's spirit obviously strikes a modern note.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, August-Sept. 1996