P.O. BOX 1586; MANASSAS, VA 20108; 703-369-5017

Here are two more Heroes of Giftedness that gifted students will find to be exceptional models for their studies and career development. See the June-July 2008 issue for discussions of Helen Vendler and Wynton Marsalis.


Ben Carson, M.D. – Professor of Pediatric Surgery at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. His Life story is an inspiration for all gifted students who are facing serious economic problems and racial discrimination. Carson has presented a detailed account of his early life in the Detroit and Boston ghettoes where he and his brother were raised by a strict and loving mother (Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, Zondervan, 1996). His most recent book discusses the role of risk in making decisions about such matters as one’s professional career, personal faith, health problems, and educational planning (Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk, Zondervan, 2008). In this book, he explains how he uses basic questions to conduct a Best/Worst Analysis (B/WA) of whether to proceed with difficult surgical procedures and other life choices. He has used this process to successfully perform a hemispherectomy (removal of part of the brain) to stop epileptic seizures in a 13 year old girl. Carson has also used his risk analysis process to determine whether to separate 7 month old twin boys who were conjoined at the back of their heads. Based on this B/W analysis, Carson and a team of seventy other doctors, nurses and technicians conducted a successful separation of the Binder twins.

“I agree with Teddy Roosevelt, who once declared, ‘Far better is it to dare mighty things than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much.’ His words resonate with me because all my life I've observed two groups of people who have made serious life-impacting mistakes in their approaches to risk.

“First are those people who sadly are so afraid to take any risk that they never actually manage to do anything of true significance in their lives. Second are those individuals who take all the wrong risks and tragically end up hurting or destroying themselves or others in the process. Lives are ruined either way, and both groups fail to reach their potential. They never discover or enjoy the true purpose for which God placed them on earth.”

From Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk, 2008, p. 66.

“As boys, whenever my brother, Curtis, or I offered our mother an excuse for failing to accomplish something — whenever we complained about some seemingly insurmountable problem, whenever we grew weary or discouraged by some obstacle in the road of life, or especially whenever we whined about anything — she always offered the same response. She would get a puzzled look on her face and ask, ‘Do you have a brain?’

“The implication was crystal clear: If you have a brain, use it! It's all you need to overcome any problem!

From Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk, 2008, p. 234.

Brian Greene, Ph.D. – Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University. As a sixth grade elementary school student, Greene’s teacher gave him a note to take to professors at Columbia University. The note requested that he should be tutored in advanced mathematics because his elementary school teachers could not instruct such a mathematically precocious student. His teachers did the right thing by accelerating him to a higher level of education at his young age! Greene was tutored in mathematics at Columbia until he graduated from Stuyvesant High School. Then he attended Harvard University and received an undergraduate degree from this institution in 1984. His Ph.D. degree in physics was from Oxford University in 1987 where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He has applied his mathematical abilities to the development of String Theory — the study of the smallest particles that compose physical matter. Strings are posited to be tiny strands of vibrating energy of different sizes and shapes. The successful demonstration of this theory through empirical research would lead to the unification of all areas of physics, but with strange predictions such as parallel universes and eleven dimensions of space-time. This “theory of everything” would eventually unify Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics.

Greene’s skill at explaining complicated concepts in physics has resulted in his writing two popular books (see below) for the layman who is curious about science. These books discuss in a non-technical manner the major concepts of modern physics, e.g., Newton’s Laws of Motion, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, the Big Bang, Symmetry, Inflationary Cosmology, and String Theory. In 2003 he presented some of these complicated ideas on the PBS NOVA series entitled, The Elegant Universe. This three-hour documentary is a fascinating overview of physics enhanced by sophisticated graphics, and by Greene’s relaxed and humorous approach to teaching. In a recent article (Put a Little Science in Your Life, June 1, 2008) in the OP-ED section of The New York Times, Greene said that schools are doing a poor job of teaching about how science is related to students’ lives. He argued that teachers must make students aware of some of the basic questions addressed by scientific research: Where did the universe come from? How did life originate? How does the brain give rise to consciousness? Imparting the spirit of science is just as important as teaching the underlying mathematics and mechanics of conducting research. Students who are gifted in science and mathematics should read Greene’s books and follow his inspirational search for basic knowledge about the construction of the universe.

“But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.” Brian Greene. From The New York Times, OP-ED Section, June 1, 2008.

"Space and time capture the imagination like no other scientific subject. For good reason. They form the arena of reality, the very fabric of the cosmos. Our entire existence — everything we do, think, and experience — takes place in some region of space during some interval of time. Yet science is still struggling to understand what space and time actually are. Are they real physical entities or simply useful ideas? If they're real, are they fundamental, or do they emerge from more basic constituents? What does it mean for space to be empty? Does time have a beginning? Does it have an arrow, flowing inexorably from past to future, as common experience would indicate? Can we manipulate space and time? In this book, we follow three hundred years of passionate scientific investigation seeking answers, or at least glimpses of answers, to such basic but deep questions about the nature of the universe." (Preface, p. ix).

From The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, 2004.

Recommended Books

Greene, Brian. (2003). The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. New York: Vintage.

Greene, Brian (2004). The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. New York: Knopf.


R. E. Myers, Ed.D.

Creative Learning Consultant Healdsburg, California

Administrators, teachers, and parents are being confronted continually by the specter of testing that young people are facing these days. I don’t have any suggestions for alleviating the many stresses caused by local, state, and national testing programs, but I do have an idea for teachers and parents of advanced learners. It works like this:


Have the students test themselves. Whatever the subject, they can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of it by devising their own questions and problems. (It is best for the students to make up essay questions.) I have found that when students are asked to think of appropriate questions to be asked about a subject that they will compose intelligent, serviceable questions.


This stratagem has worked well for me because I have realized that students always play a guessing game when anticipating a test. If they guess right and have grasped the material, they will answer a question successfully. Why not put this natural behavior to work? Have them ask pertinent questions and then answer them. This procedure will enable your students to demonstrate that they are knowledgeable about the subject, and they won’t have to be uptight about what questions you will be asking on the test.


Now, you ask, “What is the virtue of letting students compose their own tests?” If they just memorize the material from a text or other source and put a question at the beginning, it is probably of little value, except in getting the students to read the material. However, when I’ve had my students writing their own tests, I have also taken the procedure one step farther — I’ve had them evaluate their own answers! I ask them to improve their answers by taking their tests home and reviewing their answers, and then seek out other materials in order to check on their answers. Then I grade them on their revised answers. If their answers were sufficient and accurate the first time, I ask them to explain why they didn’t need improvement. If their revised answers show additional knowledge and insight, I give them credit.


This technique is not foolproof, as you can see, because it allows the possibility of another person’s assisting the student. It works well, however, with bright students who are motivated to learn. (As we know, not all bright students are enthusiastic about academic pursuits.) It’s worth considering if you have students who are shell-shocked by those testing programs.

I’d be most interested in learning about your experiences if you do give this approach a try.

 ☞☞ Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, August-September 2008 ☜☜