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IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM by William A. Henry III. (1994). Doubleday: New York.


Several books have been published during the last four years about American society that will help parents, teachers and gifted students to understand the present direction of our country and the role that gifted individuals can play in its positive development. Besides the two titles listed above (the subjects of this review), there are several other insightful works that we highly recommend: CULTURE OF COMPLAINT: THE FRAYING OF AMERICA (1993) by Robert Hughes, SEX, ART AND AMERICAN CULTURE (1992) by Camille Paglia, and BATTLE OF THE BOOKS: THE CURRICULUM DEBATE IN AMERICA (1990) by James Atlas.

William A. Henry III was Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who worked for TIME magazine. He died of a heart attack in the spring of 1994. His book has a disconcerting title that may cause people to pass-it-up but it has much value in explaining the present negative attitudes towards gifted individuals and their education. By "elitism" Henry meant the opportunity to study at the best universities, and rewards such as good jobs and high salaries based upon high performance standards and merit rather than legal quotas. He was critical of the extremes of egalitarianism described in detail throughout this book. Henry was not a right-wing grouch, racist or anti-feminist. Instead he was a liberal Democrat and "card-carrying" member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Some of his most serious concerns were: the negative impact of the mass media, the decline of standards in all areas of society (particularly in public education), the leveling of American values in the name of multiculturalism, the lowering of employment standards as a result of affirmative action, the rejection of American English as the national language, and the creation of an entitlement society bereft of individual responsibility. The November 1994 Congressional and gubernatorial elections probably represent a major shift to the political right in response to these and other factors discussed in Henry's book. Read IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM to learn more about why the elections were primarily a reaction to these trends. No wonder gifted education is barely surviving, given today's extremes of anti-intellectualism on both the left and right!

In THE OLDEST DEAD WHITE EUROPEAN MALES, the author says ". . . it is strange to find the classical Greeks today assailed as emblems of reactionary conservatives, of enforced conformity. For their role in the history of the West has always been innovative, sometimes indeed subversive, even revolutionary." (Knox, p. 15). The author teaches the gifted student that two major characteristics of Greek society were its emphasis on high achievement and the power of human thought. Knox, a Harvard professor, demonstrates that modern America still has much to learn from the ancient Greeks -- particularly when it comes to emphasizing excellence over mediocrity, and high standards over hogwash.


WOMEN OF WORDS: A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION TO THIRTY-FIVE IMPORTANT WRITERS Janet Bukovinsky (Editor) and Jenny Powell (Illustrator). (1994). Running Press; 125 South 22nd Street; Philadelphia Pennsylvania 19103-4399. Telephone: (215) 567-5080.

GREAT WOMEN WRITERS Frank N. Magill (Editor). (1994). Henry Holt and Company, Inc.: New York.

"In researching this book, and selecting the excerpts, I spent my evenings in the company of some fascinating characters. . . . I read dozens and dozens of books. Still, that amounts to the smallest fraction of volumes written by women all over the world who have had something to say and the wherewithal to see their notions put into print. . . ." Bukovinsky, pp. 5-6.

These incredible books provide a comprehensive overview of the worldwide literary achievements of outstanding women writers. Bukovinsky discusses 35 authors such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker and M.F.K. Fisher. Magill's book is a more extensive review of the lives and work of 135 authors, among them are Isabel Allende, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Simon de Beauvoir, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Renault, Mary Shelley and Edith Wharton. WOMEN OF WORDS contains incredibly beautiful illustrations of the writers, a concise description of their lives, and excerpts from their major works. Running Press has produced a very attractive book that is a tribute to the bookmaking trade. Each author discussed in GREAT WOMEN WRITERS is described according to: Location and Date of Birth, Principal Works, Other Literary Forms, Achievements, Biography, Analysis of Works, Other Major Works and Bibliography. This book includes many excellent American and Foreign writers who are not as well known as those discussed in Bukovinsky's book. Therefore, gifted students should include both books in their study of great women writers.


GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY -- The Winter 1995 Issue contains informative articles by: Adrienne O'Neill on how parents can challenge the gifted with computers, Bruce Gurcsik on how Outcomes-Based Education can be effectively used in gifted programs, and Michael Walters on James Thurber's writings. This issue also includes Mara Sapon-Shevin's rebuttal to Stephen Schroeder Davis' review of her book.

ILLINOIS ASSOCIATION FOR GIFTED CHILDREN: THE JOURNAL PORTFOLIO -- The first edition of this outstanding state journal contains many useful articles on gifted education by such authors as James R. Delisle, Susan Winebrenner, Dorothy Sisk and Julian Stanley. Write to Joan Smutny (Editor) at the following address to order this publication: Illinois Association for Gifted Children; P.O. Box 2451; Glenview, IL 60025-6451. Telephone: (708) 486-0044.

DISCOVER: THE WORLD OF SCIENCE -- The December 1994 issue has many interesting articles such as those on the origins of fame and great achievements, the great Canadian diamond rush, the study of orangutans, the use of robots to perform surgery, and the Permian catastrophe. Write to this address to learn about the Discover Magazine Science Program: 105 Terry Drive, Suite 120; Newtown, PA 18940-3425.



The debate over gifted education loses its focus at times by declining into a political contest. There has been much intellectual discourse about the recent use of focus groups to understand and agree upon important social issues such as health care. However, we are losing the ability to construct true intellectual focus that involves the ability to approach a problem from an interdisciplinary perspective and to reason analytically. There is nothing like a health crisis to focus the human sensibility. The individual automatically concentrates his mental processes on a specific problem and evaluates his personal priorities and values.

Recently, I witnessed the realm of contemporary medical high technology. These experiences made me realize that giftedness is not a statistical parameter but a crucial human reality. The first encounter was an educational conference on fire prevention at Cornell Medical Center. At first I was curious about why a conference was held on this topic at a medical center. Then, I discovered that Cornell Medical Center was a logical location because it was the sight of a world renowned skin bank. At the conference, we heard from surgeons who perform skin grafts and from nurses who collaborate with them to help burn victims survive. Besides the psychological stress involved, a precise and technical expertise must be used immediately to save patients. The second encounter was with the family of a kidney transplant patient. The different stages of this process demand incredible degrees of intellectual and technical sophistication while the entire range of the modern hospital becomes involved in this singular medical procedure. The kidney transplant operation is a perfect example of giftedness in action. The postoperative treatment is even more startling as a spectacle of giftedness by immunologists, blood specialists, renal experts, medical technicians and nurses all working together.

In a current reissue (FIVE PATIENTS, Ballantine, 1970) of his experiences as an intern at Massachusetts General Hospital, Michael Crichton has captured the nexus between medical high technology and giftedness. The book can serve as a resource for teachers of the gifted and their students. Crichton makes us aware of two philosophical and practical realities: life is at stake everyday, and we cannot take giftedness for granted. As the television show (E.R. for Emergency Room) that Crichton presently writes for aptly demonstrates, giftedness in the medical field is a life-saving and healing process. Political discourse about the pros and cons of gifted education programs becomes irrelevant when life and pain are at issue. We must have these programs to properly educate the future doctors, scientists and other professionals who will have important functions in our society. In this regard, the noted French mathematician Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) said -- discovery favors the prepared mind.

Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, December 1994-January 1995