GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
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Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds: What You and Your School Can Do For Your Gifted Child (2004) by Jan & Bob Davidson with Laura Vanderkam. Simon & Schuster, New York.
Demonstrates the poor state of gifted education in the United States by providing numerous examples of neglect of these children and dumbing down the curriculum. The Davidsons stress that anti-intellectualism and coercive egalitarianism are big factors in causing this neglect. They show that many so-called gifted programs offer "the equivalent of indoor camp." (p. 29). The book also contains excellent examples of schools that work for gifted students such as the Charter School of Wilmington and the Indiana Academy for Mathematics, Science and Humanities. The concluding chapter provides a comprehensive list of what students, parents and educators can do to improve the education of America's most neglected group - the most intellectually advanced.
"Paul is one of hundreds of precocious young people from around the country whom we've met through our work with highly gifted children over the past few years. These children come from many different backgrounds and have many different strengths and needs, but all have intellectual abilities years beyond their chronological age. Four-year-olds read Little House on the Prairie books. Preteens revel in abstract mathematical reasoning. Middle schoolers write fantastical novels. High school students conduct scientific experiments solely to satisfy their own curiosity. All have minds capable of astonishing things. All of them need schools and teachers capable of challenging them to the extent of their abilities.
"Yet, just like Paul's parents, many of the families we work with have discovered the dirty secret of gifted education in America. Gifted education is largely haphazard, ineffective, and underfunded; it is more style than substance and rarely provides what gifted kids truly need: work that challenges them to the extent of their abilities in an environment with other kids who love to learn." (p. 33)
"More than anything else, highly gifted children need understanding, says Ron Young, executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, where a seven-year-old boy we know named Vijay is enrolled. The Cyber Charter School was designed for all sorts of special needs children and homeschoolers, but Young, a former high school administrator, made sure it would work for highly gifted children too. As soon as he met Vijay, he brainstormed how he and Vijay's parents could nurture his talents together. 'I was so happy to have had the program in which he could grow,' Young says. He chucked the standard curriculum and found a new one for Vijay. He suggested books and topics for research projects. He found the resources to make these projects work, and he started inviting Vijay to give presentations to the Cyber Charter School staff. 'He has to communicate his work to others,' Young says. . . .
"Too often, Young says, highly gifted students are put in situations where they are unable to grow. 'I prayed that we wouldn't make any mistakes with this young man,' he says. 'Enrichment activities are not enough for these children. Teachers sometimes fall back on the rote memory type of things for their classes, but they quickly learn that they lose the gifted kids.' Those like Young who make an effort to teach differently and who find time to work one-on-one with gifted students can change these children's lives." (p. 114)
Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual Spatial Learner (2002) by Linda Kreger Silverman. DeLeon Publishing, Denver, Colorado.
The author is a nationally recognized expert on identifying and educating highly gifted children, and Director of the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado. Silverman's book describes the child who primarily learns through using visual-spatial organization skills. She explains that they can suffer from various learning problems in and outside of school because our society is mainly geared toward auditory-sequential learning involving reading and other verbally based sequential media. This book is chock full of excellent examples of visual-spatial learners, detailed assessment methods and test interpretation procedures, parenting techniques, teaching methods and identification checklists. The last chapter discusses adults who are visual-spatial learners - how they can function effectively in today's electronic world, and why many women are visual-spatial learners. We highly recommend this book for teachers, psychologists and parents who desire to have a better understanding of "off the beaten track" gifted learners. Upside-Down Brilliance should serve as a handbook and teaching manual in school districts and graduate school programs for understanding and educating these children.
"This book is about brilliance - illumination - of the artist, the composer, the creative spirit, the visionary, the healer, the technological genius, whose special way of looking at the world enlightens us. Many of these people suffer from deficits. Don't ask them to balance your checkbook. But you aren't going to learn how to fix them here. Quite the contrary. I hope you will gain an appreciation of what is right about them and learn how to adapt to these atypicaI thinkers, instead of forcing them to adapt to the system - a system that was developed by and for people who think and learn in an entirely different way.
"I hang out with the most brilliant children on the planet. Most of my professional career has been spent studying giftedness in all of its facets. Yes, the dreaded 'g' word. It's admirable to be a superb athlete, a recording star, a great actor or actress, but it's not OK to be intelligent. I've met dozens of children who were beaten up for being smart, and hundreds more who were emotionally tormented. Why does society abuse its brightest children? One of the reasons the gifted are so unpopular is that the concept sounds 'elitist.' But Continental Airlines has it right: They don't give you an IQ test to see who sits in their elite class; they just take your money. Elitism is, and always has been, a socio-economic issue, not an intellectual one." (From Introduction, p. xv)
The Sky Is Not The Limit: Adventures of An Urban Astrophysicist (2004) by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Prometheus Books. Amherst, New York.
Tyson presents a fascinating account of his early years growing up in the Bronx and his academic development as an astrophysicist, which he decided to become at the age of nine. As an elementary school student, he was fascinated with astronomy, and encouraged by his parents and instructors at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. He attended the Bronx High School of Science, Harvard University as an undergraduate and received his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University. His intellectual hero is Carl Sagan (deceased). Tyson discusses many issues related to pseudo-science in American society (particularly in the movies), discrimination against minorities, and current research on the Universe. Among his current research interests are star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of the Milky Way. As one of the few black astrophysicists and Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History, the author has a compelling story to tell all educators concerned with instructing gifted minority students. This book would be interesting reading for all gifted students who want to pursue a career in science.
"These episodes of enlightenment, and others to follow, all occurred outside of formal educational structures and programming-they happened outside the classroom. Teachers, however, especially elementary school teachers, know little of a student's extracurricular behavior or interests. So when I compare my life's trajectories inside the classroom with those outside the classroom, a serious disconnect prevails. Hardly any of my school teachers-none from grades one through six, nor any from grades eight through twelve-would have predicted my current station in life. . . ." (p. 20)
E.L. Doctorow: Role Model for the Gifted Imagination
By Michael E. Walters
Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools
Recently when I was at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, I picked up a paperback copy of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime (1974) at the bookstore. This is a wonderful meditation upon American history and culture during the early part of the twentieth century as presented through fiction. It combines real historical people who obtained enormous industrial wealth and power, combined with an imaginary supporting cast. Doctorow accomplished two tasks that will stimulate the sensibility of gifted students. First, he demonstrated how the social problems of the past are still with us. Second, he showed how history exists in our midst.
Ragtime examined social concerns and issues that are even more relevant in their intensity for modern society. For example, the problem of racism is an ongoing reality. In the book a black musician, Coalhouse Walker, suffered harassment from a group of white firemen. They destroyed his Model T Ford. In pursuit of justice he responded with a rage that has a painful similarity to today's divisive politics. He created a gang of fellow angry Harlemites who were joined by a sympathetic white radical with expertise in explosives. They held J.P. Morgan's library hostage -- a great repository of Western culture (e.g., Gutenberg's Bible). Unless Coalhouse's grievances were met, they planned to destroy this library.
The book also dramatizes the problems of labor and big corporations. Doctorow used the character of Emma Goldman, a controversial anarchist and advocate of free speech, abortion and feminism, to show the outrage of the emerging American labor movement. Her boy friend, Alexander Berkman, attempted to assassinate Henry Frick who was a powerful executive in the steel industry. Mr. Frick donated an important art museum to New York City which features many of the Old Masters, e.g., Rembrandt.
Doctorow also explored the role that popular culture and the mass media have on the American public. He described the trial of Harry K. Thaw, son of a major industrialist, who murdered the prominent architect Stanford White over a romantic conflict involving Evelyn Nesbit. The media coverage of this 1906 trial was similar to the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. In addition, the magician Harry Houdini played a major role in the novel that illustrates the impact of immigrants on American society. He was from a Jewish-European background.
Doctorow was a gifted student himself. He attended the Bronx High School of Science where he was the literary magazine editor. Before he became a famous novelist, he was an important editor in the American publishing industry (Dial Press). Ragtime, after being on the bestseller list, was made into a movie and a Broadway musical. Doctorow is obviously a voracious reader of history and the humanities. The author and the book are indeed role models for the gifted imagination.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, December 2004 - January 2005