GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
VOLUME 17, NUMBER 2
Books previously reviewed that are excellent resources for a humanities program for gifted students:
World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time (1998) by Katharine Washburn and John S. Major, Editors, and Clifton Fadiman, General Editor. New York: W.W. Norton & Company and Book-of-the-Month Club, Inc. This amazing collection is the most comprehensive resource of world poetry published in the last seventy years since Mark Van Doren's book, An Anthology of World Poetry, first appeared in 1928. The current volume (1338 pages) was organized by two editors and a general editor, Clifton Fadiman, who lost his eyesight while working on this book. Fadiman, 94 years old, has been on the Board of Directors of the Book-Of-The-Month Club since 1944. He continued working on World Poetry through the help of his son and assistants who tape recorded many poems for him to review. Poems created during all periods of world history are included in this anthology from 2200 B.C. to 1995. The editors have organized the book into eight sections ranging from Poets of the Bronze and Iron Ages (2200-250 B.C) to The Twentieth Century (1915- ). April-May 1998
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1961) Edited by Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Little, Brown and Company. Although few of her poems were published during her lifetime (1830-86), she is now recognized as a genius of American poetry. It was not until 1955 that her complete poems were published - and this 1961 volume contains all 1775 using one form for each poem. How did a person who lived a relatively quiet and isolated life generate such a large amount of creative energy and work? This is one of the mysteries of Emily Dickinson and the creative process that would make an excellent topic of discussion and investigation for gifted students. April-May 1998
On the Teaching of Creative Writing (1988) by Wallace Stegner. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England. The author, a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote many excellent novels about the American West, e.g., The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943) and Angle of Repose (1961). In this book, he responded to questions from an audience of students and professors at Dartmouth College. Stegner concentrated on such issues as whether creative writing can be taught, what signs to look for in determining a person's potential for becoming a creative writer, whether individuals can be taught to write at too early an age, and if a teacher can develop a student's creative writing talent. February-March 2001
Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age (2001) by Will Durant. New York: Simon & Schuster. Although this book was published 20 years after the author's death in 1981, it captures the enthusiasm and humanism embodied in this great historian's work. In twenty-two chapters, it covers the high points of Eastern and Western civilization that were previously explained in great detail by Will Durant and his wife, Ariel, in the massive eleven volume work, The Story of Civilization (1935-75). In this posthumous work, Heroes of History, the author's intent was to summarize the major points of his more extensive eleven volume series. Durant's focus was on what he called "The Country of the Mind," a mental state that identifies, classifies and analyzes the greatest leaders and thinkers of history. February-March 2003
The Renaissance: A Short History (2000) by Paul Johnson. New York: Modern Library. This book is part of The Modern Library Chronicles Book Series that includes many other works by historians and politicians. Johnson is a noted British historian whose thousand page tomes have been well-received for many decades by British and American readers. This short book highlights the major accomplishments of the European Renaissance from the late 13th through 16th centuries by means of discussions of individuals who played major roles in literature and scholarship, sculpture, architecture, and painting. February-March 2003
1776 (2005) by David McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster. David McCullough has received Pulitzer Prizes for the books, Truman (1992) and John Adams (2001). His recent book 1776 contains the same elements of thorough scholarship and detailed analysis that characterize these previous works. As a highly respected historian, he has presented the story of the first year of the American Revolution from both the British and American points of view. August-September 2005
The World is my Home: A Memoir (1992) by James Michener. New York: Random House. Gifted students will benefit from reading his novels and this book in which he describes his intellectual development and his ability to relate to world events. December 1997-January 1998
Travels in Great Britain: What Gifted Students Can Learn (Part II)
Vancouver, British Columbia Canada
Many political leaders have devised 'creative' measures to tax their subjects/constituents in order to fund their various enterprises - be they military or architectural. For example, to fund his opposition to the church, Henry VIII of England eliminated taxing his subjects' property per se in favor of imposing a tax per field owned (this explains the many stone fences around the English countryside). Not to be outdone by any predecessor, Prime Minister William Pitt imposed a tax on sunlight by placing a duty on all but six household windows. In Edinburgh today there are still Georgian-style houses that have windows painted over by owners who revolted against this 'window tax.' However, not to be defeated by a resistant population, Pitt later introduced the world's first income tax (and to think an American city was named in his honor!). The whole subject of taxation is worthy of inquiry for gifted students: What taxes - from all sources - exist in your city? Are these 'hidden' or 'overt' taxes? To what end are these taxes applied? Is the tax rate set or gradual? Which is the fairer method? Is the tax rate fair for all citizens?
Brodie Castle in Scotland is rich in architectural history. Originally built in the 16th century, subsequent additions in the following three centuries have retained the qualities of each new period. Two pieces of furniture in a post-dinner drawing room for ladies constructed in the 18th century captured my interest. One was a firescreen located near the fireplace; the other was an armchair with an indentation that made a pronounced separation between the seat and armrest. Our tour guide offered an explanation for both.
At this time women applied tallow wax to their faces as a base for their make-up that was 'painted' on top. To prevent heat from the fireplace melting this wax base, a firescreen was located between the fireplace and the occupant of the nearby armchair. And to create space for the crinolines worn beneath the dresses of the time, furniture was built with a separation between the seat and armrest to allow greater freedom of movement/expansion. These anecdotes offer a further area of exploration for gifted students: How have fashion and social protocol influenced the design of furniture over time? Design a unique armchair that meets all the requirements and expectations of today's society (ergonomics, spandex fabric, etc).
Portraits of women along the walls showed all with lifeless and austere facial expressions. While poor dental care was one reason, so too was the constraint on smiling so as not to break the tallow wax base. Hence the origin of the expression 'to crack a smile.' Similarly, some unearthed coffins revealed scratch marks on the underside of their lids - indicating that the 'inhabitants' were not dead when buried. To ensure the dead were truly dead, the practice evolved of burying some people with a string attached to a bell tied to their finger. Relatives would employ a person to work the 'graveyard shift' so that a very much alive 'dearly departed' might be 'saved by the bell.' Gifted students interested in the study of linguistics should enjoy exploring the etymology of captivating phrases, idioms, and colloquialisms.
To visit the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle is more like attending a service in a majestic cathedral than visiting a museum. One is awed by the number of inscriptions dedicated to military campaigns, of stained glass windows, and of registries of the dead from battles dating back to previous centuries. But for students of military history, a visit to the Museum of the Royal Scots and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard Regiments in Edinburgh Castle or to the Museum of the Argyll & Sutherland (Princess Louise's) Regiment in Sterling Castle is undoubtedly more in order: Research the military history of a regiment - perhaps focusing on artifacts to honors and campaign medals awarded. How have changes in technology influenced the design of military uniforms over the years? Discover unique anecdotes associated with a regiment's campaigns (e.g. one young soldier, upon returning home to find his wife absent, went off to battle with their baby in his knapsack).
The above suggestions focus on limited areas of social history. There is, of course, a plethora of possible assignments/activities that fall within the realm of natural history (geography, flora, fauna, etc.) that I leave for gifted students to pursue independently. Since the possibilities in both areas are boundless, I will leave my report to Maurice Fisher open-ended - but with three further questions to pique curiosity: Why are the towers of older castles square in shape while those of newer castles are round? Why does the staircase in a tower spiral upward in a clockwise direction? Is the notion of a 'National Character' a valid concept?
Note: only in Edinburgh did I have to pay 20 pence (circa 50 cents) to use a public washroom.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, December 2007-January 2008