GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
VOLUME 9, NUMBER 5
Published by GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS; 10201 YUMA COURT;
P.O. BOX 1586; MANASSAS, VA 20108; 703-369-5017
BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
Encompassing Nature - A Sourcebook: Nature and Culture from Ancient Times to the Modern World by Robert M. Torrance, Editor (1999). Counterpoint, Washington, D.C.
This massive 1224 page compendium of nature writings was organized by a professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Davis and his graduate students. It includes a comprehensive range of writings from biblical times through the eighteenth century. Every major culture and geographic area of the world is represented in the writings selected by Torrance and his students including the Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, ancient Greek, Roman, Western European and North American areas. The most useful purpose of this type of book is for identifying particular themes related to the study and understanding of the physical and biological environment. These themes are embedded in different types of writings contained in the book such as those concerned with fairy tales, religion, mythology, poetry, philosophy, empiricism, scientific observation and theory, and the observations of naturalists. Because there are so many resources related to each theme, the book can help to stimulate gifted students' interest in a wide range of study. By using it as a resource for exploration and abstraction they can learn about the historical progression of these themes. For example, a major theme in Encompassing Nature is the development of pre-scientific and scientific thought from the ancient Greek philosophers and mathematicians to Isaac Newton's work in physics and optics. By following this theme, one can read about Empedocles' (493-433 BC) assertion that all change is related to the interaction of fire, air, water and earth. Later, Democritus (460-360 BC) argued that all of nature is composed of both matter and void with matter consisting of randomly colliding atoms. These and other writings by Greek philosophers and mathematicians reveal the overwhelming curiosity these individuals had for the natural world that set the basis for scientific observation and reasoning. Subsequent sections of this book contain the scientific writings of Roger Bacon (circa 1214-94), Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Robert Hooke (1635-1703), Robert Boyle (1627-91), Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and Blaise Pascal (1623-62).
A second major theme is the use of poetry to express the beauty and mystical aspects of nature. Examples in the first part of the book illustrate poetry of the Sumerian (Inanna, Queen of Heaven, Gilgamesh), Hebrew (Genesis, Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon), Indian (Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Sanskrit Court Poetry) and Buddhist (Theravada and Mahayana) religions. The ancient Chinese tradition of nature poetry is also thoroughly represented here through the Confucian tradition and various dynasties. For example, Wang Wei (699-759) wrote the following verses during the T'ang dynasty: "Leaning alone in the close bamboos,/I am playing my lute and humming a song/Too softly for anyone to hear --/Except my comrade, the bright moon." Further illustrations of this second theme are shown in sections on "Poets from Homer to Aristophanes," "Latin Poets of the Dark Ages," "Lyric Poems and Voyages of Medieval Ireland," "Medieval French Lyrics," "Dante," "Italian Renaissance Poetry," "Edmund Spenser," "William Shakespeare," and "Dialogues with Nature: Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century English Poetry and Imaginative Prose." This last category includes such outstanding poets as Robert Herrick (1591-1674), George Herbert (1593-1633), John Milton (1608-74), and Alexander Pope (1688-1744).
A third major theme in this book emphasizes attempts to understand the forces of nature through philosophical reasoning. Here, Plato (429-347 BC) argues that the world and universe follow systematic laws of operation influenced by a divine intelligence. The writings of Aristotle (384-322 BC) are represented by his analysis of the differences between things produced by nature and objects designed by human beings. Further writings by this philosopher elucidate his theory of "causes" -- material, formal, efficient, and final. Later philosophical writers address issues that have affected Western ideas during the last 500 years -- e.g., Rene Descartes (1596-1650) argues for a clear distinction between mind and body, while Benedict Spinoza (1632-77) proposes a system of thought based on explaining how divine intervention determines the laws of nature. Further philosophical writings on nature are by the British empiricists, George Berkeley (1685-1753) and David Hume (1711-76), who analyze whether the world exists independently of human perception. Finally, the last major philosophical work in this book is by the Frenchman, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), who argues that the "state of nature" is the ideal state of existence.
We recommend Torrance's book for gifted students who are seeking broad knowledge of the origins of scientific research and philosophical thought as related to understanding the natural world. One of its major features is that Torrance writes an informative introduction to each essay or poem which provides a brief biography of the author(s) and the historical context. Books such as this one can stimulate a gifted student's curiosity for engaging in rigorous studies of a particular area of science or philosophy.
The following "heavy weight" books provide the gifted student with a comprehensive overview of a subject such as poetry or art. These compendiums can serve a useful purpose in a differentiated curriculum by giving gifted students a broad range of information about different fields of study. The purpose of reading such books is to stimulate the gifted student's interest and promote the development of abstractions and generalizations.
World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time by Katharine Washburn and John S. Major, Editors, and Clifton Fadiman, General Editor (1998). W.W. Norton & Co. and Book-Of-The-Month Club, Inc., New York.
This massive compendium offers the gifted student a full range of poetry from ancient to modern times. All major cultures and poetic forms are included. The book begins with "Poets of the Bronze and Iron Ages (2200-250 B.C.)" and concludes with "The Twentieth Century (1915- )." A detailed review of World Poetry was presented in the April-May 1998 issue (Vol. 7, No. 4) of Gifted Education News-Page.
The American Art Book (1999). Phaidon, London.
The works of five hundred artists are presented in this large format book. Beginning with a stunning night view photograph of Manhattan by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) and a dramatic picture of Mount McKinley by Ansel Adams (1902-84), it then presents the best paintings, photographs and sculptures by our most outstanding American artists. Other amazing works included here are by John Audubon (1785-1851), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Margaret Bourke-White (1904-71), Mathew Brady (1823-96), Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Grandma Moses (1860-1961), Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), and Andrew Wyeth (1917- ). This volume is an excellent example of a visual compendium which can stimulate gifted students in the visual-spatial area.
Studs Terkel (1912- ): A Fellow Traveler by Michael E. Walters Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools
"We are more and more in communications and less and less in communication." Wright Morris. From My American Century (1997) by Studs Terkel. p. 14.
Recently, I was traveling from New York City to Virginia via Amtrak. A teenage African American woman was my fellow traveling companion. (Her older sister was a former student of mine at Touro College in New York City.) This young lady was involved in a high school gifted program contained within the regular high school, and was writing a thirty page research paper on the Holocaust. I related my family's experiences during this tragic period of history. While on the train, I was reading two books by Studs Terkel, and discussed his work and style with her. She expressed an interest in using his works in her next research paper.
Studs Terkel is one of America's greatest non-fiction writers. He is the host of a celebrated and highly respected radio interview program in Chicago. He has used the techniques developed on his radio program to write a series of non-fiction books about various aspects of contemporary American life. The topics he has described have been work, the Depression of the 1930's, the Second World War, and race and aging. Terkel is able to transform sociological categories into human experiences. He uses a tape recorder to capture these insights, and his personalistic techniques result in the "unofficial" truth of individual experience and emotion. Terkel gives his interviewees the sense that what they have to say is significant. Gifted students like to find and discover the meaning of ideas and concepts. Terkel's methods of studying social history are a valuable tool for their investigation of their social world. By using his interviewing methods, they will learn the importance of personal conversation in adding a "human touch" to sociological and historical data.
Terkel's most recent book, The Spectator: Talk About Movies And Plays With Those Who Made Them (1999), is a collection of interviews with individuals who have appeared on his radio program. They are mostly in the performing arts. Terkel is interested in these gifted individuals as examples of the creative experience. For him, the performing artist is an individual who possesses a keen sense of discipline and craft. All of these interviews include discussions of each performing artist's craft. Two examples are the French popular singer, Edith Piaf, and the American choreographer, Agnes DeMille. Edith Piaf described her sense of lyricism in relationship to her singing performances in the following words: "I feel good when I sing a sad song and sad when I sing a happy song. When you're happy and up, where can you go, but down? When you're sad and down, where can you go but up? Comprenez-vous?" (p. 11). Agnes DeMille gave dance an important part in the modern American musical theatre. She worked with fellow gifted individuals such as Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers on the musical, Oklahoma (1943). She described the dance as part of this musical's story and one of its main characters. During World War Two, she was in England where she studied British folk dancing. She observed how the British classical dance was influenced by the folk dance tradition. Her mentors were the choreographers, Frederick Ashton, Anthony Tudor and Alicia Markova. It is obvious why gifted students would find this and other books by Studs Terkel so rewarding -- he is a fellow traveler on the road to giftedness.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, June-July 2000