BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership by Howard Gardner (1995). Basic Books: New York.
Although this study of leadership has wide applications to education and society, Gardner's book is of special interest to educators of the gifted because it provides many insights into the leadership characteristics of highly able individuals in science, social change, politics and business. The author helps readers to understand the intellectual roots of leadership by analyzing its cognitive basis in a book that has three parts, each containing two or more chapters. Part I, "A Framework For Leadership," explains how leadership follows a developmental and cognitive pattern, and discusses the basis for leadership in stories. Part II, "Case Studies: From Domains To Nations," examines the characteristics of great leaders. Part III, "Conclusion: Leadership That Looks Forward," discusses two leaders (Monnet and Gandhi) who were concerned with international issues and solutions to common problems related to freedom, democracy and world peace. Part III also includes a summary (Chapter 15: Lessons from the Past, Implications for the Future) of the constants of leadership, twentieth-century leadership, and guidelines for effective leadership. The two appendices present a tabular summary of the characteristics of leaders discussed by Gardner.
In the first chapter (Introduction: A Cognitive Approach to Leadership), Gardner delineates the dimensions of leadership such as the direct-indirect continuum, and he discusses the types of stories leaders tell about themselves and their audience/followers. George C. Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. were direct leaders while J. Robert Oppenheimer, Robert M. Hutchins and Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. began as indirect leaders but moved to the direct end of this continuum later. In subsequent chapters, the author examines dynamic leaders who sparked major changes in their domains of interest rather than individuals concerned with maintaining the status quo. He has made an in-depth analysis of the characteristics of the above leaders and of Margaret Mead, Pope John XXIII, Margaret Thatcher, Jean Monnet and Mahatma Gandhi. Moreover, he has included an extensive discussion and analysis of the leaders of the Second World War including Chiang Kai-Shek, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Adolf Hitler.
Gardner argues that leaders exert their primary influence through the stories they tell and the embodiment of these stories in various traits. For example, Winston Churchill emphasized the grandeur of the British Empire and genius of the English people, while Franklin D. Roosevelt stressed the idea that "government should be activist, especially in times of crisis." (p. 337). Margaret Mead stressed that we can learn a great deal about our own lives by studying other cultures, and Eleanor Roosevelt believed that we must unite to help the downtrodden -- women and blacks who are discriminated against and third world citizens. Gifted students should learn about these stories because they have had a great influence on national and world history.
Gardner's book provides a creative and unique opportunity to analyze leadership in terms of interpretations of the self, the group, values and meaning, and conceptions of the world. He summarizes his position on the importance of stories in the following statement: "I have argued that a key -- perhaps the key -- to leadership, as well as to the garnering of a following , is the effective communication of a story. While my definition of a story is broad, it calls attention to a common core. I maintain that the most fundamental stories fashioned by leaders concern issues of personal and group identity; those leaders who presume to bring about major alterations across a significant population must in some way help their audience members think through who they are. . . ." (p. 62). Gifted students should ask different questions about the leadership characteristics of contemporary national figures such as -- What are the major stories conveyed by President Clinton, Robert Dole, Newt Gingrich, and Colin Powell? How do they translate their particular stories into action? What is the impact of these stories on American citizens? How do they influence the national psyche? They can use this excellent book as a guide for analyzing these and other leaders' stories. Gardner has accomplished the difficult task of identifying common elements of apparently different types of leaders. As a result, he has helped all of us to better understand ourselves.
Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte (1995). Alfred A. Knopf: New York.
The author is a guru of the computer-information age -- a Professor of Media Technology at MIT and Founding Director of the MIT Media Lab, a world-class consultant to international corporations, universities and governments, and a nationally known essayist for Wired magazine. Interestingly, he says at the beginning of the first chapter that he is dyslexic and does not like to read. Regardless of his learning style and media orientation, he has written important and nontechnical essays (many were originally published in Wired) on the history and future of our electronic age. For example, the reader will learn that fiber optic networks will usher in an age of even greater choices for selecting communications media, television shows, and computer programs than currently available. Negroponte is definitely a futurist -- but he is different from most crystal ball gazers because his predictions are based on his, and his colleagues' and graduate students' solid work in multimedia television and computer electronics.
He emphasizes that the industrial ages of steel and auto manufacturing -- involving the exchange of atoms -- are quickly being replaced by the transmission and compression of bits. These high speed, electronic on-off signals determine communications received from most electronic media. In the present age of bits and bytes, it is not the picture quality of digital television that is important for television manufacturers; rather the bandwidth for communicating these pictures should be their main consideration. As the author shows, televisions designed to receive the higher bandwidths via cable, telephone or satellite will open a new world of interactive and viewer-selected programming. This world will consist of more personalized TV programming by means of thousands of channels worldwide. A computerized selector will choose programs based on viewers' preferences and store them for future viewing. Computers will also become more personalized if Negroponte's predictions come true. As an example, they will be sensitive to the behavior and work habits of their owners, have radically different video displays that will follow a person around a room, and allow computer-human interactions via voice simulations. If these electronic predictions actually occur -- and there is no reason to expect otherwise -- our telephones, televisions and computers might become more humane by being able to adjust to human quirks and needs. This increased sensitivity of electronic devices could expand the horizons of all groups in American society including the gifted, disabled and minorities.
This book also contains discussions of why the FAX machine is a step backwards for high technology, the advantages of using the Internet to communicate around the world, the contradictions of virtual reality, and Seymour Papert's work at MIT in teaching children how to use computers to think and solve problems. Negroponte is a master at showing how the digital age will influence human lives because he has been closely involved with computer developments for the last thirty years. He does not deny that there will be a dark side to this age through "digital vandalism, software piracy, and data thievery." Even more serious, he believes we will witness many job losses caused by automated technology. But he remains optimistic when he states: "Bits are not edible; in that they cannot stop hunger. Computers are not moral; they cannot resolve complex issues like the rights to life and to death. But being digital, nevertheless, does give much cause for optimism. Like a force of nature, the digital age cannot be denied or stopped. It has four very powerful qualities that will result in its ultimate triumph: decentralizing, globalizing, harmonizing, and empowering." (pp. 228-29). Hold on to your keyboards -- you ain't seen nothin yet!
LORD JIM AND THE GIFTED SENSIBILITY BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS
NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
"He knew the magic monotony of existence between sky and water: he had to bear the criticism of men, the exactions of the sea, and the prosaic severity of the daily task that gives bread -- but whose only reward is in the perfect love of the work. . . ." From Lord Jim, Chapter 2.
This wonderful line from Joseph Conrad's novel, Lord Jim (1900), is a trove for the educational analysis of the gifted. A student able to translate this sentence into a written paragraph displays the concept of giftedness as a holistic personality based upon sensibility. The ability to translate into their own words and emotions, the experiences encountered not only in this sentence, but ones extracted throughout Lord Jim and other works by Conrad [for example, Heart of Darkness (1902)] is an analytical tool for assessing giftedness. The word "translate" is used here to describe the ability to comprehend and express oneself through sensibility. Lord Jim and Conrad's other works are not merely sea stories -- they are spiritual and moral adventures. Conrad's language stimulates the psyche's emotional and cognitive depths. His writing derives its power from the psychological and philosophical chain created by a narrative that has profound meaning revealed in his plots and character studies.
The gifted student will see the interaction between Conrad's personal life and his writing. Conrad's life (1857-1924) was characterized by endurance in a personal history of tragic suffering. At five years of age, he accompanied his parents to a Czarist gulag because they were members of the Polish intelligentsia. His mother died when he was seven and his father when he was eleven. Until he was seventeen years old, he was raised by his uncle in Cracow, Poland. At this age, he went to France where he traveled to the Caribbean, and upon returning to Europe he was involved in the Carlist civil war in Spain. He then went to England and joined the British merchant service. During this period he traveled mostly in Southeast Asia, e.g., Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. He mastered the English language while at sea. Through the intervention of his cousin's widow, he became part of the Belgian venture into the Congo region of Africa. He was a ship captain venturing up the Congo river. Eventually, due to both his health and his revulsion concerning imperialistic brutalities, he returned to England. Now, he was ready to write his tales derived from his experiences, beginning at seventeen years until his retirement from the British merchant service. His friends included such fellow writers as Stephen Crane, H.G. Wells and Henry James. The gifted student will be able to relate Conrad's personal experiences to the rich yet exact language of his writing. Constantly throughout his books, he used words and phrases that appeal to the enjoyment and sensibility of the gifted reader. "I am willing to believe that each of us is a guardian angel, if you fellows will concede to me that each of us has a familiar devil as well. . . ." (Lord Jim, p. 31, Signet edition, 1981).
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, Oct.-Nov. 1995