GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
The American Revelation: Ten Ideals that Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War (2005) by Neil Baldwin. New York: St. Martin's Press.
In the wake of 911 and the ongoing War on Terrorism, it is appropriate for Americans to examine the moral and intellectual ideals that are the basis for our democracy. This remarkable book presents ten key ideals that have guided our nation since its beginning. Baldwin provides the historical background for each ideal and then discusses the lives of individuals associated with them. What is most impressive is the author's talent for writing clear explanations in an exciting prose style that should appeal to gifted students. His first chapter is an explanation of how the Puritan John Winthrop's use (in 1630) of the biblical idea, City on a Hill, has inspired generations of Americans including President Ronald Reagan. In his final speech (January 1989) before leaving office, he used the City on a Hill concept to communicate his vision of the nation and the American people. The next ideal Baldwin discusses was derived from Common Sense (1776) by Thomas Paine - the freedom to determine one's destiny without interference from monarchs and dictators, and the basic human right to achieve this destiny through revolution if necessary. Baldwin gives a fascinating description of Paine's life and of how Benjamin Franklin encouraged him to write this revolutionary tract. The other discussions of American ideals and their related developers are in the following chapters: E Pluribus Unum - Pierre Eugène Du Simitière, 1776; Self-Reliance - Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841; Manifest Destiny - John L. O'Sullivan, 1845; Progress and Poverty - Henry George, 1879; The Sphere of Action - Jane Addams, 1902; The Melting-Pot - Israel Zangwill, 1908; The Negro in Our History - Carter G. Woodson, 1922; and The Marshall Plan - George C. Marshall, 1947. An interesting feature of The American Revelation is that several of the main characters are not as well known as George Washington or the other founding fathers; therefore, the reader encounters many relatively unknown yet important contributors to American history.
The present age is clearly not conducive to learning about American history in a contemplative manner. The distractions students experience from their media charged environment and the rote-learning required by state-mandated tests are antithetical to learning the ideas that undergird our great democracy. If gifted students are to understand these ideas, they must study exceptional historians who have a comprehensive understanding of the scope of our nation's origin and development. This why it is important for them to read eloquent books written by authors of Baldwin's understanding, rather than dumb-downed and sanitized history textbooks. Gifted student need skilled mentors to guide them in their academic studies. As a mentor for the study of American history, the following quotations demonstrate the breath and depth of Baldwin's knowledge.
"The American Revelation sheds light upon the human nature of our country. When we read the words of these ten patriots, we may well wonder if history has diminished their idealism. However, it is my belief that just because we have lost sight of a principle does not mean it no longer exists. 'Patriotism' is not a one-dimensional abstraction, and the definition of national character does not come exclusively from the top down. Its legitimate meaning needs to be developed one citizen at a time-one reader at a time." Introduction, p. 5
"The beauty of Common Sense resides in its transparently fresh, emotional tone and directness. At times it reads like a Shakespearean soliloquy, at others it feels reminiscent of a confessional poetic monologue by Robert Browning. From the opening dogmatic phrases, Paine, ever the 'philosophic lover of humanity,' addresses his reader face-to-face, fixing his impassioned, compelling gaze upon us to the very end. The relentless momentum of the eighty pages (seventy-nine of text, one advertisement for Bell's other publications) is sustained so impeccably that by the time the inspirational, crescendolike conclusion is reached, the claim to the 'FREE AND IN- DEPENDANT [sic] STATES OF AMERICA' seems inevitable." p. 35
"The true believers of the persevering self-made man took Ralph Waldo Emerson as the patron saint of rags-to-riches America and read 'Self-Reliance' as the manifesto of the strive-to-succeed ethos that became so central to our culture. After all, Horatio Alger Jr. (1832-99), the author of the Ragged Dick and Luck and Pluck dime novel series, was also a poet and a Massachusetts native, who attended Harvard Divinity School." p. 77
"By the time The Melting-Pot was written, America was already in tremendous multicultural flux. Had Zangwill published the play thirty-six years later, he would no doubt still have agreed with the evaluation of another foreign observer, Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1987), the Swedish sociologist, economist, and member of Parliament who discussed 'the American creed' in his 1944 study, An American Dilemma. Myrdal saw this nation as the repository for five key values: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire--a country that could look back for its resolutely individualistic culture to seventeenth-century Anglo-Protestants. Modern Americans, according to Myrdal, were a people remaking themselves in a country 'continuously struggling for its soul,' possessed with the self-consciousness that they could always do better. No matter how diverse their origins, he wrote, this ameliorative drive was one quality they had in common." pp. 160-61
American Courage: Remarkable True Stories Exhibiting the Bravery That Has Made Our Country Great (2005) by Herbert W. Warden III (Editor). New York: William Morrow.
This is an interesting anthology of American history written by or about some of the most active participants. The editor has presented excerpts from 46 books and articles organized into ten different sections by (roughly) publication dates. They cover different events related to exploration, war, early American life - e.g., the Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, the Backwoods Preacher (1857), tragedies such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and major political and social events - e.g., the integration of the Little Rock, Arkansas Public Schools in 1957. There are many well-known historical figures - George Washington, Davy Crockett, the Forty-Niners, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Teddy Roosevelt, Sergeant York, and Enrico Fermi. But Warden has also included many not so well-known contributors to American history - mountain men, a fourteen-year-old rider for the Pony Express, cowboys, and "the Little Rock Nine." He provides his own insights in short passages before each selected excerpt.
The lessons in courage are clearly illustrated in these passages and excerpts, and it would be incumbent upon gifted students to study some of them to prepare for the dangerous times ahead. By writing their own interpretations of the people and events presented in American Courage, gifted students can acquire a better understanding of the American people during national crises and active periods in the nation's development. Moreover, it would be useful for them to identify their own excerpts in American courage by reading other books and articles to supplement and expand upon Warden's fine work. The following is one of Warden's comments presented before a particular excerpt:
"TO THE INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES of the USA and Great Britain the choice was obvious. In early 1941, 'Cynthia' (her code name) had already delivered to M16 the cipher books of the Italian Navy, which helped the Royal Navy defeat a superior Italian fleet in Cape Matapan, Greece. Further, she had inveigled a Polish foreign-affairs officer to show her a Nazi map of Adolf Hitler's plans to dismember Czechoslovakia." From Chapter 39: WANTED: An Elegant Female Spy to Bribe or Seduce Top Officials at Nazi - Controlled, Vichy French Embassy, p. 288
Importance of Mentoring in Ray Bradbury's Life (1920- ): Preeminent Science Fiction Writer
by Michael E. Walters
Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools
"He is a long-lived inspiration of the fantasy world that tweaks our curiosity." Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut (from The Bradbury Chronicles, p. 29).
Everyone involved in the field of gifted education should read The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury (2005,William Morrow) by Sam Weller. In the first hundred pages, this excellent biography explores the traits of Bradbury's sensibility and how it forged his extraordinary imagination and writing talent.
Bradbury's immediate family had a major impact on his development as a writer: His mother was an enthusiastic admirer of the cinema who transmitted this enthusiasm to her child. When he was about three years old, she took him to see such classic silent films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Three years later he saw another Lon Chaney classic with his older brother, The Phantom of the Opera. In subsequent years Bradbury became a major screenwriter. Among his famous screenplays was the film adaptation (1956) of Moby Dick, directed by John Huston and starring Orson Wells and Gregory Peck. One of the most important mentors was his aunt Neva. She encouraged his creativity and guided him to read such books as The Oz Series. A female ancestor on his father's side was a victim of the Salem Witch Trials. This gave Bradbury a concern for human rights, which is the theme of Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
He was a native of Waukegan, Illinois - a city that combined an urban industrial setting with a Midwest natural environment. As a youth, Bradbury was influenced by traveling carnivals and fairs, as well as public libraries that served as important resources for his development. He had varied educational experiences because his family moved several times. Among the places they moved to was Tucson, near the University of Arizona. There, at the age of six, he studied an extensive dinosaur exhibit in the Natural Sciences building. The last move was to Los Angeles where he lived very close to the movie and radio industries. When Bradbury was a teenager, the comedian George Burns became his mentor, allowed him to be present at radio show rehearsals, and to contribute a tidbit to the Burns and Allen Show. Bradbury discovered pulp science fiction magazines while in Los Angeles. He had a trove of mentors there who influenced his literary style, e.g., the science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, helped him learn to edit and organize his stories.
Bradbury has influenced many individuals in different fields. Ursula K. Le Guin, Steve Wozniak - cofounder of Apple Computers, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin have all described him as having seminal influences upon their sensibility and careers. Weller's biography will help educators of the gifted to understand the importance of mentors in developing their students' interests, talents and abilities. This is an inspiring story about one of the most fascinating writers of our era.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, October-November 2005