Reviewed by Brandy Case Haub in the Belin-Blank newsletter, Vision.
Barbara A. Kerr and Sanford J. Cohn have put together a provocative piece of writing that shifts the focus of Kerr's previous studies from gifted girls, to a new spotlight on the experiences of gifted boys.
The men whose lives are examined here come out of the same group as the women in Kerr's previous editions of her book, Gifted Girls--they all participated in a special academic program for gifted and talented youth in St. Louis, Missouri, of which Kerr herself was a part.
Cohn brings a critical perspective to the table, having taught, studied and counseled gifted boys for 21 years, but also having grown up as a gifted boy himself. Kerr makes it clear in the introduction to the book that the purpose of this piece is not to "tip the scales," and re-divert attention from females to males, as she recognizes that "a few decades of feminist studies and popular books can hardly tip the balance of thousands of years of male dominance." The authors should be commended for realizing that gender systems affect both sexes, and the effects of these expectations need to be viewed in terms of developing girls and boys.
The purpose of the book, then, is to gain a greater understanding of the developmental challenges gifted boys face in coming to terms with their high abilities, while simultaneously striving to achieve (an illusory) set of masculine ideals, and to offer up ways in which we can encourage them to achieve their individual potentials.
The first section of the book takes a deep look at the men who came out of the St. Louis program, their experiences with boyhood and growing up gifted, and the patterns that emerged in the ways they sought to achieve their goals while still conforming to a masculine identity. The authors then follow the lives and experiences of these gifted boys from youth, to adolescence and on to adulthood, highlighting the challenges gifted boys face with balancing individuality with conformity, combating the stereotype of smart boys as "nerds" or "sissies," and resisting threats of underachievement.
A good synopsis is given of both the good and the bad that has come out of the recent literature on masculinity, and the authors reflect on the idea that masculine achievement is more often respected when it comes out of athletic talent, rather than intellectual ability.
Kerr and Cohn also give some, though not a lot, attention to the special challenges of minority groups, including racial minorities, gay, and overweight boys. The final chapters of the book focus on the place of gifted and talented boys in the family, and give suggestions of how parents and teachers can nurture the intellectual, emotional and spiritual development of their gifted boys.
The reader-friendly approach of this book, combined with intriguing narratives of individual stories, keeps the reader's attention and makes it a quick read. This book will be most useful for the audience Kerr and Cohn specify: parents, teachers and counselors of gifted and talented boys, who wish to understand and encourage their students. Gifted boys and men may also find the book interesting, and perhaps may identify in their own lives with the themes and experiences discussed here.
Overall, the book is an important addition to the literature on gifted youth, and a fascinating look at where giftedness and masculinity intersect in the experiences of gifted boys.
The book review was originally published in the Belin-Blank newsletter, Vision.
Permission to reprint this review was granted by the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, http://www2.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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