Book group discussion questions for Genius Denied: How to stop wasting our brightest young minds
Vanderkam, L.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
2004

Laura Vanderkam, co-author of Genius Denied, provides a detailed listing of the various discussion topics for book discussion groups reading Genius Denied. The list is broken down by chapter, providing several questions that correlate with the specified chapter.

Chapter 1 - Genius Denied

  1. How would you define "gifted?" What about "highly gifted?"

  2. What should the goals of American education be? Do the schools in your community meet these goals?

  3. On p. 22, Genius Denied says "In many districts, school means sticking a child on the assembly line at age five and shuffling him through 180-day years of hourly bells, lockers and repetition until he emerges at age eighteen, 'educated.' By design, and often by ideology, such schools are unable to nurture children who cannot think inside the box." What parts of school do you have the worst memories of? What would you have changed about your own school experience? What kinds of students are schools best equipped to deal with?

  4. Joshua, the talented young musician, lived near New York, where he could attend Juilliard. What obstacles would he have encountered in a region without a good music school? How could he and his parents have overcome those obstacles?

  5. If you were Rachel's 10th grade English teacher, how would you have nurtured her writing talent?

Chapter 2 - The Sorry State of Gifted Education

  1. What did your school do to challenge bright children? What do your children's schools do?

  2. Betsy, a mother in chapter 2, found that her children's private schools had trouble meeting her children's needs. What challenges would private schools face that public schools might not? In general, do you think private or public schools do a better job challenging bright children?

  3. Some states include gifted education in their special education laws, since gifted students are also exceptional. Should gifted children be covered by special education mandates? Should parents of gifted children lobby for national legislation requiring schools to meet their needs? Do you think such a law would pass?

  4. On pages 46 and 47 do you agree with the authors that accelerated, self-contained gifted classes like Caryn Ellison's in Mishawaka, Indiana provide a much better learning environment for gifted students than weekly enrichment pull-out gifted programs?

Chapter 3 - The Lowest Common Denominator

  1. "American society has never paid or valued teachers much," Genius Denied says on page 53. How could school districts raise the quality of teaching?

  2. Are standards movements (including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, or "A Nation at Risk" in the 1980's) good or bad for gifted students? How do they impact the gifted, vs. other students?

  3. Did your high school value intellectual inquiry? How could high schools create a more intellectual climate?

  4. What obstacles would a gifted child from a minority racial background, or an underprivileged background, face in developing his or her talents?

  5. How can selective schools and gifted programs answer charges of elitism or racism in admissions? How can such schools increase their applicant pool?

Chapter 4 - Parenting Pushy Kids

  1. Jane began an odyssey of "guerilla education" to help her son learn. What resources in your community could be used for a "guerilla education" outside the schools?

  2. Do you think there is a link between high intelligence and depression or other mental illnesses? Is the "tortured genius" a stereotype, or a truth?

  3. How might a gifted child with dyslexia keep a teacher from noticing his disability in a first grade class that was learning how to read? What clues might he use to deduce a sentence he is asked to read aloud?

  4. If schools don't have gifted programs, where should parents and gifted kids look for kindred spirits?

Chapter 5 - Patrons, Teachers, and Mentors

  1. Have you ever had a mentor? How did that person help you achieve your career or educational goals?

  2. Have you ever mentored a child or a younger person in your profession? How did the mentoring relationship work?

  3. How would you recommend that the parents of a child with a precocious painting talent go about nurturing that gift? What about a young mathematician?

  4. On page 104, the book says "If children don't learn the skills of their crafts when they are young enough to let such knowledge become second nature, they will not forge as far ahead as they could later in life." Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Should children be able to specialize early in school? What if children with many talents change their minds about which talents to pursue?

  5. What kind of career counseling do gifted students need? How could schools make that available?

  6. What difficulties might patrons encounter in donating their dollars to gifted causes? How, for instance, might a patron choose which child's tuition to pay at a private school for gifted children?

  7. How could a highly rated public school district (pp. 123-124), such as Monique's, change to challenge gifted students?

Chapter 6 - School Solutions

  1. Describe an effective teacher who taught you or one of your children. What made him effective?

  2. On p. 131, Jason notes that often "learning is subjugated to going to school." At your child's school, is "learning" or "going to school" the guiding principle?

  3. How could a teacher challenge bright kids in a regular class? What obstacles would she encounter, and how could she deal with them?

  4. Genius Denied recommends that teachers use a thematic approach to let gifted kids approach a topic in as many ways as they can. Think broadly: what different subjects could you rope into a unit on "volcanoes?" How about "whales?" How would you introduce math concepts in a theme such as "friendship?"

  5. Has anyone you know skipped a grade? What were the benefits and drawbacks?

  6. How can colleges create safe environments for younger students (under age 16) who are intellectually ready for college classes, but not old enough to have the same independence as other college students?

  7. If you were a school superintendent or state education secretary, would you devise any guidelines or rules for homeschooling families? Would you create any programs for homeschooling families?

Chapter 7- Raising the Ceiling and the Floor

  1. Gifted children complain that "no one explains what being gifted is all about. It's kept a big secret (p.157)." What is being gifted about? What effects will a high IQ have on one's life? What won't a high IQ change?

  2. What do you think will happen over the next few years in Daniel's education (pages 169-173)? Will he need to skip more grades? If his favorite teacher were to retire, what would you tell Tina to try next?

  3. Is "excellence" or "equality" more valued in America?


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