Davidson, J. & Davidson, B. with Vanderkam, L.
Simon & Schuster
BOOK REVIEW (2e Newsletter) - It's not often that stories about the needs of the gifted are the basis for stories in the media. In 2004 things seemed to have changed. First, the book Genius Denied and then the Templeton Report: A Nation Deceived, called attention to the plight of our brightest students. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television programs finally started to discuss how attitudes and policies in the United States shortchange students with tremendous potential.
Reviewed in the 2e Newsletter, Issue 7, 2004.
This book is a frank appraisal of the sorry state of gifted education in the United States today. The title comes from the following passage:
America's ambivalence about talent leads to school and society asking less and less of bright children, so over time they develop their talents less and less, and shrink into a shadow of the people they could be. This is genius denied.
As you read Genius Denied, expect to experience a gamut of feelings. One might be disbelief at how, as a nation, we've turned a blind eye to the needs of our brightest and most promising students. Another might be sadness as you read the real-life accounts whose gifts go unrecognized, unappreciated, and undeveloped. You might feel anger as you read that only half the states offer certification in gifted education and about the same number require no particular expertise for teaching gifted classes.
On the other hand, you're likely to feel admiration for the authors of this book, who make such an impassioned plea for the children they refer to as a "natural resource that's being squandered." But impassioned as it might be, this book, with its nearly 30-page bibliography, is based on research rather than emotion. Don't let that scare you off, however. The book is written in a very readable rather than scholarly style, made even more so by the personal accounts of children the Davidsons have come to know and help through their philanthropy.
In the 1980s, Jan and Bob Davidson were the highly successful creators of educational software, such as Math Blaster and Reading Blaster. After selling their company, they looked for ways to make a positive difference. Their research led them to the cause of gifted children, whom they found to be "one of the most underserved and neglected student populations in America's educational system." In 1999 they founded the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a nonprofit foundation that nurtures the nation's brightest students.
Throughout the book, the Davidsons, with Laura Vanderkam, paint a picture of an educational system tied to notions that are outdated and even false. One such notion is grouping students by age in the classroom. The authors explain that "we squander our own deep vein of talent" by running our schools like factories, "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."
Along with exposing the dismal learning situations many of our brightest students endure, the authors also cite examples of young people who are coping and even thriving. A number of them, including about half of the children who take part in the Davidson Institute's programs, are homeschooled. Others are fortunate enough to be in schools that, in the authors' words, "make learning the fixed goal and keep strategies flexible." Schools that meet the needs of the brightest students tend to share a set of characteristics beyond flexibility. Among them, according to the authors, are
- They group students by competency in each subject, not age.
- They recognize the special needs of gifted students.
- They allow students to accelerate.
- They foster a culture that values learning and achievement.
- They recognize the importance of nurturing talent in both students and teachers.
The Davidsons explain that, in their experience, the ideal solution is to create schools specifically for gifted children. They state, "Any large district can create a magnet primary and a magnet secondary school for high-ability students. Smaller districts cancombine to create such schools - the kids will travel for this opportunity. Any district can combine high-ability learners in self-contained classes, give them teachers trained to aim two to three years above grade level, and change the curriculum to challenge those who need more."
However, it may be a while until the creation of such schools comes to pass. Recognizing this, the Davidsons conclude their book with lists of steps that parents, educators, students, legislators, and others can take in the meantime. Following these simple steps could take our nation a long way toward helping America's gifted children get what the Davidsons say they need:
...challenge, flexibility, and understanding... teachers and schools that are convinced these children's minds are a national resource... and a culture that valuesintelligence as the gift it is.
About the Davidson Institute
The Davidson Institute for Talent Development offers what they describe as programs and services to support profoundly intelligent children and adolescents, their families, and the educational community that serves them. In addition to making information about gifted and talented youth available to the general public, the Institute offers these programs:
- Davidson Young Scholars, a program aimed at nurturing profoundly intelligent children aged 4 through 18. Participants receive free services in the areas of educational advocacy, talent development, and child/ adolescent development. They may also receive financial assistance based on need.
- Davidson Fellows, a program which awards scholarships to students who have made significant contributions in science, mathematics, technology, literature, music, or philosophy. Davidson Fellows are honored for their work at an award ceremony in Washington, D.C..
- Educators Guild, a program which offers services designed to help educators meet the needs of highly intelligent students. Among these services are: phone consultations, referrals to experts, staff development, access to an online community of educators, and a monthly e-mail update. All services except on-site staff development are free.
For more information, visit the Davidson Institute website: http://www.davidsongifted.org.
Genius Denied Website
For more information, visit the Davidsons' Genius Denied website www.GeniusDenied.com. One of the highlights is the Davidson Gifted Database, described as "the world's largest online searchable database of resources for gifted students, their parents and the professionals who serve sthem." Also, be sure to check out the library page, where you can access articles on twice-exceptional topics as well as many other topics.