TERMAN'S KIDS: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up
by Joel Shurkin (Little, Brown, $22.95.)
Determined to believe that they lived in a classless society, Americans were perhaps bound to latch onto a “scientific” test that promised to identify a gifted elite without regard to its socio-economic standing. The test was psychologist Lewis Terman's 1912 Stanford-Binet intelligence test, which in coming decades would be widely used as a supposedly objective means of assigning students to bright, average, slow, and “special” groups. Ironically, however, the test seemed to reaffirm the very prejudices and distinctions it hoped to dispel: White males from wealthy backgrounds scored highest while AfricanAmericans and dark-skinned immigrants scored lowest. Terman, though, continued to insist that his test solely measured innate intelligence, not environmental influences, and in 1921 undertook extensive testing that identified 1,500 California children with genius-level IQs. For decades, these children were studied by Terman and later researchers with an eye to determining if “genius” would correlate with success in later life. While it usually did—Terman's kids generally became happy adults, successful in a variety of fields—the results revealed that a lot more was at work than “pure” intelligence. For one thing, the most successful subjects had not higher IQs but well-educated, accomplished parents who instilled in their children a powerful confidence. For another, Terman—very much a product of his own culture—measured success in conventional terms; as one non-conformist “genius” complained, “you assess adults by a worldly measure of financial standing and recognition by a public which has never shown any great ability to distinguish between fools and knaves.” Shurkin's comprehensive and critical book, then, shows us that all testing—intelligence or otherwise—must be tainted by bias. More important, Terman's Kids teaches us that success—whatever that may precisely mean—has more to do with persistence than with a genetically inherited intelligence.
TEACHING: Making Sense of an Uncertain Craft
by Joseph McDonald (Teachers College Press, $15.95.)
“Real teaching,” McDonald tells us in this deeply felt book, “happens inside a wild triangle of relations—among teacher, students, subject—and the points of this triangle shift continuously.” The metaphor is a compelling one, for it addresses the commonly felt but rarely admitted sense teachers have long had of their work as something profoundly uncertain. While this uncertainty can be frightening, the teacher must learn to accept and even to welcome it. To do otherwise, to pretend, as so many researchers and reformers would have us do, that teaching is but a matter of adapting sure-fire methods, is to kill teaching by turning it into a series of comfortable but deadening routines. McDonald, whose book is both an analysis and narrative of his and others' teaching experiences, understands that “to feel conflicted in teaching is a healthy and authentic response to the conditions of teaching.” In McDonald's forceful vision, then, the gifted teacher is less a confident expert than an intuitive artist with a great capacity for surprise.
SMART SCHOOLS: From Educating Memories to Educating Minds
by David Perkins (The Free Press, $22.95.)
The author believes that much of what can be said about teaching can be distilled into a single sentence: “People learn much of what they have a reasonable opportunity and motivation to learn.” While this precept seems simple enough, Perkins rightly claims that few schools adhere to it, insisting instead that teachers cover a required amount of material regardless of student response. Furthermore, students have little motivation to acquire knowledge that has little connection to their lives. What Perkins advocates the smart school do is build a “metacurriculum” through which students don't so much receive knowledge as think about it. While the author has many useful suggestions on how schools and teachers can help students develop higher-order thinking skills—for example, using analogies and generative topics—the book is marred by a bedazzling series of lists and educational jargon that seems to contradict the very clarity for which teachers should strive.
Vol. 04, Issue 01, Page 37