Jewish World Review August 17, 2005 / 12 Av,
Julian Stanley and bright children
Bright children and their parents have lost a much-needed friend
with the recent death of Professor Julian Stanley of Johns Hopkins
University. For decades he not only researched and ran programs for
intellectually gifted students, he became their leading advocate in books
His efforts were very much needed. Unusually bright children are
too often treated like stepchildren by the American educational system.
While all sorts of special classes and special schools are
created for various categories of students, there is resistance and even
hostility to the idea of creating special classes or schools for
intellectually gifted students.
Not only are such elite public schools as New York's Stuyvesant
High School and the Bronx High School of Science rare, they are under
political pressure to admit students on other bases besides pure academic
achievement. So is San Francisco's Lowell High School, where ethnic
"balance" affects admissions decisions.
While it is well known that the average American student does
poorly on international tests, what is not so well known is that gifted
American students lag particularly far behind their foreign counterparts.
Professor Julian Stanley pointed out that the performance level
of gifted American students "is well below both the level of their own
potential and the achievement levels of previous U.S. generations." In other
words, our brightest kids have been going downhill even faster than our
Part of the reason is undoubtedly the general dumbing down of
American education since the 1960s but what has also been happening since
the 1960s has been a preoccupation with the "self-esteem" of mediocre
students and a general hostility to anything that might be construed as
Even classes in so-called "gifted and talented" programs are too
often just more of the same level of work as other students do, or trendy
projects, but not work at a greater intellectual depth.
Sometimes, as Professor Stanley has pointed out, it is just busy
work, in order to keep bright students from being bored and restless when
classes are being taught at a pace far too slow for very intelligent
It is not at all uncommon for the brightest students to become
problem students in their boredom and frustration, to develop negative
attitudes towards education and society and to fail to develop their
Julian Stanley did not just criticize existing practices. He
created special programs for unusually bright high school students on
weekends and during the summer at Johns Hopkins University. The success of
these programs has inspired similar programs at Purdue University and
Such programs have not only produced academic benefits, the
gifted students in such programs have expressed an almost pathetic gratitude
for finally being in a setting where they are comfortable with their peers
and are viewed positively by their teachers.
In regular public school classrooms, these gifted students have
been too often resented by their classmates and their teachers alike. Some
teachers have seemed glad to be able to catch them in occasional mistakes.
Julian Stanley made a unique contribution to the development of
gifted children, both directly through his program at Johns Hopkins and
indirectly through his research and advocacy. Fortunately, he is survived by
collaborators in these efforts, such as Professors Camilla Persson Benbow
and David Lubinski of Vanderbilt University.
The effort must go on, both to stop the great waste of gifted
students, whose talents are much needed in the larger society, and for the
humane purpose of relieving the frustration and alienation of youngsters
whose only crime is being born with more intellectual potential than most of
those around them.
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