P.O. BOX 1586



FALL 1994



It is refreshing to know that thousands of competent teachers and program administrators will be dedicated to educating gifted children in 1994-95. These individuals are the backbone of this field. They strive for excellence and rigorous education under challenging and increasingly more difficult situations. We dedicate this issue of GEPQ to these teachers and administrators, and wish them much success during the new school year!

Unfortunately, events of the past few years have caused us to address issues concerning the defense and raison d'être for gifted education. The publication of Playing Favorites: Gifted Education and the Disruption of Community (1994) by Mara Sapon-Shevin of the Syracuse University School of Education (a hotbed of extreme inclusionism) does not bode well for our survival. This book is a direct frontal assault on gifted education, and represents an extreme and unproven call for abolishing gifted education programs. Many of the questions raised and arguments presented in Playing Favorites reveal a lack of understanding of the history of this field, and of the long and extensive research on individual differences, gifted people and gifted programming. The main driving force underlying this work is to extend the boundaries of inclusion in the public schools. However, it does not consider the educational, social and psychological impact of this untested educational philosophy upon both gifted and non-gifted children. We welcome your response to this book, and to Stephen Schroeder-Davis's detailed review.

We can learn a great deal from Playing Favorites that can help to shore up our defenses against even more serious attempts to destroy gifted education. We must reply with results that show the accomplishments of gifted education programs. In this regard, local school districts, parent organizations, state gifted offices, and the national leaders in this field must concentrate on the following areas: (1) increase efforts to identify minority students for gifted programs; (2) publicize successful procedures for identifying gifted minority children; (3) conduct follow-up studies of gifted program graduates to determine their accomplishments; (4) apply a variety of concepts and approaches to identifying gifted children such as Multiple Intelligences theory (Gardner, 1994) and the Assessment of Sensibility (Fisher, 1994); (5) adapt differential education concepts to the regular education classroom; and (6) help regular education teachers to use modified DE ideas with non-gifted children.

In this issue, Stephen Schroeder-Davis has written a logical and informative critique of Sapon-Shevin's book. His discussion of the rationale of and need for gifted education programs can be used in your community. He has written two previous articles for GEPQ on discrimination against gifted children in our schools and society. His book, Coercive Egalitarianism: A Study of Discrimination Against Gifted Children (1993, Gifted Education Press) covers the history of this problem and offers solutions. Schroeder-Davis is Coordinator of Gifted Programs in Elk River, Minnesota, and President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented. He is currently working on his doctorate in gifted education at the University of Saint Thomas (St. Paul, MN) where Dr. Karen Rogers is his advisor.

We are happy to introduce Denise Esser's work in this issue. She is Florida's 1994 Gifted Teacher of the Year, and has written an excellent article on the Future Problem Solving Program in Florida and the nation. She has been teaching for twenty years, twelve of which have been in gifted education. Ms. Esser has been involved in the Future Problem Solving Program since 1985, and has served as coach, Florida's Evaluation Director, and International Evaluator. Ms. Esser is currently Director of Florida's Affiliate program. Besides her present teaching assignment in Gifted Reading and Language Arts at Murray Middle School in St. Augustine, Florida, she teaches Gifted Certification courses and serves as an adjunct instructor at Flagler College. She also presents inservice training on gifted curriculum and Future Problem Solving throughout Florida. The publisher would like to thank Vicki Connell of the Torrance Center for Creativity (Athens, Georgia) for providing Ms. Esser with historical information about the beginnings of the Future Problem Solving Program.

Michael Walters' essay on Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson demonstrates how this book and others by Twain can be used in the gifted classroom to study American history, prejudice and current debates such as those surrounding Disney's America.

                                                                                            Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D.Publisher





"It is the American vice, the democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything unique to the level of the herd." - Henry Miller, 1941

This is a bizarre, troubling, and above all, petulant book. It could easily be dismissed as another coercive egalitarian attack, as the author trots out the standard objections to gifted education, charging: elitism, racism, classicism, the disruption of "community" (note the subtitle), and my personal favorite, "everyone is gifted."

But gifted advocates should confront Ms. Sapon-Shevin for at least two related reasons: (1) she may be the vanguard of a new wave of critics; and (2) we may have unwittingly facilitated her position through appeasement and unnecessary compromise when these criticisms have been leveled in the past.

I will reconstruct and challenge a number of her assumptions and allegations, all of which are philosophical rather than research based -- but readers should obtain a copy of Playing Favorites, as there is something objectionable on nearly every page and this article will address only a select few of her major premises.


"Silence is a lie. Silence has a loud voice. It shouts, 'Nothing important is happening - don't worry.' So, when something important is going on, silence is a lie." A. M. Rosenthal (from the preface).

One bizarre aspect of this book is that of the persona adopted by the author -- that of a "pioneer" -- "breaking the code of silence" about gifted programs. In her introduction (p. XXIX) she states, "I chose this topic because the uncritical acceptance of principles and practices of gifted education calls out for criticism." (!)

She claims that a "conspiracy of silence" exists about gifted education. This "conspiracy" is mentioned no less than 12 times in the course of 257 pages. An ERIC search performed in June of 1994 using the term "gifted education" and limited to the years 1990-1994 yielded 1,023 citations. An additional search performed on the same date using the terms "Equity and Excellence" and limited to 1984 -1994 yielded 16 citations, and this did not include John Gardner's masterful Excellence, originally published in 1961, never out of print, and revised in 1984. The annotated bibliography An Investigation of Giftedness in Economically Disadvantaged and Limited English Proficiency Students (1992) edited by Dr. Mary Frasier and funded through the NRC/GT contains 394 references concerned exclusively with the disadvantaged gifted -- a population Sapon-Shevin claims we exclude. Further, gifted education was the focus of the National Society for the Study of Education yearbooks in 1920, 1924, 1958, and 1979, in addition to being the subject of two U.S. Department of Education National Reports (Marland, 1971; Ross, 1993) and literally innumerable conversations, meetings, and presentations in schools and homes throughout America.

Such prolific and varied publication hardly seems a "conspiracy of silence." I would argue that issues fundamental to education, such as equity versus excellence, dealing successfully with a continuum of learners, curricular versus student based services, and differentiation, to name a few, have been hotly debated for decades and that gifted education, far from being enveloped in a "conspiracy of silence" has often been the focal point of critiques and attacks for much of this century. Ms. Sapon-Shevin is welcome to add her voice to the fray, but it is disingenuous to pretend to be breaking new ground when in fact many of her assertions have been made previously and debated thoroughly.


Chapter One, entitled "Underserved and Over-Deserving: Rationales for the Support of Gifted Education" includes the related statements, "Although it is a tautology, the most persistent explanation for having "gifted programs" is the existence of identified "gifted children" (p.13). And, "Rather than viewing giftedness as a 'natural fact,' we can see the category of 'giftedness' as a social construct, a way of thinking and describing that exists in the eyes of the definers" (p.16).

Regarding the first sentence, one could also say, "Although it is a tautology, the most persistent explanation for having "drug treatment programs" is the existence of identified "drug addicts." Neither statement, however tautological, does anything to advance the discussion of appropriate interventions for two populations that do, in fact, exist.

Regarding the second: of course giftedness is a social construct, so are all other categories identified by the human mind. Height, weight, typing speed, and personality traits are also social constructs because individuals living in a society identified (constructed) and named them. But it is important to note that the construct exists because the characteristic exists. Ms. Sapon-Shevin's statement seems to imply that giftedness exists only because we have created the category "gifted," not because there exists a group of brighter-than-average individuals.

Ms. Sapon-Shevin employs the social construct of "height" to further explain her premise: "People vary tremendously in height and can be measured with relatively good reliability; nonetheless, deciding to create categories of the "profoundly tall" and the "profoundly short" would mean both deciding that height was a salient characteristic appropriate for describing people and determining where to make cut-offs along a continuum of heights" (p. 16). This analogy doesn't work, precisely because height is not a salient characteristic relative to education, while giftedness is.

The fact that giftedness is more abstract and therefore harder to measure than height only makes assessment and appropriate programming more difficult, it does not invalidate the reality of giftedness. And this is precisely what Ms. Shapon-Shevin would like to do. She states " . . . without school rules and policies, legal and educational practices designed to provide services to gifted students, this category, per se, would not exist" (p. 17).

This could be said about any identified group, from valedictorians to sports teams. The critical issue is her reversal of cause and effect. Gifted programs and services exist as a response to the existence and needs of gifted children . Researchers and practitioners did not create "giftedness," or the profound educational needs of children who learn faster and better than their age-peers.

She is willing to concede that there is ". . . a tremendous variation in the ways in which children present themselves in schools {and} in the rates in which they learn . . ." (pp. 16-17) but prefers to think of this as describing not potential or ability, but rather the " . . . resources that schools and educators would be willing to commit in order to make all children 'gifted.' " Then, ". . . all students would be described as varying in terms of the resources needed to help them achieve at high levels" (p. 22). In other words, if we pour the right amount of money into each child, we should ultimately end up with all children achieving at approximately the same level. This is the very core of coercive egalitarianism; namely, that equity of outcome, rather than of opportunity, is desired.

Opportunities to learn and be challenged do indeed need to be as equal as we can make them; that is why gifted programs and differentiated curricula exist. But equity of outcome can only come about through restraints on excellence, because no amount of compensatory programming or funding will eradicate fundamental differences in ability and motivation. We can pour as much money as we wish into each child, but we will never end up with uniform achievement because some students will always have higher ability and motivational levels than others.



The author's peculiar vision of "community" necessarily entails opposition to rewards, distinctions, or substantive differentiation based on merit (read: high ability).

She views a community as a place in which " . . . people who cross(ed) nationalities, religions, ages, genders, and backgrounds came together for a common goal," and that such people would share what they had " . . . without regard to proprietary or individual ownership" (p. 2).

She then lists a number of characteristics common to communities, most importantly inclusiveness, celebration of individual differences, and interconnectedness. Her view of "communities" by definition excludes gifted programs and indeed, most gifted services.

It is Ms. Shapon-Shevin's view that all children's needs can be met within the regular, inclusive classroom, with the disclaimer that if she is wrong, the needs of those with high ability - the gifted and talented - must be sacrificed. She quotes Fenstermacher (1982): "It may be the case that schools cannot afford to meet all the entitlements of the gifted child without infringing on the entitlements of any learner. In this case, it may be appropriate to forgo the additional (sic) entitlements for the gifted learner in favor of meeting the basic entitlements of all."

Clearly, what is being espoused within this false either/or proposition is equity over excellence. Herbert Schlossberg comments on this orientation in Idols for Destruction (1990): "The leveling movement has nothing to do with justice, because its impulse is not to raise those who are down but to topple those who are up; resentment is the motive."

Absent from Ms. Sapon-Shevin's idealized vision of "community" is the awareness that education is compulsory, and that this brings into every "inclusive" classroom not just an enormous range of ability, but an even wider range of values; specifically, the valuing of learning and its attendant behaviors (studying, cooperating, contributing vs. indolence, defiance, and subversion) that create not one but several continuums for teachers to deal with simultaneously.

There is often no "common goal" among students, because they have not chosen to "come together," many are there because the state compels them to be. Therefore many (achieving) students develop a "proprietary" interest in their work because other students wish not to share, but rather to exploit, as is often the case when teachers implement cooperative learning (gifted students were not considered when cooperative learning was researched {Robinson, 1991}).

While there is much to embrace in her view of a community of consenting adults freely choosing to interact, it becomes cloyingly restrictive (as opposed to inclusive) with regard to a classroom of children with dramatically differing abilities, values, and motivations.

The concept of the "least restrictive environment," which has been employed so successfully to encourage and enable troubled and resistant learners as well as handicapped students to be "mainstreamed" into the regular classroom, demands a different application regarding many gifted children, because for them the regular classroom is a severely restrictive environment. That is why so many gifted programs consist of pull-outs, magnets, and, in Minnesota, the "Post Secondary Option" which allows students to leave the classroom or school to find appropriately challenging curricula through post-secondary programs. Far from being "additional entitlements," these programs and options are merely ways of providing the "least restrictive environment" for the gifted and highly motivated child to realize his/her potential.

Ms. Sapon-Shevin opposes these options because she believes they: (1) Are "meritocratic" and thus, unfair; (2) Detract from the "classroom community"; and (3) Reduce teacher incentive and ability to meet all needs within the regular classroom.

In response to the above, I would say: (1) A meritocratic system is the most efficient and ethical method of selection possible; (2) the need for establishing a "classroom community" must be subordinated to the academic needs of its individual members; and moreover; the classroom is far too restrictive a community; we should be looking toward broader vistas within and beyond the classroom; and (3) an impressive number of studies and a wide variety of indices of edu- cation, as well as anecdotal reports such as Ms. Sapon-Shevin's own study, have been virtually unanimous in confirming the fact that most classroom teachers can't consistently meet the needs of their brightest pupils. I am certainly not willing to risk sacrificing yet another generation of bright students in the hopes that the regular classroom can challenge them and meet their needs when efforts thus far have been spectacularly unsuccessful.

A FINAL WORD ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF "COMMUNITY." As a teacher (22 years), adjunct professor (5 years), parent, and student, I have probably talked with over 5,000 people intimately involved with education. I have never once heard anyone cite the creation of "community" as a priority for their children, students, or themselves. Certainly we all prefer a nurturing classroom atmosphere and supportive relationships, but my aim as an instructor and my wish for my children is a classroom that is rigorous, with an instructor skilled in delivering appropriately challenging curricula. If this necessitates a pull-out for some, special remedial help for others, and more discretion to remove the unmotivated, defiant, and resolutely subversive, so be it. Confident, knowledgeable, engaged students are also the most capable of forming authenticate communities.



Coercive egalitarianism can be described as "Forced regression toward the mean through neglect and/or hostility" (Schroeder-Davis, 1992). Sapon-Shevin's antipathy toward rewards and privileges based on merit is a prime example of this. Her opposition to meritocracies such as gifted education is that ". . . the initial advantage that places students in these programs is not acquired fairly, that is without regard to issues of wealth and resources" (p. 34).

This is truly a cosmic view of fairness. Intelligence, motivation, and one's parents are not distributed "fairly." It seems we can respond by either subordinating those with "unfair advantages" until they are sufficiently handicapped to be the equal of their age-peers (the "Harrison Bergeron Solution"), or we can continue trying to rectify the various societal influences that compromise so many of our children.

An obvious question, to which I'll return shortly: does Ms. Sapon-Shevin actually believe gifted programs are the cause of the various disparities and inequalities she cites and that their destruction will be of some benefit?


The conclusions and recommendations in this book appear to have been made without regard to or in defiance of research, including Ms. Sapon-Shevin's own study and interviews, which comprise chapters three and four. Two examples from her book will have to suffice:

(1) The extensive research on ability grouping is given but two pages and is called a "draw" (Slavin, 1990a, Slavin, 1990b vs. Kulik & Kulik, 1987). Dr. Karen Rogers' (1991) extensive research is ignored, as are over 700 other studies. Further, it is not mentioned that Dr. Slavin's (1990a, 1990b) research supporting heterogeneous grouping did not include gifted students -- a crucial fact Ms. Sapon-Shevin should have been aware of and reported. Capriciously dismissing the research as "ambiguous" allows Ms. Sapon-Shevin to assert " . . . segregation (read: ability grouping) and tracking are unsupportable" (p. 50).

A more defensible conclusion would be: since Slavin did not examine a gifted population and both the Kuliks and Rogers did, the most current, comprehensive research on ability grouping indicates clear benefits for the gifted and talented with no harm, and perhaps some minor gains, to other populations. Therefore, we should continue/increase this practice until and unless other methods are clearly demonstrated to be as cost effective and educationally sound.

(2) The author's own study fails to offer substantive support for her charges of "elitism," or that gifted education leads to "disruption of community." The study is a series of interviews with parents, students, and school personnel in a small midwestern town of 8,000 which recently initiated a pull-out program and ability grouped instruction in their three elementary schools . Although there is considerable confusion and difference of opinion among those interviewed about the purposes, protocols, and efficacy of the program (not unexpected given that it's both new and highly visible) the respondents simply don't seem to share Ms. Sapon-Shevin's moral indignation.

Instead, summaries of her interviews with teachers suggest: "Virtually universal was the solid support for identifying and educating "gifted students" as was the belief that it was "about time." The idea that too much had already been spent on children with disabilities and not enough on our future leaders was reported over and over again. From the teachers' point of view, most of the classrooms could be described as tension-free regarding the gifted program." (pp. 80, 95).

Regarding student perceptions, Ms. Sapon-Shevin writes: "What do we make of children who have accepted that some children are "top students" and go to a special program? Such acceptance might be attributed to the clear fairness of a program that everyone accepts because of its validity or it might be seen as a kind of silencing - a learning not to ask, not to question." (p. 95, emphasis added).

Ms. Sapon-Shevin's summaries of teacher and student interviews clearly demonstrate wide-spread acceptance of this embryonic program rather than a clamoring for its abandonment, no matter how often she wishes to argue with her data.



"Eliminating gifted programs will not solve school or societal problems, because the problems do not result from the gifted programs. Rather, gifted programs are a response to the inappropriateness and inflexibility of schools --

Feldhusen? Renzulli? Terman? No, this is Sapon-Shevin. Here, at last, we are in complete agreement, at least until the remainder of the sentence is added:

"a response that creates as many problems as it solves -- and to an economic system that depends on the schools to maintain social, educational, and economic stratification." (p. 26).

What is meant by the reification in the second part of the quote? Is there an organized conspiracy (the "economic system") at work seeking to stratify students? Or is this stratification the end result of an enormous, haphazard confluence of factors -- which is much more permeable and amenable to persistent personal effort than Sapon-Shevin implies -- that ultimately results in a stratified society?

John Gardner's (1961) words apply here. In his discussion of the historical tension between equality and excellence and the factors which influence an individual's "stratification" he defines "hereditary privilege" as " . . . systems in which the individual's status was determined not by his gifts or capacities but by his membership in a family, a caste, or a class. Such membership determined his rights, privileges, prestige, power, and status in society. His ability was hardly relevant." (p. 3).

Hereditary privilege is less prevalent in America than perhaps any other nation that has ever existed. He continues: "But the truth is that when men are released from the fetters on performance characteristic of a stratified society, great individual differences in performance will emerge, and may lead to peaks and valleys of status as dramatic as those produced by hereditary stratification." (p. 5).

This awareness -- that individual values and qualities such as effort, scholarship, and persistence, (i.e., "performance") are far more integral to "stratification" than "an economic system that depends on the schools to maintain . . . stratification" -- is completely absent from Ms. Sapon-Shevin's viewpoint.


Nowhere in her discussion is credit given for the enormous efforts and staggering sums of money spent yearly on a variety of compensatory programs. For example, in 1990, almost 50% of the funds distributed by the Office of Special Education (U.S. Department of Education) was devoted to the learning disabled, and reading disorders alone received $7.7 million (Ingersoll & Goldstein, 1993).

Compare this to the just under $10 million devoted to gifted education during that same year, which comprised the entire federal commitment to gifted children and which, by law, required that at least half of these funds be designed to serve economically disadvantaged students who are also gifted and talented (Boren, 1994).

Nowhere is it acknowledged that genetics and environment are not immutably deterministic; that values are what drive all children's performance in school and that achievement values are in fact the primary determinants of school success or failure in the vast majority of cases.

Ms. Sapon-Shevin also seems completely indifferent to the real pain and suffering endured by gifted children -- as well as the loss of potential -- as a result of " . . . the inappropriateness and inflexibility" of the school system she condemns.

And finally, while she argues quite convincingly that changes in our society may be in order, she is not persuasive in arguing that this change should start with or even include gifted education.


I have responded to what I feel are among the more bizarre and troubling aspects of Playing Favorites, including the author's pretense about breaking a "conspiracy of silence," her infrequent, incomplete, and misleading references to research, and her penchant for ikea montreal arguing with her own data. My introduction refers to this book as "petulant." The spirit of the book -- its metaphysics -- brings to mind a pack of hyenas snarling over the remains of some meal, each zealously guarding its own small portion while enviously coveting the portion guarded by each of the rest of the pack.

Ms. Sapon-Shevin seems to feel children are like this. In her world, each child comes to school not to learn so much as to compare and contrast his/her opportunities with that of a neighbor, preparing to be outraged if someone of distinguished ability and drive is allowed the smallest of "rewards" (even a mere 30 minutes a week!). My experience is in contrast to this, and very similar to the subjects in the author's study; very little attention is paid to the comings and goings of students in an inclusive, but highly mobile and flexible setting.

Perhaps Ms. Sapon-Shevin should talk more to the students about issues such as inclusion and ability grouping. Although I see no reason for inclusion and ability grouping to be mutually exclusive, it seems most reformers do - and this will not excite students, if the 6,000 polled in the Minneapolis StarTribune "Mindworks" are representative. This unique monthly column allows students in grades K-12 to write essays in response to questions posed by editor Misti Snow. The February, 1993 column asked students to evaluate their education and offer specific recommendations for improvement. Their number one recommendation was " . . . the removal of chronically disruptive students" followed by " . . . a desire to be grouped by ability." (Snow, 1993).

Both recommendations were made by students in rural, urban, and suburban settings and from all grade levels. In the case of ability grouping, children of all abilities railed against " . . . being in classrooms where the range of ability is too vast." (Snow, 1993). These recommendations have direct implications for those of us in gifted education. We need to proceed slowly and with discretion regarding inclusion, as the American Federation of Teachers acknowledged with this statement as reported in Gifted Child Today (Jan./Feb., 1994): "AFT has cited reports that special needs children are monopolizing too much time in the classroom and are creating an uncomfortable, and sometimes unsafe, atmosphere. They contend that many schools rushed into inclusion without a firm foundation and are now experiencing problems."

We need to ask who benefits and who loses, especially in the case of mainstreamed emotionally disturbed and potentially violent children -- as well as those who are simply hostile to education -- when they are placed in a classroom with children eager to learn and unable to defend themselves from predators protected by entitlements and I.E.P.'s.

Gifted advocates must also be outspoken in opposing reformists such as Ms. Sapon-Shevin who are exploiting the current (coercive) egalitarian, anti-meritocratic political bandwagon as they try to eliminate ability grouping and other proven, effective, necessary components of (gifted) education. We need to make it clear that current research is unambiguous about the distinct benefits of ability grouping for gifted students, and that such provisions do not harm anyone else.

We need to challenge the ridiculous notion that giftedness is a mere "social construct" that exists only in the eyes of gifted educators. We need to demand that research include gifted learners (neither cooperative learning or outcome-based education did so) before we agree to adopt suggested practices.

We need to challenge the notion that the regular classroom teacher can effectively teach the vast continuum and enormous variety of students in a fully inclusive heterogeneous setting, because we know that it is the gifted student who will be ignored or exploited when the more urgent (but no more deserving) demands of less capable and/or more disruptive students overwhelm teachers.

Mostly, we need to stop apologizing. If diversity is "all the ways in which we differ," we need to ask why every imaginable incapacity and deficiency -- many of them freely chosen and highly resistant to our corrective efforts -- is tolerated and embraced, while the fact of high ability is not only not revered, it is denied, ridiculed, and abandoned. It isn't fair, and time is running out.



Boren, S. (1993). Education of the Gifted and Talented: Reauthorization Fact Sheet. CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress.

Gardner, John. (1961). Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too? New York: Harper & Row.

Gifted Child Today (1994). 17(1). P. 7.

Fenstermacher, G. D. (1982). To be or not be gifted: What is the question? The Elementary School Journal, 82(3): 299-303.

Frasier, Mary. (1992). An Investigation of Giftedness in Economically Disadvantaged and Limited English Proficiency Students. Edited by Dr. Mary Frasier and funded through the NRC/GT.

Ingersoll, B.D. & Goldstein, S. (1993). Attention Deficit Disorder and Learning Disabilities: Realities, Myths, and Controversial Treatments. New York: Doubleday.

Kulik, James. (1991). An Analysis of the Research on Ability Grouping: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Kulik, C. L., & Kulik, J. A. (1987). Effects of Ability Grouping on Student Achievement. Equity and Excellence, 23(1-2):22-30.

Marland, S. P., Jr. (1971). Education of the gifted and talented (2 Vols.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Society for the Study of Education Yearbooks: Education of Gifted Children No. 19 (1920), 23 (1924), 57 (1958), and 78 (1979).

Ross, Pat O'Connell. (1993). National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1993.

Robinson, Ann. (1991). Cooperative Learning and the Academically Talented Student. Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Rogers, Karen. (1991). The Relationship of Grouping Practices to the Education of the Gifted and Talented Learner. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Schlossberg, H. (1990). Idols for Destruction. Cited in Wilcox, L. & George, J. (1994). Be Reasonable: Selected Quotations for Inquiring Minds. New York: Prometheus Books.

Schroeder-Davis, Stephen. (1993).Coercive Egalitarianism: Subverting Achievement Through Neglect and Hostility. Gifted Education Press Quarterly, Winter, 1993.

Slavin, R. E. (1990a). Achievement Effects if Ability Grouping in Secondary Schools: A Best Evidence Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 60(3); 471-99.

Slavin, R. E. (1990b). Ability Grouping in Secondary Schools: A Response to Hallinan. Review of Educational Research, 60(3);505-7.

Snow, M. (1993). "Mindworks". Minneapolis StarTribune, February, 1993, 1C.

"....Think of Shakespeare and Melville and you think of thunder, lightening, wind. They all knew the joy of creating in large or small forms, on unlimited or restricted canvasses. These are the children of the gods. They knew fun in their work. No matter if creation came hard here and there along the way, or what illnesses and tragedies touched their most private lives. The important things are those passed down to us from their hands and minds and these are full to bursting with animal vigor and intellectual vitality. Their hatreds and despairs were reported with a kind of love." Ray Bradbury (from Zen in the Art of Writing, 1994, p. 3).

"It's not what you are, but what you don't become that hurts." Oscar Levant (from 1946 movie, "Humoresque").




For twenty years the Future Problem Solving program has been promoting higher level thinking skills, creativity, problem solving and awareness of the challenges of the future to a global arena of youthful participants. These twenty years of achievement were celebrated recently at the International Future Problem Solving Conference held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Students from across the United States as well as Australia, Canada, Kuwait and New Zealand participated in four days of problem solving activities involving the application of higher level thinking skills, creative problem solving and teamwork as they dealt with present day problems from a futuristic perspective.

The Future Problem Solving Program was developed by Dr. Paul Torrance, Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University of Georgia, Athens and his wife Pansy. A pioneer in the field of creative studies, Dr. Torrance has been greatly interested in promoting creative thinking in school age children for almost four decades. As early as the late 1950's Dr. Torrance was sharing ideas with teachers about what they can and should do to develop creative thinking in their students (Torrance, 1961). He outlined twenty principles for developing creative thinking through school experiences. Among these ideas was the need for teachers to learn to value the creative thinking of their students and also to encourage students to value their own creative ideas, the need for teachers to establish a creative classroom atmosphere, the development of teacher and student tolerance for new and original ideas as well as the need to encourage students to work out the full implication of their ideas. These and other early principles can clearly be seen as vital to the foundation of the Future Problem Solving Program as it exists today. Among just a small portion of Dr. Torrance's other diverse work in the area of creativity and problem solving over the past several decades has been the establishment of creativity projects for disadvantaged young people (1972), the examination of cultural values and climates for creative achievement (1969, 1992), and a 30-year follow-up study of the 'Beyonders': those who function at the very high end in the area of creative accomplishments (1993). In 1974, Dr. Torrance infused the creative problem solving process developed by Alex Osborn (1967) and the efforts of other scholars in the field with his commitment to developing creativity and a sense of concern for one's future into the Future Problem Solving Program, or as it is referred to by it participants, "FPS."

The FPS program requires students to apply a six-step problem solving process to analyze a present day topic of concern from the perspective of the future. There are five topics, selected through a majority vote by the student participants, which are used as the focus for the program during a school year. In teams of four, students are given a futuristic scenario or "Fuzzy Situation" based on one of these topics and in which they are to identify a set of twenty problems that could possibly be a cause or effect of the given situation. They must take into consideration the possible changes which may occur in the future in a wide range of areas such as technology, communication, government and politics, as well as possible moral, ethical and religious concerns. One of their problems is then chosen as the "Underlying Problem": a problem that, if solved, will have a major impact on the Fuzzy Situation but does not attempt to solve the entire situation all at once. Team members must then develop a list of twenty solutions to their Underlying Problem, construct criteria for evaluating them and use a grid to choose the one solution they feel best solves their Underlying Problem. They must then write an elaborate explanation of this best solution and their plan for its implementation.

Involvement in FPS provides a forum in which thinking skills can be taught and refined and is therefore of particular interest to educators in the field of gifted education or those involved in creating challenging curricula. While participating in the problem solving process, the higher level thinking skills of Bloom's taxonomy (1956) are put into action. Additionally, FPS addresses many of the areas pointed out by Burns and Reis (1991) in their Proposed Taxonomy of Thinking Skills as well as in the Taxonomy of Type II Process Training (Renzulli and Reis, 1985). Throughout the process of finding problems and solutions students must engage in inductive and deductive reasoning and decision-making with their teammates. They are encouraged to be fluent thinkers by generating a large number of ideas. In addition, flexible thinking as well as different categories of ideas are sought. A pattern of divergent and convergent thinking is developed. The FPS process supports taking intellectual risks, modifying and combining concepts, and the development of unique and creative ideas.

The establishment of a strong foundation of knowledge relative to the topics that will be analyzed each year is also stressed as a preliminary step to the problem solving process. During this phase students explore, scrutinize and discuss current research in an effort to gain as much of an information base as possible so that it may be applied later during the actual process of problem solving. This research stage provides the teacher or other adult who serves as "coach" with excellent opportunities to utilize questioning strategies that will encourage higher order thinking and quality responses. Dantonio (1990) identified several questioning models that can be effectively used during this step to encourage students to form logical data relationships and synthesize information.

In addition to addressing the instruction and application of higher level thinking skills, FPS also has a competitive component. Teams that wish to participate in the competitive aspect of the program complete work on the first two topics as "Practice Problems," submitting their completed work to their State-Affiliate level offices for evaluation, feedback and instructional guidance. The third topic is considered the "Qualifying Problem," and teams that rank highly in their divisions (Junior grades 4-6, Intermediate grades 7-9 and Senior grades 10-12) qualify to participate in a State-Affiliate program level competition for the fourth topic. The top ranking teams in each division from the State-Affiliate level conferences are then invited to the International Future Problem Solving conference, held each year at a major university in June.

During these competitive problem solving activities students are required to utilize their problem solving skills to complete the process within a two hour time frame without any assistance from adults or other sources. The topic is known to the participants, but the setting, location and other parameters of the Fuzzy Situation are not revealed until the teams begin the competition. This requires students to deal with a set of unknown circumstances in a spontaneous manner, synthesizing and applying the research phase where appropriate.

Upon conclusion of the six-step process and submission of their work for evaluation, students must create a skit presentation to "sell" their choice of Underlying Problem and Best Solution to a panel of judges. Props may be fashioned during the preparation time from a supplied list of materials, but no prefabricated items may be brought into the competition and all work must be done on-site by the team members. Stress is placed on the spontaneous and creative response to the task of presenting the team's best ideas, with emphasis placed on team member participation and cooperation. Coaches and other adults keep their assistance to a minimum during the preparation phase and are exempt from assisting in any way during the presentation itself. All teams are expected to be observers during the skit presentations, which is beneficial because participants have the opportunity to hear how other teams analyzed the same Fuzzy Situation as well as what problems and solutions they developed.

During the State and International conferences, several other competitive options are offered to students. Students may qualify to participate in the Individual Competition category, where they complete the six step process on their own, but with the requirement that they need only develop ten problems and solutions. A new addition in recent years has been the inclusion of the Alternates Competition, where qualifying teams bring one additional member to the conference who is then teamed with additional participants from three other teams. Thus, an Alternates team could be comprised of four members from, for example, Florida, New Zealand, Idaho and Canada. The members, who have never met before, must use their problem solving and teamwork skills to work through the process in a cooperative manner, sometimes facing unique challenges due to cultural differences. This competition is unique since it requires team members from different schools and programs to work together rather than against each other for success in a common goal.

While the competitive aspects of the program are exciting and rewarding for the team members and their coaches alike, it should be stressed that the competition should not be the sole objective for choosing to participate in Future Problem Solving.

Three other components are also offered as part of FPS. The non-competitive Primary Program encourages basic instruction of the problem solving process for students in grades K-3. While the topics for discussion remain the same as for those in the higher grades, special primary instructional materials are provided and the Fuzzy Situations are written on a level that is easier for younger children to understand.

The Community Problem Solving Program invites participants to address a problem in their communities, which can be their home, school, region, nation or even the global community. Community problem solving teams work throughout the school year to study the causes and effects of their problem situation and develop them into a Fuzzy Situation format. They then work through the problem solving process to develop a Best Solution to their real life community problem. Teams submit their completed work to their State-Affiliate programs for evaluation and feedback. Top ranking projects are then submitted to the International Future Problem Solving Program Office for further evaluation, with invitations to the International Conference extended to the most outstanding community problem solving teams. This is a popular component for pro-active youth groups and community service organizations. This year for the first time, a spontaneous community problem solving competition was included as part of the International Conference to challenge these outstanding community problem solving teams to identify and solve a number of real life problems currently facing society.

The third component is the Scenario Writing program, a creative writing opportunity where students work throughout the school year to compose a 1,500 word futuristic story based on one of the year's topics. The benefits of participation in this component are many. Brewster (1989) recognizes that skills and ideas from many areas can be enhanced through creative writing and stresses the importance of writing instruction for gifted students. Scenario writing provides an audience for young writers and requires them to work within a given set of parameters that require a high degree of invention and creativity for successful completion of the story. A strong research base to provide the foundation for setting, theme and plot is suggested. The student's story is then evaluated based on nine criteria: creative imagination, social/cultural influences, feelings and emotions, structure, futuristic thinking, interest, character development, mechanics and style (Shewach, 1991). The most outstanding scenario writers have received ten assessments from writing evaluators around the country before being extended an invitation to attend the International Conference to participate in a special creative writing workshop.


The components of the Future Problem Solving Program provide a wide range of cognitive and affective benefits. Since gifted students potentially differ from their classmates on the pace at which they learn, the depth of their understanding and the interests that they hold (Maker, 1982), FPS can fill a void due to the lack of a specialized curriculum to meet their needs. It can also be infused into the gifted curriculum itself and used as a foundation for developing gifted learner outcomes to relevant units of study as those described by Van Tassel-Baska, (1992).

A study by Tallent-Runnels and Yarbrough (1992) supports the belief that gifted children should be challenged to think futuristically with complex issues and problems as topics for class discussion. The study's results also suggest that participation in Future Problem Solving may help gifted students feel they have more control over their futures, and that the Future Problem Solving Program may benefit other children not identified as gifted. Students who had participated in the Future Problem Solving program for at least six months performed better than gifted non-participants when attempting to solve futuristic problems similar to those used in the FPS program (Tallent-Runnels, 1993).

Maker (1993) suggests that gifted children need to be given opportunities to observe and assist gifted adults in solving complex problems, and that including gifted adults in practice sessions for Future Problem Solving teams along with gifted students is one way in which this could be accomplished. Kurtzberg and Kurtzberg (1993), who have used the FPS process to help students deal with an assortment of problems ranging from regional to global issues propose that students involved in Future Problem Solving will become interested and excited not only about the topics on which they are working but about their own abilities to deal with varied and complex issues.

A U.S. Department of Labor report (1991) cites the SCANS (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) competencies, and a three-part foundation of skills and personal qualities that are needed for solid job performance. Among these are the acquisition and evaluation of data, the ability to think creatively, make decisions, solve problems and show proficiency in reasoning. Certainly the skills stressed in the Future Problem Solving Program address these areas. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education's report National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent (1993) recognizes Future Problem Solving as one of the successful programs in promoting critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Whether Future Problem Solving is a core part of a gifted curriculum, used in an enrichment setting format or part of an after-school activities program, its contribution to the teaching of higher level thinking skills is clear. FPS empowers students to think about, plan for and become pro-active about their future using a clear and systematic process while allowing them to utilize this same process in their everyday lives. It encourages students to use problem solving skills so necessary for their future success. The twenty-first century is close at hand and Future Problem Solving prepares our students to face the challenges of the future, armed with the thinking skills necessary to lead us into the next millennium.

For more information regarding the Future Problem Solving Program, contact the FPS International Office, University of Michigan, 318 W. Ann Street, Ann Arbor, MI. 48104-1337, phone (313) 998-7876.


Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longmans, Green.

Brewster, M. (1989). Creative Writing and the Gifted. Gifted Child Today. 12(6), 24-25.

Burns, D. and Reis, S. (1991). Developing a Thinking Skills Component in the Gifted Education Program. Roeper Review 14(2), 72-79.

Dantonio, M. (1990). How Can We Create Thinkers? Bloomington, Indiana: National Education Service.

Kurtzberg, R.L. and Kurtzberg, K.E. (1993). Future Problem Solving: Connecting Middle School Students to the Real World. Middle School Journal. 24(4), 37-40.

Maker, J.C. (1993). Creativity, Intelligence, and Problem Solving: A Definition and Design for Cross-cultural Research and Measurement Related to Giftedness. Gifted Education International. 9(2), 76.

Maker, J.C. (1982). Curriculum Development for the Gifted. Rockville, MD. Aspen Systems Corporation.

Osborn, A. (1967). Applied Imagination. New York: Charles Scribners.

Renzulli, J. and Reis, S. (1985). The Schoolwide Enrichment Model, Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Riley, R. (1993). National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. p. 23.

Shewach, D. (1991). Scenario Writing: A Vision of the Future. Gifted Child Today. 14(2), 32-33.

Tallent- Runnels, M.K. (1993). The Future Problem Solving pro- gram: An Investigation of Effects on Problem-Solving Ability. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 18(3), 382-388.

Tallent-Runnels, M.K. and Yarbrough, D.W. (1992). Effects of the Future Problem Solving Program on Children's Concerns About the Future. Gifted Child Quarterly. 36(4), 191-194.

Torrance, E.P. (1993). The Beyonders in a Thirty Year Longitudinal Study of Creative Achievement. Roeper Review, 15(3), 131-135.

Torrance, E.P. (1992). A National Climate for Creativity and Invention. Gifted Child Today, 15(1), 10-14.

Torrance, E.P. and Torrance, P. (1972). Combining Creative Problem Solving with Creative Expressive Activities in the Education of Disadvantaged Young People. Journal of Creative Behavior 6(1), 1-10.

Torrance, E.P. (1969). What is Honored: Comparative Studies of Creative Achievement and Motivation. Journal of Creative Behavior 5(3), 149-155.

Torrance, E.P. (1962). Developing Creative Thinking Through School Experiences in A Source Book for Creative Thinking. Parnes, S.J. and Harding, H.F. (Eds.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

U.S. Department of Labor, (1991). What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for American 2000. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office.

Van Tassel-Baska, J. (1992). Developing Learner Outcomes for Gifted Students. ERIC Gifted Flyer File Document E514 Reston, VA. The Council for Exceptional Children.




There is a major controversy in Virginia concerning building a theme park called Disney's America. On one side, there are those like William Styron (author of such books as The Confessions of Nat Turner, 1967, and Sophie's Choice, 1979) who oppose the construction of this theme park for environmental and historical reasons. The Disney corporation rebuts by saying that the most effective manner to teach history is for individuals to have a personal interaction with historical events, and that their techniques have a proven record for accomplishing this task. The opponents are concerned with the impact of Disney's America on the nearby Manassas Civil War Battlefield and other nearby historical sites. The defenders reply that the significance of the American Civil War does not merely reside in its battlefields, but is contained in a major ideological issue -- states rights versus personal liberty and human equality.

In 1894, the celebrated American writer, Mark Twain (1835-1910) wrote a novel, Pudd'nhead Wilson: A Tale, which dealt with some of the issues raised over Disney's America. During the final decades of the 19th century, there was a popular fiction genre that centered around nostalgia for the ante-bellum South. Twain wrote a novel that was a response to this historical revisionism. He was also reacting to a political mood expressed by the legalism, "separate but equal," and subsequently contained in the famous Supreme Court decision of Plessy versus Ferguson (1896) that institutionalized Jim Crow laws.

Mark Twain is one of those wonderful role models for the gifted. He is universally recognized as one of America's greatest writers. Yet he was almost totally educated through reading and personal experience. Twain came from a Southern background; his mother's family was from Virginia. He grew up in the slave section of Missouri where the immorality of slavery made a deep impression on him. William Dean Howells, the editor of Atlantic Monthly (1871-81), who published many great American writers of the mid- to late 19th century, said in My Mark Twain (1910): "Emerson, Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes -- I knew them all and all the rest of our sages, poets, seers, critics, humorists; they were like one another and like other literary men; but Clemens was sole, incomparable, the Lincoln of our literature."

In Pudd'nhead Wilson: A Tale, Mark Twain displays the full range of his talents. He could deal with social issues in an intense and provocative manner because he masked his social conscience with powerful humor. He combined the elements of ridiculous understatement with exaggeration. Also, the manner in which he used the American folk idiom was artful, i.e., he constructed social statements out of the colloquial elements and vernacular of the American language. He understood that our culture lies within our language.

This author was mainly concerned with personal identity. In his own life, there was a conflict between the person called Samuel Langhorne Clemens and the writer, Mark Twain. Europeans appreciated his writings before his countrymen, since most Americans considered him to be an entertainer during his lifetime rather than a serious writer. He believed that individuals were molded by circumstances, and in both The Prince and the Pauper (1891) and Pudd'nhead Wilson: A Tale (1894), his main characters were products of their environment. The latter story concerns two infants who resemble each other. Roxy, a slave, switched her mulatto son, the illegitimate son of the master, with the master's legal son when they were infants. But this attempt to counteract racism eventually led to a murder many years later. Pudd'nhead Wilson was the lawyer who investigated and solved this crime. In this novel, Mark Twain showed the ironical similarity between the racism of the ante-bellum South (the novel's setting) compared to post-Civil War discrimination.

Pudd'nhead Wilson: A Tale exhibits the reality of racism in a manner that Disney's America apparently wants to accomplish. For Mark Twain, the pain and agony of the American Civil War was a mental and moral problem rather than a matter of physical courage or battlefield scenes. He wanted to understand the destructiveness that racism produces. Twain had a great influence on two other gifted American writers -- Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Hemingway once said that all modern American literature was derived from Huckleberry Finn (1884). The writings of Mark Twain, as examples of written artistry and social-historical documents, should be an important aspect of gifted education in the nation. Gifted students' sensibilities will be heightened by dealing with social issues such as those discussed by this great American author. Mark Twain is needed in the gifted classroom now more than ever.

The following quotations are from Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar :

(1) "TRAINING is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."

(2) "Let us so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry."





Contains hundreds of reviews of books, magazines, newsletters and curriculum materials in the humanities and sciences.

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Information is from Eighteen issues of Gifted Education NEWS-PAGE published over the last three years.

Lists the names, addresses and phone numbers of many new programs and gifted education resources.

If you have missed this bimonthly gifted education newsletter, now is the time to catch up!

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Written by a highly experienced scientist and science educator.

The science lessons/experiments in EARTH, WIND AND SKY! emphasize Hands-On Learning by Discovery. They stress the development of Critical Thinking Skills, Inductive Reasoning, and Mathematical Reasoning.

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