P.O. BOX 1586








Dr. James Delisle -- Professor and Co-Director of SENG, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

Dr. Jerry Flack --Univ. Of Colorado-Colorado Springs

Dr. Howard Gardner -- Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ms. Diane D. Grybek -- Supervisor of Secondary Gifted Programs (Retired), Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa, Florida

Ms. Dorothy Knopper -- Publisher, Open Space Communications, Boulder, Colorado

Mr. James LoGiudice -- Director, Program and Staff Development, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education

Dr. Mary Meeker -- President of SOI Systems, Vida, Oregon

Dr. Adrienne O'Neill - Chief Education Officer, Timken Regional Campus, Canton, Ohio

Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Elk River, Minnesota Schools and Past President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented

Dr. Bruce Shore -- Professor and Director, Giftedness Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Ms. Joan Smutny -- Professor and Director, Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, Evanston, Illinois

Dr. Virgil S. Ward -- Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Dr. Colleen Willard-Holt - Associate Professor, Penn State University, Harrisburg

Ms. Susan Winebrenner -- Consultant, Brooklyn, Michigan

Dr. Ellen Winner - Professor, Boston College

 Some recent publications by two members of our advisory board which are highly relevant to educators of the gifted are: Dr. Howard Gardner's recent book, The Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand (Simon & Schuster, 1999), provides much useful information for the rigorous study of the basic disciplines of human knowledge, and it should be of particular relevance in designing a challenging curriculum for the gifted based on questioning, understanding and problem solving. I will review this book in the August-September 1999 issue of Gifted Education News-Page. (Please contact me if you would like to receive a copy of this issue.) Joan Smutny has served as Guest Editor for the February/March 1999 issue of Roeper Review which concentrates on research and theory related to educating young gifted children. This excellent issue contains information on such topics as identification, highly gifted children in the early years, curriculum design, and the application of Piaget's equilibration theory to studying reasoning processes. Ms. Smutny has also published an informative article for parents of young gifted children in the March 1999 issue of Parenting for High Potential.  

The tragic student deaths in Littleton Colorado need to be analyzed in the context of how gifted adolescents are educated in today's schools, since the perpetrators and many of their friends were very bright but lacking the necessary skills for coping with a socially hostile environment.  First, secondary level educators need to take a closer look at the affective and social areas of evelopment.  In this regard, the work of James DeLisle and James Webb on Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) should be more closely studied and applied to helping high ability teenagers vent their anger and frustration in more positive directions.  Second, the work of Stephen Schroeder-Davis on Coercive Egalitarianism can help both non-gifted and gifted students understand the characteristics and problems of the latter group. Gifted Education Press has published a book by Schroeder-Davis entitled, Coercive Egalitarianism: A Study of Discrimination Against Gifted Children (1993).  I believe that the concepts developed by DeLisle, Webb and Schroeder-Davis represent very important work in the gifted field.

The first article in this issue of GEPQ by Dr. Howard Gardner discusses the problem of defining intelligence -- particularly as related to Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence and Robert Coles’ moral intelligence. Gardner emphasizes the need for using rigorous criteria to define intelligence, and based upon applying these criteria, he rejects both concepts as being distinct forms of intelligence. Gardner's critique suggests that educators and parents should be considerably more cautious in using certain traits and characteristics as indicators of intelligence.

The second article, written by Dr. Dan Holt of MacMurray College, discusses the role of humor in the education of gifted children.  As Mark Twain (1835-1910) said, "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” He is co-author with his wife, Dr. Colleen Willard-Holt, of Applying Multiple Intelligences to Gifted Education: I'm Not Just an IQ Score! (GEP, 1998).  Colleen, Dan and I recently made a presentation on using MI theory in the gifted field at the April 1999 Conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE).  The audience (primarily teachers and program coordinators) was very interested in applying our ideas and recommendations for using MI theory in their classrooms.

The third article by Virgil S. Ward, Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, discusses his assessment of the progress and current state of the gifted education field, primarily at the academic level. Since GEPQ is a journal of open discussion and debate, we welcome Ward's analysis and any subsequent comments and rebuttals. He was my doctoral advisor, and has remained my colleague, mentor and friend for the last thirty years.  His pioneering work on differential education for the gifted should be carefully studied by all individuals interested in presenting a challenging curriculum to the gifted.  Dr. Michael Walters completes this issue with an essay on historical fiction related to the war in the Balkans and the tragedy in Littleton.

In discussing the current state of gifted education in Pennsylvania with my friend and colleague, Jim LoGiudice, he stated that programs for the gifted are again under attack by the Governor and his allies in this state's legislature.  Jim and his colleagues in PAGE are waging an intense educational and political battle to maintain funding for gifted programs as well a unique identity for these programs at the state and local levels.  Please contact him at the Bucks County IU if you would like to provide support or to obtain further information.



* The following excerpt comes from an article entitled “Who Owns Intelligence?” which appeared in the February 1999 issue of THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY. The article is copyrighted by Howard Gardner and the excerpt appears by permission. Individuals who wish to have a copy of the entire article should send a check for $4 made out to Harvard University, to Howard Gardner, Larsen Hall 201, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Writing as a scholar rather than as a layperson, I see two problems with the notion of emotional intelligence. First, unlike language or space, the emotions are not contents to be processed; rather, cognition has evolved so that we can make sense of human beings (self and others) that possess and experience emotions. Emotions are part and parcel of all cognition, though they may well prove more salient at certain times or under certain circumstances: they accompany our interactions with others, our listening to great music, our feelings when we solve — or fail to solve—a difficult mathematical problem. If one calls some intelligences emotional, one suggests that other intelligences are not—and that implication flies in the face of experience and empirical data.

The second problem is the conflation of emotional intelligence and a certain preferred pattern of behavior. This is the trap that Daniel Goleman sometimes falls into in his otherwise admirable Emotional Intelligence. Goleman singles out as emotionally intelligent those people who use their understanding of emotions to make others feel better, to solve conflicts, or to cooperate in home or work situations. No one would dispute that such people are wanted. However, people who understand emotion may not necessarily use their skills for the benefit of society.

For this reason I prefer the term “emotional sensitivity”—a term (encompassing my interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences) that could apply to people who are sensitive to emotions in themselves and in others. Presumably, clinicians and salespeople excel in sensitivity to others, poets and mystics in sensitivity to themselves. And some autistic or psychopathological people seem completely insensitive to the emotional realm. I would insist, however, on a strict distinction between emotional sensitivity and being a “good” or “moral” person. A person may be sensitive to the emotions of others but use that sensitivity to manipulate or to deceive them, or to create hatred.

I call, then, for a delineation of intelligence that includes the full range of contents to which human beings are sensitive, but at the same time designates as off limits such valued but separate human traits as creativity, morality, and emotional appropriateness. I believe that such a delineation makes scien- tific and epistemological sense. It reinvigorates the elastic band without stretching it to the breaking point. It helps to resolve the two remaining struggles: how to assess, and what kinds of human beings to admire.

Once we decide to restrict intelligence to human information-processing and product-making capacities, we can make use of the established technology of assessment. That is, we can continue to use paper-and-pencil or computer-adapted testing techniques while looking at a broader range of capacities, such as musical sensitivity and empathy with others. And we can avoid ticklish and possibly unresolvable questions about the assessment of values and morality that may well be restricted to a particular culture and that may well change over time.

Still, even with a limited perspective on intelligence, important questions remain about which assessment path to follow—that of the purist, the simulator, or the skeptic. Here I have strong views. I question the wisdom of searching for a “pure” intelligence—be it general intelligence, musical intelligence, or interpersonal intelligence. I do not believe that such alchemical intellectual essences actually exist; they are a product of our penchant for creating terminology rather than determinable and measurable entities. Moreover, the correlations that have thus far been found between supposedly pure measures and the skills that we actually value in the world are too modest to be useful.

What does exist is the use of intelligences, individually and in concert, to carry out tasks that are valued by a society. Accordingly, we should be assessing the extent to which human beings succeed in carrying out tasks of consequence that presumably involve certain intelligences. To be concrete, we should not test musical intelligence by looking at the ability to discriminate between two tones or timbres: rather, we should be teaching people to sing songs or play instruments or transform melodies and seeing how readily they master such feats. At the same time, we should abjure a search for pure emotional sensitivity—for example, a test that matches facial expressions to galvanic skin response. Rather, we should place (or observe) people in situations that call for them to be sensitive to the aspirations and motives of others. For example, we could see how they handle a situation in which they and colleagues have to break up a fight between two teenagers, or persuade a boss to change a policy of which they do not approve.

Here powerful new simulations can be invoked. We are now in a position to draw on technologies that can deliver realistic situations or problems and also record the success of subjects in dealing with them. A student can be presented with an unfamiliar tune on a computer and asked to learn that tune, transpose it, orchestrate it, and the like. Such exercises would reveal much about the student̓s intelligence in musical matters.

Turning to the social (or human, if you prefer) realm, subjects can be presented with simulated interactions and asked to judge the shifting motivations of each actor. Or they can be asked to work in an interactive hypermedia production with unfamiliar people who are trying to accomplish some sort of goal, and to respond to their various moves and countermoves. The program can alter responses in light of the moves of the subject. Like a high-stakes poker game, such a measure should reveal much about the interpersonal or emotional sensitivity of a subject.

A significant increase in the breadth—the elasticity—of our concept of intelligence, then, should open the possibility for innovative forms of assessment far more realistic than the classic short-answer examinations. Why settle for an IQ or an SAT test, in which the items are at best remote proxies for the ability to design experiments, write essays, critique musical performances, and so forth? Why not instead ask people actually (or virtually) to carry out such tasks? And yet by not opening up the Pandora̓s box of values and subjectivity, one can continue to make judicious use of the insights and technologies achieved by those who have devoted decades to perfecting mental measurement.

To be sure, one can create a psychometric instrument for any conceivable human virtue, including morality, creativity, and emotional intelligence in its several senses. Indeed, since the publication of Daniel Goleman̓s book dozens of efforts have been made to create tests for emotional intelligence. The resulting instruments are not, however, necessarily useful. Such instruments are far more likely to satisfy the test maker̓s desire for reliability (a subject gets roughly the same score on two separate administrations of the test) than the need for validity (the test measures the trait that it purports to measure).

Such instruments-on-demand prove dubious for two reasons. First, beyond some platitudes, few can agree on what it means to be moral, ethical, a good person: consider the differing values of Jesse Helms and Jesse Jackson, Margaret Thatcher and Margaret Mead. Second, scores on such tests are much more likely to reveal test-taking savvy (skills in language and logic) than fundamental character.

In speaking about character, I turn to a final concern: the relationship between intelligence and what I will call virtue—those qualities that we admire and wish to hold up as examples for our children. No doubt the desire to expand intelligence to encompass ethics and character represents a direct response to the general feeling that our society is lacking in these dimensions; the expansionist view of intelligence reflects the hope that if we transmit the technology of intelligence to these virtues, we might in the end secure a more virtuous population.

I have already indicated my strong reservations about trying to make the word “intelligence” all things to all people—the psychometric equivalent of the true, the beautiful, and the good. Yet the problem remains: how, in a post-Aristotelian, post-Confucian era in which psychometrics looms large, do we think about the virtuous human being?

My analysis suggests one promising approach. We should recognize that intelligences, creativity, and morality—to mention just three desiderata—are separate. Each may require its own form of measurement or assessment, and some will prove far easier to assess objectively than others. Indeed, with respect to creativity and morality, we are more likely to rely on overall judgments by experts than on any putative test battery. At the same time, nothing prevents us from looking for people who combine several of these attributes—who have musical and interpersonal intelligence, who are psychometrically intelligent and creative in the arts, who combine emotional sensitivity and a high standard of moral conduct.

Let me introduce another analogy at this point. In college admissions much attention is paid to scholastic performance, as measured by College Board examinations and grades. However, other features are also weighed, and sometimes a person with lower test scores is admitted if he or she proves exemplary in terms of citizenship or athletics or motivation. Admissions officers do not confound these virtues (indeed, they may use different scales and issue different grades), but they recognize the attractiveness of candidates who exemplify two or more desirable traits.

We have left the Eden of classical times, in which various intellectual and ethical values necessarily commingled, and we are unlikely ever to re-create it. We should recognize that these virtues can be separate and will often prove to be remote from one another. When we attempt to aggregate them, through phrases like “emotional intelligence,” “creative intelligence,” and “moral intelligence,” we should realize that we are expressing a wish rather than denoting a necessary or even a likely coupling.

We have an aid in converting this wish to reality: the existence of powerful examples—people who succeed in exemplifying two or more cardinal human virtues. To name names is risky—particularly when one generation̓s heroes can become the subject of the next generation̓s pathographies. Even so, I can without apology mention Niels Bohr, George C. Marshall, Rachel Carson, Arthur Ashe, Louis Armstrong, Pablo Casals, Ella Fitzgerald.

In studying the lives of such people, we discover human possibilities. Young human beings learn primarily from the examples of powerful adults around them—those who are admirable and also those who are simply glamorous. Sustained attention to admirable examples may well increase the future incidence of people who actually do yoke capacities that are scientifically and epistemologically separate.

In one of the most evocative phrases of the century the British novelist E. M. Forster counseled us, “Only connect.” I believe that some expansionists in the territory of intelligence, though well motivated, have prematurely asserted connections that do not exist. But I also believe that as human beings, we can help to forge connections that may be important for our physical and psychic survival.

Just how the precise borders of intelligence are drawn is a question we can leave to scholars. But the imperative to broaden our definition of intelligence in a responsible way goes well beyond the academy. Who “owns” intelligence promises to be an issue even more critical in the next century than it has been in this era of the IQ test.




It is well established that humor is one of the main identifying characteristics of gifted children (Clark, 1980; Gallagher, 1985; Renzulli, 1976; Silverman, 1989; Torrance, 1974; Tuttle, Becker, & Sousa, 1988; Van Tassel-Baska, 1989).  This is because there exists a significant link between humor and intelligence (Brodzinsky & Rightmyer, 1980; Holt & Willard-Holt, 1995; Webb, et al., 1989; Ziv, 1981, 1990).  Getzels and Jackson (1962) found that creative, gifted students consider humor much more important than do their non-gifted peers.  Does this mean that gifted students are perceived as more humorous than their non-gifted peers?  The answer is, as with most things, a qualified yes.

The ability to understand and use humor in the manipulation of language clearly involves metalinguistic skill and is consistent with gifted children’s cognitive skills (Bernstein, 1986).  Mental flexibility includes the passive abilities to cope with change, see things more objectively, and the active abilities to think creatively, solve problems, and take risks (Morreall, 1991).  Gifted students seem to have the capacity for more mental flexibility than their peers do in the general population.  However, the ability to perceive, identify, comprehend, and respond to humor does not mean they can produce it.  In fact, this can be very challenging to a highly gifted student.  The attempt at producing humor can either ingratiate them with or alienate them from their peers.

Gifted children find quite often that their humor, as with many other interactions with peers, is not always understood or appreciated.  Why?  The question “do ya get it?” referring to the punch line of a joke illustrates the common knowledge that being able to understand is a prerequisite of enjoying humor as discussed above.  “Eschew Obfuscation” will not be humorous unless the meaning of each word is known.  A gifted child, taking for granted that peers know these words, would be very disappointed if the attempt at humor falls flat.  One reason gifted students tend to relate better to older children and adults is that their humor, as well as other interactions, are on more equal, and therefore less frustrating, grounds.  In dealing with this and other frustrations, gifted students may resort to the negative use of humor (Holt & Willard-Holt, 1995).  

Humor is a natural defense mechanism against the deleterious effects of stress.  We cannot, and should not, shelter students from stress and upset, but we can, and should, provide them with training in the ways to cope with that stress and upset.  The use of positive humor can be taught (Holt, 1994).  Too often, though, the classroom itself becomes the source of stress for students.  Usually this occurs when the teacher is not having fun and the atmosphere of the classroom is one that allows for no humor, or if the humor that is employed is negative and hurtful, stress producing instead of stress relieving.  Some people seem to send the message loudly and clearly “Don’t laugh!  You’ll interrupt my depression.”

Positive humor in the classroom does not mean learning is not taking place.  Learning involves the complete self, including emotions.  There is nothing that indicates that our emotion and the ability to learn is separate one from the other; actually, research has shown quite the contrary (Caine & Caine, 1991).  As an example, it is well established that the creative process is enhanced when the barriers of self-censorship are broken down with laughter.  Laughter, humor, and the ability to perceive from different perspectives allow us to bring together thoughts that we normally keep separate due to preconceived barriers of "right" and "wrong", or "silly" and "nonsense."  In order to learn, not just react, we must feel secure in our environment.  In order to laugh with genuine feelings of joy, not in reaction to anxiety, we also need the feeling of security.  It would seem, then, that we could combine the two and enhance our learning environments by creating an atmosphere of joy...the joy of learning.

Negative Aspects of Humor

A source of complexity and confusion that has led to disagreements among theorists is the variety of functions that humor appears to serve.  There is disagreement concerning whether humor is fundamentally positive and constructive or negative and destructive.  Humor may be seen to reflect the ugly, aggressive aspects of human nature, or it may be associated with the sublime, joyful, and innocent.  Various theorists have differed in the way in which they view humor and either point out that it is a “ handed down from the gods or a scourge delivered up from the devils” (Keith-Spiegel, 1972, p.25).

Inappropriate laughter or humor is, of course, not healthy.  Laughter that stems from ridicule does not make us feel better about another or ourselves.  Ridicule is one of society’s methods of preserving the status quo.  Stereotypical jokes, which put down groups of people, have three purposes.  The first purpose is to support prejudices by drawing others into agreement through laughter.  It would then follow that the second purpose is to make the joke teller feel good; if he/she is the instigator of the laughter, then he/she feels good about him/herself in spite of the joke’s hateful message.  The third purpose is to reinforce the stereotype so that there is no threat to the status quo.

When we try to let go of our stress through laughter obtained by ridiculing and gossiping, and there is a connection between ridicule and gossip, we know we may ourselves end up as targets of ridicule and gossip.  The old saying, “What goes ‘round, comes ‘round” has a ring of truth.  By doing this, we are causing even more stress within ourselves than was coming from the outside world.  We are creating a non-trusting, emotionally unsafe environment.  If that environment is our work place (classroom) then we are faced with a hostile environment during about a third of our lives and that will spill over into the other two-thirds rapidly.

Laughing at ourselves is very important, as long as we do not ridicule ourselves in the process.  Laughing at our own group often serves as a way of keeping the group separate and cohesive in order to protect itself.  Very often we put down our own groups in the same way other groups put us down, thus perpetuating the racism, sexism, or whateverism that is coming from the outside.  This undermines our group (or personal) self-image so that we cling to each other in fear.  People often joke about their weight, height, or age in a very put-down sort of way, thus keeping control and diffusing any real or imagined tension with laughter.  However, it is possible to laugh at ourselves without self-deprecation or self put-down.  We can merely relate the facts of our experience or situation without any judgment or criticism.

Teasing is another way of attempting to control other people and situations.  Teasing is defined as using, without permission, inside information about how someone feels, in other words, emotional manipulation.  The key word here is permission.  Most teasing is done without permission.  When we tease someone, we expect him or her to be a good sport (laugh) when we are misusing inside information about them.  This is a form of emotional abuse.  Teasing plays with another person’s pain, attempting to get the teased person to react so the teaser can laugh.  If the person being teased objects and says, “you’re hurting my feelings,” that person will most likely be accused of being too sensitive.  The teaser will say, “I was only teasing!  Can’t you take a joke?”  This adds insult to injury.  Most of us have been teased as children, and consequently, we tease each other.  Very few of us have taken the time to think about what teasing does, where it comes from, or what it is.  I believe teasing revolves around issues of powerlessness, embarrassment, hostility, and anger.  Teasing is very confusing because it sends a mixed message.  When teased, we are uncertain whether the teaser is trying to make affectionate contact with us in some strange way, or whether the teaser is actually expressing hostility.  If we are angry with someone, we need to express it directly:  “I am very angry.”  If we feel affectionate toward someone, it is most effective to say, “I like you.”  However, to tease is to say neither and both.  This lack of clarity creates more tension and stress.  I would point out that no child gives an adult permission to tease them, especially a teacher in a classroom.

Another area I will mention in passing is tickling.  We cannot tickle ourselves.  Therefore, it has to do with an interaction between two or more persons, and it creates tension, which is then expected to be released in laughter.  Tickling between consenting peers is not hurtful and can be very enjoyable, but most frequently tickling occurs without permission between people of different physical sizes and/or strengths.  I would suggest you consider that tickling can be a very strong form of aggressive manipulation.  Usually, it is not intended to be violent, but it nonetheless invades our personal space and stimulates the lighter levels of fear and anger.

In addition, another area, which should be briefly mentioned, is the different perception of humor by males and females.  Typically, males will razz, tease, and use mock hostile attacks to try to express humor.  The competitiveness, the aggression is being dealt with in what males consider a playful manner.  Between males this is, for the most part, understood and accepted (remember the discussion above though).  The problems occur when males try the same type of humor with females, because the females will usually take what the males are saying as genuine.  The other side is that females have a tendency to use self-mocking types of humor and, of course, the males believe the females are serious.  Wham!  Instant miscommunication.

Humor and laughter can represent a powerful social corrective force that can be used to humiliate and correct those who do not conform to social expectations.  It is also interwoven, in a complex manner, with all relationships.  To deny the negative aspect of humor is unrealistic, but the belief that humor is exclusively a negative part of the human experience is a denial of that which adds joys to life itself. 

We are not born with a sense of humor, but we are born laughers.  Laughter changes our attitudes and our perspective, and from that, we can develop a sense of humor, or a way of viewing the world playfully.  This allows our sense of humor to be inclusive of all people and not dependent on a specific joke or topic.  An inclusive sense of humor is WARM and connected, broad and universal.  It allows us to play with situations that are stressful instead of playing with others’ pain to create laughter (Goodheart, 1994).  Therefore, we as parents and teachers, can have an enormous influence on the development of the sense of humor in the children in our lives by modeling positive humor.

The Positive Perspective of Humor

Humor has been thought of as positive for probably as long as it has been considered negative.  Throughout history, various writers have stressed the beneficial effects of humor.  To possess a good sense of humor has been considered a sign of a healthy, well-integrated personality.  One of the earliest admonitions is found in the Bible, which states ”...a merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).  Kant wrote in Critique of Judgment (1790):

In the case of jokes, we feel the effect of this slackening in the body by the oscillation of the organs, which promotes the restoration of equilibrium and has a favorable influence upon health (p.96).

Herbert Spencer (1860) put forth the theory that laughter is a mechanism for releasing excess tension and therefore an important restorative mechanism.  Sully (1902) argued that laughter is good exercise and reduces unpleasant tension and promotes digestion.  Others, such as Armstrong (1921), Bliss (1915), Eastman (1921, 1936), McComas (1923), and Mindess (1971), contended that humor is one of humankind’s most noble attributes and reflects an expression of tolerance, acceptance, and sympathy toward other people.  They view humor as a liberating force that frees individuals from the often-stifling constraints of social convention and environmental pressures.  Mindess (1977) stated that:

" humor a central place in our repertoire of self-perceptions...we may exert a greater effect on the course and outcomes of our struggles than any one has yet envisualized." (p.3).

Torrance (1977) asserted that, “Without humor life would probably be unbearable to most people” (p.52).  Humor affects all parts of life and is not limited to either the negative or the positive.  We have all laughed at someone and with someone, and know the distinction.  

Three Myths about Laughter

Myth #1:  A sense of humor and laughter are the same.

A sense of humor is learned, but laughter is innate.  A sense of humor is an intellectual process, whereas laughter spontaneously engages every major system of the body.  In the natural human process of healing and changing, we “move” our emotions.  First, we become aware of our painful emotions; then we release the associated tension through the appropriate form of catharsis (such as laughter or crying).  We then automatically rethink the situation.  Catharsis results in clearer thinking, which in turn enables us to take sensible, more appropriate action.  If this natural process is not allowed, we become increasingly rigid and reactive, repeating behaviors that are increasingly unsuccessful.  We know that positive humor can be taught in the classroom (Holt, 1993, 1996) and can exist in the work place (Lane, 1993).  We also know that the benefits can produce not only emotional well being, but also better physical health.

Myth #2:  You need a reason to laugh.

Many of us unconsciously censor our laughter because at some level we think our reason for laughing is not good enough.  It is important to note here that reality is that laughter is unreasonable, illogical, and irrational.  We do not need a reason to laugh. When we see a six-month-old baby laughing, we do not demand, “What’s so funny?” but rather delight in the response and often join in the laughter.  We can also do this with adults.  If you wish to stop someone from laughing simply ask them why they are laughing.  When we begin to think, instead of respond, we stop laughing. This is very important to remember when we are in situations where laughter is inappropriate...say when you are pulled over by a police officer or a teacher.

Myth #3:  We laugh because we are happy.

Beverly Sills has been quoted as saying “I’m a cheerful woman, not a happy one--A happy woman has no cares--a cheerful one has cares, but has learned to laugh about them.”  The reality is we are happy because we laugh.  Those of us who have laughed until we have cried know that in the middle of the process, we cannot tell which is which.  We do not laugh because we are happy and cry because we are sad--we laugh or cry because we have tension, stress, or pain.  Laughter and tears re-balance the chemicals our body creates when these distressed states are present, and so we feel better after we have laughed or cried.  Many of us will not laugh because we believe that it indicates we are happy when we know we are not.  However, if we can override this self-imposed restriction when we feel stress, tension, or pain and just join in the laughter around us, we will find it is contagious and often we can experience the state we call happiness.  Many hearse drivers relate that they experience the family members of the deceased laughing on the drive to the cemetery.  We need to realize that these people are not laughing because they are happy, but because the laughter is releasing the emotions and allowing a physical re-balancing of the chemicals.

The Physical Effects of Humor and Laughter

When one is laughing, one’s attention is focused.  One cannot do anything else or think of anything else.  Everything else, whether it is depression or stress, stops (Leone, 1986, p 139).

A large body of evidence in the field of psycho-neuroimmunology is providing evidence that the impact of humor plays a significant role in maintaining good health, and in recovering from poor health.  Pessimism, a negative attitude, negative emotions, a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, and giving up play equally important roles in breaking down our health, and in blocking recovery from poor health.  Humor appreciation and physiological arousal are interrelated.  In a study conducted by Schachter and Wheeler (1962), groups of experimental subjects were divided into three sub-groups.  One sub-group was given an injection of the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline), the second sub-group an injection of plain saline, and the third sup-group an injection of a drug called chlorpromazine (a mild tranquilizer).  None of the subjects was informed as to which substance he/she had received, or whether it was any different from what any other subject had been given.  All subjects were shown a movie and subsequently were asked to rate the movie with respect to how funny it was.  The results were that those who received the epinephrine (stimulant) rated the movie as very humorous, those who were injected with the saline rated the movie as “okay”, and the group that received the chlorpromazine (tranquilizer) failed, as a group, to appreciate the humor in the film.  This study provided some of the first documented evidence that humor is not just psychological, but has a profound connection with the physiological states of the body.

Various research studies have validated the mind/body connection.  Children with Hemophilia have actually been known to bleed not only from physical injuries, but also from feelings of sadness (Klein, 1989).  Findings such as this, among many others, indicate that a positive attitude--which a sense of humor can provide--does have a physiological effect.  In studying the physical effects of laughter, William Fry, M.D. indicated that research has shown that mirthful laughter affects most, if not all, of the major physiological systems of the human body.  The cardiovascular system, for example, is exercised as the heart rate and blood pressure rise and fall in laughter.  The heavy breathing creates a vigorous air exchange in the lungs and provides a healthy workout for the respiratory system.  The muscles release tension as they go through the isometric exercises of tightening and relaxing during laughter.  In addition, opiates may be released into the blood system, creating the same feelings that long-distance joggers experience as a “runner’s high”.  Dr. Fry states that twenty seconds of laughter is similar in benefits obtained to an aerobic workout of three minutes of hard rowing (Fry & Salameh, 1986).  

Until recently, it was thought that the brain and the immune system were separate and unrelated systems.  Then research began providing evidence that the brain and immune system do communicate by means of direct neural connections between the brain and those organs which are central to the production of immune cells (bone marrow, thymus gland, lymph nodes, and spleen).  Individual immune cells have receptors capable of receiving chemical messages sent out by the brain.  The brain “talks” to the immune system by means of different chemical signals (McGhee, 1991).

Research also indicates that laughter may even increase the production of many types of T cells, which are important in the immune system of the body (Berk, 1991).  Berk (1989) reports that since laughter increases the activity of natural “killer cells” we may be helping place our bodies in a better position to fight off any new virus or bacterium, and defend against the proliferation of cancer cells by finding more humor in our lives.  Humor has been linked to the increased production of antibodies (immunoglobulin).  Immunoglobulin A (IgA), found in the mucous secretions, plays an important role in protecting the body against upper respiratory infections  (e.g., the flu and colds).  Research has shown that the IgA level can be increased by viewing a one-hour comedy program (Berk, 1991, Dillon et al., 1985; Lefcourt et al., 1990).  Dillon and Totten (1989) provided evidence that pregnant women who used humor to help cope with daily stress not only had fewer cases of upper respiratory infections due to higher levels of IgA, but their newborn infants were also less likely to have upper respiratory infections than the newborns of mothers who rarely used humor to cope.  Laughter has been shown to increase levels of IgG and IgM, as well (Berk, 1991).   

We know that negative moods weaken the immune system (Kemeny, 1984), while positive moods strengthen it due to the increased production of IgA (Stone, 1987).  In addition, Berk (1989) has shown that watching a one-hour comedy has led to reduced levels of four neuroendocrine hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, dopac and, growth hormone) associated with the classical stress response.  Regular laughter helps prevent the build-up of stress hormones in the blood.  It should be mentioned that these stress hormones weaken the immune system (Borysenko, 1982).  Evidence is building that a sense of humor serves as a type of protective buffer against the immunosuppressive effects of stress.  Therefore, it can be stated that humor is, at least in part, responsible for maintaining a healthy body by building the immune system and helping to guard against physical problems associated with stress.

Everyday stress which adds up to create intolerable situations (Paydel, 1978) can be effectively coped with by positive humor.  If positive humor can be seen as a way to cope with the loss of your keys, being late for a meeting, burning your meal, getting lost, or any of the other hundreds of small daily stressors, then it can be an effective, healthy coping mechanism.  Research indicated that gifted adolescents were very receptive to the use of humor and needed only to be given the opportunity and methods for the constructive use of positive humor to be able to make significant changes in handling the stress in their daily lives (Holt, 1994).  However, using positive humor to cope with stress is another article.

Positive humor definitely has a place in the classroom.  Children use a sense of humor to deal with the world.  Moderately gifted children use humor extensively (Ziv, 1984).  Several characteristics typical of gifted students can be effectively approached and dealt with by use of positive humor.  For example, gifted students are very concerned with issues of justice and fair play (Renzulli, Smith, White, Callahan, & Hartman, 1976).  Various social, moral, and ethical issues can be addressed and explored through humor, such as by discussing political cartoons.  Perfectionism is a common characteristic of gifted students (Renzulli, et al., 1976).  Humor can provide a safe window through which the student can observe, understand, and enjoy the human condition with all its imperfections, such as by viewing well-written situation comedies.  The ability to make connections and establish relationships among disparate data is typical of gifted children (Renzulli, et al., 1976).  Humor allows for, even encourages, an enhanced awareness of the world and its various juxtapositions.  Creativity, flexibility, and self-expression all describe gifted children (Renzulli, et al., 1976).  Writing and performing humorous mini-plays, songs, or short stories can help students explore serious situations through humor.  Humor provides an outlet for thoughts and feelings and also helps the child develop the ability to be organized in thought and concise in expression.

The enhanced capacity of gifted students’ abstract reasoning, frequently combined with accelerated abilities to obtain and process information, enables them to absorb, process, and speculate on concepts not normally encountered until a much older age (Gross, 1989).  Hollingworth (1926) noted that while children of average ability are still involved with egocentric concerns, highly gifted children are becoming very aware of questions dealing with origin, destiny, and philosophical issues.  Gifted students need positive methods of dealing with the deep, and often depressing, issues of life they become aware of at very young ages.  Humor is natural and involved in almost every aspect of life.  It is a universal part of the human experience. Positive humor can be the “safety valve” which allows the experience of life to continue, yet keeping the stress of existence from growing to unbearable levels.  Besides all that…it feels good!   a a a a


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"Humor is by far the most significant activity of the human brain."  Edward De Bono, 1933-    (psychologist, writer, lecturer on skills of thinking).

"Humor [is] something that thrives between man's aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth." Victor Borge, 1909-     (pianist, humorist).  From London Times, January 3, 1984.





The Twentieth Century in Differential Education for the Gifted.  As one who has fought in the trenches of Differential Education for the Gifted since the early 1950s (Doctoral Dissertation: Principles of Education for Intellectually Superior Individuals, University of North Carolina, 1952), I have witnessed a number of significant changes in Perspective, Theoretic Orientation and Social Understanding of and about this important field of Research, Development and Dissem-ination.

And as I call to mind briefly at this sitting, my personal experience comprises a virtual catalogue of principle figures, selective regrettably but of necessity, in this inordinately important field of social and educational thought. I appreciate and admire all of them; most in the past half century, I have been privileged to know in person, to my own decided advantage. Instances in point, with apologies that other deserving individuals could not be included as well: (1) George Betts, Colorado: Autonomous Thinking; (2) W. Ragan Callaway: Alaska: Infant Reading; Nature-Nurture Contro-versy; (3) Barbara Clark, California: Integrative Education, Jungian Thought; (4) James Gallagher, North Carolina: Giftedness in the Special Education Tradition of Samuel Kirk, Illinois; (5) Howard Gardner, Harvard University: Theory of Multiple Intelligences; (6) Bruce Shore, McGill University, Montreal, Canada: Past-President, Canadian Association for the Gifted; Head, Research Group, and Publication, Recommended Practices in Gifted Education: A Critical Analysis (1991); and (7) Abraham Tannenbaum (with deceased A. Harry Passow), Teachers College, Columbia University: Author of Gifted Children,1983. Continuing work under the aura of Leta S. Hollingworth including the original “Enrichment Matrix for Programs,” “ A Bill of Rights for the Gifted,” etc.

Establishing the Foundations.  These few -- among a decidedly small number of other productive individuals -- have made positive, and constructive contributions to the “extraordinary education of positively extraordinary persons.” Their work has been substantially along the lines of those around the turn of this Century through which the field was originated, i.e., (a) The Genetic Studies of Genius --launched in the early decades of the Century by Lewis Madison Terman of Stanford University (scientist); and those of (b) Leta Stetter Hollingworth, Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Speyer School (public) of New York City.

Others -- by far the majority, I fear -- have been dangerously unaware of the significance of theoretical foundations, and even hostile toward the thought, a condition forewarned against since the earliest days of the Twentieth Century by eminent scholars, including both the American Philosopher, John Dewey (Democracy and Education, 1916), and the Britisher, Alfred North Whitehead (Aims of Education, 1928). They say variously, and each in his own way: Theory is eminently the most Practical of all things in Education.

Disintegration. Included among these counterproductive forces are certain doctrinaire ideologues whose superficial work, however earnest and however popular and numerous their following, must indeed -- and this with compelling argument and evidence -- be labeled as subversive in impact and have dangerous consequences! Among these disintegrative contemporary forces, several front runners in a field so numerous as virtually to defy all but illustrative mention, come readily to mind, thus: (1) A substantial host of insubstantial conference papers and non-refereed publications in fly-by-night, and sometimes privately owned or organizationally controlled, printing presses; (2) The somewhat massive bodies of new terminology spawned forth impulsively over a quarter-of-a-century, by Sidney J. Parnes in the Creative Education Foundation begun in 1953 by Alex Osbom; and his several cut-from-the-same “brainstorming”-cloth. Associates Donald Treffinger and others, under the banner of Creative Problem Solving -- as if significant problems could be solved save by any other than a creative process; (3) The Curriculum Enrichment movement emanating originally at the determined hand of Joseph S. Renzulli at the University of Connecticut, through his internationally-famed “Confratutes,” and “Teaching the Talented” programs held each summer for the past twenty-seven years or thereabouts, for his “family” of students (undergraduate, graduate and special).  This movement may well be the most widespread and influential of all the contemporary initiatives in the “gifted and talented education” field (Javits grants and Naeg foundation funding support); and finally (4) The expedient and locally popular activities along the Renzulli lines, of the current gifted program at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia -- working initially from the advantageous base of the theoretic work of Virgil Ward -- who developed the program, “Differential Education for the Gifted at the University of Virginia,” and brought it single-handedly into national prominence for 18 years (1956-72).

An earlier summary depiction of thought, cast in a positive vein over and beyond this disintegrative and degenerative, de facto condition, is found in a brief  research paper under the Co-authorship of Virgil Ward and Maurice Fisher, entitled: Manifesto 1994: Differential Education for the Gifted. The second paragraph of this brief but pointed essay reads as follows:

“We hold the belief that positively extraordinary education for positively exceptional individuals (children, youth and adults), which we conceive as Differential Education for the Gifted (DEG), is intellectually defensible, socially advantageous and professionally obligatory within the precepts of a democratic form of government. Yet we are led by understanding and reason to the observation that in the current state of affairs, gifted persons across the Nation, save in scattered islands of excellence, suffer egregiously from neglect, indifference, disbelief and even hostility in the American school.  This situation occurs elsewhere in the contemporary world where democratic precepts and practices have not as yet  taken  suffi- cient hold in communities and in educational institutions.”

The Road Back and a Cautiously Optimistic Note. Some years back (1980), I constructed a heuristic (explanatory) paradigm entitled: The Philosophic Analysis of Differential Education for the Gifted in which Five Problems of DEG were specified: (1) Policy, (2) Child/Student, (3) Curriculum, (4) Educator, and (5) Program, and set forth in a horizontal column. These problem areas were paired laterally with three Philosophic Modalities, i.e., (the) A. Axiological (value), B. the Logical, and C. Epistemological, with selected concepts in each of the resulting 15 “cells” being recognized problems and issues from the entirety of those identifiable from the literature at hand - thus:

Problems of DEG

A. Axiological

B. Logical

C. Epistemo-logical

1. Policy

Obligation and Initiative  



2. Child/Student 


Definition and Topology 


3. Curriculum

General and Differential Objective  

Definition and Topology 

 Process and Design

4. Educator 


Teacher in Person and Role


5. Program

Scope and Resource Allocation 



Now it is with this heuristic matrix, my most promising way of resolving deconstructive, couterproductive ideologies, and restoring intergrity (wholeness) to this (again) inordinately significant social and educational field of inquiry and observation. Once again may the concept and practice of “extraordinary education for positively exceptional persons” stand as it did on the tall shoulders of the pioneers who estab- lished it during the early years of this century.

Even with cautious optimism, who can be certain that things will once again be as they should be? Indeed, as the Romans would have it: Quo Vadis?  And this, of course, can but remain to be seen!




There is a need to recruit leaders from the ranks of the gifted, since the concept of leadership is not purely a matter of politics.  It includes intellectual leadership as well as the clever manipulation of and appeal to voters. All great leaders of the United States (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt) had the capacity for both intellectual and political leadership, and the ability to attract individuals with intelligence and insight to advise them. Recently, there have been two events that demand intellectual as well as political leadership.  These events are the NATO involvement in Yugoslavia and the catastrophic violence in Littleton, Colorado. I discovered two works of fiction that can help gifted students and their teachers understand these problems.

The first is Montenegro (Berkley Publishing Group, 1998) by Starling Lawrence, Editor-In-Chief at W.W. Norton & Co., who wrote this book as a result of his participation in the famous writers’ retreat, Yaddo, in Saratoga, New York.  It is about a British confidential (secret) agent who is sent to the Balkan region currently involved in warfare.  The time is 1908 and the British agent, who is disguised as a botanist, is trying to detect military installations constructed by the Austrians.  The conditions that he discovers eventually cause World War I.  Ironically, although the time and place are ninety years ago, the attitudes and ethnic conflicts are the same as today. This novel emphasizes Serbian culture -- the author describes the mentality of the Serbs, which is that of religious nationalism, and they perceive their history as one of religious martyrdom. These feelings were intensified by their tragic experience in World War II when the Serbs not only fought the Nazis but their Croatian and Muslim collaborators in a brutal struggle.  The Serbs are Slavs and members of the Eastern Orthodox Christian religion.  They perceive their suffering and the massacres of World War II as part of a historical drama going back six centuries.  In 1380 the Ottoman Turks defeated the Serbs in a bloody battle in Kosovo where their national shrine, the Church of Saint Slava, is located. Therefore, for the Serbs, what they are now doing is not ethnic cleansing but a religious act linked to their national history and consciousness. This is not written to defend the recent acts of the Serbs but to understand the roots of the conflict and the Serbian national psyche.  By having this comprehension of the historical background for the conflict, one can become more aware of how to deal with the Serbs’ response to the NATO bombing campaign. The reason that bombing will not demoralize them is because it only reinforces their sense of religious martyrdom.  It is noteworthy that the Serbs, despite their genocidal behavior toward the Kosovar Albanians, perceive themselves as victims and constantly use anti-Nazi slogans. Lawrence’s novel indicates why historical fiction can help the gifted to understand current world events.

The second story is a novella by Stephen King, Apt Pupil (from Different Seasons, Signet, 1983), which gives insight into the subcultures that fester inside many teenagers. It is about how a gifted student becomes enthralled with the Holocaust, and eventually becomes a disciple of the poison that caused that tragic event. This poison is not just racial hatred but a fascination with evil. The student discovers that one of his neighbors was a Nazi war criminal. He forces this individual to share the secrets involving the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust. The Nazi war criminal then becomes a tutor of hate and evil. When this evil tutor has a heart attack, his fellow patient in the intensive care unit (a Jewish victim of his brutality) notifies an Israeli war crimes unit that comes to arrest the war criminal. The book ends with the sad understanding that this young man has become part of the next generation of Nazis.  In the recent Colorado shooting, one of the culprits was an admirer of Hitler, although he would have been a victim of the Holocaust because of his mother’s ethnicity. Stephen King wrote this novella almost sixteen years ago. He understood that evil can be seductive. King’s story can help gifted students understand the cultural dynamics that produced the bloody violence in Colorado.   “. . .that somebody had really done those things, that somebody had let them do those things, and his head began to ache with a mixture of revulsion and excitement. . . .”  Stephen King, Apt Pupil, p. 120.