Thomas Sowell

Bright children and their parents have lost a much-needed friend with the recent death of Professor Julian Stanley of Johns Hopkins University. For decades he not only researched and ran programs for intellectually gifted students, he became their leading advocate in books and articles.

 His efforts were very much needed. Unusually bright children are too often treated like stepchildren by the American educational system.

 While all sorts of special classes and special schools are created for various categories of students, there is resistance and even hostility to the idea of creating special classes or schools for intellectually gifted students.

 Not only are such elite public schools as New York's Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science rare, they are under political pressure to admit students on other bases besides pure academic achievement. So is San Francisco's Lowell High School, where ethnic "balance" affects admissions decisions.

 While it is well known that the average American student does poorly on international tests, what is not so well known is that gifted American students lag particularly far behind their foreign counterparts.

 Professor Julian Stanley pointed out that the performance level of gifted American students "is well below both the level of their own potential and the achievement levels of previous U.S. generations." In other words, our brightest kids have been going downhill even faster than our average kids.

 Part of the reason is undoubtedly the general dumbing down of American education since the 1960s but what has also been happening since the 1960s has been a preoccupation with the "self-esteem" of mediocre students and a general hostility to anything that might be construed as intellectual elitism.

 Even classes in so-called "gifted and talented" programs are too often just more of the same level of work as other students do, or trendy projects, but not work at a greater intellectual depth.

 Sometimes, as Professor Stanley has pointed out, it is just busy work, in order to keep bright students from being bored and restless when classes are being taught at a pace far too slow for very intelligent youngsters.

 It is not at all uncommon for the brightest students to become problem students in their boredom and frustration, to develop negative attitudes towards education and society -- and to fail to develop their inborn talents. 

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate