Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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****Raisin' Brains

Surviving My Smart Family

by Karen L. J. Isaacson

Reviewed October 26, 2004.
Great Potential Press, Scottsdale, Arizona, 2002.  184 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (814.6 ISA).
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #5, Humorous Nonfiction

Here’s a hilarious book, along the lines of Life Among the Savages, written by a woman surrounded by gifted relations—parents, siblings and five children.  In many cases, I wasn’t sure she hadn’t been spying on my family and telling about my kids or my siblings or perhaps my nieces and nephews.  For example, she talks about the difficulty her oldest son has getting anywhere with any speed, since there are so many interesting things to think about besides moving.  She warns parents of gifted kids to lock up medical reference books—advice that would have helped my sister with her son.

Between laughs, she gets in some good insights on giftedness and how best to parent bright kids, and especially on not taking yourselves too seriously.

In the preface she says, “Another reason I wrote this book was that I hoped to give the readers some insight as to what the term ‘gifted’ really means.  It’s an often-misunderstood term.  I mean, sure, technically it implies that a person displays exceptional potential in a given area.  But what does it mean in real, everyday life?  The short answer to that question is a sinister laugh, ‘Buwahahaha!’  The long answer is at least partially attempted in this book.”

I like another extended passage talking about giftedness, so I’ll quote it at length here:

“Are my kids more gifted and talented than the most gifted kids?  Well I happen to think so, but in reality, probably not.  They do learn things really quickly and remember them.  They do get really frustrated with classwork that is too slow.  And they do seem to be pretty creative in their ideas.  But this gifted thing doesn’t mean that they are better than other kids.  Nope.  They learn differently than some other kids, that’s all.  Some kids learn slowly, some learn quickly, some are in between.  And some kids have learning disabilities in some areas and are gifted in others.  There are all sorts of gifted kids, just like there are all sorts of kids, period. . . .

“The point is that all kids should be able to learn material that’s right for them and at the pace that’s right for them.

“I know to some people this might sound like Brave New World Revisited or H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, where you have a distinction of classes of humanity, or you have the results from having distinctions.  You sometimes hear these people say, ‘All children are gifted.’

“Here’s what I think.  I believe that everyone has gifts of exceptional personality traits of one kind or another.  I believe that all children should be given special care and attention.  But at least in the educational sense, all children are not ‘intellectually gifted’ any more than all children are ‘learning disabled.’  It’s a matter of semantics, I suppose.

“Just as it’s not fair to expect children with learning disabilities to learn the same way and at the same rate as others, it’s unfair to expect gifted children to do ten extra problems (just to keep busy), especially if they already know how to do this particular kind of problem in their sleep and don’t need more ‘practice’ with it. . . .

“Listen, if anyone is worried about people making the gifted and talented out to be a class of superior human beings, it’s because they haven’t spent time watching Stanley play basketball.  He does what he refers to as psychological fouls.  Believe me, you don’t want to know.  Rest assured, it’s enough to stop the game as everyone looks at him and tries to figure out if he needs immediate medical attention or if he’s just really weird.

“‘Gifted and Talented’ is merely the term being used these days because no one has come up with a better one that would be widely recognized as meaning the same thing—though Nerd Herd does come in a close second.

“If you think some parents get a little too proud about it, just think of them as football fans with a quarterback for a son.  It’s completely understandable.

“It’s also completely understandable if you prefer not to sit next to them during the game.

“Gifted kids require different approaches to learning in the classroom.  We’re talking about creative problem solvers.  They are good at thinking, but that doesn’t mean they do well or comprehend every subject the way that it’s traditionally taught.  They have to hone their skills like anyone else.”

Some wise words, worked into a book that made me laugh out loud.  Humor puts things in perspective, and this book gives a new way of looking at the challenge of appropriate education for gifted kids.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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