Parenting book reviews
Monday, December 20, 2004
Gifted students deserve special attention, too
Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds, by Jan and Bob Davidson with Laura Vanderkam, Simon and Schuster, 2004, $24.
This book is so captivating that I had convinced several friends to read it before I’d even finished the first chapter. The general consensus was that it’s disheartening, yet inspiring.
Disheartening because Genius Denied reminds readers that while No Child Left Behind policies may help bring low-performing students up to par, they do nothing for students who already exceed minimal standards. It’s disheartening because although schools are required (rightly so) to assess and plan interventions for students with special needs, they are not required to accommodate students who perform far above their classmates.
Indeed, in 2003, Illinois stopped funding gifted education. Note to Gov. Rod Blagojevich: Roughly 165,000 Illinois students are being left behind not because they fall through the cracks, but because they hit the ceiling.
Genius Denied is disheartening because it says the federal education budget allots the equivalent of only 2 cents out of every $100 for gifted education. The book includes many examples—from lack of teacher training, to a rigid age-based grouping system, to funding—that demonstrate how the education system fails our brightest young minds.
It’s disheartening because the Davidsons describe gifted children as one of the most at-risk students groups in America. These under-challenged students are at risk of depression and dropping out of school. They lack social acceptance and may be misdiagnosed as having attention deficit disorder because of their boredom in the classroom. The authors note that we all lose when our brightest minds are not challenged.
Ultimately, though, Genius Denied is inspiring because it presents compelling arguments about the importance of nurturing our “exceptionally gifted” youth. The authors, creators of the ReadingBlaster and MathBlaster software series, sold their business to start a nonprofit organization that provides a range of programs—many free—to support profoundly intelligent young people.
Amid the grim statistics, the Davidsons share success stories, budget-friendly solutions and referrals to their chock-full-of-resources Web site, www.geniusdenied.com. They conclude with practical advice for parents, students, teachers and legislators.
Finally, Genius Denied is inspiring because it empowers parents to advocate assertively and unapologetically for the special services their gifted child not only deserves, but also truly needs. Kim Moldofsky
This book covers all the bases for kid coaches
Collective Coaching Wisdom for Youth Baseball: Ideas and Inspiration from America’s Community Coaches to You, by David A. Ham and Janice B. Sibley, CRM Publishers, 2004, $19.95.
The authors spell it out for you at the beginning: “This book is different.” How so? It appears to be another of the myriad books instructing youth coaches how to turn an average athlete into a blue-chipper overnight.
What David Ham and Janice Sibley have done differently is that they have culled instructional advice and information on youth baseball from some of the most revered youth coaches in the country and presented it in an easily readable format.
The effort works, for the writing is loose, the topics interesting and the information abundantly resourceful. Not to mention this book teaches parents and coaches the purpose of participating in sports at a young age, and it doesn’t sound like a warm-and-fuzzy cliché. This book is all about fresh ideas for the right reason: having fun.
It’s not easy parenting kids, let alone coaching them. The authors profile youth coaches they deem “extraordinary,” when in actuality they are normal men and women who have dedicated themselves to making youth baseball enjoyable. The extraordinary description is reserved more for the unique instructional drills each “home-town hero” coach provides.
The beginning of the book is a bit practical, focusing on tips and advice for new coaches, but the chapter that relays advice from the experts is essential reading for any rookie skipper. Who would have thought smashing a water-balloon could instill confidence in a young hitter? And what exactly do the words ready-alligator-crowhop have to do with baseball?
The drills are creative, and the authors provide a rating system of effectiveness for each submission—the water balloon hitting drill lacks in actual fundamental progression but the fun rating is excellent. There’s also a suggested age range for each drill.
If it’s original experiences you’re looking for, the authors don’t disappoint. The last chapter offers brief, and hilarious, stories from the coaches themselves. One coach writes about a memorable moment when he instructed his players on everything but how to cover second base when a runner is on first.
“So, they all stood there watching that beautiful throw hit the base and bounce right away!”
The lesson? Get this book so you can remember to cover all the details. Brad Spencer
The commercialization of kids is part of our culture
Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, by Juliet B. Schor, Scribner, 2004, $25. Do you believe Americans are destined to live in a consumerist society? That advertising to kids is a necessary evil? That children are more sophisticated today and instinctively know when someone’s trying to sell them something? If so, you may be what author Juliet B. Schor describes as one of the many who is in “collective denial about the nature and consequences of children’s consumer culture.”
In her wake-up-call of a book, this economist, consumer culture expert and mother of two carefully outlines how our consumer culture is damaging the well-being of our kids.
Combining television, video games, computers, music, radio and print, the average child spends more than 38 hours per week engaged in media. According to Schor, today’s kids have an “ethic of labels and logos” and spend more time shopping each week than reading, playing or talking to their families. Reports estimate that the purchasing power of kids has soared to $30 billion and they influence $670 billion worth of parental purchases. How can marketers resist the gold mine of youth? They can’t and they aren’t.
Schor believes that marketers are employing wicked ways to capture market share. By circumventing mom, advertisers appeal directly to kids to give them the empowerment they crave.
Schor contends that by using ambitious yet deceptive practices such as peer-to-peer and school marketing techniques to gain trust, marketers are disguising ads and capitalizing on kids’ quest to be cool. Advertising has infiltrated children’s everyday lives more than ever and “far faster than most adults are aware,” warns Schor.
Is advertising harmful? Schor conducts her own survey to prove that it is. Her results find that overexposure to an advertising-saturated culture makes kids materialistic, fat and sick, causing “dysfunction in the forms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and psychosomatic complaints.”
If you are interested in an academic evaluation of how today’s culture may be affecting your children, read Schor’s perspective. Beyond turning off the television, Schor offers creative ideas to decommercialize our homes and our society in order to recapture old-fashioned values. Jill S. Browning