Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review: Dumbing Down America by James R. Delisle

ISBN: 1618211668
Published: August 5th, 2014
Publisher: Prufock Press
Read from June 15th to 18th, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
At a time when the U.S. education system consistently lags behind its international peers, Dumbing Down America shows exactly why America can't keep up by providing a critical look at the nation's schools through the eyes of the children whose minds are languishing in countless classrooms. Filled with specific examples of how gifted children are being shortchanged by a nation that believes smart kids will succeed on their own, Dumbing Down America packs a powerful message: If we want our nation to prosper, we must pay attention to its most intelligent youth. With more than 35 years of experience working with and for gifted children, author James R. Delisle provides a template of what can and must happen in America's schools if they are to fulfill their mission of educating every child to the fullest potential. Dumbing Down America is a must-read for any individual who believes that the unfulfilled promises to gifted children must begin to be met in America's schools today, not someday.


This book is a bit difficult to review because I had different feelings about different parts of it. I really don't want to turn this review into laying out all the different parts of the book and discussing how I feel about every single one of them.

What I'll say instead is that I think Delisle had some good points, and he also made some arguments that I didn't entirely agree with. The biggest thing that brought the book down for me is that I could easily see arguments against what he said at times, and I don't think there was enough information to really counteract those arguments. I would have liked if there was more there that would help his message feel stronger, but as it was, I had a hard time getting fully behind things he said. I didn't agree with some of it.

I also want to go ahead and throw it out there that I was an honor student in high school and did the AP classes and all of that. I guess I'd be considered a "gifted" child although I never heard that word used for really anyone in my personal experience during school, but I was in higher level classes. I'm also currently studying secondary education in college, so that viewpoint and what I've learned affected how I viewed this book as well.

The biggest thing for me I think is that Delisle seems to think that gifted children are being neglected even more than other children, but his concern is more for gifted children who also don't perform well in school. (Delisle seems to admit that gifted children who do perform well in school are going to do well despite anything else.) But the thing is, I agree that gifted children who aren't performing well need educators who will help them reach their potential, but I have trouble seeing how that is unrelated to helping any other low performing students reach their potential like Delisle seems so convinced that it is.

Delisle also reiterates over and over again that certain students are just smarter or more intelligent, so they're going to perform better (if given the right attention in school) than other students. I got the impression from the book that Delisle almost feels like educating these "smarter" kids is more important than educated all kids, and I have a problem with that point of view. It was never outright stated, but it was the impression I felt after reading the book.

The last thing that really bothered me is how little the potential classism or racism that goes into gifted programs was discussed. Delisle briefly mentions it, and he states that the programs themselves aren't the problem but that the educators may be less likely to notice these kids. He also states at one point that an American who were to take the equivalent of an IQ test in a different culture, wouldn't score well because of the differences in cultures.

The thing is, he mentions how IQ tests can be used to find gifted children over and over again with little acknowledgement of immigrant and ESL students for whom those IQ tests may not be effective. He even discusses some of the failings of standardized tests without really talking about how those problems can be exacerbated for ESL students. Even students from lower classes can struggle more with the tests if they were written with middle class students and their experiences in mind (which they often are). There was absolutely no comment about that at all.

I would have appreciated more discussion about why exactly gifted programs are often associated with racism and classism. Because there is a reason. It may not be the idea of the gifted program that's the problem, but there are clearly ways these programs are being affected that is a problem. It's a huge problem too, and I think addressing that would greatly help more people see Delisle's side. Because if those problems aren't addressed, then people are going to continue to have those feelings about gifted programs, and one comment that is nothing more than "that's not actually a problem" isn't going to convince them otherwise.

Overall, this wasn't a bad book. I do think it had some good points. It's just that I wasn't entirely convinced by the end of it, and there were some glaring problems to me. I'm not sure if I would bother recommending this to anyone.

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