Wednesday, September 11, 2013

World Peace through Massive Retaliation: Educating the Gifted and Talented in Cleveland, Ohio

We met on Saturday mornings from September through May in the headquarters of the Board of Education. Each science class was allowed to send two pupils. Most did not; but other classes sent six or eight. We were crammed for space with people standing for two-and-a-half hours for the first meeting.  Six weeks later, our numbers were thinned by attrition.  

College professors and working scientists came to us to lecture. We learned about sickle cell anemia. We saw an air-powered pistol for mass inoculations.  Ohio Bell brought in a laser.  Sometimes, we went to them. We visited the Sohio Satellite Tracking Station.  Why Standard Oil of Ohio tracked satellites was not clear, but it was cool.  We observed an operation on a dog at the Cleveland Clinic. We went to Union Carbide and saw a battery that was powered by sea water to be used on lifeboats. In 1966, James Bond and Get Smart were in full swing and three of the boys in our group attacked every lock with their homemade picks.  They called their club WPMR: World Peace through Massive Retaliation.  We had no idea what they meant, but it sounded really neat. And it was a triumvirate: they never let anyone else join. They socialized with the other kids in talented and gifted programs - and were even wider in their affiliations, the Kiwanis Key Club, for instance - but they kept WPMR to themselves. 

Like many others in the Saturday Science Workshop they were in “Major Work” a Cleveland Public Schools initiative to segregate and nurture the gifted.  My brother qualified; I did not.  I went to summer school classes to catch up and qualify for Advanced Placement programs.  

Cleveland Public Schools established its first program for "super normals" in 1922.  The  Cleveland major work program was established in 1929 for children whose Probable Learning Rate was 125 or higher. (I was in the X-group, P. L. R. 105-124.) In addition, the school board measured nutrition, health, sleep, and peer-approval. Major work kids were pre-selected to be leaders in their generation. In fact, one hurdle my brother had to jump was the presence of a heart murmur. As it did not prevent him from gym class, they accepted him. In addition to the studies of Lewis Terman at Stanford to identify and track cohorts of children with high IQs, the program was influenced by eugenics theories.

That was fine for the 1920s, but through the next 30 years, Major Work took major criticisms from democratic elements in progressive education. Then, the USSR launched Sputnik.  America was in a blind panic. But Cleveland was prepared.
“Obviously a superior pupil in a class with average pupils leads the class and attains success easily. There is no challenge. When he is pitted against like or higher achievement of other superior pupils, he learns to place  accomplishment ahead of excelling over his associates. 
“The desire to bluff his way is lessened and there is an incentive to work because of the competition offered by his classmates. The purpose is not to segregate the mentally superior pupil nor to keep him from those with whom he may ultimately lead. This plan is only a means to an end. It appears to be a more effective way of fitting the gifted child to become a positive factor. In the main, children of high intelligence need less drill, have a wide diversity of interests, and an innate ability to grasp what they are doing. The hope is to give them many rich experiences, a thorough knowledge of tool subjects, and the ability to use their leisure time wisely. The organization of the junior high school lends itself to these factors. These pupils are usually superior in ways other than mental. 
“They are healthy, have more energy, and live well, with some trace of culture, if not in the present environment at least in the background. They do not necessarily come from well-to-do homes. Is this plan democratic? It is more democratic to group than to allow heterogeneous grouping or no grouping at all. Equality of opportunity, which alone gives the bright pupils the chance, is what we offer them, not identical opportunity.” (Lanphear, 1937)
A thousand years later, I was dating a girl who was obviously whole head taller than me. When I asked her about it, she said that in South Bend, she had been selected for their “Cleveland Program.”

In fact, the Cleveland program met resistance in Cleveland because “progressive” education had two different, competing philosophies.  Opposed to the elitism were other progressives who wanted a democratic classroom where given their skills, the brighter kids would become local leaders, “like Councilman Belinski,” said the principal who tried to keep my brother out of major work. To find out anything about John T. Belinski, you really need to look for the early career of Dennis Kucinich.

Major Work continues in Cleveland today.  No doubt it is X-men, Avengers, and the Justice Society of America who continue their pursuit of the unexpected and uncalled for. 

  • “What Cleveland Is Doing for Superior Pupils,” by Prudence T. Lanphear. The English Journal, Vol. 26, No. 9 (Nov., 1937), pp. 723-728
  •  “The Cleveland Experiment in the Development of Health, Character, and School Citizenship,” by William L. Connor, Gertrude C. Hawkins, Katherine A. McCarty. The Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Sep., 1938), pp. 23-34
  •  Sixty Years of Programming for the Gifted in Cleveland,” by Suzanne Gold. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 65, No. 7 (Mar., 1984), pp. 497-499.
  • “Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child,” by Stephanie S. Tolan.
  • “The Vanishing Genius: Lewis Terman and the Stanford Study,” Gretchen Kreuter. History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1962), pp. 6-18  


1 comment:

  1. I was in a special group at Memorial School, in North Collinwood, in the 40's. When I got to high school it was obvious the smarter kids were in a different homeroom, we had 4 intelligence based homerooms.