Encouraging and preserving America's intellectual ability

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11273318322946.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Robert A. Hedeen’, ‘Throughout the United States today, we see declining test scores on basic subjects, and many fear a severe shortage of skilled professionals in many fields will beset us in the next generation or so.’);

The G.I. Bill of Rights after World War II and the Korean War did much to recognize and preserve the intellectual talent of the United States. Untold thousands of veterans, who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to advance their education, were able to attend colleges, universities, trade schools, and other educational facilities that enabled them to realize their inherent potential. Programs of the armed forces today offer plans by which the same thing may be accomplished, if the individual so desires.

But throughout the United States, we see declining test scores on basic subjects, and many fear a severe shortage of skilled professionals in many fields will beset us in the next generation or so. In fact, today we see foreign scientists and other professionals, mainly from Asia and Europe, filling positions in this country due to a lack of qualified Americans.

I firmly believe the problem can and must be alleviated by the early recognition of academically gifted students in our secondary schools. Recognition should be followed by the use of every resource available to encourage and enhance these valuable assets so they do not fall through the cracks.

One program, which for the past 25 years has done an outstanding job in this regard, is The Center for Talented Youth (CTY), operated by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. The primary objective of CTY is to identify, nurture and develop academic talent among pre-collegiate students. Three-week summer sessions are offered at colleges and universities throughout the United States. Only one course of study is undertaken. This intense immersion in a single subject has proven to be both challenging and stimulating for students of high ability and motivation.

Students stay on the college or university campus, live in dorms under the supervision of qualified resident advisers, and take their meals in the dining hall. The courses offered cover a range of liberal arts disciplines, including language, history, writing, and the arts as well as mathematics and the divisions of science including biology, chemistry, physics, and geology. Grades are not assigned, but instructors write detailed evaluations describing each student’s progress in the course and suggesting areas for future growth.

Over the years, the CTY has learned that the most productive classes are characterized by high expectation for student performance; low student-instructor ratios; faculties well versed in their field and excellent teachers, motivated students, and flexible instruction. The students are constantly drilled in the central elements of a liberal arts education, including clear and correct writing, collection and analysis of data, and critical thinking.

The instructors are a talented and eclectic group of individuals brought together by their commitment to the education of highly motivated and talented students. The faculty is recruited from public and private schools as well as colleges and universities. Each instructor is assigned a teaching assistant who is usually a graduate student studying for an advanced degree in the subject to which he is assigned to assist. The student body is diverse. In 2004, the students in the program came from 46 states and 34 different countries, and represented diverse academic and cultural backgrounds.

I personally can attest to the efficacy of the CTY program as during the period of 1985-1987, I taught a course in marine biology held at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. On a recent visit to Baltimore and CTY headquarters, I was delighted to learn the basic format for the program has not changed.

The following is a brief description of the Monday-Friday routine for my class of some 20 students whose average age was 15-16 years: 9 a.m. to noon, classroom lectures supplemented by a variety of teaching aids; 1 to 3 p.m., intensive laboratory studies; 3 to 5 p.m., organized sports activity and/or library research for individual projects; 7 to 9 p.m., mandatory study hall. An all-day field trip was planned for each Friday.

The enthusiasm of my students was very satisfying, and at the end of each summer session, I would return home to Maryland with the realization that with students like these the academic future of the United States, as we move into the 21st century, is ensured.

Anyone wishing more information about the CTY program may contact The Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960 to 1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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