Book Review – Dumbing Down America

dumbingdowncoverDumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds

James R. Delisle, Ph.D.
Prufrock Press Inc.
available in paperback, 222 pp., PDF, bundled, or digital formats
ISBN-13: 978-1-61821-166-8

Publisher’s Summary:
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.

Reviewed by Elaine S. Wiener

click here for the PDF version of this article

I can’t even start this review without telling you that I am biased. Every time I pick up a Delisle book, I laugh so much that I have to read the book twice—once to laugh at his subtle one liners and once to get the deepest meanings, including the jokes. It is, indeed, a fine talent to be able to be funny and intellectually deep at the same time.

There are many people who care about gifted and focus their professional lives on these precious children. However, while Dr. Delisle researches, he also brings back people from the past and tells all of us about their lives and what they did for Gifted Education. One of my pet peeves is that the world does not keep track of the past and does not give credit to those who contributed so much so I greatly appreciate that James R. Delisle does.

He starts out with a 1975 quote by James Gallagher :

Failure to help the gifted child reach his potential is a societal tragedy, the extent of which is difficult to measure but which is surely great. How can we measure the sonata unwritten, the curative drug undiscovered, the absence of political insight? They are the difference between what we are and what we could be as a society.

Dr. Delisle continues:

The word ‘crisis’ is often overused in our society, as if having a bad hair day is equal in importance to Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb.

He states that:

there has never been—and there is still not—a confluence of evidence or opinion that serving gifted children actually matters.

He also quotes people from the past who were so very important to Gifted Education:

Is it no wonder, then, that John C. Gowan, a psychologist who specialized in serving gifted children in the mid-20th century, once remarked that the education of gifted children in America is ‘a passionless issue in a society geared to emergencies’?

Regardless of how long you have been in Gifted Education, you will enjoy the collection of famous names and what they said.

If you are new, you will savor the history because you will want to know who came before. If you are old hat to our field, you will enjoy seeing the collection of names you know and will be happy to see them housed with respect and admiration in “Dumbing Down America.”

Dr. Delisle reminds us of Leta Hollingworth. (He titles that section “And then There was Leta.”) He reminds us of the Marland Report which probably started it all. He reminds old timers and introduces new-comers to all history, all beliefs, and all philosophies in gifted Ed. This book should be required reading in all gifted programs and to all who want to know more about gifted students. The Table of Contents tips us off to the main ideas:

  • Preface:     Three Reasons to Care
  • Chapter 1: In the Beginning
  • Chapter 2: The Upsides
  • Chapter 3: The Battle of Equity Over Excellence
  • Chapter 4: Is Giftedness Something You Do
  • Or Someone You Are?
  • Chapter 5: Instructional Panaceas That Aren’t
  • Chapter 6: Legislative Panaceas That Aren’t
  • Chapter 7: What Next?
  • Chapter 8: The Big Picture: Fitting Gifted Child Education
  • Into the Broader Educational Landscape
  •  That’s All, Folks
  • References
  • About the Author
  • Index

Dr. Delisle has been around a long time. All kinds of VIP’s admire him. I have respect bordering on love for his knowledge and great humor. But he is so open that he feels free to name names when he dislikes someone’s philosophy. Even if I agreed with him, I would not have the audacity to be so blunt with my opinions. After all, other people have the right to their opinions, too. But then that must also include Dr. Delisle.

ElaineElaine S. Wiener is Associate Editor for Book Reviews for the Gifted Education Communicator.

She is retired from the Garden Grove Unified School District GATE program and can be reached at

Click to return to the GEC Fall 2014 Table of Contents