Touched by an Angel

Gifted children are otherworldly, Linda Silverman says. The challenge is helping them thrive here on earth.

One student had a photographic memory. Another had built a HAM radio and used it to listen to the World Series while his teacher thought he was adjusting his hearing aid. A third started a classroom contest to see how many times students could get the unsuspecting teacher to say a certain word. As she sat among them, she rediscovered a part of herself that she'd sacrificed for popularity.

"It was just amazing," Silverman says. "They were really fun. Before I was a part of that group, I did my share of scapegoating. I felt ashamed, because I had made fun of these brilliant kids. But after I got to know them, I became more interested in classes, because they were more interesting people."

But she struggled, too. Her high school had the most National Merit scholars in Buffalo, and in this group, it was her turn to feel like the outsider. "I knew I was not as gifted as the other students," she says. "I always felt like I was at the bottom of the barrel looking up."

Justin Chapman's Web site includes the picture below, showing him with Silverman.
Justin Chapman's Web site includes the picture below, showing him with Silverman.

In one English course, which she had to petition to enter, the teacher required students to memorize eight single-spaced pages of poetry, learn 250 vocabulary words a week and complete a college-level research paper. After one semester in this class, Silverman's verbal score on the SAT jumped 106 points, earning her a college scholarship.

From the time she was three, Silverman had known that she wanted to be a teacher. And after spending two years with Buffalo's brightest students, she knew what she wanted to teach.

"That was how I wanted to spend my life," she says. "Nothing could deter me."

At seventeen, Silverman entered the Buffalo State Teachers College, where she proceeded to incorporate her newfound passion into whatever she studied. For a child-development course, she conducted a case study of a gifted kid. In geography, she wrote a paper comparing gifted education in the U.S. and Great Britain.

"My professor gave me an A because it was an A paper, but he said, 'This has nothing to do with geography,'" Silverman recalls. "But wherever I had the opportunity, I created links. I did that all the way through my undergraduate work."

At nineteen, she married her best friend's brother: a serene, compassionate and spiritual man named Hilton Silverman. They balanced each other perfectly. Where she was feisty and headstrong, he was mellow and soothing.

"I think I married a Martian," she jokes. "He's in a whole other place. He changes energy. When he walks into the room, everyone feels calm and peaceful. Everyone wants to hang around with him."

After graduating magna cum laude, Silverman taught second grade for a year. Then she and Hilton headed to Los Angeles, where Linda dove headfirst into her career. She enrolled in a counseling and guidance program with giftedness guru John Gowan, taught math to exceptionally bright students, launched a scholarship-preparation course, formed a teen support group and instructed gifted students while other educators watched. Her work eventually earned her a full fellowship at the University of Southern California.

When she arrived at USC, Silverman didn't know much about feminism. By the time she left, she was practically a radical. During her application interviews, administrators had asked, "Who will watch your children?" and "Does your husband approve of your going to graduate school?"

"I did not take that very well," she recalls.

She also battled with her professors over coursework, telling one statistics instructor that she had a problem with his assumptions: "I don't believe in chance," she told him. She fought to become the first to receive a double major in education psychology and special education. And then, at the height of the Vietnam War, she formed a group called Americans for Peace.

"Organizing groups and fighting for causes became a way of life," she says. "No one ever accused me of being diplomatic. At USC, I came into my own as a rebel."

When she wasn't fighting the establishment, Silverman and her husband were helping troubled kids. They created a group-living project called Kibbutz Shalom and took in two of Linda's nieces.

"I love kids," she says. "I have a great deal of respect for them, and I don't think that's typical in our population. I don't lord it over them because I have a bigger body. Children must be respected. That's the only thing they respond to."

In 1972, the Silvermans moved to Colorado, seeking a drier climate for an asthmatic daughter who'd endured sixteen cases of pneumonia before the age of six. In Boulder, Linda Silverman felt like she "had come home." She accepted a job at the University of Colorado teaching special education -- but although she received excellent evaluations and created new courses, administrators dropped her contract after three months.

Silverman, who says she was "treated like a secretary" by her male colleagues, fought back. She joined a class-action lawsuit that charged CU with discriminating against women. Eventually, she settled out of court for $15,000, but she paid a price: Silverman was essentially blacklisted as being litigious.

She fought on behalf of her family, too. While Linda was at CU, Hilton was raising their two children, Miriam and Brian. Even in Boulder, a househusband was a rarity in the early '70s. Their insurance agent referred to Hilton as "Mrs. Silverman." Meanwhile, Sears refused to issue a credit card in Linda's name, and her bank made her sign a document promising that she wouldn't have children for the life of their loan.

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Linda Silverman is a joke. It boggles the mind that she retains any credibility after the fiasco with Justin Chapman.