Touched by an Angel

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

According to Marlo Payne Rice, psychologist and director of the Brideun School for Exceptional Children in Lafayette, Silverman helped educators see giftedness in new ways. "We're not talking about average kids who do it faster, but a whole different type of kid," Rice says. "These are kids as far from the norm as profoundly retarded kids are. Linda is the first one who helped me see that."

Just as important, adds Rebecca Odoardi, director of the gifted and talented programs for the Davis school district near Salt Lake City, Silverman not only opens her heart to children and parents, but to educators as well. "Sometimes in this field, it can be so lonely," Odoardi says. "I can call her any time, and she'll give me the best advice and we can speak heart to heart. She is absolutely magical."

Jay Bevenour
Practice what you teach: Linda Silverman has devoted her life to gifted kids.
Practice what you teach: Linda Silverman has devoted her life to gifted kids.

Leta Hollingworth was the first educator to counsel gifted children, the first to study their emotional and social development. She taught the original gifted-education course in 1922 and initiated an experimental program for gifted learners.

Silverman calls Hollingworth "my matron saint. Everyone who has been touched by her feels the immense power of her personality and wisdom," she says. "We're connected. Deeply and spiritually."

One night in 1983, Silverman was working late in her home office, writing an article on perfectionism. Suddenly she had a feeling "like someone was using my mind." A word kept popping up: "Crucible."

That's odd, she remembers thinking. "Crucible" is a very Christian word. And she's Jewish. It wasn't part of her everyday vocabulary. She wasn't even sure what it meant. Yet there it was: "Crucible."

"My husband is the channeler. I'm not," she thought. "I'm not going there."

She flicked off her computer.

A week later, she resumed work on the article. And it happened again. But this time, an entire sentence emerged: "The pursuit of excellence is a personal journey into higher realms of existence, a journey that enriches the self and the world through its bounty. It is the crucible that purifies the spirit, the manifestation of life's longing for evolution."

"It had come out of my fingers. It was on my screen. And I had no idea where it came from," she says. "But it was powerful. I'm good, but I'm not that good."

Later, she asked a friend, Kathi Kearney, a giftedness consultant and "Hollingworth fanatic," to read the passage. "That sounds a lot like Leta," Kearney told her.

"That was the first time I felt the depth of the connection between us," Silverman recalls. "Those were her words, not mine. She was speaking through me."

Even though it occasionally inspires snickering in professional circles, Silverman embraces her spirituality, which she believes helps her better understand gifted children.

"I see a bright, beautiful shining light in these children, and I respond to that energy," she says. "They are magical. I'm able to see and experience who they really are. And I think it's because of my spirituality, not my intelligence. I've never felt anywhere near as intelligent as the majority of the kids I've worked with. I've never felt, 'My God, I don't know as much as the kids I'm teaching.' That's never been an issue. I'm very child-centered. I relate to them person to person, soul to soul, not adult to child. I respect them. I value them. I listen to them."

What they say often astounds her. A nine-year-old girl asks, "How do we know we're not part of someone else's dream?" A seven-year-old boy wonders, "Is this going to be the year I learn something new?" A three-year-old girl grappling to understand death and dying proclaims, "People become angels just like caterpillars become butterflies."

"This is more than just intelligence," Silverman says. "It's an obvious spirituality, consciousness, emotional awareness and zeal to make a difference. They feel the injustice in the world and are determined to do something about it."

One nine-year-old boy was so moved by the plight of the homeless that he picked fruit and vegetables, sold them and donated the money to shelters. Another eleven-year-old boy spearheaded an international anti-violence campaign from his home computer. Still another gifted teenager launched a fundraising campaign to build a monument to a cellist who played for 22 days straight during the bombing in Sarajevo.

"Yes, these children inhabit nine-year-old bodies and twelve-year-old bodies, but they are not nine and twelve," Silverman says. "The knowledge. The awareness. So much awareness. Leta Hollingworth said they were 'old heads on new shoulders.' It's my feeling that these kids are angels. They have incredible wisdom. We need to learn from them."

When Justin Chapman was a baby, the only way his mother could quiet her little bundle of energy was by reading to him. So she read to him until she was hoarse, anything and everything from Little House on the Prairie to adventure stories. To squeeze in a little study time, Elizabeth would even read from her college textbooks. No matter the subject, Justin sat quietly, listening intently.

When he could walk, Elizabeth took Justin to class with her. He'd bring his magnetic drawing board and pretend to take notes. He'd listen to the professor. And when the class took an exam, he meticulously colored in the test bubbles with crayons.

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