by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director
Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé.
This French saying, loosely translated as “one sole person is gone, and everything is amiss,” captures my sentiment when I learned that my dear friend and colleague, Professor Emerita Miraca U.M. Gross, passed away on Friday, January 28, 2022.
My mind overflows with 30 years of memories, I think of her in my solid Midwestern English, but when I “hear” her, it is always in her lovely Scottish brogue, modestly accented with Australian. Miraca lived on three continents. She started her life in Edinburgh, Scotland; she earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University; and she lived most of her adult life in Australia. She was a professor of Gifted Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
She traveled the world sharing her wisdom about gifted children and their profound educational and social-emotional needs, but her academic home was the University of New South Wales (NSW) School of Education. Early in her career at UNSW, she founded the Gifted Education Research, Resource, and Information Center (GERRIC), which in many ways was a sister gifted education center to the Belin-Blank Center.
My heart is heavy, but that heaviness is lightened when I think of how her life’s work, truly an oeuvre, continues to change the lives of children, their families, educators, and researchers. Tributes have been flowing on various education listservs, and Dr. Ann Robinson’s observation that “she moved a continent” soundly resonates. Hundreds, if not thousands, of adults are making a difference in the world because Dr. Miraca Gross advocated at the individual, school, and policy level for their educational and social-emotional well-being.
Miraca was a paradox. In addition to the memorable Scottish accent, she was also petite, almost diminutive, in stature. She often used herself as an example when individuals would put forth the excuse of a student being “too small” to be considered for acceleration. By those standards, she would argue, she would still be in first or second grade. As a scholar, she was a giant.
In 2005, Dr. Gross received the National Association for Gifted Children’s Distinguished Scholar Award, the only international recipient of this prestigious award. In 2008, Miraca was inducted into the Order of Australia, an honor that was of tremendous significance to her.
I was first introduced to her scholarship through my postdoctoral mentor, Dr. Julian Stanley, who had just read Miraca’s enormous dissertation at the recommendation of Professor John Feldhusen of Purdue University. If Dr. Stanley was impressed, then I knew that there was good reason to pay attention to what was in that dissertation, which was published in 1993 under the title of Exceptionally Gifted Children. For decades, I would continue to learn from her. I still do.
Professor Gross was a strong advocate for acceleration. One of the most delightful writing experiences I had was co-authoring with Miraca and Dr. Nicholas Colangelo the watershed publication, A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. Although the publication focused on schools in the United States, it was widely disseminated in Australia and around the world. This publication was the core of what would become the Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute and served as the impetus for the 2015 publication, A Nation Empowered: How Evidence Trumps Excuses that Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. Dr. Gross and her colleague Professor Jae Jup Yung co-authored the excellent chapter for Nation Empowered on radical acceleration.
Dr. Gross was instrumental in advancing gifted education in the whole continent of Australia, but especially in the state of New South Wales. I had the good fortune to meet her early in both of our careers at one of the Belin-Blank Center’s very first Wallace Research Symposia on Talent Development. She was a regular at our symposia and always had something new to say. I was particularly impressed with her work on the social-emotional development of exceptionally gifted students. It is not an exaggeration to say that she followed in the footsteps of Leta Hollingworth, one of gifted education’s pioneering scholars focused on social-emotional development in extraordinarily gifted children.
Dr. Gross and her brilliant husband, John, did not have children of their own. I vividly recall one evening, after a day of teaching in the teacher education program she founded. Miraca softly shared that even though they did not have children, they did have their beloved cat. She was quick to say, “Of course, he’s not like a child or anything…” John, who always quietly supported and steered her, said, “Like hell! He is exactly like a child.” The tenderness they showed to living creatures – be they four-legged, furry, and precocious, or two-legged, furless, and precocious — nurtured the lives of hundreds of children around the world.
I miss her, and the world of gifted education seems amiss knowing that she is gone. I see her in my daily work and know that her legacy will continue to be felt in the Belin-Blank Center and around the world.