CREATIVITY!

The handwriting on the wall confessed: “My mother made me a homosexual.”

Underneath someone had scribbled: “If I buy her some wool, will she make me one, too?

That’s what I call creativity! It is an excellent capsule example of flexible, divergent thinking, not without a hint of playfulness.

In literature, ranging from graffiti to the great novel, the value of the creative spark is recognized. It is applauded in drama, praised in poetry, and admired in architecture. In short, creativity is the sine qua non of good art. It is no less valued in science. It is the creative mind that senses the inconsistency, mulls over the existent data, seeks a solution, and cries out the world, “Eureka! I have found it! Put the crown in the bathtub!” or “E = mc2.”

Research institutes seek out and reward the inquiring mind. Big business practices brainstorming. (Get the ideas flowing; perhaps one in a thousand will make money.) A democracy has need of leaders who competently make use of their potential for creative thinking, are able to plan, decide, and act. It also needs citizens who are capable of independent thought and of exercising their powers to direct the course of the nation. A community of sheep is easily led to slaughter. Terrence, in Creativity writes that among the most important of educational goals are “the production of fully functioning, mentally healthy, well-educated, vocationally successful individuals. Recent research findings indicate strongly the these goals are undeniably related to creativity.”

If, then, creativity is so desirable a trait, why does its glimmer get such short shrift in many classrooms that it may well be snuffed out completely? The “e-duc-ation” that is supposed to “draw out” the student, often does the exact opposite. Most of the time the academic laurels go to the bright “quiz kid” who learns what he is told to learn and can regurgitate it on appropriate stimulus. Children soon learn that it is safer to conform. Divergent thinking is frequently seen as a danger by the pupils and as a threat by the teacher.

One reason for this is that teachers like to be in control of the class and if there is anything that escapes control, it is creative thinking. While incubating an idea a child may very well be gazing out the window–at any rate he isn’t working on what the teacher thinks he should be working on. On the other hand, the child who has successfully coped with a problem, who has found his solution or made his discovery, is excited and enthusiastic and wants to communicate. A roomful of excited, enthusiastic, communicating students may be considered undisciplined by a principal. Creativity is possible only in freedom and most teachers are afraid of too much freedom in he schoolroom. While they may give lip-service to freedom and creativity, they are often authoritarian in practice.

Some of the characteristics of those who are creatively gifted may explain why teachers would rather teach conformity. Creative children like to play around with ideas and some of their ideas may be “way out” or silly. These tend to annoy the teacher who is intent upon imparting a particular bit of knowledge or eliciting a particular answer. The creative person is able to accept disorder, both mental and physical. Frank Barron’s experiment in which he asked average and creative persons to choose cards with designs they liked revealed that the average person chose orderly, symmetrical designs while the creative much more frequently chose the disorderly cards. They could accept the temporary anxiety of the “broken universe” and got joy out of arranging it to suit themelves.

The creative child is inclined to defy convention. He is a genuinely independent spirit; he does not accept anything on mere say-so. A study of creative individuals using the Strong Vocational Interest Blank showed them to be more interested in ideas, meanings, and implications than in practical details and the concrete aspects of life. Einstein, at 16, was reported to be not an especially good student unless he was working on his own in physics and mathematics. Even at that age he was aware of a “puzzlement,” something that did not fit or was not clear to him. The creative person is disturbed when he senses something is wrong, shows unusual perceptiveness, may become preoccupied with a problem and be unwilling to give up working on it.

He is different and is sometimes not afraid to be different. He may seem to be withdrawn, a lone child (which need not necessarily be a lonely child.} He has little or no desire to emulate his teachers. His creativity is often characterized by playfulness and a lack of rigidity in his productions. He is seen as playing around rather than attending to the serious business of getting an education.

Ou est le crayon jaune de mon oncle? Goethe

Since many of the above traits do not endear one to others, the child who is creatively gifted sometimes sees his “gift” as dangerous. He finds that tests favor children with “convergent” thinking and social attitudes. He may learn to play it safe to get the grade, actually a kind of prostitution in which he sells his integrity for an A. He discovers that his strange ideas do not make him popular. Some may be ridiculed. The superiority of others make him a threat to his peers and he may experience a degree of persecution. Still other ideas seem crazy and are looked at askance. Some gifted children soon learn consciously or unconsciously to disguise their talents and keep to the beaten path. The more courageous or independent ones may be seen as disruptive and trouble-makers and end up estranged from both teachers and peers. Anyone with a new idea automatically becomes a minority of one–an uncomfortable situation which may be considered worth avoiding.

Creativity may be difficult to measure, one reason being that it involves a number of abilities rather than a single one. A CQ (creative quotient) is not as easily obtained as an IQ for one cannot garner original answers on a multiple choice test. Creativity is not a matter of recall or logical thought (the “intelligence” measured in an IQ test) although these are important. The creative person draws upon his resources, incubates, and come up with a new (for him, at least) idea or solution, whether it be an invention, a formula, or work of art, which represents a formulation or synthesis which has taken place within him and which he presents to others as his insight. The person with a high IQ is not necessarily highly creative, although there is a significant overlap. The necessity for the incubation period poses a serious problem in the testing of creativity. The truly original thought usually comes to the fore when the problem has been studied and pondered, then dropped. This article is not highly creative but I found myself popping out of bed a number of times to jot down a happy phrase or proper sequence of ideas.

Terrence writes, “According to the most extensive research in this field the abilities involved are sensitivity to problems, fluency (the ability to produce ideas that are off the beaten track), elaboration (the ability to fill in the details), and redefinition (the ability to define or perceive in a way different from the usual, established, or intended way…”

Many tests have been devised to measure creativity, most of which call for a degree of verbal fluency and “on the spot” creativity. Among them are the elaborate battery of the Minnesota Tests of Creative Thinking in which the subject may be asked to see how many things he can draw starting with a circle, how many uses he can think of for tin cans, how many ways he might improve a given product, and the like. However, there seems to be no easy test for creativity, probably because the very nature of creativity–the necessity for integration, condensation, distillation, and synthesis–preclude its quick, accurate measurement. For creative thought, time is of the essence. New methods need to be devised to determine not what subjects can recall but what they can generate.

Not as important as the measurement of creativity is the obligation of the school to provide the soil in which creativity, to whatever degree possessed by the student, may flourish. Nowadays good pedagogy is considered that which fosters insightful learning and recent research has demonstrated that many things are learned more economically and happily when they are learned in creative ways.

“Those acquirements crammed by force into the minds of children simply clog and stifle intelligence. In order that knowledge may be properly digested, it must be swallowed with a good appetite. — Anatole France, 1881.

What the student discovers for himself is better retained than that which is presented to him as fact by authorities. Great strides forward have been made in recent years in promoting “learning by doing” and the “discovery” techniques. Creative teaching, however, is more easily written about than accomplished and more often talked about than practiced.

What are the ways in which educators can provide the setting in which the creative spark is fanned and allowed to brighten the lives of students and teachers alike? It is considered practically axiomatic that people learn along lines which they find to be rewarding. Creative thinking, then in order to be encouraged, must not only be safe but satisfying. When people believe that their original ideas are wanted and are of value they will produce them.

Productive thinking results when the teacher is willing to listen to unusual ideas or solutions, discuss them, and evaluate them. Often real learning takes place in finding out for oneself why a given solution will not work than in merely accepting on authority that another solution will work. When a thought-provoking question is asked by a student, it is the flexible teacher who refrains from immediately answering it herself but allows the period between question and answer to be enriched with discussion in which one idea leads to another and an answer is finally arrived at through student effort. This kind of flexibility is, of course, hampered when the teacher sets out each day to “cover” a certain amount of material and must adhere to a strict subject sequence. Lecturing should be avoided as well as asking questions that only call for recall. Many students easily memorize a fact or a formula long enough to pass an examination but it is not really theirs until they have grappled with it and used it. This was well demonstrated in Wertheimer’s Productive Thinking with a group which learned how to apply the formula for a parallelogram but were at a complete loss when the diagram of the parallelogram was upended. A formula had been learned but the thinking behind the formula had not sunk in.

Frequent assignments should be given which require original work and experimentation. Self-initiated projects are to be applauded. When students are doing independent work special care should be exerted to to limit supervision and evaluation during the procedure as evaluation that is too frequent puts a damper on creativity by making children afraid to exercise their originality. Spontaneity is possible only when one is freed from the need for constant approval. It is not important to be right the first time. An “honest error” in the course of the work should not be a cause for criticism but a source of more learning. Students with inquiring minds will run into frequent “puzzlements” and need to be helped to work through these and find satisfaction in so doing.

Creative efforts should never be subject to ridicule, shame, or sarcasm from either teachers or peers. Divergency should never be equated with delinquency. When originality is actively encouraged and students are urged to “try to think of something no one else will think of” unusual and creative responses will bring respect rather than ridicule. Off-the-record mind-stretching activities just for fun with a variety of media will encourage creativity by removing fear of evaluation. Writing, for instance, that is done to be corrected is quite different from writing that springs from the urge to communicate.

The better the child’s background, the more resources he has to call on. For this reason enriching experiences should be provided and and he should have ample opportunities to satisfy his curiosity by touch and manipulation. The more senses that are involved, the greater the learning. A Montessori directress reports watching a child trace her fingers over a hundred times over a sandpaper letter, totally absorbed, “in deep union with reality.”

The child develops more freely as an individual in a prepared environment that presents an implicit invitation rather than an explicit dictation. Oftentimes examples that are given to show the child what to do have the effect of freezing his thinking and unduly shaping his productions. There should be no sharp difference between work and play. It is possible to enjoy learning.

When people are being creative, the reward is inherent in the work at hand. Adequate creative outlets during the normal school day are the best deterrent to such destructive acts as defacing school desks and and writing on walls.

Seal up even a small teakettle, place it over a flame, and it will wreck a house. But let the power vapors escape and the kettle sings. – Liebman

The best discipline is that which stems from purposeful, rewarding activity. It does not result in the pin-drop type of silence but will persist without constant supervision.

Students should be encouraged to be the individuals that they are. The pupil who parrots back the gospel as preached by the professor regardless of his personal opinion gets his A at too great a cost. If school has taught him at an early age that to “succeed” he must be untrue to himself, it has done him a great disfavor. After all, the objective of education is not the accumulation of a storehouse of facts but rather the development of a love of learning which will continue throughout life.

Creative children who tend to be difficult or obnoxious need help in learning to disagree without being disagreeable. They should learn to express themselves as authentic persons rather than repress creativity in an attempt to conform.

The creatively gifted child may need to be shown how to assert himself without arousing hostility or being domineering on the one hand, and without being too submissive and acquiescent on the other hand. It is very helpful if a divergent child can discover someone else with a similar divergency with whom he can really communicate. The fact that a child is creative does not necessarily mean that he is imbued with confidence in his ideas. He may need moral support and guidance in expressing and assessing his thoughts. Some individuals are literally flooded with an avalanche of ideas as in the brainstorming process. They can be taught to cope with this by writing down some of them for future consideration, selecting only one or two of the best to work on at a given time.

Too much structure in the classroom hampers creativity. There should be some allowance made for uninterrupted, unstructured time–a balance between direction and non-direction. Also many children need a degree of aloneness to achieve best and should not always be involved in group projects.

Exercise seems to be conducive to creativity. Terrence Paul says “the stirring up of purely physical energy seems to aid in the warm-up process.” We are all familiar with people who seem to think better when pacing up and down or engaged in physical labor; if this cannot be allowed in the classroom perhaps children can at least wriggle in their seats without injunctions to sit still.

Creativity in a teacher may often be as little appreciated by a principal as creativity in students is by a teacher. The creative teacher, like the creative student, is not creative in order to gain status or power but because he has a need to be his own person–“to do his thing,” in modern slang. He, like the student, is not likely to change his ways in order to curry favor with those in charge. Teachers can and should work at increasing their own creativity both for their own satisfaction and to enable them better to understand the creative process in others.

We have considered thus far the value of creativity to society and ways of fostering its development in education. But what is the value of creativity to theindividual who is the creator? What are the wellsprings of creativity? Is there any basis for the popular notion that in order to be creative one must be neurotic?

In his book, Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process, Lawrence Kubie opposes the “culturally neurotic assumption, devoid as far as I can see of the least fragment of truth, that once must be sick to be creative.” According to Kubie, both the creative and neurotic processes arise in early childhood and are “subsequently reinforced by later stresses among which that which we euphemistically call education plays an important role.” Creativity, he says is possible through the alliance of preconscious and conscious processes, free association which takes place on a subconscious level, “making free use of analogy and allegory, superimposing dissimilar ingredients into new perceptual and conceptual patterns, thus reshuffling experience and achieving that fantastic degree of condensation without which creativity in any field of activity would be impossible.”

With most writers on the subject, Kubie agrees that new creations are rarely, if ever, found by straining for them consciously. “As long as preconscious processes function freely, no scientist and no artist need fear that sacrificing the unhappy luxury of being neurotic will leave his creative powers paralyzed. Quite on the contrary, if he emerges free from the tyrannical and rigidly stereotyped domination of his own unconscious processes, his creative potential will be freer both quantitatively and qualitatively.”

In the Freudian scheme of things the artist handles his conflicts in a flexible way rather in the rigid and compulsive patterns characteristic of neurosis. Though the terminology varies from writer to writer, creativity is seen in general as a healthy channeling (or sublimation) of psychic (libidinal) energy which is productive because it flows from spontaneous unhampered subconscious associations.

The creative person is able to relax his defenses and regress, permitting free pre- or subconscious associations. This is described by Edith Weigert (The Role of Creativity in Psychotherpy) as a “reculer pour mieux sauter” (to recede in order to take a higher jump). According to Maslow (Emotional Blocks to Creativity….) “Healthy creative people are able to be childlike when they want to be; this is ‘regression in the service of the ego.’ These same people can afterward …become grown-up, rational, sensible, orderly, and so on, and examine with a critical eye what they produced….A truly integrated person can be both secondary and primary; both childlike and mature.”

The neurotic, in contrast to the creative individual, has developed rigid controls of instinctual drives and would feel it dangerous to let down his guard. His reactions are stereotyped and inflexible. Since the rigidity and compulsiveness of the neurotic preclude spontaneity and creative flexibility, the neurotic need not worry that the resolution of his neurosis would mean the loss of such creativity as he has. According to Kubie “neurotogenic rigidity is so universal that it is popularly accepted as normal even among many psychiatrists and analysts, as though the mere fact that everybody is rigid in one or more aspects of his personality means that rigidity is normal.” It is because of the rigidity of certain artists that all of their music, or paintings, or whatever, are easily recognized as theirs. Were they more creative, the comment might be, “Oh, is that a Van Gogh? It’s not at all like his other works.” Truly creative persons manifest their creativity in a variety of ways.

Empirically it has been demonstrated that creativity diminishes with age and with mental illness. In a study referred to by Terrence tests of creative thinking were given to a group of schizophrenics who appeared to be on the road to recovery. “These individuals manifested and astonishingly impoverished imagination, inflexibility, lack of originality, and inability to summon any kind of response to new problems. Their answers gave no evidence of the rich fantasy and wild imagination popularly attributed to schizophrenics. There was only an impoverished, stifled, frozen creativity. They appeared to be paralyzed in their thinking and most of their responses were the most banal imaginable.” If an increase in mental illness seems to be associated with a decline in creativity, it is also true, on the other side of the coin, that many mental hygienists believe that the decline in avenues for creativity is associated with a increase in mental illness.

It becomes seen that creativity has not only to do with the production of satisfying, beautiful things but with the attainment of a satisfying, healthy relationship with reality. It should not only be fostered as a handy outlet for sexual frustrations or aggressive drives, but because it is a necessity for flexible, imaginative coping with the contingencies of life. It is the individual’s most valuable resource in meeting the problems of living in a mature fashion.

If, as Kubie writes, emotional illness is “the freezing of behavior into unalterable and insatiable patterns,” then emotional health evinces the “capability to change, to become different, to react in varied and unanticipated ways.” When creativity is defined by simply and broadly as the ability ot deal flexibly with various situations, it is immediately apparent that whatever is inimical to creativity is inimical to mental health. “Artistic” creativity has long been recognized as both therapeutic and prophylactic, but creative living is something possibly on every ;lane from hauling wood, to housewifery, to hegemony. It is an end greatly to be desired.

Educational theorists are in agreement as to the importance of discovery and creativity in education, but teaching by rote and dictum still hold sway for the most part, either because educators do not know the importance of creative teaching or do not know how to achieve it. It is probably with good reason that Kubie inveighs against the “unhappy symbiosis between education and the ubiquitous neurotic process” as follows:

I am unhappy at our complacency with a primitive educational process which to so large an extent reinforces everything neurotic in human nature.

We do not need to be taught to think: indeed, this is something that cannot be taught. Thinking processes actually are automatic, swift and spontaneous when allowed to proceed undisturbed by other influences. What we need is to be educated in how not to interfere with the inherent capacity of the human mind to think.

My unhappy conviction is that much of the learning which has traditionally been looked upon as an essential attribute of the educated man has no necessary relevance either to creativity or to maturity, and that instead many ingredients in the process by which men become learned tend actively to obstruct both.

Campus heroes: men and women who have done extraordinarily well through school and college on the basis of a neurotic submissiveness which ultimately explodes in their forties and fifties.

All schools still exploit competitively the hostilities and sibling rivalries which arise automatically in every nursery. Almost never are these resolved or illuminated in the classroom with insight, grace, or compassion…instead it has been traditionally the accepted role of the school to impose even stronger taboos on self-knowledge than are generated at home, thus reinforcing and reproducing in the classroom the very limitations on self-awareness which characterize our adult culture. Thus what passes for education strengthens that all-too-human tendency to shrink from the facing of painful facts, which the child brings to school from his nursery.

Conventional education techniques exploit and depend upon some of the essential ingredients in the neurotic process…therefore there is a continuous conflict and not a happy synergy between erudition and maturity.

According to Kubie neither living without self-study nor study without living is enough. Since students are students for so long a time. we need to find a way to make being a student a maturing experience lest the end result be idiot savants. “Without self knowledge in depth we can have dreams but no art. We can have the neurotic raw material of literature but not mature literature. We can have no adults but only aging children who are armed with words and paint and clay and atomic weapons, none of which they understand.”

What we teachers need to do is both more difficult and more possible: to create and be part of an environment in which children can live actively, freely, honestly, fearlessly and joyously, and so living grow in mind and spirit. – John Holt

Anderson, Harold (Ed.) Creativity and Its Cultivation, New York: Harper & Bro.

Kubie, Lawrence, Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process, Noonday Press, Farrar, Straus & Cudahy Cudahy

Terrance, E. Paul, Creativity, National Education Association of the U.S.

Terrance, E. Paul, Guiding Creative Talent, Prentice-Hall

Weigert, Edith, “The Goal of Creativity in Psychotherapy,” in Creative Imagination, Ruitenbeek (Ed.)

Wertheimer, Max, Productive Thinking, Harper and Brothers.