We know them — the kids who read before they are potty trained, play classical piano before entering elementary school, or compute high school math in first grade. While the world shudders, in reality, most child prodigies rarely become influential change agents.
Why not? According to Adam Grant, in his New York Times article, How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off, what holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But in their perfection, they don’t get the chance to innovate. In adulthood, these prodigies may become experts in their fields — but only a fraction of these gifted children become revolutionary adult creators.
Grant explains how the gifted may learn to play Mozart, but rarely compose their own original scores. They conform to codified rules, rather than inventing their own. Ironically, research shows that those who are bound for creativity are less likely to be embraced by their teacher — they have their own ideas.
In comparison, the most creative artists didn’t have elite teachers — their first lessons came from nearby instructors who made learning fun. Mozart showed interest in music before he took lessons, not the other way around. Itzhak Perlman began teaching himself the violin after being rejected from music school.
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THE TORRANCE KIDS
Back in 1958, there were “Torrance kids” — a group of Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks designed by Professor E. Paul Torrance. They were handed toys and asked “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” One child rattled off 25 improvements and duly impressed the researchers.
According to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, in their Newsweek article The Creativity Crisis, the accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).
Torrance’s tasks have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, they measure creativity perfectly. What is amazing is how well Torrance’s creativity index predicted the future creative accomplishments of those 1958 kids. They grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers.
IQ AND CQ
Facebook product designer Tanner Christensen, in his article The Relationship Between Creativity and Intelligence, says that intelligence is “the ability to acquire and utilize knowledge.” From a testing modality, an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is gauged by the ability to utilize pre-existing information.
Typically, IQ is judged by an ability to interpret information and then filter and provide solutions — be it math, science or any other area. IQ demonstrates your ability to memorize concepts and extrapolate their results on similar problems. That is, if 2+2 = 4 then you should be able to figure out that 4+4 = twice the original answer. Filtering — the ability to sort through and identify key components to bring about a solution — is also important.
Christensen says that creativity, in comparison, is the ability to pull pre-existing knowledge into a new situation — the formation of new ideas by connecting pre-existing concepts and experiences. In this way, intelligence plays a part in creative thinking. Creative people have more experiences, think more about those experiences and work diligently with those ideas.
Bronson adds that there is one crucial difference between scoring intelligence and creativity. With intelligence, the Flynn effect phenomenon demonstrates how —after each generation, intelligent quotient (IQ) scores typically rise — nearly 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. In America, creativity was also on the rise — until 1990, when a reversal started to appear. Since 1990, the American creativity quotient (CQ) scores have and continue to fall.
WHAT’S KILLING IMAGINATION AND CREATIVITY?
College of William and Mary researcher Kyung Hee Kim has found that the recent drop in creativity scores to be very clear and very significant. He finds especially serious those of children — kindergarten through sixth grade.
Kim says that while the jury is out, one hypothesis on the declining creativity scores is related to the obvious number of hours kids (and parents) now spend in front of screens — TV, game consoles and cellphones — instead of engaging in creative activities. A second hypothesis links the lack of creativity development to the structure of the educational system. Simply said, it’s every man for himself — the lucky ones whose flickering embers manage to escape the suffocation of testing and rote learning are the ones who are free to think, challenge, and create. In our society today, there is no effort, no time and no patience to nurture the creativity of all children. A final hypothesis, proposed by Eric Liu, author of Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility and member of the Washington State Board of Education, suggests that it might very well be success that’s killing creativity.
In her Parentmap.com article, Why Imagination is Important, Kristen Dobson relates Liu’s sentiments. He says the mere abundance of things — games, toys, media, and places to go, present so many possibilities that there is no room for imagination. When kids watch TV and play video games, the stories, situations and ideas are all provided for them — they are not asked to use their imagination. The antidote? cut back on the media and the scheduling and let kids get bored.
Part of the problem also lies in the curriculum and the way teachers teach it. Our education system doesn’t generally emphasize or honor imagination and creativity. Overwhelmed by curriculum standards and high stakes testing, American teachers openly admit that there is no room in the day for creativity — in fact, elementary students are considered lucky if their once/twice a week art class hasn’t been cancelled. The curious thing is that all subject areas have room for creativity. When students in science, music, math or language arts have creative opportunities, ideas are generated and self-evaluate as they go. It is just as easy to use scale, proportion and color knowledge to build kites. If the math isn’t right the kite doesn’t fly!
According to Grant, evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of knowledge and experience. He says that in science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about having a variety of interests. Compared to typical scientists, a Nobel Prize winner is 22 times more likely to indulge in a performance art; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; 7 times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.
Creativity has always been prized in American society, yet its source remains elusive. While our creativity scores decline, we are left to sit and ponder the reasons. Yet the problems we face now, and in the future, demand that we do more than just scratch our heads.
Chad Segersten, in his article, Is Creativity the Next Essential Literacy? says that the most detrimental casualty of our current education system is the loss of wonder – the innate desire to understand why things are the way they are. Education policy makers have long embraced reading literacy - and more recently financial literacy. With the continued demise of creative thought, is creativity the next literacy to be tackled? Public education shifts are slow, and to make it happen will require very creative, imaginative leaders who are willing to take risks.
IMPACT OF DROPPING CQ
The potential consequences of this creativity crisis are far-reaching, as few would argue the global impact of human ingenuity on energy and economic leadership, technology and health care innovations to sustainable agriculture and resource practices. For this, the best employers will be looking for the most creative, competent and innovative minds — and they will pay them top dollar for these abilities.
STEM (science technology engineering math) is based on imagination. Without STEM imagination, we would have no cellphones, microwave ovens, Internet, GPS, cars and refrigerators These ideas started in someone’s mind, and with the right resources and skills, they were able to make them a reality.
Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.