Nurturing the Creative Majority of Our Schools: A Response
Wallace, David, Childhood Education
I agree with many of the points made by Alex Whitson in the Fall 1994 Issues in Education column, "The Creative Minority in Our Schools." I take exception, however, to a central point in his article - that the creative element is a minority in our schools. I also disagree with his conception of education's historic role in America.
Whitson's definition of creativity ultimately creates the minority status that he wants to change. Before we go looking for the "dwindling creative minority," we should use a more inclusive definition of creativity, one that acknowledges an students' ability to be creative. Creativity involves novel and valuable behavior. For example, creativity may mean generating a new solution when previous efforts have been fruitless. Everyone will eventually face situations that are new to them, and they will have to decide between quitting or trying something original.
Too often, teachers let their students quit, and show them how to solve the dilemmas they encounter. On this point, Whitson and I have no disagreement: the American education system, for all its well-intended efforts to educate, fails to serve the individual's great need for self-actualization.
Whitson's narrow definition of a creative child needs to be enlarged. Every student has the need for self-actualization. Every child starts life as a curious individual who creatively solves problems (Lesner & Hillman, 1983). There is nothing odd or novel about creative thinking (Perkins, 1981). We all operate as a physical and biological cosmos and, therefore, innately own the vital change mechanism that functions as our creative process. Creative potential is a natural gift (O'Neill & Shallcross, 1994).
Life continuously presents situations that demand some kind of creative response. For individuals to survive in a rapidly changing world, their attainment of creativity is at least worthwhile, if not necessary (Slabbert, 1994). Creativity is a competency that depends upon certain cognitive skills (Jaben, 1986). Therefore, it is necessary to encourage creativity within our education system.
His identification of creative students as a minority subgroup gives Whitson the rationale for advocating separate classes for the "creatively gifted." To me, this smacks of ability grouping. When only certain "gifted" children are selected for more intense, highly structured academic programs teachers' development of creative approaches to work with other students may be discouraged by the school. Creative talent depends to some extent on the social context in which it develops, especially in its influence on the emotional strength needed for originality (Freeman, 1994).
Any debate concerning creativity is important, considering civilization requires continuous creativity to guarantee not only progress, but its very survival. The classroom is perhaps the most fertile ground in which to foster creativity. Travers, Elliot and Kratochwill (1993) suggest four guidelines for encouraging student creativity:
* ensure that classroom material matches each child's developmental level * give children experience deriving varied responses to a problem * encourage students to search for relationships * tolerate ambiguity; fear of failure and fear of the unknown should not stop creativity.
My second objection to Whitson's essay concerns his perception about the historic role of education in America. I agree with Whitson that "current educators seem concerned with molding students to fit into existing society" (Whitson, 1994). I maintain, however, that this has always been the case. Data since 1776 show that Americans have typically viewed education as an endeavor to direct students' behavior toward compliance, not individuality or creativity. Whether it was Noah Webster's advocacy for the direct imposition of values or Thomas Jefferson's argument for individuals forming their values by reading newspapers, education has historically been viewed as an attempt to control citizens' actions (Spring, 1994). …