GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
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VOLUME EIGHT, NUMBER ONE
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The Walt Disney Corporation has recently announced it will establish a Theme Park of American History in Haymarket, Virginia, located about ten miles from Manassas and 40 miles from Washington, D.C. One of the top Disney executives happily announced (The Washington Post, Oct. 12, 1993), "An intelligent story properly told shouldn't offend anybody." A show business operation such as the Disney Corporation is one of the few institutions in America that can issue such a statement, and get away with it. We hope that experts on American history such as Daniel Boorstin will determine how the Disney "wizards" intend to make such important occurrences as the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and two World Wars -- politically correct.
The United States Department of Education (USDE) appears to be engaging in Disneyesque behavior regarding the education of gifted children. For those individuals attending the Fortieth Annual Convention of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in Atlanta, Georgia, it was pleasing to see a letter from President Clinton in the program guide, supporting the education of gifted children. Our President said, "As we strive to secure America's leading role in an increasingly competitive global environment, providing a world class education for our young people must be among our vital tasks. I am delighted to commend the many parents, teachers, administrators, and friends of NAGC for their hard work in meeting the needs of America's creatively and intellectually gifted children." But at about the same time I was reading this wonderful letter of support from President Clinton, I was handed a flyer circulating throughout the Convention that contradicted his statement.
According to this flyer and subsequent announcements, the United States Department of Education wants to abandon the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRCGT). This is particularly Disneyesque because USDE also issued its national report (National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent) at the NAGC Convention and to the communications media on the state-of-the-art of gifted education in America. This report discusses the inadequate programs most public schools offer to gifted students, and the resulting negative impact on our world standing, particularly in relationship to Japan and other Asian countries. It appears that NRCGT has been doing too good of a job in sponsoring, conducting and publishing excellent research studies used by school districts to set up and manage their gifted programs. The research and practical work emerging from this Center clearly demonstrate that gifted education is an important field of American education, not to be tampered with by inclusionists, dumb-downers and political correctniks. In addition, the work of the Center has accomplished more in unifying the gifted field in the last two years than other organizations have been able to do in ten years. Maybe this is why USDE seems so anxious to close it down -- divide and conquer! Please express your strong support for the continued funding of this Center by contacting the President, and your Congressmen and Senators. Do it now before it's too late!
We are very pleased that this issue includes an article on the importance of educating gifted children by Steve Allen, entertainer, comedian, and musician. It is based upon his personal experiences and long-standing interest in this problem. This extraordinary and gracious individual is currently a member of The National Advisory Board of the National Association for Gifted Children. Some of his accomplishments in the entertainment field are as follows: created and hosted the "Tonight" show; authored 42 published books; starred in motion pictures, most notably Universal's The Benny Goodman Story; written over 4,700 songs, including "Picnic" made some 40 record albums, including the May 1993 release of "Steve Allen Plays Jazz Tonight" for the Concord Jazz label; starred in the critically-acclaimed NBC series "The Steve Allen Comedy Hour" created, written and hosted the Emmy award-winning PBS-TV series, "Meeting of Minds" and has been inducted into the TV Academy's Hall of Fame. In 1993, Mr. Allen became Abbot of the world-famed Friars Club, succeeding Milton Berle. Andy Williams once said, "Steve Allen does so many things, he's the only man I know who's listed on every one of the Yellow Pages."
Jonathan Plucker of the University of Virginia's Graduate Program in Gifted Education presents a model of creativity education that concentrates on using his "articulation" approach in all subject areas. This outstanding article shows how students can develop their own creativity through refining their ability to describe why creative products should be used in the first place. Michael Walters shows how the Mississippi River has inspired many creative individuals to write excellent stories and music; thereby contributing to our nation's artistic and cultural heritage. This issue concludes with Mr. Plucker's insightful review of the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, and a letter from E. Paul Torrance.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher
VIEWPOINTS AND THOUGHTS ON GIFTED EDUCATION
BY STEVE ALLEN
VAN NUYS, CALIFORNIA
Those who are already aware of the importance of special treatment for gifted children require no further encouragement to support so vital a cause. The real target audience is that 99-plus percent of the human race that has yet to even become aware of the problem, much less convinced of the necessity to address it. And, sadly, the misfortune of those trying to help the gifted is that their campaign is being conducted in a time of general social disarray, one manifestation of which is that literally all of those working to keep our society together are faced with funding problems. There would be no point in listing the various components of the difficulty. Every part of the large machine requires financial oiling.
GIFTED EDUCATION AND ETHNIC MINORITIES
I choose next to make a few observations about the dilemma of the gifted as it relates to racial conflict in American society. That general social justice for our nation's African-Americans and Hispanics has not yet been achieved is clear enough. Those Anglos who try to be helpful in this connection can be motivated either out of simple compassionate concern or by the perception that all of us suffer if our disadvantaged citizens suffer. History demonstrates that quite regardless of color the masses of the poor will not forever supinely accept the fate imposed on them. Surely we do not have to wait for the next revolution to become aware of something so self-evident. Already a significant portion of our tax money is committed to shoring up the social structure of inner-city and rural black and Hispanic communities.
Tragically, despite efforts that are formidable if not our potential best, the news for the American poor, of all races, continues to be depressing. One glimmer of light in the surrounding gloom, however, is that certain blacks and Latinos -- by no means only entertainers and athletes -- do somehow contrive to become educated and to achieve success in the workplace, not only at blue-collar jobs but in the professions. Although a few individual blacks and Latinos view all whites as the enemy, their attitude is just as misguided as that of white racists who have contempt for all minorities. The average American white is overjoyed at any evidence of minority success. It is clear that our corporations have by-and-large been diligent in their search for qualified employees, regardless of race. All of this, of course, is directly related to the special problems encountered by those who are blessed with superior intelligence of one sort or another, in that it is now generally appreciated that even if we are doing a generally lousy job of helping the poorest members of our nation's minorities, it is at least possible to do something more practical for the small percentage who are fortunately endowed.
A fascinating question is: To what extent are those who are sometimes openly hostile to special education for the gifted in our public schools themselves of black or Latino background? I would not be surprised that some are, although it does not follow that their negativity is the result of envy or any other unseemly emotion. The primary reasons may simply be: 1) an awareness of the dreadfully inferior educational opportunities available to the majority of poor children, and 2) competition for already scarce funds.
Fortunately for purposes of clarity, no one has ever argued that we ought to help only the less fortunate or only the brightest. Arguments are about degree, not essence. But if there are any citizens, regardless of color, who cannot see the necessity for helping the best and brightest minority children, then it must be explained to them they should change their minds on the issue, if only out of group self-interest, for where will the next generation of African-American and Hispanic leaders come from if all poor children receive an inferior education?
FUNDING GIFTED PROGRAMS
As regards the funding crisis, something relevant happened recently when I was addressing an audience of several hundred people connected with the San Diego Anti-Crime Commission.
Rather than making a conventional address I responded to questions put to me on the spot. Someone had just asked, "How can we get more cops on our streets?" I said, "Well, to approach the question logically it's clear that at the moment we have two alternatives -- either to get more cops or fewer streets. Given that it is unlikely that we will actually start closing up certain neighborhoods, it therefore follows that we will get more policemen in our neighborhoods the same way we get anything else in this world -- by paying for it. Civic expenditures of that sort are, as you know, provided by the taxpayer, so it boils down to this: you're not going to get more cops on the street until we all stop whining about our taxes and assume responsibility for funding the many programs that our very survival demands." To my surprise, the response was hearty applause, and from a largely conservative audience.
As applied to the controversy about gifted children, this means that our national leaders -- all of them -- the President, members of Congress, our governors and local leaders are going to have to stop trying to make political capital by sounding like Ronald Reagan on the subject of tax-paying. At present, funds for all sorts of valuable educational programs are being cut on the quite understandable grounds that there isn't enough money to pay for them. But that is outrageous. We've got to get the money for the programs that hold America together -- but that means that there should now be, in the conservative intellectual camp, an exchange of ideas on the narrow subject of taxation. Obviously, no conservative, capitalist, or libertarian argues that taxes themselves should be outlawed. It follows that there's nothing essentially wrong with taxation -- the question is: How much is too much? Who says so? According to what principles? Do we want a strong military? Do we want at least reasonably good schools? Do we want a sane health-care program? Do we want security on our streets and in our homes? Damned right we do; therefore conservatives are going to have to ask themselves about the practical effects of their budget-cutting. At what point do cuts become counterproductive? Obviously lowering an individual's taxes enables him to acquire a few more CDs, take a trip to Las Vegas, or buy a slightly more expensive car. But if these expenditures are made at the cost of deteriorating education for our children, should his intellectual advisors point out the cause-and-effect relationship to him?
By the way, I would not want to suggest, by these observations, that conservative intellectuals, as individuals, do not support programs for the gifted. I assume that most of them do. But all the more reason, then, for them to enlighten those in a position to influence the providing of funds for programs that are not luxuries but crucial necessities.
INFLUENCES DURING MY HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
I attended five high schools in all (something I do not recommend), but as I look back at those years, of which it took me five rather than the traditional four to complete the process, I recall something that might be helpful in the present context. I refer to clubs. I remember, particularly at Hyde Park High School in Chicago, that there were Latin clubs, Chess clubs, math clubs and other special groupings that brought together students who shared assorted interests. Perhaps the word gifted itself ought not to be used because of its effects on other students not so fortunate, but it should be a simple matter to form a "creative thinking" club that would draw together students who are, in fact, gifted.
As I recall, there were no academic credits offered for club activities in the schools I attended; involvement was voluntary. But I have little doubt that bright young people in a given student body would gravitate to such stimulating opportunities.
While I have never described myself as gifted, I suppose that I was blessed, by the accidental roll of the genetic dice, with a number of abilities that set me apart from most of my fellow-students. But there were in those days -- the 1930s -- no formal programs specifically for intellectually fortunate children. Some might argue, therefore, that since I have obviously done well as regards my professional activities without the benefit of involvement with a gifted children program, it follows that other bright youngsters also need no special encouragement.
No, it does not so follow at all. While it is true that there were no programs by which I could benefit, there were, in fact, two individual teachers who gave me the sort of special attention and encouragement that often proves to be so decisive. One was a Catholic nun, Sister Mary Saraphia, at the St. Thomas The Apostle School in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. Having become aware of my ability to write, she made me the editor of a little schoolroom newspaper, supplied me with books, and in every possible way encouraged me to exercise my gift. Years later, in gratitude, I dedicated one of my early books to her.
The second teacher to whom I will always be grateful was Marguerite Byrne, who taught English at Hyde Park High. She encouraged me to enter an essay contest, in which I won a prize; made me the poetry editor of the school magazine; carefully graded my essays and test papers; and in every possible way made me aware that there was something special about my ability to communicate coherently.
These two women, then, provided the very sort of encouragement and attention that at least a few fortunate children today can get from organized programs. It might be counterargued that there will always be certain teachers so sensitive and well-qualified, ever on the lookout for students who can profit by special attention. Indeed there will, but today the problems of our schools are so notoriously difficult that, even if a few such teachers exist, their tender concerns have little opportunity to be exercised given that so much of their energy is devoted simply to keeping the peace in their classrooms.
Having done a bit of teaching myself, I know that it is a simple matter to quickly identify the brightest students in a class. School principals should cooperate with teachers in this connection so that extracurricular programs of some sort can be developed, not over the dead bodies of administrators but with their full encouragement.
Obviously there will be subdivision. Some children, for example, may have a remarkable gift for music but possess intelligence that is only in the normal category.
AN EFFECTIVE WAY FOR ENCOURAGING GIFTED CHILDREN TO THINK
Next, I refer to a teaching gimmick I recently employed, with what I perceive as success, in communicating with two of my nine grandchildren, Bobby (6) and Bradley (8), chosen simply because they live near me, whereas the rest of my descendants are scattered about the country.
As all teachers and parents know, it is difficult to get children to concentrate on almost anything for long periods of time. But just a few nights ago these two little fellows spent about an hour and twenty minutes eagerly participating in an experiment that occurred to me on the spot.
I pointed out to them that because they lived in a comfortable home and were lucky enough to have a father who was well-paid for his professional services, they took for granted a good many things that the majority of the world's children didn't have at all. At that point my purpose was simply to make them appreciate the scores of objects that are a part of their daily environment. But then I said, "Also you'll find that you'll be much more interested in things -- all sorts of things -- if you play a little mental game about them." At the mention of the word game their eyes lighted up. "What's the game?" Bradley said.
"Just pretend," I said, "that you personally have been asked to make one of the objects that you see all the time, as distinguished from just going to a store and buying it."
There was an antique Chinese ceramic food dish on the table next to us as I spoke. "Look at this particular object," I said, picking it up. "Now let's suppose that somebody asks you to make one of these. Do you think you could?"
"I don't think so," Bradley said.
"That's an acceptable answer," I said. "But now let's add another factor to the equation." (Yes, I use such adult language with my grandchildren, as I earlier did with my four sons when they were growing up. How else are they to develop a vocabulary if grownups weed out the kinds of terms they employ in communicating with each other?) "Let's pretend that I offer you a thousand dollars if you can make one of these. Now would you be interested?"
"Sure," they both said.
"Okay, then let's get started. Tell me how you might make one of these things. But before you answer, study this one. Look at both the top and the bottom of it. Notice the various colors that some artist has painted on the flowers and other decorations. Now, what do you suppose the person started with in making this dish?" Their faces were blank.
"Let's try what they call the process of elimination," I said, taking a moment to explain what the phrase meant. "For example, would you make one of these dishes out of peanut butter?" They both giggled.
"Alright, would you make it of cottage cheese or bubble-gum?" They giggled again.
"Since it obviously wouldn't make sense to try to make a dish out of anything of that sort, or hundreds of other things we might mention, what do you think you could use to make a dish?"
"Some kind of clay?" Bradley asked.
"Exactly," I said.
For the next 15 minutes or so we discussed what sort of tools might be used to draw pictures on the clay, what paints we might use to add color. Eventually we went over the same kind of ground, referring to a small, silver-trimmed, wooden box, an Oriental lamp-base, and then, in the next room, some sculptured busts.
When they gave bright or at least reasonable answers to my questions, I complimented them lavishly. When they gave not-so-bright answers, I gently explained why such thoughts weren't on-target. I explained to them, as we went along, that I wasn't giving them a test, that I wasn't putting to them the sorts of questions that had only one right answer. I told them that the whole point of our conversation was to have fun by exercising their minds and brains. I told them that at times even a wrong answer can be helpful because if we can be made to understand why the answer was wrong we will then tend to think more relevantly and creatively about the question at hand.
No doubt it would have been technically possible to teach the same lesson by simply doing all the talking myself, but of course the children would have squirmed and wanted to get away after just a few minutes of that. By making my points chiefly by the use of questions, I was, obviously, teaching the children not what to think, but how to think, as the saying goes.
My oldest son, Dr. Steve Allen, is a family physician who lives and practices in New York state. But he also spends a good deal of his time lecturing, in various parts of the country, on stress reduction, something he does with great good humor and marked success. In teaching his sometimes up-tight audiences to relax and have fun he gives them a bit of instruction on how to juggle colorful silk scarves. One of the basic moves, he explains, is "the Guilt-Free Drop," the point being that obviously anyone starting to juggle will spend most of his time dropping the objects he is trying to toss about, and that it is therefore necessary to get rid of self-critical reactions to such temporary clumsiness. In some of my own teaching, I stress the importance of guilt-free errors. Errors must, needless to say, be identified as such, but this can be done in a way that does not dampen the child's enthusiasm but rather encourages his freedom to speculate. I sometimes explain, in such connections, that although Thomas Edison invented the electric light, he was able to do so because he had made a long list of earlier experiments that failed. I say, "I don't know the exact number, but Mr. Edison might have made about 50 mistakes until he finally arrived at the correct answer. But I'm sure he didn't berate himself or get discouraged by all those mistakes. He was wise enough to learn from them, and often we don't know quite what we should do, which means that it's extremely helpful to learn what not to do, or what answer not to accept."
My point here is certainly not to advise professional educators, who know far more than I about methods of stimulating the thinking and creativity of bright boys and girls. But I would hope that nonspecialists reading this article will see, from the modest example given above, what sorts of educational approaches work particularly well with children whose minds are unconsciously waiting to be exercised.
AN EFFECTIVE METHOD FOR ENCOURAGING GIFTED CHILDREN TO ACCUMULATE, CLASSIFY AND USE INFORMATION
Back in the 1950s I stumbled over a method of information-gathering that has been wonderfully useful ever since. The discovery grew out of my sense of outrage at the degree to which Organized Crime -- chiefly Mafia-related -- controlled the city of New York. Working with the New York City Anti-Crime Committee, I prepared a two-hour television documentary on the subject, during the process of which I was granted access to the committee's files. At that point I simply began to develop my own, which at first consisted of copies of material already gathered by the committee. At the first stage all the items, chiefly articles on the public record, related to Organized Crime in a general sense. The papers were gathered together in black, 3-ringed leatherette binders, filed both alphabetically and chronologically. After a few years this large category began to be subdivided into separate areas in which organized gangsters were operative. There were entries such as the Teamsters Union, the New York and New Jersey waterfront unions, the recording industry (including jukeboxes), professional boxing, the garment industry, narcotics, gambling, etc. Eventually the boundaries of these categories were passed so that at present the library, which now consists of well over a thousand separate volumes, came to cover almost every significant social issue of our time. Among the categories, for example, are: abortion, birth control, communism, capitalism, religion, prisons, poverty, and hunger, to name only a few. I see no reason why children cannot be taught to collect articles from newspapers and magazines that relate to subject matter they're already interested in, whether that might be electricity, football, space travel, gun control, and other urgent issues. They can be encouraged not only to read the materials they accumulate, but to underline significant passages, even to make neat marginal notes. Obviously such a learning method can easily be adapted to individual circumstances and settings, but I assume that if it has been so invaluable to me it must be of at least some use to others.
Ten years ago, in an article for The New York Times, I suggested that it would be a very peculiar state of affairs if our society took the position that children who are found to possess remarkable musical aptitude were, nevertheless, not to be given any special consideration or instruction. And it would be unthinkable if we argued that young people blessed with superior athletic ability should not be encouraged to develop their gifts.
But when it comes to students who are only intellectually superior, we are remarkably indifferent. There are, to be sure, individuals concerned with the special needs of gifted children, and some of their responses are organizational. But there is by no means a consensus concerning the wisdom of providing special nurture for those who, partly by the mysterious roll of the genetic dice, are intellectually superior.
Does this mean we care more about athletic than intellectual achievement? I'm afraid it does, insofar as we can be judged by our actions. But is there any way that we could be made to even begin to imagine that the mind and spirit are more important than the biceps or the hamstring? The trick might be turned if we could plug this particular computer program, so to speak, into the national ego-circuits. There would certainly be justification for such a connection, because in the long, historic run it is a damned sight more important, and dangerous, that we are mentally inferior than that, in some instances, we are physically inferior.
To approach the problem from another angle, we must all somehow be made aware -- as quickly as possible -- that as of the last 25 years or so, the American people have been getting demonstrably dumber. We were shocked, some years ago, to be told that "Johnny can't read." Indeed he can't, at least not as well as he should, nor can he write, do simple arithmetic, or even think very well.
In the face of such negative factors, there is a depressing stupidity in our refusal to offer proper encouragement and nurture to the small percentage of our children who are performing well. A number of super-bright young people do somehow contrive to get a reasonably good education and to enjoy professional success. But a good many others of equal competence are falling through the tattered net of public and official ignorance and neglect. That we cannot afford.
Although there is an urgent need for active programs that respond to the needs of gifted children, it does not follow that all such efforts will be properly conducted. Well-intentioned parents can be counterproductive if what they perceive as special attention is construed by the child -- perhaps accurately -- as a high-pressure message saying, "You'd better succeed, or else."
Concerned parents, therefore, must assess their own motives. Otherwise they may become as destructive as the notorious stage-mothers who, in the theatrical context, sometimes do permanent damage to their children's hearts and souls because of the intense critical pressure they put on them to succeed as actors or performers.
The most successful programs of encouragement for superior children strike a reasonable balance between special instruction on the one hand, and warm, friendly encouragement on the other. I recall from my own somewhat chaotic educational experience that if I liked a teacher, I tended to do well in her class. If the teacher was cold, insulting, sarcastic and/or impatient, I learned little.
This issue, of course, exists within the context of a larger and unresolved philosophical debate concerning suitable relationships between what might loosely be described as the haves and have-nots of society.
As regards superior intelligence, the issue would at least be simpler to understand if all the strikingly bright boys and girls lived on the "right side of the tracks," and all the below-average children on the other side. God help the unbright ones if that were the case, because perhaps no society in history has morally distinguished itself by its treatment of the poor or otherwise disadvantaged. But intelligence may spring up in a rural shack or a slum apartment.
The classic example is that of Charles Kettering, whose achievements as an inventor are rivaled only by those of Thomas Edison. Many of Kettering's remarkable discoveries and developments were related to the automobile industry. His incredible gifts might have been easily overlooked, given that as a child he attended a very small rural school. Fortunately, two young teachers noticed his aptitude and gave him special attention. Had they not done so, the development of nothing less than the American economy itself might have been delayed or handicapped.
If, as I assume, the primary factors of giftedness are physical and genetic, it then becomes a matter of the most crucial importance that the unusually bright ones in poor neighborhoods be identified as early as possible. Otherwise the initial natural gifts are wasted, swamped by the harsh realities of being brought up in conditions characterized by poverty, crime, inadequate diet, parents who may be either absent, tragically ignorant and uneducated, and socially unstable, if not criminal. It is, then, all the more necessary that efforts be made to identify gifted children in the below-the-poverty-line segment of our society. It is no exaggeration to say that if it were the case that an appreciable and ever-growing segment of our society were, in fact, becoming less well educated, less prepared for life in the marketplace, less socially responsible generally, this would be a grave threat to the stability of our nation. It is painfully clear in the rising statistics concerning violent crime that the poor will not forever supinely accept their fate. If they cannot legally secure the benefits of life in the world's richest nation, some of them will simply break and enter, grab and run, even assault and kill to get what they want. The problems of our society do not exist as a series of more-or-less separate issues. They are all part of a large, ugly, interconnected machine. It is the height of social stupidity for the white, affluent descendants of former peasants and laborers to say, "If they want something, let them work for it," at a time when there are no jobs for 10 percent of America's workers and when, moreover, our poverty-stricken neighborhoods are producing millions of young people largely unqualified to accept such low-paying jobs as might otherwise be available to them. Education is obviously important as a means of uplifting the human mind and spirit. But it also has a profound importance in the context of social and economic considerations. It would be an exaggeration to say that a large, continued, and strikingly successful program of identifying all gifted children and offering them proper nurture, could in itself resolve our larger problems. But not doing so will certainly make these problems more severe.
RECONCEPTUALIZING CREATIVITY EDUCATION
BY JONATHAN A. PLUCKER
THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
"A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence." Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1856
Creative production is a key component of human existence -- people have always valued 'creative' things, whether they include ideas, inventions, paintings, songs, or other modes of creative expression. The standards by which our ancestors judged products to be creative are different from ours, but it cannot be disputed that humankind has always enjoyed the fruits of the innovator's labor. Although the beginning of the scientific study of creativity is attributed to Guilford's (1950) APA presidential address, humankind has studied creative production, both scientifically (Torrance, 1982) and philosophically (Plato, 1976), for a much longer period of time. Evidence of the current emphasis on creativity surrounds us: thousands of references on computer databases (e.g., ERIC); two major and several minor journals directly concerned with creativity; numerous workshops and conference sessions; and scores of books dealing with creativity theory, assessment, and education.
With such an emphasis on the study and education of creativity, the assumption that creativity education is at least stressed in American schools, if not fostered by an atmosphere for creativity in each classroom, would be a reasonable one. Yet studies of classroom and school practices (Goodlad, 1984; Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, & Salvin, 1993), while not dealing specifically with creativity, show that activity within the typical classroom is frighteningly rote and passive. No instructional differentiation exists with respect to individual abilities or needs, the mode of delivery is primarily lecture or seatwork, little emotion (either positive or negative) is shown by educators or students, and a vast majority of the questions asked of students do not require the use of higher order thinking skills (i.e., they involve primarily knowledge and comprehension). This research paints the picture of a classroom which lacks a supportive environment for any learning, let alone the fostering of creative skills.
This dichotomy is troublesome: The importance of creativity is well-established, yet in practice, little work is done with creativity in education. Why isn't high quality, creativity education more widespread? Excellent resources exist in the form of well-established programs (e.g., Schoolwide Enrichment Model, New Directions in Creativity, Talents Unlimited, Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, Williams Interaction Model; see Davis, 1992; Renzulli, 1986), techniques (brainstorming, SCAMPER, Synectics, Creative Problem Solving, creative imagery), and materials for both teachers and students (Adams, 1986; Dacey, 1989; Davis, 1992). Teachers seem to value creative thinking abilities - ask a group of educators if they feel that creativity is important, and they will usually answer in the affirmative. If resources are plentiful and educators believe that creativity is important, other factors must exist that explain the current state of creativity education.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
My experiences working with teachers, parents, and children have led me to believe that the crux of the problem lies in the implicit conceptualizations of creativity held by those who interact with children. This conceptualization is usually contrary to what works in schools for three reasons. First, creativity is thought of as a "soft" concept because it is largely intangible. Unlike 'intelligence' or 'mathematical ability,' creativity is rarely associated with a creativity quotient or score on a standardized test, giving it an amorphous, it's-there- but-we-can't-see-it quality. Because of this perceived intangibility, many educators and parents feel that creativity cannot be measured or assessed. Many teacher-parent interactions have reinforced this: I have sat through many conferences where the teacher remarked, "Well, Tony isn't working up to his ability in math or social studies, but he's very creative." This invariably causes one parent to roll his or her eyes deep into their skull while the other asks incredulously, "What does that mean?!?" This perceived lack of measurability leads to problems because a teacher's schedule and curriculum are based upon that which can be measured - objectives, standardized tests, grades, etc. The need for quantifiability is reinforced by the expectations of administrators and parents, since they expect the children to "know" certain things by the end of the year.
Second, the belief that people are either innately creative or not creative is quite widespread. This all-or-nothing approach leads to the opinion that a person who is not creative cannot be taught to be so, and that trying to help them become creative is unfair and cruel. Weisberg (1993) attributes this "genius myth" of creativity to the popular notion that "ordinary thinking" skills are not involved in the creative process.
Third, many educators and parents fail to see the importance of creativity across disciplines. Many of my discussions with parents have centered around their belief that creativity is a positive attribute for a future painter or actor but does not benefit the child who plans to be a scientist, businessperson, or lawyer. While some debate exists on whether creativity is the same or manifests itself differently across disciplines (Gardner, 1993), the fact that creativity is a benefit in every area of human endeavor is widely accepted.
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
The key strategy for improving creativity education is the creation of environments that foster and promote creativity. During a meeting of a team charged with identifying children with special gifts and talents, a teacher criticized several of her students for "not showing a creative spark" or "giving something extra." However, students in her classroom were not encouraged to extend themselves and, quite to the contrary, were severely chastised if they solved a problem or completed a worksheet the "wrong" way (i.e., in a way different from that of the teacher). This problem is not rare, as I have seen it in classrooms in many schools. The underlying issue in these situations is the lack of 'creativity-fostering environments,' which is different from the environments completely lacking in creativity and 'creative classrooms' which are currently the most prevalent in American classrooms today.
The many types of environments of creativity exist on a continuum: On one side there are the "environments lacking in creativity," "creative classrooms" lie near the middle, and "creativity-fostering environments" lie at the other end. Unfortunately, the most common type of classroom environment lies near the "environment lacking in creativity" end of the continuum. These classrooms, for the reasons theorized above, provide no explicit encouragement for creativity and, most commonly, discourage creativity at both an explicit (e.g., over-reliance on textbooks and basal readers which do not accent creativity) and implicit level ("That's the right answer, but I don't want you to do it that way."). In "creative classrooms," on the other hand, an observer is much more likely to find both explicit and implicit support for creativity, although the approach to creativity is limited (e.g., little curricular integration, uni-disciplinary approaches, limited concept of creativity). In classrooms that lie at the most supportive, "creativity-fostering" end of the continuum, all aspects of creativity are stressed explicitly in curriculum, materials, and activities and implicitly in teacher-student interactions.
HOW DO WE CONSTRUCT 'CREATIVITY- FOSTERING ENVIRONMENTS'?
To infuse life and vitality into creativity education, people who interact with children must aspire to create "creativity-fostering environments." In order to do this, we must fundamentally change the way creative processes are perceived - literally reconceptualizing what is meant when we discuss 'creativity.' By including a more comprehensive 'creativity' in educational programming, the perception of creativity as a 'soft,' exclusive subject can be changed. By stressing the practicality and multi-disciplinary nature of creativity, we can change the perception to that of a more 'concise' subject like science or English without turning creativity education into a series of basal readers and workbooks.
The following three-step process is offered as a blueprint for creating these environments: Expand current conceptions of creativity using the Articulation Model of Creative Acceptance; use assessment techniques which more closely model "real world" situations; and integrate creativity throughout the curriculum. The blueprint is not meant to be an exhaustive list but merely the starting point for a debate on improving the current state of creativity education.
STEP ONE: THE ARTICULATION MODEL OF CREATIVE ACCEPTANCE.
The processes and concepts that have been popularized as 'Creativity' over the past few decades are, in reality, only a piece of the 'creativity puzzle.' The most practical aspects of creativity have been underemphasized in creativity research, theory and education, especially interactions involved in the attainment of acceptance for creative products. Yet the historical accounts of creators in all fields of human endeavor yield rich, detailed accounts of the creators' struggles to have their creative ideas and products accepted. For example, an analysis of Edison's experiences during his experimentation with the electric light bulb is much more revealing (and intriguing) when his acceptance-gaining actions are considered. After all, he received enormous financial backing by convincing investors that he had solved all of the major problems before he had even really begun (Flatow, 1992). Further examples are prevalent: Boccaccio might not be remembered as the creator of the novella if the Plague had not created a need for his secular themes; Freud labored feverishly for most of his life to promote psychoanalysis as a respectable science; and the creative works of Copernicus, Van Gogh, and Braille were not acknowledged for years and, in some cases, decades. The following articulation model resulted from a desire to help children learn the lessons of acceptance-gaining from the experiences of humankind's most acclaimed creators.
At the heart of the reconceptualization of creativity lies the Articulation Model of Creative Acceptance (Plucker, 1993), which was developed to answer the following question: What skills and abilities influence the acceptance of creative products, and how can they be organized into a framework that will allow educators to develop these characteristics in children? To arrive at an answer, the creative activities of renowned individuals from a cross-section of disciplines were analyzed, and the resulting, basic patterns were then compared to the acceptance-gaining behavior of several of my colleagues. The final step involved the comparison of the model to the creative activities of children in grades two through nine.
The resulting model is made of two major parts: the components of articulation and the mechanism through which articulation occurs. For an extensive explanation of the model, readers are referred to the source article, but a simplified description follows.
The components of articulation are processes which most directly influence the acceptance of creative products. These processes include communication, which involves putting the product in an easily presented and understood form and transferring its importance to an audience; audience selection, or deciding which group or groups are likely to accept the product; selecting or creating the proper mood, or waiting until the atmosphere is 'ripe for acceptance'; and alliance construction/obstacle identification, which involves the process of finding advocates who can aid in the attainment of acceptance and identifying those persons who are obstacles to acceptance.
Innumerable characteristics and processes support and influence these four major components. They may include: physical factors, motivation, image, social skills, personality factors, thinking skills, image, ability to communicate, and combinations of these skills (e.g., ability to discern opportunities, creative problem-solving ability). While the components of articulation factor into every acceptance-gaining situation, the importance and necessity of these other skills and attributes will vary with each articulator and each situation. The extent to which these 'supportive' processes influence articulation needs to be determined through further research. At this point, the following questions arise: What separates the Articulation Model from other acceptance-gaining models? Aren't they different perspectives of the same concept? The major distinction between articulation and acceptance-gaining is comprehensiveness. While acceptance-gaining focuses primarily on the role of the individual, many current theories of creativity emphasize the role of the environment (e.g., the domain, culture, and other external factors) in the acceptance of creative products. In the Articulation Model, the component processes described above primarily involve the individual and his or her manipulation of the environment and potential audiences. The second part of the model, the mechanism through which articulation occurs, addresses the individual's interactions with the environment and audiences.
The premise behind the mechanism of articulation is that potential audiences may respond in several ways when someone attempts to gain acceptance for a creative product (e.g., an idea, an invention, a story, a new process): refusal to acknowledge the product; acknowledgement of the product without forming an opinion as to its acceptability; immediate, unconditional rejection; mixed, predominantly negative reaction leading to general rejection; a completely mixed reaction; mixed, predominantly positive reaction leading to general acceptance; and unconditional, immediate acceptance, which rarely occurs. When confronted with these reactions, the articulator can modify the product in order to make it more acceptable and easier to articulate, articulate of the product in a different way, or accept the audience's initial decision.
The most common reactions to any creative product are general rejection, mixed reaction, and general acceptance. When a product elicits any of these responses from an audience, it is temporarily added to the knowledge base of the field while debate as to its worth occurs. For example, a product that initially meets with general acceptance may be debated over time until it is generally rejected. A product can also move among the more extreme reactions: Mendel's work with genetics was ambivalently acknowledged during his lifetime but became generally accepted decades later. When a product attains general acceptance, it is added to a more permanent knowledge base and is used in further creative efforts. In this way, the mechanism for the acceptance of creative products follows a circular path (with frequent stops and reversals of direction).
Taken together, the two parts of the model allow it to represent the acceptance of creative products more completely than in the past, in a manner similar to Amabile's (1983) work in which she sought to comprehensively depict creativity. Another advantage of the model is its relative simplicity - educators can effectively deal with the acceptance of creative products within an organized framework.
APPLYING THE ARTICULATION MODEL TO THE CLASSROOM
To comprehensively foster children's creative abilities, I suggest that the model be applied in two steps. The first part, involving the components of articulation, is probably the easiest to implement due to its instructional nature. Because these processes and abilities are not discipline-specific, they can be easily incorporated into almost any aspect of the curriculum. Based upon the work of Beyer (1987), I prefer to introduce and practice each skill separately and apart from the regular curriculum, then guide the students as they transfer these skills to other disciplines within the curriculum. Almost any technique can be used to introduce and practice these skills, but a discussion followed by simulations (Plucker, 1992) is probably the most effective. Each of the four component processes are introduced separately, with each successive activity introducing a new process and reinforcing previously-mastered ones. For example, the first set of activities introduces students to the role of communication. Once students appear to understand the use of communication in gaining acceptance for creative products, the second set of activities, which deal with selecting an audience, is begun. However, in order to reinforce previous concepts, all of the activities require students to utilize various forms of communication as they attempt to select audiences during the simulations. By the time the fourth unit is finished, students have been introduced to all four component processes, have practiced three of them, and have probably begun to master the first two. The fifth unit requires students to use all four components of successful articulation to gain acceptance for a product of their own creation. Each unit can be strengthened by working each introduced and practiced process into the curriculum before moving on to the next unit (see Step Three below). For example, after students have practiced the process of communication, utilizing various forms of communication can be worked into the curriculum so that students have frequent opportunities to master the process. Then the next unit (involving audience selection) can begin, which will further reinforce the previously introduced concepts.
The second part of the model, the mechanism involved in articulation, is harder to introduce into a classroom setting because it often requires major modifications of classroom management, instructional technique, and educator beliefs. With respect to classroom management and instructional technique, the model carries several implications: Allow students to present their work through various media (e.g., film, poster, paper, prototype) and modes of communication (e.g., written, spoken, visual); have students present their work to their peers frequently; include debating, storytelling, and cooperative activities that help children learn to interact and present themselves and their ideas in an efficient way; if a student arrives at an answer in a 'different way,' ask non-judgmental questions that give the child an opportunity to explain his or her reasoning; encourage interaction (e.g., suggestions, constructive criticism) among students, even when they are working individually; if students articulate their product poorly, let them modify the product or their presentation of it before they are evaluated. This is an extremely abbreviated list - any activity or strategy that encourages students to work under the same conditions as actual, practicing creators will be beneficial.
A modification of educator beliefs is necessary because a significant body of research, most notably that of Amabile and her colleagues (see Hennessey & Amabile, 1988), has shown that external evaluation, extrinsic motivation, and competition are inversely related to creative productivity. While this work receives its fair share of criticism based upon methodological and interpretive grounds, the detrimental effect of external forces and competition upon creativity is becoming well-established. The implications of this 'external effect' are debatable, however. Do we avoid external motivators and competition in order to circumvent a detrimental effect upon creativity, or do we accept the fact that external factors and competition will be encountered by creators and help children learn to accept criticism and work productively with external motivators and competition?
I lean toward the latter for two reasons: First, children learn to detest criticism and grow into adolescents and adults who avoid it at all costs. By teaching them at an early age that criticism can be used to their advantage, many of the detrimental effects found by Amabile and her colleagues will become much less pronounced. Second, we are doing children a disservice by once again withholding a comprehensive view of 'real world' creativity from them. Creativity does not exist in a vacuum - helping children learn how to manipulate the acceptance of their creative products may help to circumvent the 'external effect.'
STEP TWO: ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
From pre-school to graduate school, assessment of student talent and performance is quite often the cause of much anxiety. With respect to creativity, identifying potential and evaluating performance are especially problematic, since there is no generally accepted definition of "Creativity." With the importance of assessment firmly established in American classrooms, an environment which seeks to comprehensively foster creative achievement must include an improved technique for assessment of creative products.
Recent scales and methods for rating creative products (Amabile, 1982; O'Quin & Besemer, 1989; Reis & Renzulli, 1991) focus on characteristics of the creative product. While this aspect of creative production and acceptance gaining is important, these techniques neglect other components of articulation. An improved method includes providing children with the opportunity to present their work, explain its strengths, and defend or improve upon weaknesses.
For example, consider the following scenario: Rather than requiring students to submit a persuasive essay on local recycling options, a teacher allows students to present their opinions then answer questions offered by the teacher and his or her classmates. Both the student's peers and the teacher provide one positive and one 'constructive' comment to the presenter. The teacher uses other rating scales and guidelines to grade the other aspects of the student's performance and product. The teacher and student sit down with all of the evaluations and comments and discuss the project, including the ways in which it and its articulation can be improved. This process obviously takes up a great deal more time than the straightforward submission of a paper or project, but offering the occasional opportunity to participate in such a process should make students more comfortable with evaluations of their work.
While the inclusion of articulation concepts in creative product assessment needs to be further developed, the application of the articulation model to this aspect of creativity holds a great deal of promise.
STEP THREE: INTEGRATION INTO THE CURRICULUM
As with any newly introduced skill or concept, creative skills should be integrated into the curriculum as soon as students have begun to master them. All too often, creativity education involves the introduction of a technique (e.g., SCAMPER, brainstorming, creative imagery), and as much practice as time will allow. The most crucial step, maintaining and practicing the skills through constant, applied use, is omitted. Educators who anticipate a difficult, arduous process will be surprised by the ease with which most content and activities can be modified to include some creativity- reinforcing component or theme.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: THE CREATIVITY-FOSTERING CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT
Although many educators will find the suggestions mentioned above to be difficult to accept and implement, students who are given the opportunity to learn in such an environment will eventually thrive as they become comfortable with the mutual-respect and creative advantages that they encounter.
While discussing the educational uses of the Articulation Model, a colleague commented that many of the classroom activities that introduce and reinforce articulation skills are also beneficial with respect to the development of creative skills. I believe this to be the case for two reasons: First, creativity and articulation of creative products are inter-related, although I believe that they can function quite independently from one another. Second, the individual who applies creativity (and other cognitive processes) to the articulation process will be much more successful than someone who does not. Whatever the reason, this overlap is most beneficial because it allows programs that develop creative abilities to include components that seek to improve articulation skills with relatively few difficulties.
The Articulation Model is the cornerstone of a 'creativity-fostering environment.' Its adaptation increases the perceived practicality of creativity, more comprehensively represents the nature of creativity, and better prepares students to take advantage of their creative abilities. Add extensive integration of creativity into the curriculum and improved, expanded assessment of student products to a classroom which develops articulation skills, and an environment which truly fosters life-long creative productivity and achievement will emerge.
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OL' MAN RIVER AND THE EDUCATION OF GIFTED STUDENTS
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS
NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The great flooding produced by the father of all American rivers, the Mississippi, during the summer of 1993 vividly shows the overwhelming power of this natural force. This river has affected the imagination of many outstanding American writers, musicians and artists. Themes dealing with the Mississippi and its creative individuals can be effectively included in a curriculum that appeals to the gifted child. For example, Herman Melville (1819-91), the American writer of tales that occurred on the great oceans, was also influenced by the Mississippi. He took a trip on a Mississippi steam boat in 1840. Out of this encounter, he wrote one of the most unusual books about America, The Confidence Man (1857), a metaphysical inquiry into the American psyche and a forerunner of Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools (1962). The story begins on April Fool's Day, and it tells about all the different types of people on the boat. Melville describes black workers, the crew, American Indians, Sephardic Jews from New Orleans, gamblers, Don Juans, dance hall girls, etc. These people represent a cross section of the entire human race that Melville uses to weave a tapestry of American identity.
In contrast, Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1835-1910) was concerned with how humanity deals with the elements. In this book, we learn about his experiences as a river boat pilot, navigating difficult shoals, eddies and channels. It is a metaphor of man versus nature and a story involving many "tall tales" about this enormous river. Some of the headings within the chapters suggest the interesting direction of these tales: "A Haunted Barrel," "Sublime Profanity," "A Champion Liar," "A Stupendous Conspiracy," and "A Village Tragedian." Twain's writings about the Mississippi represent his attempt to create an American ideal based upon individual initiative, hard work, a love of adventure, and a willingness to take chances to achieve success. He was also concerned with the metaphysical problem of nature's "tantrums" and natural disasters. Why does nature reek such havoc with the physical environment? Is there a way to turn these disastrous rains, floods, and wind into a positive experience? Twain's lifetime experience in how people interacted with the river was expressed in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
William Faulkner (1897-1962) was another great American writer influenced by the Mississippi. His two novellas, Old Man (1939) and The Wild Palms (1939), were based on the 1927 floods that left thousands of Americans homeless and in economic ruin. The Old Man is the story of two convicts sent from prison to build levees. They escape but sacrifice their freedom when they rescue a pregnant woman. The Wild Palms is about a New Orleans doctor who performs an abortion. Faulkner presented these novellas as one book with alternating chapters for each story. They cover both sides of the abortion issue; pro-life and pro-choice.
Show Boat (1926) by Edna Ferber (1887-1968) became an immediate best seller and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection shortly after it was published. The story takes place along the Mississippi during a fifty-year period beginning in the 1880s. One of its major themes concerns the racism that existed during this period of American history. It also deals with other important themes such as miscegenation, alcoholism, and a wife's desertion of her gambling husband. In late 1926, the musical genius, Jerome Kern, and his lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, began working on the musical version of this book. The great Florenz Ziegfeld was the producer, and he required delivery of the first version of the script by early January 1927. This producer had underwritten many great musicals during his long career, but his grandest achievement was Show Boat. On November 15, 1927, the opening night occurred for this revolutionary American saga at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. It represented a watershed in our musical theatre, for no longer would only "sugar coated" themes be acceptable to the theatre-going public. Because of Oscar Hammerstein 2nd's conscientious adherence to Ferber's original story, real life themes and problems could be used in later musicals. For example, he wrote the outstanding song against racial intolerance, "You've Got to be Carefully Taught How to Hate," for South Pacific (1949). The movie version of Show Boat appeared in 1936, and featured the famous African-American singer, Paul Robeson, singing "Ol' Man River."
The book and musical also illustrate how the Mississippi had a strong influence on many areas of American music: Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, Country, and Blue Grass. All originated in cities that bordered on this river such as Memphis, St. Louis and New Orleans. By studying this theme of the Mississippi River and its writers, the gifted student will learn how landscapes, natural disasters and the constant ebb and flow of this timeless river affected their sensibility and creative abilities. The impact of the Mississippi on American civilization has indeed been profound. What new creative works will it influence during the 21st Century? Only the “Ol' Man" knows!
“When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient. . . .These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.” Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, 1883.
SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER (PARAMOUNT, 1993) DIRECTOR: S. ZAILLIAN
MOVIE REVIEW BY JONATHAN PLUCKER
THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
In 1991, the film Little Man Tate presented a vivid portrait of gifted children: lonely, misunderstood, ostracized by peers who can't understand them. Searching for Bobby Fischer gives a very different perspective of talent and its development, using the experiences of former world chess champion Bobby Fischer as a backdrop. Although I liked Little Man Tate, Searching... is technically and contextually a much better film. The fact-based story takes us through a few months in the youth of Josh Waitzkin, a young chess prodigy from New York (the screenplay is adapted from his father's book of the same title). These months are quite eventful: Josh's parents gradually realize that their son has an advanced talent for chess; a chess teacher is hired and fired; and Josh competes in numerous chess tournaments.
The film's main concern is the struggle between the important people in Josh's life -- his parents, mentors, friends, classroom teachers -- to decide what kind of a balance should exist between the activities of a “normal” seven-year-old and the effort needed to develop and refine exceptional talent. Unlike Little Man Tate, in which this struggle was essentially a tug-of-war between the mother and the teacher, this film is much more accurate in its description of the numerous opinions and problems involved with such a decision: The mother is concerned with her son's happiness, the father struggles to keep from pushing his son too hard, the chess teacher wants to develop the talent using methods more suitable for adults, the classroom teacher wishes Josh spent more time on academic concerns, and Josh tries to figure out how to enjoy both his talents and childhood.
This is a fine movie, perhaps the best on the implications of exceptional talent since Amadeus (1984), and numerous people can benefit from it. Parents should take their children to this movie and discuss the issues that are raised. Teachers will be forced to examine their expectations of students, especially with respect to talents and abilities. And anyone who has dealt with above-average ability and its educational, familial, and social/emotional concerns will shed a tear when Josh is frustrated and cheer when his friends and loved ones help him to find a balance between his chess ability and being seven years-old.
Rudin, S., & Rajski, P. (Producers), & Foster, J. (Director). (1991). Little Man Tate [Film]. Orion Pictures.
Zaentz, S. (Producer), & Forman, M. (Director). (1984). Amadeus [Film]. Thorn EMI HBO Video.
Letter from E. Paul Torrance Regarding Joan Smutny's Article on Advocacy for the Gifted (GEPQ, Fall 1993)
Congratulations on your article in the current Gifted Education Press Quarterly. It makes a strong advocacy for special education for the gifted. Love, Paul