BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
CREATIVITY: FLOW AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DISCOVERY AND INVENTION BY MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI (1996). HARPER COLLINS, NEW YORK.
During the last thirty-five years, there have been several important works on the origin and development of creativity such as the research of Getzels and Jackson (Creativity and Intelligence: Explorations with Gifted Students, 1962), the biographical studies of Goertzel and Goertzel (Cradles of Eminence, 1962) and Gardner (Creating Minds, 1993), and the educational applications designed by Torrance for improving creative thinking (Guiding Creative Talent, 1962). Csikszentmihalyi's book is the most recent systematic study of this elusive concept involving interviews with ninety-one individuals noted for their accomplishments in literature, art, music, biological and physical sciences, engineering, business, philosophy, acting, economics, political science and politics. Twelve were Nobel Prize winners, e.g., Nadine Gordimer and Naguib Mahfouz in literature, Joshua Lederberg in biology, Rosalyn Yalow in medicine, Linus Pauling in chemistry, and John Bardeen in physics. Some of the more well-known individuals included in this "snow ball" sample were Mortimer J. Adler, Edward Asner, James Coleman, Robertson Davies, Stephen Jay Gould, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Madeleine L'Engle, Eugene McCarthy, Oscar Peterson, Jonas Salk, May Sarton, Ravi Shankar, Benjamin Spock and Edward O. Wilson. These individuals were interviewed (using detailed protocols) by Csikszentmihalyi and his graduate students between 1990 and 1995 for an average of two hours. All of the interviews were videotaped for in-depth study. The original sample had 275 candidates with an equal number of males and females from diverse cultural groups. This sample was reduced because of poor health, the refusal to participate, and being unable to locate particular individuals. Peter Drucker, a management expert and Oriental art professor, said ". . . .I could not possibly answer your questions. I am told I am creative -- I don't know what that means. . . . I just keep on plodding. . . ." (p. 14). Most of the persons in the final sample were sixty years of age or older with a few renowned exceptions, e.g., Stephen Jay Gould (b. 1941).
What makes this book highly instructive and a pleasure to read is the author's use of numerous examples from his subjects' lives. This is particularly the case in the chapters concerned with "The Domain of the Word" (Chapter 10), "The Domain of Life" (Chapter 11) and "The Domain of the Future" (Chapter 12). Each chapter is interesting because of his engaging narrative and generalizations about the creative process based upon culling a massive amount of interview data. Although it is difficult to make valid inferences from these interviews, Csikszentmihalyi and his graduate students engaged in a systematic analysis which debunks many of the current myths about creative individuals. First, the conceptual framework for this study was supported by the interview results. This framework emphasized that creativity occurs in an organizational context involving the symbolic domain of knowledge (e.g., extensive information derived from research studies, historical precedents, cultural movements, etc.) and peers or experts who evaluate and provide feedback to the creative person. According to this framework, creativity cannot occur in a cultural vacuum lacking the foundation provided by the history and current status of a field, and without interaction among and feedback from colleagues. The book contains numerous examples of how these organizational and cultural factors have influenced the training, studies, competitions and successes/failures of the ninety-one subjects.
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention is particularly enlightening for educators of the gifted because it provides a thorough debunking of the myth of dysfunctional personality development as underlying creativity. Csikszentmihalyi found little evidence that his subjects were unhappy, neurotic or experienced unreasonably difficult childhoods. ". . . . I have come to the conclusion that the reigning stereotype of the tortured genius is to a large extent a myth created by Romantic ideology and supported by evidence from isolated and -- one hopes -- atypical historical periods." (p. 19). He also gives the reader a summary of the creative personality that demonstrates complex thinking and behavior, e.g., the ability to move from extremes of energy levels, convergent-divergent thinking, playfulness-discipline, imaginative-realistic thinking, extroversion-introversion, rebellious-conservative behavior and suffering/pain-enjoyment.
Chapter 5 on "The Flow of Creativity" demonstrates that innovators like Jacob Rabinow (inventor) and Naguib Mahfouz (the "Dickens" of Middle Eastern literature) derive much pleasure from work. Their joy in producing a story or scientific research is more important than the money earned or the goal attained. This chapter also includes a detailed analysis of the motives for creative achievement, and a discussion of the problems society and the schools face in directing children into substantive creative activities. This challenge is further delineated in chapters 7 through 9 ("The Early Years, " "The Later Years," and "Creative Aging").
This book should be read not only for the information it contains about highly creative individuals but for its description of environments for encouraging creative ideas and behavior. As demonstrated in Chapter 6 ("Creative Surroundings"), certain types of educational surroundings have been crucial in stimulating the greatest works of exceptionally creative individuals. The last two chapters -- 13 and 14 -- are concerned with "The Making of Culture" and "Enhancing Personal Creativity." They present recommendations for improving a person's creativity that can help teachers and gifted students to move from stilted assignments and thinking to producing a learning environment which fosters creative excellence.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT'S FIRESIDE CHATS AND GIFTED INTELLIGENCES BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE HUMANITIES IN THE SCHOOLS
"After all, there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plans. . . ." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, March 12, 1993.
One of the important roles for gifted education is to create the intellectual soil for future leaders. If we examine nations like England, France, Germany and Japan, we discover there are entire networks of education based upon meritocracies. To understand the nature of leadership, we must extend our knowledge of cognitive development along the parameters of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences theory. According to this theory, the ability to be a successful leader relates to special forms of intelligence (see Gardner's Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, 1995, Basic Books). Leadership involves the intelligences that link both the cognitive and affective aspects of giftedness.
The study of great speeches by acknowledged successful leaders is both a diagnostic and analytic tool for educators of the gifted and their students. In this regard, I examined a collection of the Fireside Chats (1995, Penguin Books) by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These were presidential addresses delivered during two critical periods of his presidency. They were the economic depression of the 1930s and World War II of the 1940s. The medium he so effectively used was the radio. President Roosevelt was able to create a sense of intimacy between himself and his listeners. At the same time, he created a sense of family on a national level that was achieved through non-totalitarian means. This was democracy at its best.
President Roosevelt perceived that his role was to explain, convince and inspire. His approach demonstrates that he had faith in the intelligence and decency of the average American citizen. In contrast, totalitarians don't respect and trust their citizens. They seek a consensus created and buttressed by instruments of terror such as mass rallies, parades, hate, hysteria and concentration camps. President Roosevelt in a radio address on December 29, 1940 expressed these differences in the following terms: "The history of recent years proves that the shootings and chains and the concentration camps are not simply the transient tools but the very alters of modern dictatorships."
The crisis concerning the economic depression was also a psychological problem. The nation was losing confidence that democracy could maintain economic and social stability. President Roosevelt was able to explain to the public what measures had to be accomplished to reconstruct the economic superstructure. His first job was to dispel fear and panic. The prevailing value that most Americans believed was called "rugged individualism." He had to create a new set of values based upon community responsibility and the common welfare. The fact is that the vital center of American politics was maintained. Democracy was able to withstand the sirens of the extremists with their quick fix.
His addresses during World War II were definitions of the purposes of the struggle. The enemy was a certain set of values that were a threat to our spiritual concepts and to individuals who sought to live in a civilized world. These Fireside Chats are a study guide in leadership, especially for gifted students. It is important for each generation of the gifted to understand the genius of the preceding ones.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, Dec. 1996-Jan. 1997