Wrestling With Creativity in Academia

Few questions are raised about the intelligent child, and we freely accept a wide range of intellectual ability. There is an undefined normal range that is attributed to individual differences, but we struggle when a product differs from that undefined "normal" result. Nonconformists and the visually and verbally creative can quickly make us uncomfortable.

Interest in creativity as distinct from intelligence was a 20th-century development. For centuries, the person who had unusual or different ideas and solutions to problems was labeled either "gifted" or idiosyncratic and strange. Finally, people began to notice that some really great discoveries were being made by ordinary people instead of those acclaimed as "gifted." That was disturbing, but even more disturbing were the mediocre products developed by those assumed to be "gifted." The lines between the intelligent and the "different" were becoming blurred. There was a growing interest in the relationship between intelligence and these other "non-gifted" gifted people.

Throughout history there were architects, artists, musicians and writers, the scholarly and obviously gifted souls, who were destined to be the guardians of the culture and civilization. Craftsmen, farmers, warriors, and maybe politician-statesmen were needed to keep the world functioning, but they were not the cultural leaders and had limited impact on world affairs. Your station in society was fixed. You were a leader or you were to be led. The intelligentsia set the rules, the boundaries.

Finally, in 1950, J. Paul Gilford focused attention on creativity and its relationship to other psychological factors. He examined the index of Psychological Abstracts for every year since its beginning in 1926. The neglect of the subject of creativity was appalling to him. Only two-tenths of one percent of all the more than 120,000 research studies were related to the subject of creativity. That list included headings of imagination, originality, and thinking.

Then came Sputnik, Russia's world-shaking entrance into outer space.

The shock administered to our nation's prestige rushed the schools of the United States into a variety of crash programs. One was a frantic search for the gifted. It was hoped that after identifying them it would be possible to tap their mental resources and proceed to recoup the nation's former self-image . . ." (Motivation for the Release of Creativity Through Creative Writing, p.4)

The race was on to find other measures of identifying the gifted. Until then, giftedness was used almost synonymously with intelligence, and intelligence was determined by standardized IQ test scores. High academic performance in school-like activities and environments was not necessarily creative and certainly did not reward divergent thinking.

It was obvious that there had to be other ways to identify intelligence besides those IQ tests. The creative geniuses needed to maintain scientific leadership had, with few exceptions, been overlooked or deliberately ignored. Now perhaps there was a glimmer of hope for those who secretly considered thinking outside the box.

A follow-up study of individuals who 35 years earlier had been identified as "gifted" reported some shocking information. Ninety-three percent of the initial group was a part of the follow-up study. As a group, they demonstrated superior physical, social, and emotional stability. Their intellectual, scholastic, and vocational achievements were noteworthy, but the group did not produce any great creative work.

This finding was indeed a catalyst for an emphasis on something "more than" and "different from" book learning. Education, business, and industry all began a desperate search for methods of identifying those who could create and invent, who could help regain our national leadership. Science and math took on a new significance in the academic program. Educators began to accept the reality that there might be essentially two worlds, the academic world with its traditional school-like activities and a different world on the job that called for creative activities very different from those pursued in school.