This is a legitimate question. Parents and peers play such important roles in the encouragement or discouragement of creative expression and growth, what can school guidance workers do? There are at least six special roles which school guidance workers can play in helping highly creative children maintain their creativity and continue to grow. Each of these is a role which others can rarely fulfill. Our social expectations frequently prevent even teachers and administrators from effectively fulfilling these roles. Thus, in some cases, only counsellors, school psychologists, and similar workers will be able to fulfill these roles. In many cases, however, teachers and administrators can supply these needs, if they differentiate their guidance roles from other socially expected roles.
Providing the highly creative individual a ‘refuge’, 2. Being his ‘sponsor’ or ‘patron’, 3. helping him understand his divergence, 4. letting him communicate his ideas, 5. Seeing that his creative talent is recognised, and 6.
helping parents and others understand him. We shall now discuss each of these roles briefly. 1. Provide a ‘Refuge’: Society in general is downright savage towards creative thinkers, especially when they are young. To some extent, the educational system must be coercive and emphasize the establishment of behaviour norms. Teachers and administrators can rarely escape this coercive role.
Counsellors and other guidance workers are in a much better position to free them of it. Nevertheless, there are ways teachers and administrators can free themselves of this role long enough to provide refuge, if they are sensitive to the need. From the studies of Getzels and Jackson (1958), we know that highly creative adolescents are estranged from their teachers and peers.
Minnesota studies indicate that the same holds true for children in the elementary school. The reasons are easy to understand. Who can blame teachers for being irritated when a pupil presents an original answer which differs from what is expected? It does not fit in with the rest of the grading scheme. They don’t know how the unusual answer should be treated.
They have to stop and think themselves. Peers have the same difficulty and label the creative child’s unusual questions and answers as ‘crazy’ or ‘silly’. Thus, the highly creative child, adolescent, or adult needs encouragement. He needs help in becoming reconciled and, as Hughes Mearns (1941) once wrote, in being “made cheerful over the world’s stubborn satisfaction in its own follies.” The guidance worker must recognise, however, that the estrangement exists and that he will have to create a relationship in which the creative individual feels safe. 2. Be a Sponsor or Patron:Someone has observed that almost always wherever independence and creativity occur and persist, there is some other individual or agent who plays the role of ‘sponsor’ or ‘patron’. This role is played by someone who is not a member of the peer group, but who possesses prestige and power in the same social system.
He does several things. Regardless of his own views, the sponsor encourages and supports the other in expressing and testing his ideas and in thinking through things for himself. He protects the individual from the reactions of his peers long enough for him to try out some of his ideas and modify them. He can keep the structure of the situation open enough so that originality can occur. It is true contention that the school counsellor or guidance worker is in a better position than anyone else in the local system to play this role, especially if such a role for him is sanctioned by the teachers and principal. Since few elementary schools have counsellors or guidance workers, this role is usually assumed by principals. It is a difficult role for a principal, however. Think of the role conflicts which must be involved in the following case of a principal whose school participated in a research project on this subject.
In an experiment conducted on a Monday, one had observed the exceptional creative talent of Tom, a fourth grader. Before leaving the school, the researcher asked the teacher about Tom. She volunteered the information that he had had a struggle with most of his teachers, but that he had a very successful experience in the third grade. On Friday, the researcher returned to the school to conduct the experiment in some other classes. In the meantime, the principal had observed this boy’s class for an hour. During the mathematics class.
Tom questioned one of the rules in the textbook. Instead of having Tom try to prove his rule and perhaps modify it or explain the textbook rule, the teacher became irate, even in the presence of the principal. She fumed, “So! You think you know more than this book!” Tom replied meekly, “No, I don’t think I know more than the book, but I’m not satisfied about this rule.” To get on safer ground, the teacher then had the class solve problems in their workbook. Tom solved the problems easily and about as rapidly as he could read them.
This too was upsetting to the teacher. She couldn’t understand how he was getting the correct answer and demanded that he write down all of the steps he had gone through in solving each problem. Afterwards, the teacher asked the principal to talk to torn. The principal explained to Tom that many things came easy to him, such as solving problems, and perhaps he really didn’t need to write out all of the steps.
The principal also explained that there are some other things like handwriting which came easier to others than to him and that he might have to work harder than some of the others on these things. Apparently, this principal had been able to provide enough of the ‘patron’ role to permit him to keep alive his creativity up to this time. Soon afterwards, Tom’s family moved to a nearby suburb and he was duly enrolled in a new school. On Tom’s very first day in the new school, the principal of the new school called the principal of the school from which Tom had transferred. He wanted to know immediately if Tom is the kind of boy who has to be squelched rather roughly. His former ‘patron’ explained that Tom was really a very wholesome, promising lad who needed understanding and encouragement.
The new principal exclaimed rather brusquely, “Well, he’s already said too much right here in my office!” We can certainly sympathize with the new principal. He must support his teachers and maintain good discipline in the school. It is frequently difficult for a principal to play the ‘sponsor’ or ‘patron’ role.
It is far more harmonious with the position of the school counsellor. Nevertheless, it is a role which administrators and teachers may have to play. Otherwise, promising creative talent may be sacrificed. 3. Help Him Understand His Divergence:A high degree of sensitivity, a capacity to be disturbed, and divergent thinking are essentials of the creative personality. Frequently, creative children are puzzled by their own behaviour. They desperately need help in understanding, themselves, particularly their divergence. There are crucial times in the lives of creative children when being understood is all that is needed to help them cope with the crisis and maintain their creativity.
4. Let Him Communicate His Ideas: The highly creative child has an unusually strong urge to explore and to create. When he thinks up ideas, or tests them, and modifies them, he has an unusually strong urge to communicate his ideas and the result of his tests. Yet both peers and teachers named some of the most creative children in our studies as ones who “do not speak out their ideas.” When we see what happens when they do “speak out their ideas,” there is little wonder that they are reluctant to communicate their ideas.
Frequently, their ideas are so far ahead of those of their classmates and even their teachers that they have given up hope of communicating. All school guidance workers need to learn to perform this function more effectively. They must genuinely respect the questions and ideas of children to sustain the highly creative child so that he will continue to think. 5. See that His Creative Talent is recognised: Information from many sources indicates that much creative talent goes unrecognised. In studies at all educational levels (Torrance, 1960c), you will recall that over 70 per cent of those in the upper 20 per cent on tests of creative thinking would be eliminated if only an intelligence or scholastic aptitude test had been used.
Therefore, the teacher/guidance worker must recognise the creative talent of the child at the earliest. 6. Help Parents Understand Their Creative Child: One of the most tragic plights we have witnessed among highly creative individuals stems from the failure of their parents to understand them. Frequently destructive or incapacitating hostility is the result of this failure. When teachers fails to understand highly creative children, refused to learn, delinquency, or withdrawal may be a consequence. In some cases, the quiet and unobtrusive intervention of the counsellor offers about the only possibility whereby parents and teachers may come to understand them and thus salvage much outstanding talent.
Guidance workers need to help parents and teachers recognise that everyone possesses to some degree the ability involved in being creative, that these abilities can be increased or decreased by the way children are treated, and that it is a legitimate function of the home and the school to provide the experiences and guidance which will free them to develop and function fully. Of course, these abilities are inherited, in the broad sense, that one inherits sense organs, a peripheral nervous system, and a brain. The type of pursuit of these abilities and the general tendency to persist in their search is largely a matter of the way parents and teachers treat children’s creative needs.
Guidance workers can, as I see it, help parents to guide highly creative children in two major ways. The first concerns the parent’s handling of the child’s unusual ideas and questions, and the other involves helping such a child become less obnoxious without sacrificing his creativity. The school should help parents recognise that criticism— making fun of the child’s ideas or laughing at his conclusions— can prevent his expression of ideas.
The parents experienced eyes and ears can help the child learn to look for and to listen to important sights and sounds. The parent should stimulate the child to explore, ask questions, and try to find answers. Many parents attempt too early to eliminate fantasy from the thinking of the child. Fantasy is regarded as something unhealthy and to be eliminated. Fantasies such as imaginative role playing, fantastic stories, unusual drawings, and the like are normal aspects of a child’s thinking. Many parents are greatly relieved to learn this and out of this understanding grows a better parent-child relationship. Certainly we are interested in developing a sound type of creativity, but this type of fantasy, it seems to us, must be kept alive until the child’s intellectual development is such that he can engage in sound creative thinking.
Counsellors and administrators can be sympathetic with teachers and parents who are irritated by the unending curiosity and manipulativeness of highly creative children. Endless questioning and experimenting can be inconvenient. Parents may not appreciate the child’s passion for first-hand observation. Persistent questioning can be very annoying. A mother of a three-year old complained.
“He wears me out just asking questions. He won’t give up either, until he gets an answer; it’s just awful when he gets started on something!” Counsellors, teachers, and administrators can help parents recognise the fact that there is value in such curiosity and manipulativeness and that there can be no substitute for it. Parents should be encouraged to help the child learn to ask good questions, how to make good guesses at the answers, and how to test the answers against reality. Most parents find it extremely difficult to permit their children to learn on their own—even to do their school work on their own. Parents want to protect their children from the hurt of failing. Individual administration of problems involving possible solutions to frustrating situations has shown that the imagination of many children is inhibited by the tremendous emphasis which has been placed on prevention. Certainly teaching of all kinds of failure is important, but overemphasis may deter children from coping imaginatively and realistically with frustration and failure, which cannot be prevented. It may rob the child of his initiative and resourcefulness.
All children learn by trial and error. They must try, fail, try another method, and if necessary, try even again. Of course, they need guidance, but they also need to find success by their own efforts.
Each child strives for independence from the time he learns to crawl, and independence is a necessary characteristic of the creative personality.