Introduction: Creativity Research
Understanding creativity is essential to the reform and revitalization of the educational process. As Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein say in “Sparks of Genius”: “Our educational system is the embodiment of our cognitive and creative understanding of ourselves. If we fail to understand creative thinking, we cannot hope to have an educational system that will produce creative individuals.” I regard this current failure to understand and integrate creative thinking into educational practice as alarming, especially at a juncture in history when innovation, interdisciplinary thinking and multi-dimensional thinking are critical to allow men and society to adjust to the rapid transformations occurring in the information age. Students require a new training in integrating internal imagination with external experience to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing economy and culture.
When I began my research I was immediately struck by the preponderance of articles and research associated with training adults to think creatively or “think outside the box.” As I read further I discovered that the vast majority of children begin life with the capacity for flexible, creative thinking. The reports on creativity testing implicate that creativity is educated out of students by the middle grades and ignored for the most part. In “The Right Brain” Thomas Blakeslee states: “While the schools ignore and even discourage intuition, it remains a necessary element of creative thinking and the key ingredient for success in all fields.” Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein warn further that “If society cannot find ways to make integrated understanding accessible to large numbers of people, then the information revolution is not only useless but a threat to human civilization.”
The good news is that, in both the adult and childhood research, the consensus is that the tools of creative thinking can be nurtured and learned. Although everyone may not be a genius, they can learn to participate in the processes which characterize the productivity of high level thinkers and innovators. By balancing and stimulating the work of both hemispheres of the brain, students can achieve a foundation in the process of keeping the attention of both the verbal and non-verbal minds engaged thereby optimizing the creative process. Many current practices, such as the Lazanov method, Accelerated Learning, and Brain Gym have produced impressive acceleration of learning.
Current educational practices, such as those promoted by NCLB, destroy the natural creative ability by gradually changing the child’s thinking to verbal thinking in all areas and by reducing time spent in the arts and purely non-verbal activity. Ironically those educational systems whose success and achievement we aspire to emulate (such as Sweden’s, Finland’s and Denmark’s) are predicated upon a systematic inclusion of the arts, movement and recreation knowing that non-verbal activity prevents the mental fatigue displayed in so many U.S. schools. The restoration and inclusion of creative thinking is essential for converting information into meaningful knowledge.
In his essay “Contemplative Pedagogy”, Arthur Zajonc emphasizes the critical nature of intuition: “Human action flows from the level where information marries values to become meaning.” Brain physiology, chemistry, and anatomy are far more plastic than previously assumed according to Ellen Langer, author of “Mindfulness”. This discovery leads to hopeful prospects for productivity and creativity in all ages. Henri Poincare, the great mathematician, said: “It is by logic that we prove. It is by intuition that we discover.” The interdependence of feelings and intuition with left brain analytical thinking emerges again and again in the study of geniuses, young children and innovators. Only by engaging the creative, right brain can we hope to achieve the deeper understandings of our place and role in the universe:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
(Wordsworth from Tintern Abbey)
Defining creative or divergent thinking can be difficult since there are so many aspects to original thinking. However, the process of creative thinking can be characterized across all of the disciplines. P.J. Guilford identifies the four main characteristics of divergent thinking as follows: