Unlocking Creative Potential (page 2)
A story is told about a visiting efficiency expert who reported that one of the Ford Motor Company’s well-paid employees sat with his feet propped up on the desk and appeared to be daydreaming most of the time. Henry Ford reputedly replied that that was exactly how the employee looked when he had an idea that saved the company more than enough money to cover his salary in the years to come.
Valuing creative thought as Ford apparently did is a prerequisite to understanding it. Warnock (1977) says that being more creative is analogous to being more healthy. We do not ask, “Why become more healthy?” because being healthy is simply good. The same holds true for creativity: Once we understand it, we know that it is an end in itself, just like being healthy.
Unlocking creative potential largely depends on two sets of internal psychological conditions: psychological safety and psychological freedom (Rogers, 1991).
Psychological safety is external; it depends on a low-risk environment. Children feel psychologically safe when significant others accept them as having unconditional worth, avoid external evaluation, and identify and empathize with the child. Consider how this mother provides psychological safety for her preschool son Lance’s behavior:
Lance [age 5] loves farming and he inherited a lot of toy farm equipment that used to belong to his dad and big brothers. One day he was playing farmer and took his toy manure spreader into the kitchen, filled it up with coffee grounds, and began spreading “manure” on his land, which just happens to be the kitchen floor!
Lance’s mother knew that he was completely wrapped up in his farm fantasy and that his intentions were good, even if the outcomes were messy. She did insist that Lance help her clean up the coffee grounds, yet she did not punish him or make him feel ashamed of his desire to really “test out” his farm equipment. When adults respond sensitively to children’s behavior, they contribute to the child’s feelings of psychological safety.
Psychological freedom is internal. It emanates from within the child. When children feel free to play with ideas, they have developed an inner state of psychological freedom. According to Rogerian theory, one person becomes more creative than the next because he or she has learned to play, to be open to experience and receptive to ideas, and to rely more on self-evaluation than the evaluations of others. Contemporary psychologists sometimes use the term ego strength for psychological freedom. In the absence of ego strength, “individuals are likely to conform to others’ interpretations and fear or mistrust their own insights” (Runco, 2004, p. 22). The concept of ego strength as it relates to creativity is particularly important for teachers because educators can build children’s ego strength in ways that will allow them “to stand up to peer pressure and to express themselves as individuals, even if it means being different” (Runco, 2004, p. 22).
Lev Vygotsky (1933), a Russian theorist, has argued that learning is fundamentally a social activity: that children learn and grow with and from “the company they keep” (Smith, 1992). One of the basic precepts of Vygotsky’s theory is the zone of proximal development, or ZPD, the level at which the child feels reasonably confident in pursuing an activity, yet not bored by it; the level at which the child feels challenged intellectually, yet not frustrated. Vygotsky argued that real learning takes place when the child is functioning at this level. Children need to pursue activities that urge them to move to higher levels of functioning. This is one reason why giving children printed pictures to color and/or cut out while sitting quietly at their seats—a common activity in American schools—is not recommended. True, this activity keeps children occupied, but it does nothing to challenge them intellectually, undermines creative thought, and offers no social support. Such an activity creates no feeling of functioning in a community of learners; it is simply busywork that is frequently performed in quiet isolation.
Vygotsky further argued that learning is fundamentally social and interactive in nature. Through social interaction, children internalize the cultural tools that the world of others presents to them (Davis & Gardner, 1992). For example, if we examine the drawings by a Japanese child or a Navajo child, we will see that their early representational drawings resemble the art from the culture they know; their style has been influenced by the art that they have experienced in their societies. As we have seen, psychological safety, psychological freedom, and social support are essential to promote optimal creative growth in children. How well are the schools meeting these requirements?
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