The disadvantages of being creative

DSCN0774Which of these students is most creative?

1) Groups in drama class are designing stage sets. One girl picks up a discarded cap and safety ring from a water bottle, holds it together like an engagement ring. She asks a shy male classmate “Will you marry me?” to embarrass him.

2) A sixth grader assures the teacher that 3 is half of 8. To prove this he draws a line through a figure 8 to show how each half is in the shape of a 3.

3) Students in art have been assigned to find shapes which they can trace and then paint to create abstract designs. One student collects leaves and paints directly on each leaf before slapping it on the paper to make a print. She finishes the assignment in half the time.

4) A student has difficulties with rote memory on tests. He discovers that he can see through a water bottle, so he carefully removes the label of the water bottle, places a cheat sheet on the back, and glues the label back on.

Which of those students is most irritating?

When I asked teachers to rank students’ creative acts, many had trouble with this list. Some called the students contrary, lazy or deceitful, and failed to see the creativity involved.  Creative students often display characteristics that teachers simply do not like.

I’ve found the same conclusions reached by other researchers. J. Khatena teamed with E.P. Torrance, who developed many of the tests for creativity used by educators, to design an assessment called ‘What Kind of Person Are You?’ According to this assessment, Inquisitiveness, a creative characteristic, can be exhibited by talking a lot or demanding responses, especially by younger students. (How else can they inquire about things?)[1]

In addition, acceptance of authority – being obedient, respectful and polite, following rules, and accepting others in power – is indicative of a non-creative person. Creative students make judgments and evaluate situations for themselves, which means that they often do not do what they are told. Their actions are based on their own internal beliefs and desires.  On one hand educators praise intrinsic motivation, while dreading some students that are actually intrinsically motivated.

According the second part of the Khatena-Torrance Creative Perception Inventory, creative adolescents and adults are both open to new ideas and critical of other’s ideas. [2] This does not cause an inherent conflict for creative students as it does for others. However, the creative person tends to have fewer friends because many view criticism as a sign of rejection when it does not have to be. As creative students become older, they will not remain the same. They often increasingly prefer to work alone. This is not always because they desire solitude, but because they are aware that others suspiciously consider them to be different.  Their remoteness, a form of self-protection, is often viewed as snobbishness.

Of course, I realize all these characteristics can cause problems in class. What can one do? When my students butt heads with another teacher, I ask them to talk with the teacher outside of class. That is also the best way to deal with creative students if their actions are disruptive. Ask for a reason for the behavior. Then, politely explain why the behavior causes a problem and ask them what they think can be done about it. If they cannot come up with a workable solution, use your own. Also, I like to keep a collection of quiet, relevant and challenging independent activities creative students can do by themselves to avert disruptive behavior. Still, none of these techniques work all of the time.

The love-hate relationship with creativity and the creative person is not limited to education. In most aspects of life people desire the product of creativity, while avoiding the producer. This is complicated by the fact that creative people can become enemies of their creative cohorts in the competition to achieve. Perhaps the best thing a teacher could do is show a little empathy.

[1]  Torrence, E.P. & Khatena, J. (1970) What Kind of Person Are You? A brief screening device for identifying creatively gifted adolescents and adults. Gifted Child Quarterly, 14, 71-75
[2]  Khatena, G. & Torrence, E.P. (1998). Khatena-Torrance Creative Perception Inventory – Instruction Manual. Bensenville, IL: Scholastic Testing Service, Inc.

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