Successfully Stamping Out Creativity

One of the many books I’ve been studying this summer on childhood in America and gifted children is Teaching the Gifted Child, by James J Gallagher PhD. James Gallagher has devoted much of his professional life to exceptional students and in 2005 even achieved a lifetime achievement award from the American Psychological Foundation. He is internationally recognized as an expert in gifted education and is a past president of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Originally published in 1964 it appears that the newest edition was published in 1994 when it was updated and case studies were added. I have a second edition copy from 1975 which even has an old library card in a pocket in the front. Back when it was written over 35 years ago, Dr. Gallagher wrote about the roll of the teacher and the school in encouraging creativity in the gifted student population. To illustrate how teachers can affect creativity, he worked with groups of teachers asking them to pretend that creativity in a student is a bad quality and had the teachers develop lists of practices they could use in their classroom to stamp out creativity. The major ways the teachers suggested were:


  1. Establish a rigid curriculum, together with a limited time in which this curriculum is to be presented. 
    The “tyranny of time” as he refers to it leads to teachers squashing discussions and making them less tolerant of errors and diversions. Teachers that have densely detailed curriculum that they must cover and rigid standards that their students must pass, have very limited time to “indulge” students that want to explore ideas from different angles or talk about items that might not be on the test.
  2. Teach in content areas in which the teachers are not well versed.
    When teachers lack knowledge, especially in-depth knowledge of a subject, they are much more likely to inhibit student freedom to explore that subject. The teachers felt that they needed to squash the student exploration because the teachers would not be able to evaluate the unusual or different thoughts that might occur.
  3. Accept one source as valid, and only one.
    Having a single required textbook and teaching from that textbook as if everything is it is a proven fact avoids the reality that there are contradictions and conflicts among textbooks and that reasonable, knowledgeable, people do not always agree.
  4. Do not allow discussion or evaluation statements on the part of the students.
    To effectively eliminate the evil of creativity, students should only be allowed to answer factual statements (as learned through the one valid source) or to regurgitate the teacher’s own ideas. “Make it clear to the students that there is only one right way to do something. This will effectively discourage any imaginative approach by the students and should, if continued over a long period of time, effectively inhibit any creative impulses.” I assume fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice worksheets and/or tests are ideal for encouraging the idea that there is only one right answer to any given question.

The densely detailed curriculum and textbooks required at the school district level, combined with the high-stakes multiple choice testing mandated at the state and national level, and alarming weaknesses in the preparation and knowledge of US teachers may help us win the apparent war against creative students.


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