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The Creative Spirit

by Dan Goleman, Paul Kaufman, and Michael Ray

IF CREATIVITY is a child’s natural state, what happens on the way to adulthood? Many of us will recognize ourselves in the sad tale of little Teresa Amabile, now a specialist in creativity.

“I was in kindergarten and my beloved teacher, Mrs. Bollier, had come to our home for an end-of-the-year conference with my mother.And, of course, I was eavesdropping on this conference from the next room.”

Teresa was thrilled to hear Mrs. Bollier tell her mother, “I think Teresa shows a lot of potential for artistic creativity, and I hope that’s something she really develops over the years.”

“I didn’t know what ‘creativity’ was,” she recalls, “but it sure sounded like a good thing to have.

“When I was in kindergarten’she went on, “I remember rushing in every day, very excited about getting to the easel and playing with all these bright colors and these big paintbrushes we had. And there was a clay table set up where we had free access to all these art materials. I remember going home every day after kindergarten and telling my mother I wanted to play with crayons, I wanted to draw, I wanted to paint.”

Butkindergarten was to be the high point of Teresa’s artistic career. The next year she entered a strict, traditional school, and things began to change. As she tells it, “Instead of having free access to art materials every day, art became just another subject, something that you had for an hour and a half every Friday afternoon?’

Week after week, all through elementary school, it was the sameart class. And a very restricted, even demoralizing one at that. “We would be given small reprints of one of the masterworks in painting, a different one every week. So, for example, I remember one week in second grade, we all got a small copy of da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi.

“This was meant for art appreciation, but that’s not how our teacher used it. Instead we were told to take out ourmaterials and copy it. Second-graders being asked to copy da Vinci—with their loose-leaf paper and their Crayola crayons. An exercise in frustration!

“You don’t have the skill development at that age to even make all those horses and angels fit on the page, let alone make them look like anything. It was very demoralizing. You could see yourself that what you were doing was very bad.

From TheCreative Spirit by Dan Goleman, Paul Kaufman, and Michael Ray (New York: Penguin, 1992).

“We weren’t given any help developing skills. Worse, we were graded on these monstrosities that we produced, so we felt a heavy evaluation pressure. I was really aware at the time that my motivation for doing artwork was being completely wiped out. I no longer wanted to go home at the end of the day and takeout my art materials and draw or paint.”


THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PRESSURES that inhibit a child’s creativity occur early in life. Most children in preschool, kindergarten—even in first grade—love being in school. They are excited about exploring and learning. But by the time they are in the third or fourth grade, many don’t like school, let alone have any sense of pleasurein their own cre ativity.

Dr. Amabile’s research has identified the main creativity killers:

• Surveillance: hovering over kids, making them feel that they’re constantly being watched while they’re working. When a child is under constant observation, the risk-taking, creative urge goes underground and hides.

• Evaluation: making kids worry about how others judge what they’re doing. Kidsshould be concerned primarily with how satisfied they are with their accomplishments, rather than focusing on how they are being evaluated or graded, or what their peers will think.

• Rewards: excessive use of prizes, such as gold stars, money, or toys. If overused, rewards deprive a child of the intrinsic pleasure of creative activity.

• Competition: putting kids in a desperate win-lose...
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