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We need “CE” as much as “PE” in our schools.

By Mark Ridinger

When discussing the state of education in America, most talk today revolves around measuring intelligence and trying to improve standardized test performance. IQ tests (which attempt to measure convergent thinking) are frequently used to try and find our brightest students and to place them in gifted programs. Intelligence is of course an important part of the equation but what of creativity, of identifying and measuring divergent thinking, and fostering its development? What of Creativity Intelligence (CQ)? Our future problem solvers and innovators, be they entrepreneurs, inventors, authors, or researchers will rely on creative intelligence, and identifying and fostering them early in their education is paramount for America’s future. Unfortunately we are failing at that endeavor.

The paradigm of merely equating IQ with the skills needed for success is outdated. Current research shows that there is little correlation between intelligence and creativity, except at lower ends of the IQ scale. People can in fact be both highly intelligent and creative, but also intelligent and uncreative, and vice versa. But how do we identify CQ? Dr. E. Paul Torrance has been called the Father of Creativity, for his work that began in the 1960’s. His standardized test, the Torrance Test for Creative Thinking (TTCT) is considered to be the gold standard for measuring and assessing creative thinking, and can be administered at any educational level—from kindergarten through graduate work.

Several recent comprehensive reviews of Torrance’s data—spanning decades—have been published. The bottom-line is the TTCT not only identifies creative thinkers but is also a strong predictor of future lifetime creative accomplishments. In fact, Indiana University’s Jonathon Plucker determined that the correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment (e.g. inventions, patents, publications etc.) was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity (as measured by the TTCT) than childhood IQ. Having a validated instrument like the TTCT is so important because alternative means to identify CQ don’t work so well. Expert opinion and teacher nominations have been used, but these methods are prone to errors and biases. For example, students who are already achieving or who have pleasant demeanors or have already ranked well on conventional IQ tests tend to be selected, while researchers have shown that highly creative students and divergent thinkers are typically shunned and are at risk of becoming estranged from teachers and other students. In fact, the odds of dropping out increases by as much as 50 percent if creative students are in the wrong school environment.

What else has the review of Torrance’s data shown? Unfortunately, that America seems to be in a CQ crisis. Kyung-Hee Kim, an assistant professor at William and Mary, analyzed 300,000 TTCT results and has determined that creativity has been on the decline in the US since 1990. The age group that is showing the worst decline is the kindergarten to sixth grade. The factors behind this decline aren’t known, but may be due to a mix of uncreative play (escalating hours spent in front of the TV or videogame console for example), changing parenting and family dynamics (research suggests a stable home environment that also values uniqueness is important), and an educational system that focuses too much on rote memorization, standardized curriculum and national standardize testing. Are we stifling divergent thinking in our children for conformity of behavior?

The rest of the world seems to have woken up to the need to foster creativity in the educational process, and initiatives to make the development of creative thinking a national priority are on going in England, the EU and even China. The United States needs a similar national initiative if we hope to stay competitive on the world stage. What is needed is a new approach to learning that still has children mastering necessary skills and knowledge, but through a creative pedagogical approach. We know that creativity can be measured, managed, and fostered; there is no excuse to not implement such a strategy in our school system. Let’s see the creation and deployment of creative exercise classes for our students and the use of creativity tests as additional inclusion criteria to gifted programs. Surely “CE” is at least every bit as important as PE.