tm. © 2007

by Paul Henrickson,1973 (?)

Our children are taken from our homes, large or small, good or bad. They are placed in a centrally located building where they are joined by many more. The corridors of the building are lined with noisy, metal closets intended for supplies and clothing. The image may seem analogous to life in a penal institution—or a description of most American schools. Either way, what is being described is a forced subjection of a basically defenseless segment of our society. And the school is but the first of many institutions that perceive subjection as their duty. Harold Taylor, a noted psychologist, has observed: “In contemporary American life, there are so many private pressures which bear down on the individual citizen that it requires a serious and sustained effort of will to think and even to feel independently. It requires a continuing reaffirmation of oral courage to express independent conclusions once they have been reached. It is as if all the pressures of modern life were conspiring to crush the individual and to make him conform to a stereotype set by governments and public officials.” And Taylor’s vision, oppressive as it seems, may already have been surpassed by more frightening breakthroughs made by those who would engineer society. One of the more chilling “developments” is the theory that with available knowledge it is possible, as early as the first grade, to identify the child who will grow up to be the, the rapist, the alcoholic, the murder. To quote one believer, “nearly any first grade teacher can make the identification”. When I first heard that statement, voiced by a powerful official of the state of Iowa (where I was teaching at the time), I felt the cold arm of

terror. According to the speaker the telltale characteristics of moral defect included “being a loner”, “seeing the world differently”, and “not being accepted by one’s peers”. Those same characteristics happen to have been identified by a group of psychologists as being the traits of the creative personality. Thus, in the engineered society, an awesome responsibility is placed upon the firstgrade teacher: to distinguish between the potential Michelangelo and the rapist. But the Iowa official was not interested in such distinctions. He suggested that all children displaying the characteristics be treated in a fashion that would prevent them from behaving in unsocial ways. Some such advocates are quite direct ---they would merely use drugs to calm all unquiet children. Others have devised social techniques less startling but just as enervating. But whatever the method, fear is usually the motivation for acts designed to limit individuality of expression. And this well-engineered fear exacts a terrible price. In the words of Thomas Szasz, a doctor, “institutional psychiatry, whether in the mental hospital or the school, is perhaps the finest technique developed so far for driving the soul out of man”. Early in my teaching career, a fifteen year-old boy making his second trip through the ninth grade (with the threat hanging over him of his spending a third year at level) became my student. Joe was the son of a school janitor, a member of a “second class” national group, was assigned a registered I.Q. of 90, had a grade point average of “D”, was quiet, unassuming, industrious and polite---and out of 800 students in the school was the only one to excel in graphic imagination. I was unable to accept the correlation of a below par intelligence and high quality graphic production. I commented to the school counselor that I did not believe that a person who performed well in art could be “unintelligent”, an apparently he was amused enough to test my hypothesis. The retesting was done openly and the results were more than a little surprising. Joe now tested out at 110 ---and, at that time, the conventional view as that I.Q. scores would never change more than five

points in either direction. It was even more interesting to observe that after the publication of the new score, Joe’s grade average advanced from “D” to “C”. Whether this advance was a consequence of a possible increase in Joe’s self-confidence or a realization among his teachers that their assessments of his abilities did not conform to objective science remains a mystery even now. I do not intend to imply that Joe was in all ways a highly creative child only that he dramatically demonstrated that with a little confidence he could over through the mantle of ineptitude placed upon him by a highly prejudiced and ignorant society. The growth in self-confidence in him was a joy to observe, and, who knows, perhaps this episode released sufficient frustrations in Joe that he did not, indeed, move on to become a statistic in the records of crime. Creative children are different, a fact which they themselves recognize, and one that often contributes to their loneliness. They ask questions about things that puzzle them, they attempt difficult tasks, they become absorbed in their thinking, they are honest, shy, bashful, they appear inconsiderate, determined, persistent, industrious, never bored, spirited in disagreement, unwilling to accept the judgment of authority, and, they are visionary. The creative child may like to work alone and to strive for distant goals. Many of these characteristics, taken singly, could seem desirable, but taken in combination could make the creative child a difficult child. A conclusion to be drawn from this evidence is that the environment conducive to creative growth – as opposed to social adjustment—is not characterized by arbitrary, externally imposed conditions. It is probably characterized by a flexibility of response, as the needs for thoughtful withdrawal and direct communication alternate. To provide this environment, several changes are needed in our current public educational structures. The selection of teaching personnel should ensure that those hired are knowledgeable, capable, and creative, regardless of what academic degree they hold or do not hold. Creative teachers, or at least teachers who are sufficiently creative not to be rigid in their approaches to problems should teach creative children. Creative teachers should not have to deal with 700- 800

different personalities every week. Tests, verbal and non-verbal should be used to identify the creative child. An open environment should be maintained in the schools. And officials should consider leasing neighborhood faculties that project an image less institutional and more humane. In their totality, these changes are obviously far off, but steps in the right direction can be made now. And of organizations currently on the scene the New Mexico Alliance for Arts Education may function the best as a shielding apparatus to protect all students—but especially the creative ones—from the over-anxious social engineer. Such a shielding organization is needed, both to provide an environment suitable for creative thinking and performance, and to protect the creative individual from impertinent intrusions on the part of authorities. --------------------Paul Henrickson is the art critic for The Santa Fe Reporter. The observations above are drawn from a paper distributed at a recent New Mexico Alliance for Arts Education meeting at St. John’s College.