Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Chinese Were Right After All! Why Was I Just An Average Student in School?

"I would watch the buds swell in spring, the mica glint in the granite, my own hands, and I would say to myself: 'I will understand this, too, I will understand everything, but not the way they want me to. I will find a shortcut, I will make a lock-pick, I will push open the doors.'"

--Primo Levi, The Periodic Table.

Were you a good student?

Robert Strauss: Terrible. I don't think I was stupid. I never really studied much. I never had a great interest. As a matter of fact, I never had intellectual interests as I was growing up, and I was not a good student going through school and through law school. I was always in the bottom half of the class instead of one of the stars.

One of my former psychiatrists, Stanley R. Palombo, MD, once asked me why I didn't get better grades in school. That was back in the year 1990, while I worked at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a law firm in DC founded by Bob Strauss, another fellow who was no Rhodes Scholar!

I can now answer Dr. Palombo's question, based on the scientific literature. I came from the type of family that promoted creativity, but one that did not promote academic achievement.  My father was not an aspiring concert pianist like Bob Strauss's father, although my mother once took home the bronze in a harmonica-playing contest.

Findings in studies of parenting, education, and training have generally indicated that the family plays an important and positive role in the development of talents and potentials of gifted children. Specifically, in nurturing creativity of gifted children, the family could provide the environmental context that stimulates or sparks creativity, rewards creative ideas and behaviors, and evaluates creative products. Yet, gifted children identified by conventional intellectual measures do not typically grow up to become eminent creative producers.

In this connection, one researcher has provided a plausible explanation. He distinguished scholastic achievers, who typically come from cohesive and child-centered families, from creative achievers, who typically come from families with tense relationships, unconventional parenting, and parental dysfunction or loss. Accordingly, the less harmonious family conditions can motivate gifted children to obtain power, which results in creativity. Indeed, other reasearchers have further suggested that disharmony and a stressful home environment can be highly motivating, and despite the disturbance, it would not be devastating if there were strong supportive elements in the family. In the same vein, one researcher suggested that families that managed situational and developmental crises successfully would be higher in nurturing creativity than families that were less successful in handling crises. It has also been suggested that it was not stress alone, but more likely a balance of stress and support within the family that provided the conditions conducive to high levels of talent development. More specifically, a stressful family environment could drive the gifted child to seek refuge in the safety of intellectual activities and use creative activities as emotional outlets or to become psychologically mature at an early age. On the other hand, stressful childhood experiences could also prepare the gifted child to cope later in life with the intellectual tensions and marginal existence characteristic of many highly creative people.

Viewed in this manner, disruptive family environment and stressful childhood experiences might elicit and develop within gifted children responses and personality characteristics that are conducive to creative achievement. Such responses and characteristics could include a preference for time alone, an ability to cope with stress and tension, freedom from conventionality, and the use of intellectual or creative activities to fulfill emotional needs. Thus, it seems that family variables, including family functioning in response to stressors within and external to the family, could interact with personal variables, including coping strategies and emotional regulation, to result in creative achievement.

Recommendation for Dr. Palombo: Read the literature. You'll find that the wheel has already been invented.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

See "Self-perceived creativity, family hardiness, and emotional intelligence of Chinese gifted students in Hong Kong."
Journal of Secondary Gifted Education| March 22, 2005 | Chan, David W.