Archive | creativity RSS feed for this section

Calling All Readers and Writers!

21 Feb

 

Some of you who read this blog may also see my DeepEnd page or my author’s page on FaceBook and so may already know about the issue that is the focus of this post. But to others of you what I am writing about today may come as news (and probably also a shock, as the discovery was to me).

Many, if not most of you who follow this blog are readers; some of the children and the adults in the highly to profoundly gifted population may also write, or may one day want to write books. And all of you use “devices” and the internet, of course, or you wouldn’t be reading this. I assume most of you frequent libraries as well. So the convergence of books, readers and writers, libraries, and the internet is no doubt important to you.

For the last 40 years I have made my living, such as it is, mostly from being a writer, and mostly writing fiction for kids and young adults, though I also, of course, write nonfiction, both books and articles (plus FB and blog posts) about the gifted. In the image above the top shelf has my fiction and the lower shelf has books I have chapters or stories in, my nonfiction books, some translations and some plays. Physical copies! And all indubitably “mine.”

A few weeks ago, the Authors Guild, of which I’ve been a member for decades, advised its members to check something called Open Library, to see if it was making any our work freely available without our permission, in violation of our copyrights. In those weeks I have learned a great deal, most if which is deeply disturbing, which is why I’m writing this post.

On Open Library I found two serious problems—one was that about a dozen of my books, seven of which are still in print and available for sale, were there for downloading (so-called “borrowing”) for free. On “my page” two of my books were listed as having a co-author named Alex Hill. I had no idea who this person might be—certainly not a co-author. I clicked on his name and was taken to a page where I found the second serious problem. ALL of my books published before 2008, both fiction and nonfiction—including Guiding the Gifted Child, in English and in German, which I wrote with Elizabeth Meckstroth and James Webb,—and including a play, “Bridge To Terabithia,” which I wrote with Katherine Paterson and Steve Liebman. Nowhere on this other page could my own name be found. Everything there was simply listed as “By Alex Hill.”

I contacted Open Library and demanded that they take down from “my page” at least the seven books still in print, and in a second communication demanded that they take every one of my books off “Alex Hill’s page.” They complied with this second demand within 24 hours. It took another day before I got the message that they had taken all of my books down as ebooks for borrowing from my own “page” on their site.

So began my journey through the vast and (for me at least) horrifying world of digital copying. I had not known that my books were available this way, which means my permission was not sought before Open Library’s “parent organization,” Internet Archive had my books scanned and made them available through O.L. for download to anyone who has internet access.  

Once Alex Hill was no longer being credited as the author of my books, I asked how this massive “error” could have been made, and Open Library’s answer to me was that the site is a wiki, explaining that anyone—ANYONE—can change its “metadata” at will. And although they have claimed to me that there is no way the content of a scanned book can be changed by anyone once it has been made available on the site [though the author’s name could be changed any time by anyone apparently] I have reason not to believe them about content, because apparently users can also scan books and have them included in this “catalog,” which is what they call Open Library. They thought this information that they’re a wiki should somehow comfort me. Not! My son discovered that the change of author’s name was done by a “rename bot”—and he thinks the bot could have been created and unleashed “accidentally.” This also does not comfort me. Unlike Wikipedia, Open Library doesn’t have hoards of people passionately trying to make sure the material there is accurate.

The original concept for Internet Archive was a noble one—to scan books that are in the public domain and/or historical documents so that people anywhere could freely access them. But Open Library went vastly beyond that mission and began just scanning any books they could buy or get donated (many, many of which are donated) and putting them up, without asking the author’s permission. 

Copyright exists as a protection against unauthorized copying! There are well over 100,000 public “town libraries,” to say nothing of school and university libraries. These “brick and mortar libraries” buy books or contract for ebooks with the publisher, paying either for the ability to lend them a specific number of times or for a specified period of time. Open Library has no such limitations, though they claim otherwise. 

It’s true that some writers get very wealthy (Stephen King says writing makes him a “good living,”—Yes!) But a recent Author’s Guild survey determined that the average yearly income for a writer is around $20K. The standard contract with a hard cover publisher gives the author a 10% royalty on each book sale. That percentage may go up higher if sales reach certain sales targets. And for ebooks, though all other “subsidiary rights” are standardly shared 50/50 between author and publisher, the ebook percentage for the author is (also standardly) only 25%.

Writers’ incomes have been falling steadily for a decade. Surprise? Every writer I have told to check Open Library has found many, most or all of their books available there, always without permission and most often while still in print. Internet Archive began in 2006 and most of us didn’t know it. Open Library, apparently started four years later, also went unknown from the authors whose work they were illegally scanning. They claim this right to scan whole works under a theory they call “Controlled Digital Lending” (CDL) but it is not actually either “controlled,” or “lending.”

I’m not writing here to bemoan my own loss of royalty income, though that clearly does count some for me. I’m writing here because the ability to scan any book and put it up on line is threatening the entire system of written works and the sharing thereof. Brick and mortar libraries serve a geographical location and people in their area who have library cards—Open Library can reach an infinite number of computer users anywhere in the world, and give them the books. While O.L. claims books are loaned one at a time and for a specified period, in the FAQ published (link below) by opponents of this theory, that claim is shown to be untrue. At the end of the specified time period a “borrower” can’t send the book back to O.L. the way you take the physical book back to the library. It is still in their computer’s cache if they wish to keep it. And each ebook “sent” is a separate file, of which O.L. can make an unlimited number.

Our super bright kids are digitally literate, and this technology has brought many great opportunities into the world, but the“piracy” situation of CDL genuinely threatens anyone’s ability to make a future living writing books—of any kind—so that it threatens not only the kids’ own futures as writers, should they want to choose that path, but also the variety of books that will be available to them. Eventually only the most popular, the most famous, the most mainstream or the most infamous writers would be left creating new works, either of fiction or nonfiction. BTW, I’ve checked the nonfiction works of many writers about the gifted and–surprise–they’re on Open Library, too.  Furthermore, how will it be to use a “library” in which the content or authorship of the books can’t be certain.

I would love to see some of our brightest kids take on the challenge of finding ways to protect information and literature from unauthorized scanning and sharing. My imagination conjures wild ideas like paper that would react to scanning by going dark instead of recreating the images. Or the embedding of digital “locks” in physical books that need a specific digital key to allow scanning access—a key available only from the publisher or author. There must be lots of real possibilities that our digitally literate kids might be able to come up with. And surely there can be methods of compensating the authors somehow when their books are made available to readers. 

We need free libraries—many or most of us writers are among the “people too poor to buy every book they want or need to read” that the folks of Internet Archive and Open Library say they want to serve. I would point out that Robin Hood didn’t rob the poor to help the poor! There are copyright laws for a reason. In the long run they don’t just protect writers, they protect readers as well.

Here are some links for anybody who wants to find out more about this issue:

https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/cdl-appeal-to-readers-and-librarians/

https://www.authorsguild.org/where-we-stand/controlled-digital-lending-cdl/

https://nwu.org/book-division/cdl/appeal/?fbclid=IwAR0IP8MyJ15JPrVn1CvVVYzAN0zoQoB6_NDX-mFZDiDSj_Tp0FCtSHCtmNY

https://nwu.org/book-division/cdl/faq/

 

F

On Authenticity

7 Aug

A while back I titled a blog post Deep and Deeper and my last post, Who Are We?, led me to return to the intention that motivated that earlier post. Death (along with individual identity) is certainly a subject that can be described as deep or yet deeper. So deep is the subject of death, in fact, that many, perhaps most people in our culture, do their best to avoid talking or even thinking about it altogether.

Back in 1992, when the five women who began the Columbus Group, gathered at my house in Columbus, Ohio to try to come up with a different definition of giftedness than was currently in vogue (a definition centered on academic achievement) one of the very first examples of the qualitative difference between highly or profoundly gifted children and other children of their age [the difference we would soon name Asynchronous Development], was the case of Jennie–and death. Four year old Jennie was traumatized when her grandfather died. Extrapolating a principle from one subject or event to another, as profoundly gifted children tend to begin doing even as toddlers, she began to worry that her mother or father might die as well. Her mother, doing her best to comfort this very little girl, told her that she didn’t need to worry. They were not going to die, she assured Jennie. “Grandpa died because he was old. I’m not old. Your father isn’t old.” Jennie was not in the least comforted by this story. She watched the news on television, after all. “Other people die,” she said. “Even children die!”

The problems very young children have with asynchronous development is that their minds outdistance their emotional maturity, so the simple cushioning stories that adults often give young children to soften the impact of painful truths don’t work well with them. Not only do such stories not provide the cushioning the children need, the stories’ simple platitudes, so obviously untrue, are likely to be taken as adult dishonesty. Jennie had not long been identified as profoundly gifted, and her mother didn’t yet realize that she needed to deal with such issues as the inevitability of death on a much more adult level with Jennie than she had expected.

The deep and deeper human issues need to be addressed with super bright kids both more honestly and earlier than we might be prepared for. Examples of these issues—our inhumanity to each other and other life forms, our predilection for violence and warfare, our failure to protect the planet that is our only home—the list is long and more and more “in our faces” these days. Which means, of course, that we have to face these issues ourselves on a deep enough level to address them honestly from our own perspective when we talk to these children (or even when they’re within earshot). As Stephen Sondheim reminds us in a song from “Into the Woods,” Children will listen!

Many of us got our first stories about such issues from the religions of our parents or grandparents or our ethnic culture. Or from other kids, or science text books or the “mass media.” Often, as we grow up, whatever we were told from whatever source, begins to feel wrong or untrue. For myself, I long ago rejected the version of reality that was provided by my religious education—some of what was labeled wrong no longer seemed wrong to me, and what was right sometimes had begun to seem distinctly the opposite. Even worse than the loss of religious certainties in some ways, was the realization that what I had learned in school as undisputed fact (history, for instance, or even science) had too often been either purposely distorted to support a kind of cultural propaganda, or just an error that had continued to be taught even after it had been superseded or at least challenged by new information and new theories.

For myself, various “truths” began to disintegrate when my own personal experiences contradicted them. As a fiction writer, I had always intended to write “realistic fiction,” until the line between imagination and reality or between what could be and what really was could no longer be firmly drawn. There were things I experienced that I didn’t talk about in public because, except when I was talking to children, my audiences didn’t seem to me ready to hear what I would have said.

But when I was speaking to an adult audience dealing with kids at the far right tail of the curve, where unusual experiences become more common, I began to stretch the boundaries a bit. Back in the days of the Hollingworth Conference for the Highly Gifted, I explained in a keynote, for instance, that becoming a Reiki practitioner—I wasn’t yet a Reiki Master, able to teach the method to others—had ended my problem with seasonal allergies. (Reiki is an energy healing modality that originated in Japan.) All these years later, I still don’t have those allergies! One year someone wrote on a conference evaluation form that I was “too far out.” (The next year I titled my keynote “On Being Too Far Out.”)

I had, of course, found those “far out” things well-supported in books written by leading edge scientists, some of whom I knew personally, though the ideas hadn’t yet shown up in school text books. What had once been labeled “New Age” and outside the realm of rationality, began to fill the shelves at book stores even before the internet had made them readily accessible to anyone with an interest. I still find it odd that after nearly 100 years of challenging the certainties of material science and Newtonian physics, quantum physics is apparently still not a standard offering in most high schools.

Between 1992 and today, my thinking about “deep and deeper” has moved from the need to be willing to honestly talk to super gifted kids about the difficult emotional issues of human life, to being willing to honestly address questions of consciousness, reality, values and spirituality (which may or may not include religion) with them. The most important word in that sentence is “honestly.” About these issues there are seldom certainties for us other than personal experience. Being honest with them, of course, means admitting that there is “mystery” involved—as with the orbs (mysterious and sometimes colored “balls of light” often with internal mandala patterns) that show up all over the place in photographs taken both indoors and outside at Camp Yunasa—so in talking to campers about them I make no effort to explain the phenomenon. This tends to drive the campers a little crazy. All I can say is that none of the “standard explanations” involving dust particles, moisture, or the closeness of lens to flash in digital cameras, explain them either. During my “orb slide show” last year kids got out their cameras and began taking photos and sure enough, a few orbs showed up at first, and the more photos they took the more orbs appeared. Photo above taken as two of Yunasa’s Fellows walk back to our bunks after Spirit Journey–August, 2017.

 

I don’t usually write—or talk—to persuade people any more (though I used to, for sure). I write to share my thoughts, and usually some of the reasons I think them—especially when they aren’t mainstream, or not mainstream in the gifted realm. Ernest Holmes, author of Science of Mind, said, “The child-like mind is more receptive to Truth than the over intellectual.” He suggests this, I think, because children tend to be more open to mystery than those of us proud of our very good intellects. We tend to have minds stuffed with facts we’ve learned and beliefs that we think of as true, but Ernest is after something larger (and deeper), something (Truth) that he dares to capitalize without defining. And since one of his principles was always to “stay open at the top,” I’m pretty sure he would have said that Truth for us changes as we and our perceptions change. And change we humans do, if we allow it.

When I started The Deep End Facebook page  back when I was new to social media, I hoped the page would encourage discussions of some of the nonrational capacities and experiences of the highly gifted that are quite common among this population (which those of us with long experience know, even though many parents are hesitant to talk about them, for fear of disbelief or ridicule). As soon as such discussions began on that page, however, some folks who limit their ideas about consciousness to the purely rational, and apparently about science to the purely material, launched attacks that closed those beginning discussions down. It can be psychologically dangerous to talk about nonrational experiences among hyper-rational gifted folk all too poised to attack. So okay, this is a blog instead, and I write it. I get to choose what I write about.

After I posted “Who Are We?” I heard from some folks that they appreciated my honesty. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in this “gifted biz” for a long time, or more likely it’s because I believe what Anita Moorjani (author of Dying to Be Me, a book about her amazing Near Death Experience) says about the need to be one’s essential self. It is that need that led me to share with Yunasa campers last year (my final year with the camp) the “evidence” I have that there is life after death. There, too, I didn’t ask them to share my interpretation of that evidence. They have to make up their own minds, as do we all. But unless we share what is deep and deeper in our own lives and experience, how will openings to new perceptions and awareness come about?

For me, it is easier to talk about death these days now that I am totally convinced by my own experiences and some astonishing evidence that it is illusion—transformation not ending. But I don’t try to convince people. I believe that honesty and authenticity have real and lasting value, no matter how others respond. (Also, I’m old enough not to care so much what people think of me as I used to.) But I must also add here that while taking the fear of death out of the picture is astonishingly liberating, it does not save us from the grief of such loss. Believe me, I know.

TolanMemorial 16

Tolan Memorial 2013

Deep and Deeper

13 Apr

“All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. This we know: Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.”–Chief Seattle

“When we try to pick out something by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”–John Muir

It has been an absurdly long time since I wrote something for this blog. But today it’s time. Last month I did a workshop for the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship program’s annual seminar, sponsored by IEA, the Institute for Educational Advancement. The theme of this year’s seminar was “Intersections” and my workshop was titled “From Indra’s Net to the Internet: Intersections, Reality and Consciousness.”

To prepare for the seminar it was suggested that the attendees watch this TED Talk about “multipotentialites”:

https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_callingIf you don’t have time to watch the talk (though I highly recommend it), let me explain that Wapnick uses the term multipotentialite to describe a person who can’t relate to the idea of finding “one true calling.” If they commit to a job or a subject matter, as soon as they have learned or mastered it they need to move on to something else; there are always lots of other paths (interests) pulling them to explore. Many of “our kids” will recognize themselves in this talk.

Watching it, I realized that I am an “elder multipotentialite.” My 6th grade teacher told my mother that I would never amount to anything because I was interested in “too many things.” Miss Shreve deeply believed in the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.” She was not, you may be sure, one of my favorite teachers! I am lucky, though. I’ve managed to have the best of both worlds. I do have one true calling, but it is writing, a calling so broad and varied that there is no limit to my ability to follow it for a lifetime and yet avoid boredom.

Most of you who read this blog came to it because you share, for your own reasons, my personal passion for serving the needs of super bright kids and adults. This blog and much of the rest of my nonfiction, along with much of my public speaking, has been about extraordinary intelligence, and what I’ve written and talked about on this subject is best known in the gifted community.

But many of you also know some of my fiction for kids and young adults. Certainly Welcome to the Ark and Flight of the Raven, along with my much earlier novel A Time to Fly Free, are specifically related to highly gifted individuals, but I write other kinds of children’s books as well. And my plays, most of them written in collaboration with Katherine Paterson—author, among many other award-winning novels, of Bridge to Terabithia—are meant to appeal to a broad audience of kids.

Most recently my interests and my life experience (some of which I’ve written about here) have led (or pushed) me in a new direction, the first book from that path being my book Change Your Story, Change Your Life. Some of you may have found it through my websites http://www.stephanietolan.com or www.storyhealer.com.

I expect more nonfiction writing will come from the spiritual perspective that the losses in my life forced me to discover and that the current chaos in the world we all share continues to test and expand.

The theme and title of this blog refer to the metaphorical “deep end” environment that mermaids (unable to survive long on dry land) need to survive longterm. But since I created the blog, the term has taken on a new meaning for me—has become, if you will, even deeper. I will not lose interest in the subject that led me to begin it (how could one get bored in the realm of the gifted mind—as broad a territory as writing itself?) but the new depths that interest me may not appeal to everyone. The title of my CDB workshop refers to both the mystical image of Indra’s net and the material world reality of the internet, two very different ways of perceiving intersections, the connectedness of all things. What I will be doing here in future is exploring both kinds of “deep.”

And meanwhile I’ve begun the intense work of writing the third book of the “Ark Trilogy,” Within the Dark. Because, of course, fiction is a fundamental part of my “one true calling.”

 

Parenting, parenting, and then one day…

10 Oct
HC20677

Newborn

 

Many of you may have seen a recent research article: 

High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities

 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289616303324 

And you may be forgiven for saying, “Well, duh!” This research shows what those of us who are and are raising highly intelligent folk (“cheetahs” or “mermaids/men”) have known all along. There are downsides to this “gift.”

When our kids are little and driving us crazy with their messy rooms, or forgetfulness, or endless arguments, or intensity, or sensitivity, or the scary downsides that the above article addresses, we may wonder about upsides. This post is a celebration of upsides, and a follow up to an earlier one, (Feb. 12, “On the Lighter Side”) in case you missed it.

If you’ve never read it, you might want to take a moment to go up to the top right hand side of this blog and click on “An Open Letter….” When I was in the trenches, learning about high range giftedness and coping with school issues and asynchrony (which hadn’t been named yet), nobody told me that it might not be a good idea to “out” my child to the larger world—so when it was decided to make the open letter I had written to my son’s teachers a chapter in Guiding the Gifted Child, 1982, it didn’t occur to me to hide his identity. Luckily, he didn’t seem to be hurt by this (except for the embarrassment of having the words “Gifted Child” as an on-screen caption during an interview with me on the Today Show when he was an adult working in New York City).

“On the Lighter Side” tells the history of the Applewhites books, including my idea (back in 2012) to ask RJ to collaborate with me on the third book my editor had been urging me to write. He agreed, amazingly soon came up with the initial plot outline, and so we began to write, discovering in the process that neither of us was entirely thrilled with the need, sometimes, to let go of a brilliant idea of our own to embrace the brilliant idea of the other. It wasn’t all roses and sunshine but thanks to its being about the Applewhite family there was a lot of laughter. And then the book got sidelined by family tragedy in 2013. It didn’t come to life again for a very long time. But finally it called us back to our keyboards. Laughter had won out!

So we will have a great celebration party next Tuesday, October 17, at Books of Wonder (18 West 18th Street, New York, NY), when Applewhites Coast to Coast is officially launched. It is impossible to fully express the joy of working together, sharing the ups and downs of life and of the creative process. And the fun of celebrating this birth together!

tolan-and-tolan-42.jpg

Mother/Son Selfie

 

 

On the Lighter Side

12 Feb

It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. And right now we need as much of it as we can get.

So—this post is not a serious post about the world, or even about the needs of highly to profoundly gifted folks. It is a post to go with a “cover reveal” for the third book about the homeschooling Applewhites and their visiting “bad kid,” Jake Semple.

Back in 2002 I published the first one—Surviving the Applewhites. I had written it precisely because laughter is medicine, and the book of mine that had come out two weeks after 9/11 (Flight of the Raven—sequel to Welcome to the Ark) was set in a terrorist compound. I had therefore had to spend a year of my life while writing it, living in the minds of terrorists, and I really, truly needed to lighten up.

While laughter might be medicinal, funny books seldom win major literary awards, so it was a surprise to many that it won a Newbery Honor in 2003. After 29 years of writing for kids and young adults, I had become an “overnight success.” 

Meantime, I had also become a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Educational Advancement (IEA) and helped to create Yunasa, a camp for highly gifted kids, where I have worked every summer since. My son RJ, whom some of you may remember from the Open Letter in Guiding the Gifted Child (1982) told me I should write a sequel, and that in it the Applewhites should start a camp. Though I wasn’t eager to write a sequel (sequels are tricky and writing humor even trickier), my editor also encouraged me, so I did. Applewhites at Wit’s End, dedicated to the Yunasa campers, and including the disclaimer that “any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental,” came out ten years after the first book.

That, I thought, was that. Done! And then RJ (most of you know how persistent and sometimes maddening highly gifted offspring can be) said I should write a third, because it wouldn’t be “a series” until there were three books! I said no. My editor pushed a bit. I said no.

And then it dawned on me that it might be fun to do if RJ, who is a very funny guy and a very good writer, would collaborate. I hesitantly suggested this first to my editor and then to him. She said yes, he said yes, and I was actually at Yunasa when I got the word that we had a contract for the third book. Great! I thought. Now all we have to do is get an idea. And write it. A few weeks later RJ took care of the first part. And we began.

Long story short, it is done. Brett Helquist has created a splendid cover (as he did for Wit’s End and the new paperback of Surviving) and Applewhites Coast to Coast will be available from HarperCollins in the fall of 2017. One of my favorite parts about the whole project was when our editor said she couldn’t tell which one of us wrote what. Yay! (For some of it, we aren’t even quite sure.) This is the sort of thing that makes all those years of parenting not just worth it, but an amazing, splendid, delightful gift!applewhitescoast_final-s

And as I was posting this, I encountered a really great quote, from Bobby Sands, an Irish activist (1954-1981): “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”

Out of Sync

21 Mar

Announcement, announcement!OOS (Imagine a flourish of trumpets!)

On March 3, 2016, my new book, Out of Sync, Essays on Giftedness came out from Royal Fireworks Press, the publisher that brought the Columbus Group’s book Off the Charts to the world. Here is the link where you can check it out (and also buy it):  http://www.rfwp.com/book/out-of-sync-essays-on-giftedness

This book is both new and old, because it’s a collection of my writings that have been published over more than three decades. Many, though not all of these pieces have been available for a number of years on my website, www.stephanietolan.com . Consequently, some of you will have read some of them already. That’s the “old” part. The new part consists of an introduction to each piece that provides a personal and cultural context.

My journey as a parent led from my husband’s and my concerns about our son’s schooling to concerns about American education, the definition and meaning of giftedness itself, the complexities of human intelligence and the reaches of the human mind, as well as how the differences we call giftedness affect one’s whole life trajectory. These are some of the subjects I’ve written about over thirty-plus years as my life and focus changed, in essays that are included in this book.

Unusually bright children are “out of sync” developmentally from birth, and will remain out of sync in one way or another throughout their lives, but they will only be children for a short time (one that can seem long in the midst of it, but like the blink of an eye at its conclusion). So in this eye blink from my perspective (1982 to the present) many parents who found my work helpful when coping with giftedness in their children (and themselves) have taken a journey from worrying about play dates for their kids to helping them choose graduate schools, or plan weddings. And yes, some are now becoming grandparents to a whole new generation of out of sync kids.

Sadly, the “old” stuff isn’t out of date, as I so wish it were. The same issues keep coming up. I see daily on social media questions from parents just beginning this journey that are exactly the same as the ones I faced and then worked (and wrote) to help answer. Last spring at a state gifted conference, I asked the audience of teachers and parents how many of them had read “Is It a Cheetah?”—my single most well-known piece, and the one I’ve been told has had the most success convincing educators that there really is a need to provide different nourishment for the different beings in their care. Only a few hands in that audience were raised, and it occurred to me that a new generation of parents and teachers is embarking on this journey who haven’t found the “old stuff” that can continue to provide a helpful guide to the obstacles out there, and some useful answers to the same old questions.

So that’s why this book—now one can get the pieces that readers have told me were the most helpful to them in one slim volume. (And BTW, the feet in those out of sync socks on the cover are my own!) Yes, I’m still out of sync, too.

Repeat:  http://www.rfwp.com/book/out-of-sync-essays-on-giftedness

 

Schools are to Creativity… (Part 2)

16 Jul

…as zoos are to wildness.

I got to visit cheetahs NOT on exhibit at Melbourne zoo–thanks to Jo Freitag

Sometimes in order to see things clearly one has to peel back layers of feeling. My philosophy is that we can’t do anything wrong (as we’re doing the best we can at any given moment) but that we may be able to do things better, and feelings can help us do that by pointing to what isn’t working as well as it could.  Today’s post goes on from the feeling response I wrote yesterday.  Different readers will respond differently, depending on their own feeling layers, of course.

“…As zoos are to wildness.”  That is a critical part of the sentence!  I am not against zoos.  In fact, I spent part of my life wanting to be a zookeeper.  I had our family read aloud the works of Gerald Durrell, whose life, other than writing, was devoted early on to gathering animals for zoos and then to creating an important zoo of his own.  One of the greatest synchronicities of our son’s life happened during his college semester in London when, looking into a bookstore window, he thought he recognized the reflection of the man standing behind him.  He turned and asked the man if he was Gerald Durrell.  When the man said he was, our son enthusiastically shared how important Durrell’s books had been to his childhood.  Durrell invited him to the zoo run by his Wildlife Conservation Trust, and of course he went!

As with schools, there are zoos and zoos.  Fewer and fewer of them are places of imprisonment for their charges or focused solely on putting animals on exhibit for the entertainment of their paying customers. Many do important conservation research.  And there is for the most part a serious effort to provide as natural a habitat for the animals as possible.  Nevertheless, the task of maintaining wildness is difficult to achieve with some species and impossible with many others!

Just so with highly creative kids.  Creativity itself is about not following directions, about finding new ways to do things, new ways to approach things, new ways to put things together or “reconcile the disparate.”  It is an individual thing.  An institution whose job is to educate all kids cannot function without requirements, directions, methods and–yes–coercion.

One of the most difficult half hours of my life was the first time I was asked as a visiting author to interact with a kindergarten class.   I’d written mostly young adult novels at that point and normally visited upper elementary or middle school classes, where I started by getting the kids excited about an idea.  I had literally never been in a room with more than 20 five year olds before that day.  I made the mistake of starting by getting the kids turned on.  Five year olds, of course, pretty much don’t need turning on–chaos ensued. And I never managed to restore even a semblance of order.

Creativity and institutions of any kind don’t go together easily.  At best there may be an uneasy alliance.  Institutions need patterns that creative people break.  Over and over again the “creative genius” who founds an organization of any kind–a company, a school, a theatre company–is replaced once that organization is up and running by someone whose particular skills are suited to  guiding and maintaining rather than inventing.  And it isn’t always that the founder is thrown out–some leave when they discover that keeping the organization running bores them silly and that making things new all the time can be disruptive and threatening to others.  Creativity often looks like destruction, when old forms have to be taken apart to make way for the new.

When that sixth grade teacher who was the nemesis of my life told my mother that I’d never amount to anything because I was “interested in too many things,” she was thinking along conventional lines:  “jack of all trades, master of none.”  The greatest joy of being a writer, of course, is that I get to keep writing different sorts of stories, doing different kinds of research, inventing whole new people and worlds.  One of the things that made me craziest in school was the schedule–same classes same day of the week, week after week after week.  As an adult I would not be able to do a job that involves constant repetition.

So this is the second half of what I wish to say about creativity in schools.  We can’t support it perfectly, but we can keep working to do better. Some schools and some teachers have more success than others in making room for creative kids, but much of the support the kids need may have to come from the fact that–unlike zoo animals–they get to leave the building at the end of the school day.

What I wrote during school was mostly written in the classes I didn’t like under the guise of taking careful notes (the notes my teachers thought accounted for my good grades.)  But most of my writing as a kid was done in trees, under bushes, at home in my room–outside of school and not at anyone’s request.

It is possible for a creative kid to survive even the most coercive school environment with a little help from outside–parents, other kids, adult mentors or just enough time and space to dream, and materials for playing, experiencing and inventing on their own.

But kids whose creativity can be submerged by doing really well at following directions, by a culture that is uncomfortable with rebels, or by a need to protect themselves from the hostile forces often ranged against them, do get hurt.  There is no life without pain; I’m not suggesting there should be.  But often these kids get hurt more deeply, more often and more permanently than necessary.  Coercion can inspire creativity as the creative kid finds ways to rebel against it or work around it.  But coercion can grind down and destroy as well.  These kids need to hear from adults that resistance is not necessarily a sign of poor character!

“If I had it to do all over again” (something every single parent can say at some point), I would put supporting creativity way higher up on my list of priorities for any kid who has, in addition to a really fine, really capable intellect, a passionate imagination and a drive toward novelty.  It was the nourishing of imagination that Einstein was talking about when he advocated reading fairy tales as a way to create future scientists.  When he said that creativity was more important than knowledge, it wasn’t that he was dissing knowledge.  But stuffing kids’ minds full of the knowledge we think they should have doesn’t make room for what is likely to be needed in a world we can’t predict that will be the world of their adulthood.

I prefer to look for positive possibilities.  If some kids can nourish their imaginations with computer games (like the paper version of Dungeons and Dragons that briefly took over my son’s life) I say there is hope in that.  But I also hope that anyone who can affect classrooms anywhere will keep in mind the need to provide some open spaces for the growing of imagination.  And I would remind parents to value and trust it as Einstein did.