The Creative Intelligence of American Children is Declining

E. Paul Torrance, shown here in the mid-'80s, spent most of his career studying and encouraging students' creativity.

E. Paul Torrance, shown here in the mid-’80s, spent most of his career studying and encouraging students’ creativity.

Fifty years ago, psychologist Paul Torrance invented the test that has become the gold standard for assessing the creative intelligence (CQ) in children. Millions of children all over the world have taken the test, which is conducted over 90-minutes and consists of a series of discrete creative tasks.  The longitudinal studies conducted on the half century of data from the testing found that children who tested high in CQ grew up to become the ground breaking entrepreneurs, computer developers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, researchers, and statesmen. High CQ as a child is three times stronger than high IQ in determining who goes on to make a significant lifetime achievement.

Up until 1990, the IQ and CQ scores of American children had steadily risen, the results of good schools and good families making kids smarter. But since 1990 the creativity scores of American children have dropped, and dropped seriously in the formative years between kindergarten and the sixth grade. In assessing blame for the problem, most fingers point to the amount of time kids spend in front of screens, watching TV, playing computer games, or texting ceaselessly on their smart phones.

Certainly, the pointless preoccupation with electronic toys is diverting kids from creative-cubes-1509571engaging in more meaningful creative activities, but the decline in creativity appears to run deeper than electronic distractions.  The research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, father of positive psychology, found that children who grow up to make significant creative contributions developed in the stability and order of cohesive families and supportive schools that channeled, accepted, and broadened the child’s innate talent.

Sadly, most schools are not doing that any more. Our public schools have gutted the school curriculum of any kind of creative development. Ironically, the ability to think creatively is not on the list of core competencies, despite it being the strongest predictor of a child’s success in adult life.  Our education policy is missing the point research has established, which is that creative problem solving is the core competency in every subject.

An even greater irony is that although American scientists have pioneered the programs that teach children to think creatively, it is China and Europe that are implementing them.  China and Europe are dumping the old model of  “drill and kill”, which is the excessive repetition of simple, isolated skills, in favor of the new model rooted in the problem-based learning that America pioneered. The policy makers in Europe and China understand that a generation devoid of breakthrough creative thinkers are not likely to create a prosperous future.