Teachers irritated by a pupil who day-dreams and appears not to be switched on to the work of the class should relax: they may have a budding genius on their hands.
In an address on creativity and intelligence, Howard Gardner, the guru on multiple intelligences, drew on the work of "Big C" creative geniuses such as Stravinsky, Picasso and Einstein to suggest some of the qualities that might be present in youngsters who did not necessarily aspire to the heights of "an Igor, a Pablo or an Albert".
Creativity, Professor Gardner suggested, is about "going off in new directions", which is not the same as intelligence, competence or expertise. Nor does creativity spring solely from the mind or brain. He drew a distinction between prodigies and creative geniuses. "Prodigies get rewarded for doing what adults want them to do whereas creative people deviate from what adults want them to do."
Professor Gardner said his studies of "Big C" creative people found consistent characteristics:
* Often childlike in their questioning and showed a willingness to be ridiculed.
* Passionate and committed, working decades on problems and so are switched off from less elevated concerns.
* Quirky minds, with blends of intelligences and weaknesses.
* Enormous capacity for solitude.
* Sense of honesty and truthfulness in their work which can be "chilling and alienating".
These were among the reasons why schools should not treat everyone the same, Professor Gardner cautioned. "They do it because they think it's fair; in fact it's very unfair."