Building Bridges

In his two newest books, Dr. Don Ambrose, professor of Graduate Education, takes on the destructive influence of dogmatism through a multidisciplinary approach to research.
Thursday, April 12, 2012

“Leading scholars want to leave an impact on the next generation,” according to Dr. Don Ambrose, professor of Graduate Education. It is an ideal that helps explain Ambrose’s interest in an emerging academic trend that places an increased emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge generation.

“Over the past decade, I’ve done a good deal of research, in collaboration with some leading scholars, and accomplished some bridge-building in multiple fields,” said Ambrose, whose own studies have focused lately on high ability, which encompasses giftedness, talent, creativity and intelligence, through the lenses of multiple disciplines.

This examination of high ability from an array of perspectives is facilitated, he says, by the increasing influence of globalization.

“It’s driving everything now,” said Ambrose, the editor of the Roeper Review, a gifted-education journal. “We have to become more interdisciplinary in order to bridge those gaps between various fields.

“In terms of climate change, for example, we need climate scientists involved,” he continued. “But we also need economists, who can discern troubling economic patterns that aggravate environmental problems, psychologists, who can see flaws in the thinking of socioeconomic leaders, and historians, who can tell us how civilizations in the past have collapsed.”

Ambrose maintains that this more global perspective is inhibited by the rigidity of traditional thought within individual fields. Over time, these standards often calcify into unquestioned dogma.

“Dogmatism influences thinkers, even some of the most intelligent scholars in a field,” he explained, mentioning its toxic effect on research and learning as a primary reason for his two latest books, How Dogmatic Beliefs Harm Creativity and Higher-Level Thinking, edited in collaboration with Robert J. Sternberg, and Confronting Dogmatism in Gifted Education, edited with Sternberg and Bharath Sriraman.

Sternberg, a psychologist by background, is the provost and senior vice president at Oklahoma State University, as well as a former president of the American Psychological Association and the Eastern Psychological Association. Sriraman is a professor of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Montana.

In How Dogmatic Beliefs Harm Creativity and Higher-Level Thinking, Ambrose and Sternberg invited experts from various disciplines to explore how the narrow-mindedness of some otherwise intelligent scholars, as well as leaders in socioeconomics, politics and culture, affects their perceptions – and thus, their decisions. The research bolsters Ambrose’s previous findings that macro problems, such as economic collapse, “largely derive from the dogmatic thinking of highly creative and intelligent, gifted people.”

The book “explores the nature and nuances of dogmatic thinking from various disciplinary perspectives, and applies the gleaned insights to what is known about creativity,” according to its publisher, Psychology Press/Taylor & Francis Group. “Bringing together leading thinkers in the fields of creative studies and education, and in other relevant fields (history, sociology, psychology) … this panoramic view represents interdisciplinary bridge building with the potential to generate new insights about the education of creative young minds.”

In Confronting Dogmatism in Gifted Education, Ambrose and Sriraman sought to build a volume that specifically examines the ways that dogmatism stifles the various stakeholders in gifted education, including the children.

“This book offers such clarity, searching outside of the predominant conceptual frameworks that dominate thinking about giftedness and talent, and examining ways in which this conceptual fog stunts and warps the development of gifted minds and limits the effectiveness of curriculum development and instruction,” said publisher Taylor & Francis. “The chapters … explore the ways in which economic, cultural, and academic contexts affect both the gifted mind and education of the highly able in America…”  

Ambrose says one of the challenges of asking scholars from diverse disciplines to contribute to such a collaborative, interdisciplinary project is that it brings a lesser chance for professional acclaim within the researcher’s own field.

“It doesn’t always pay off for a scholar to do strong work outside his or her field,” he explained, praising those who did contribute for their commitment to furthering knowledge. “There is too much disciplinary insularity (at many universities). Scholars tend to stay too much within their own disciplines, though it’s understandable. It’s hard enough to master one field.”

Still, Ambrose predicts this more global approach will hold appeal across the academy. “All academics grapple with dogmatism, all the time. Leading scholars will point at each other and say, ‘you’re dogmatic about dogmatism!’” he said. ‘This makes them think a little more outside their own silos.”

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Dr. Don Ambrose is the editor of the Roeper Review, a gifted-education journal.