Human Intelligence…A Challenge for Education

Pgs. 13-15

People have multiple intelligences. Intelligence is not an absolute such as height that can be measured simply, largely because people have multiple intelligences rather than one single form of intelligence. The two forms most highly valued in our society are linguistic and logical…mathematical. When people think of someone smart, they are usually referring to these two, because these folks do well on tests that supposedly measure intelligence. But there are five other kinds of intelligence every bit as important: spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic…and two forms of personal intelligence: interpersonal, knowing how to deal with others…and intrapersonal, genuine knowledge of self. None of these ought to have priority over others. We need to be sensitive to the fact that blends of inteliigences keep shifting so that in the future we don’t get locked into a specific blend.

In our schools and nations, we often waste a lot of human potential by focusing on only linguistic and logical intlligence. If an individual doesn’t happen to be good in these, he or she is often ignored. A youngster might not do well on a IQ test, is labeled as not very smart, and is treated accordingly. But there are many worthwhile places in life in which it is not important that a person have a high intelligence in language and logic so long as he or she can function at a basic level in these areas. If kids with such abilities as being good at working with one’s hands or figuring out how machines function were encouraged rather than discouraged because they can’t figure out who wrote the “Iliad”…they could be happy in a responsible position and be extremely valuable to themselves and to society.

Intelligence and aptitude tests measure only two forms of intelligence and have destructive social effects. These tests have been successful becaused they serve as a good predictor of how people will do in school in the short run. But how much does doing well in school predict success outside of school? Very little. But how to assess abilities…perhaps something between a report card and a test score.

It would be helpful to assess intellectual propensities from an early age. The earlier a strength is discovered, the more flexibility there is to develop it. Similarly, if a child has a low propensity, the earlier intervention begins, the easier it is to help guide the child to developing other skills or outlets. So early diagnosis is important.

Instead of relying on only traditional paper-and-pencil tests to assess abilities, we need learning environments in which children can do a lot of exploring on their own or with help from teachers. Assessment by observant adults who might also participate with them, is possible. Instead of calling a child “smart” or “dumb”, people would talk in terms of a child’s strengths and weaknesses. But no theory is going to tell people what to do, once A child’s propensities are assessed. That decision would depend on the values of those around the child. As children mature, the assessments would continue in a different vein. By the age of 10 or 11, the monitoring could shift to “domains”, where you might come up with analyzes such as “this person has the talent to become a teacher”.

While having a high intelligence in an area doesn’t predict exactly what you are going to do, it predicts the direction you are likely to move in. If somebody has a highly developed spatial intelligence, he or she might be happy in architecture, engineering, sculpture or painting.

The challenge for teachers is to figure out profiles of young people and then to help them find suitable roles in which they can use their abilities in a satisfying and productive way. The first step is recognizing the diverse intelligences of which human beings are capable.

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