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Education and the ignorance of different types of intelligence

For almost a century, the “g” factor theory dominated psychology’s view of intelligence. The idea of g was proposed by the British psychologist Spearman, who proposed that intelligence consists of particular mental abilities, also known as ‘Book Smarts’. Terman then coined the term of intelligence quotient (IQ) to help determine if people were fit enough to hold senior roles during World War 2. And to be fair, this was probably the best measure that did not consume too much time. Generally speaking, those with higher IQ would be better in senior roles. However, in a time of world peace and time to progress and develop, it is still being used despite being a bad indicator of future life success. The idea became under increasing fire in the 1990s when it became clear that g too heavily reflected academic knowledge (especially the way it was measured). Such esteemed critics as Robert Sternberg, Daniel Goleman, and Howard Gardner led a movement against g that eventually caused a rethinking of how we approach intelligence. Educators, theorists, and researchers now realize that it’s important to add ‘people smarts’ and ‘street smarts’ (among other qualities) to the now outdated IQ. While Sternberg believed there was only three types of intelligence, Goleman emphasised the importance of emotional intelligence and Gardner posited nine types of intelligence, including the intelligence of controlling one's body, which would be associated with athleticism, musical intelligence, and existential intelligence, or the ability to tackle deep questions about human existence.

Regardless of which one you follow, the important message here is that we are not robots so we should not only value one type of intelligence. I would much prefer see Lebron James score 50 points in a game, watch Leonardo DiCaprio make you question the difference between acting and reality and experience a Michelangelo painting in a lavishly elegant building created by an architect with no formal education than only appreciate someone who has a high IQ. However, the education system has not changed with this. We are no longer under the pressure of hastily needing to select senior officers to prepare for war but still; uninspired knowledge that has been forcefully learned off plays the most important role in our societies.

Education is currently focused on preparing children and adolescents for the workforce. It is a consequence of the industrial revolution. The problem today is that the education system is overcrowded and the standard of education required for certain jobs is increasing. As a result, people are now finishing their degrees and they are unable to get a job. Graduates then start Master’s degrees, not because they want to pursue further education, but because they need it to begin employment. A master’s degree 20 years ago would have been seen as advanced education is now the equivalent to a PhD today. There is more money then going into Universities, not because people are following their passions, but because they want to get a job. This then means they are only studying to Geta. job good enough to pay back their student loans and this can create a resentment towards their work, which can be demonstrated through the huge upsurge in job dissatisfaction.

However, there is an upside to this overcrowded and educated workforce. This means society is beginning to appreciate alternative intelligences. It is causing people to become creative in order to make a living. And it is these entrepreneurs that are changing the world. Dan Pink speaks about how people need to move their focus from monotonous left brain thinking such as number crunching, linear thinking and inputting data because of the three A’s. These jobs are abundant, as explained already, they will become automated, meaning they will be replaced by machines and they will be replaced by cheaper, Asian alternatives. For example, more than 50% of the Fortune 500 companies outsourced their software work to India.

Piaget said “Our real problem is – what is the goal of education? Are we forming children that are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try developing creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?”

In my opinion, education is letting us down because it does not teach us how to think. We think all of the time. We are always in our heads but we are not taught what is correct or incorrect thinking. Instead, the education system unconsciously tells us what to think about. We need to think about how to solve a maths equation or how to be good at a certain job. Lack of independent thinking then means we need to think a certain way so we can get a job, which means we can pay our bills and survive. And this is fine. It is making sure that everyone can be a cog in the machine of society. However, it's not going to positively change the world. It does not allow the Bill Gates, the Elon Musk, the Greta Thunberg to flourish. If we can think independently, we can then think about how we can positively influence the world. Don't judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.

So what can we do to change this? Well firstly, we should start teaching our future generations how to think properly. We should teach them the benefits of knowledge, we should teach them how to overcome difficult situations and we should teach them the difference between a helpful and a unhelpful thought. If we can correct their thinking, then we can correct their behaviour and then this leads them in the right direction.

Secondly, we should be taking the pressure off our children and students to do well in exams. Entrance into University or college is becoming more and more competitive and the outcomes after a degree are not that rewarding. There are psychologists who end up in teaching, lawyers who end up in marketing, and arts students who end up in sales. So why is there pressure to have your life planned out at 18? The Leaving Certificate/A Levels are not everything, not only from a mental health perspective but from a quality of life perspective. Emphasise the importance of finding meaning in their lives, not high grades.

And finally, promote alternative forms of intelligence. If a child has above average social skills and below average academic intelligence at the age of 7, it isn’t a good decision for the child’s social skills to be ignored to prioritise cognitive intelligence. That child then ends up doing average in school to go on to pursue a law degree that he or she doesn’t care about. Alternatively, embrace his or her social skills and watch them end up as a comedian, an actor, one of the best salespeople in the county and he or she never works a day in their life. Born to do it! All day, I would pick a child to be fantastic at one thing than average at everything.

On a final note, it should also be noted that the education system isn't terrible. It just could be better. On top of this, it is important to remember that school is not only there for academic reasons. Children are forced to interact with new teachers as well as their classmates and as mentioned in a previous post, it teaches them how to play. Therefore, I am not an advocate of home schooling.

Of course, this critique is on the basis that education be individualised for every student and of course this is not possible with the funds and resources the government, schools and teachers have. However, this does not mean that teachers can’t keep an eye out for alternative forms of intelligence. Do your best and teach but if a child is particularly talented at something non-academic, appreciate it and take advantage of it. I worked with a child who loved maps but had no interest in history. Rather than forcing him to know what year the battle of Hastings was, we learned alternative facts such as where the battle of Hastings was and the geography of the country at the time. Once he was engaged, it wasn’t so difficult for him to learn off the date. I’ve also had children learn times tables through keepie uppies, learn social skills through music and learn emotions through art. Education is a journey through a maze and the end goal is each person being able to independently provide for themselves. If one entrance (academics) is blocked, we shouldn’t keep trying to go down the same route. Try something else!


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