What is Intelligence?


Most people believe they know the meaning of the word “Intelligence” but, in fact, there is really no consensus on its true meaning. The accepted psychological definition of Intelligence is “that which intelligence tests measure”. This sounds circular, but it is the only definition that meets the validity and reliability requirements. It implies that whatever skills society determines as “intelligent”, then a test that accurately measures those skills will serve as an indicator of intelligence.

Let’s think about this for a moment. If societies can vary on what skills they consider  “intelligent”, then shouldn’t we begin to consider what those different skills might be? In the industrialized world, it had historically been verbal and mathematical skills that are deemed as most intelligent, and it is true that current intelligence tests mostly measure those abilities. But, we could question if there are other skills that could be considered as equally “intelligent”?

This discussion also has a big impact on how we educate. If we consider that only verbal and mathematical abilities are the most important, then schools should focus primarily on those skills, which is mostly the case now. However, if we determine that other skills, perhaps those now considered “vocational” are equally important skills, then education should be expanded to cover those additional skills.

It is an important point to consider because our world of work is greatly changing. Technology skills are becoming more and more important, yet they are still considered as subservient to our original skills of math, reading and writing. We have a new education secretary coming into the Trump administration who advocates for school “choice”. But school choice is really just trying to find the best school that teaches the same three Rs. It does not advocate allowing people to choose different subjects or skills to learn.

Perhaps we should begin to consider expanding our definition of intelligence past the three Rs. As Americans, we had always had many paths to achievement. You would hear stories such as “I dropped out of college and then I starting working at a restaurant. Now I’m head chef and I love it.” You don’t hear as many of those stories anymore, and it seems like success is only determined by completing a college degree.

We should allow true school choice that is based more on a person’s individual passions and the needs of society. How about letting the last two years of high school be a true choice based system with Educational Savings Accounts that can let a person direct money to learning the skills they are most interested in. We are probably not ready to focus on anything but the three Rs in the lower grades, but the upper grades could easily have more choice incorporated. Then we could be sure that we are truly creating the most “intelligent” citizens for our society.

Chris Bernat is the author of Individualized Learning with Technology – Meeting the Needs of High School Students – a book about how learning can be individualized for older students, starting in high school and continuing throughout life. Visit her site at www.learnthroughlife.com.




About chbernat

I am a technical writer and instructional designer. I have an intense interest in adult learning and instructional design principles. I greatly feel that adults need to take control of their own learning in order to advance their knowledge and skills throughout life.
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