Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Intelligence Has Nothing To Do With It

A couple days ago, I took an online IQ test on a lark. It appears that my IQ is between 133 and 149, "or it may even be higher!" which means it may be over 160, so you might very well, right now, be reading the words of a bona fide genius.

Art: Karntakuringu Jukurrpa

Naturally, I'm joking. No intelligent person puts any stock in the validity of tests that purport to measure intelligence. I sure don't, especially a self-administered online test that only took a few minutes, but there was a part of me that was nevertheless disappointed to learn that I'm pretty much average. We all know about the cultural biases that go into these tests, so of course, being a middle-aged, middle-class, white male, one might expect a person like me to score between 133 and 149. And that's the most reliable thing about most standardized tests: they tend to be very good at predicting the demographics of the test takers, but little else.

"Intelligence" is a cultural construct, something that is dictated by the dominant culture. If history is written by the victors, then intelligence is defined by the victors, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other ways of being smart, they just might not get you into your college of choice. A Google search will tell you that there is not just one type of intelligence, but rather two . . . or three, or seven, or eight, or nine. The dictionary definition is "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills," not identifying what specific knowledge or skills qualify, which suggests that intelligence is not so much about what one knows or does, but rather the capacity for growth.

One of the things that I valued most about my decades as a parent and teacher in cooperative preschools was that the children's parents attended school with them. Every parent absolutely knows that their child is a genius. They've seen it with their own eyes. They've been astounded. They've been inspired as their babies have applied themselves in their sponge-like way to acquisition of knowledge and skills, the connections they've made, the epiphanies, and the apparent ease with which it all happens. And when they get to observe their child in the classroom they get to see that they are right -- their child is a genius! And so is that one, and so is that one, and so is that one . . . Indeed, genius is not the rarity our IQ tests would have it be, but rather the norm, at least during these preschool years.

So what happens? The social construct of intelligence happens. This invention of the dominant culture happens. It sorts the children according to socio-economic status, letting just enough high achieving minorities through to prove the rule of this thing called intelligence. It's as if the concept of intelligence exists primarily as form of social control, as a way for one group to assert its superiority over another in the guise of "objectivity." Or maybe it calls into question, not the concept of intelligence itself as much as the attempt to measure intelligence, because it's only through measurement, through judgement and ranking, that we can sorting winners from losers.

This is the dark heart of academic testing, grading, and assessment. No matter how well-intended, the game is always rigged, at least so long as we presume to measure this non-existent thing called "intelligence." As cooperative preschool parents learn, there are as many types of intelligence as their are children. Education is emphatically not about intelligence, but rather about growth. As educators, we should not be here as referees enforcing the rules that determine who wins and loses, but rather as fellow travelers, supporting each child as they use their unique abilities to become their best selves. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.

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