The Question of Intelligence

I’m reading Ken Robinson‘s The Element, which explores how one finds or develops their passion/aptitude. It has particular ramifications for the education sector because as I wrote in an earlier postPicture 2, Robinson believes teachers/schools have a social and moral obligation to cultivate students’ unique gifts and talents.

Early on in the book, Robinson explores the notion of intelligence and how our measurement of ‘academic’ intelligence emerged during the Enlightenment, which held scientific and verbal reasoning as the pinnacle of intellect.

Robinson argues rightly that public education in the 19th century was built on a limited understanding of knowledge and intellect. Schools existed to meet the demands of the Industrial Revolution and therefore depended on a quick one-size fits all approach of assessment.

A good read on this world view is given by Raymond E. Callahan in his book “Education and the Cult of Efficiency” who shows how the industrial model was codified in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Of course if we know this to be true, then why do we continue to validate standardised testing? Because as Robinson writes, we are framing the question incorrectly. It is not about how intelligent you are, rather how are you intelligent?

Mathematical and verbal reasoning while important are two elements of intelligence. It encompasses much more and while teachers may recognise the special skills and gifts in their students, they are restrained by a draconian system of assessment.

There is a pervasive and powerful view that still exists in our own society that  students who don’t score high marks in the HSC are somehow less capable.

If we want to personalise learning for every child, then we need to seriously examine the way we assess student learning otherwise we will fail another generation of learners.


2 thoughts on “The Question of Intelligence

  1. Hello,
    I enjoy following your writings and video clips and share your views with excitement.
    I totally agree with what you say above – but have to pause on this sentence: “we need to seriously examine the way we assess student learning”.
    The very essence of assessment is problematic. We need some sort of an assessment so that we know where our kids are, are they on a track, or are they lost. Do they have difficulties? That’s what we need the assessment for.
    The problem with assessments is when they become public and a pass ticket to further activities. Like – a pass ticket to university. Or to a specific job. Sometimes education is a requirement and so the assessments are inevitable – take medicine for instance – but in many 21st century occupations the desire to assess is a need to tag and organize people into familiar attributes, having nothing to do with prospects of actual success.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. The examination of assessment has to fall into two parts. The one that is most powerful is assessment for learning ie what the learner and reacher learned for the process and how this is feedback to enrich the experience of both. Secondly in assessment of learning we need richer tasks that reflect the world in which we live. Currently the most pervasive method is still text based pen and paper. In my state computers are banned in exam roooms. I understand the concerns but there are answers out there. Kids today have new forms, media and mediums. Why not explore some of these. We do desperately need to know thta kids do learn, how we do this is the problematic I think

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