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Intelligence Testing

September 1, 2010
Afred Binet

There has been a lot of discussion about the idea of IQ tests, but its important to put the whole idea into context, particularly if you feel someone you care about has been labelled in some ways that do not enrich their lives.   Tools to assist us in better supporting people are always useful, those that denigrate and predict failure and support segregation are merely tools of prejudice.   The idea of testing for intelligence initially came out of government commissioned work by Alfred Binet, who agreed with the idea that it was important so that children who needed more help could get it.   As he saw his ideas being perverted by those who wanted to sort people into groups, often for reasons that had little to do with actual intelligence (racism, cultural differences, sexism), he protested strongly:  “that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be increased” is “brutal pessimism” against which one “must protest and react” as “it is founded on nothing.”

More contemporary thinking about intelligence has looked at vastly mutiplying the concept of different ways of being intelligent – one of the most interesting is the idea of “social intelligence” – popularised by Daniel Goleman in a couple of books.   In our field, this is a really interesting idea – that the strength of one’s relationship-building capacity can create opportunities for success that we’d always through derived from a kind of intellectual merit.   When you consider this for a moment in terms of how one might have found one’s first job, or been alerted to some opportunity, or through one’s family been given chances that others were not given, it makes sense.  

One of the most interesting writers working on these ideas is Jonah Lehrer, who looks like a teenager and thinks like a god, most recently in a book called Proust was a Neuroscientist, which examines the connections between art and science, inspiration and method, intuition and action.   Some of Lehrer’s articles can be found here.    I don’t find Goleman very readable, but a quick google search on multiple intelligence will take you to some interesting places.    One of the authorities is educator Dr Thomas Armstrong who examines the eight kinds of intelligence in hopes of refocusing educators on how they might teach differently:

Jonah Lehrer

For example, if you’re teaching or learning about the law of supply and demand in economics, you might read about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of your own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there’s very little supply, your stomach’s demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing?”). 

You don’t have to teach or learn something in all eight ways, just see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways interest you the most, or seem to be the most effective teaching or learning tools. The theory of multiple intelligences is so intriguing because it expands our horizon of available teaching/learning tools beyond the conventional linguistic and logical methods used in most schools (e.g. lecture, textbooks, writing assignments, formulas, etc.). To get started, put the topic of whatever you’re interested in teaching or learning about in the center of a blank sheet of paper, and draw eight straight lines or “spokes” radiating out from this topic. Label each line with a different intelligence. Then start brainstorming ideas for teaching or learning that topic and write down ideas next to each intelligence (this is a spatial-linguistic approach of brainstorming; you might want to do this in other ways as well, using a tape-recorder, having a group brainstorming session, etc.). Have fun!  

The difficulty is that, as always, we must think critically of even those things which seem to open up possibilities.   Most of the experts on multiple intelligence talk about how schools focus on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, to the exclusion of the other six kinds, and in the end people who do not think in ways that are linguistic/logical-mathematical are pushed out of systemic education plans as if they are less intelligent, rather than just differently focused.   Yet a couple of years ago I went to a short talk on Montessori educational methods in which the teacher was discussing multiple intelligence as a new form of *testing* that would allow teaches to know that some students need to focus more on math and language arts, rather than a way of thinking about education that increases the need to offer other choices.   As with Alfred Binet, the idea that one’s theory can be used in other ways than one planned for continues.   A site with a short (ten minute) quiz that will help you find your unique style of thinking things through is found at the Canada Job Bank.   You could do it for yourself, or with/for someone you support and then take a look at the supports you offer and see if they align with the person’s strengths.  (see above examples)

Here is one that I did (mine focuses on interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist intelligences) and one I did with someone I often end up in teaching situations with, who has a diagnosis of autism.   One of the things that we often disagree on is the need for music – I like to focus, and find music distracting; he finds it almost impossible to focus without music.    When we are out I keep pointing out all the trees and plants and animals, and get annoyed by his lack of responsiveness.   The charts demonstrate how these dynamics works between us!   Music is at the top of his list – he could learn anything through music – and it’s the bottom of my list.   Using this, we’ll be able to negotiate differently when we’re learning something together.    Another thing to notice is that I learn in many varied ways, as someone who has experienced many kinds of learning in different situations, while his experience as a younger person with autism who has been streamed into segregated classes has been thus far more limited.  


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