What Is Intelligence?

Being a teacher at one of the most acclaimed and successful Girls’ High Schools in the country, I feel that we help to produce some of the most brilliant minds and critical thinkers of tomorrow. However, is it at the expense of basic common sense?

As I listened to a colleague correct mock exam scripts of her Form 5 students, I became increasingly concerned about the type of student and child we were helping to develop and send out into wider society. The student stated, without any finesse of writing or remorse of thought, that there was no need for education in the career of cooking. Other students in her class stated similar ideas, like the “common classes in society educated themselves and were, therefore, less educated”. And these are bright girls sharing such thoughts.

It provoked a memory in me from not too long ago, when I was watching an interview with one of our country’s most popular female soca artistes who was sharing her views on the importance of soca, and by extension, the arts, in our education system. She felt that teaching our youth about the soca and music industry in Trinidad and Tobago, was essential, because it created an outlet for students who were “less academically” inclined.

I then remembered many a Parents’ Day when meeting a countless number of parents who did not hesitate to share their absolute support of the Arts being taught in our high school system BECAUSE it gave the students a “break” from the academics; or the parents who tell their daughters not to bother with dance and drama assignments, as they should concentrate on the more important areas.

Sometimes it feels as though Parenting goes against everything I believe as an educator. Our prestige schools seem to promote careers that have traditionally been considered of a higher class…..medicine, law, architecture, engineering. Of course, there is nothing wrong with such careers that derive high incomes, help people etc. But are we promoting these careers at the expense of creating students who understand the value of all other careers, or understand the value of job satisfaction? Have we aligned success with net income and happiness with wealth? Or are we producing a society of rich professionals who don’t love what they do?

Developmental Psychologist, Howard Gardner, proposed the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983, in which he proposed that intelligence existed in specific (primarily sensory) “modalities”, rather than seeing it as dominated by a single general ability. “Gardner argues that there is a wide range of cognitive abilities, and that there are only very weak correlations among them. For example, the theory postulates that a child who learns to multiply easily is not necessarily more intelligent than a child who has more difficulty on this task. The child who takes more time to master multiplication may best learn to multiply through a different approach, may excel in a field outside mathematics, or may be looking at and understanding the multiplication process at a fundamentally deeper level. Such a fundamental understanding can result in slowness and can hide a mathematical intelligence potentially higher than that of a child who quickly memorizes the multiplication table despite possessing a less deep understanding of the process of multiplication.”
Intelligence exists in many varied forms. A lawyer may not be able to fix a car. A musician may not be able to balance accounts. A financial adviser may not be able to read music scores. Who is to say which one is the true mark of intelligence and which career is the true mark of success?

A holistic approach to education should be one in which our students are tested to find the career in which they are most pre-disposed to succeed. Gone are the days when one has to be academically low achieving in order to pursue a career in dance; or the thinking that all sportsmen and women must be less inclined to be able to hold an intelligent conversation; or that one teaches because one can do nothing else.

I remember, with a small degree of hurt, when I was in Form 3 and choosing subject for CXC, that my grandfather, a retired Electrical Engineer, had stopped speaking to me for weeks, because I chose Modern Studies rather than Sciences. I wanted to be a Teacher instead of a Doctor. With my mother’s support, I pursued my career. I don’t earn $30, 000. a month but I wake up every day excited and hopeful to go to work. I have never felt a sense of dread when I think of Monday mornings and do not understand Monday morning blues. Sure, I love my vacation, but always look forward, with renewed exuberance, to the opening of every term. When my students succeed at my subjects and achieve excellence, the sense of fulfillment I feel is unmatched by any monetary earnings. When my students come to me to confide their fears, problems and joys, I feel something that cannot be described accurately. My worth is not measured in money, or raised salaries or in society’s opinion of what I do. It is measured in the development of my students.

All I want is for them to feel the same job satisfaction that I do…the same happiness I feel every day to face them. I want them to know that success is not measured in money. It is measured in happiness. We live in a society in which University degrees, both undergraduate and post-graduate, can be pursued in all aspects of the Performing and Visual Arts, Culinary Arts, Counselling. I want them to understand that they don’t have to be Doctors and Lawyers to be considered intelligent. I want them to be happy…..



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