This week I was challenged by a comment on this platform which claimed that studies over the last 35 years have shown that intelligence is largely ‘innate.’ In simpler terms it is implied that intelligence is the sum of genetic characteristics which give some individuals natural advantage (or “talent”) over others no matter what environmental factors are applied – i.e. education, health or nutrition.
I struggled greatly with this, as in our age of fake news and ‘feeling’ politics I am determined to maintain an empirical outlook which is science based. My secondary school biology teacher stressed greatly in our evolution lessons that educational ability was not innate, I sensed because of the history of eugenics which saw an apex in unethical scientific methodologies that this was as inspired by good intention as it was by empirical data.
Last week the great educator Sir Kenneth Robinson passed away. In homage to his lifelong worth, his radical educational outlook and his unquestionable charisma, the TED talks daily feed replayed an old lecture by Robinson in 2006. In it he pokes fun at the paradox at the heart of modern educational systems, that educators are preparing children for the future when in fact none of us can predict even the next five years.
On the matter of intelligence, he said three things which struck me:
We know three things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinaesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity — which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value — more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.
…And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct.
This linear view we have been stuck with since the beginning of the industrial age has, Robinson argues, stifled creativity. He contended quite strongly that we are all creative and that the system of education to varying degrees drills this out of us at a very early age. He didn’t see ‘grade inflation’ as a measure of continuous improvement (which as a sidebar point I still do believe in) but rather a failure of our skills training system.
Sir Kenneth Robinson has now left us but his radical ideas and capacity to study talent in all its forms without fear, favour or prejudice is the kind of thinking we need to meet the challenges of the next age. The pandemic has accelerated an already looming crisis in productivity, automation, working in remote environments, heavy burdens on communications infrastructure and fundamentally how we educate ourselves and children in society. RIP Sir Ken, may your words inspire us through the ages:
What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely, and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way — we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.
“Sir Ken Robinson @ The Creative Company Conference” by Sebastiaan ter Burg is licensed under CC BY-SA
Jay is a Derry native now living in south Antrim and working in Belfast. His writing spans Law, Economics and International relations.
*He writes in a strictly personal capacity*