Intelligence and Education

This paper is about intelligence history and evolution, from the early psychology studies to our challenging times and struggle to become a more successful and happy society. It goes from the discovery of more than one intelligence, to how these findings are leading us to make sound choices in our lives in order to have a happier life. A happier life now for us, and for the future how to guide our children early enough to allow them become fully engaged in what they have a passion to and love. This paper was presented as an assignment for my 1st semester at Walden in May, 2010.

Intelligence and Education
In this paper, I present some history and different theories about intelligence as they were developed by the main contemporary researchers in the psychology field. Of particular interest, is the link between emotional intelligence and happiness. Happiness as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life”, when we have moments of harmony between what we feel, what we wish, and what we think and are in a state of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998). I propose here that we as educators take the responsibility of guiding our children to choose the jobs that will make them, and the ones around them be happy by doing what they can do best. Doing what can make them be in the “flow” most of their time.

Some History
Since the development of the first psychology studies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars started to gain interest in the measurement of the human intellect as compared to other species, (Gardner, Hatch, & Center for Technology in Education, 1990). The interest was so high that even Galton, (as cited in Gardner et al. 1990), tried to measure intelligence in a practical way and looked to increase the overall intelligence of the population through special "breeding”. For almost a century, most of the developments were in the area of measurement until the late 70’s, when some researchers started to rediscover the different aspects of intelligence, (Gardner et al. 1990).

New Discoveries
Among those early discoveries, Gardner et al. (1990) came with the idea that not only linguistic and logical symbolization were present in the human intellect. He stated that multiple psychological processes were involved to deal with all other kinds of symbolic system. He conceptualized a different view of the human intellect, taking into account all kinds of human capacities and skills valued in different historical and cultural setting.
At the same time, human intelligence view evolved as we can see from Gardner’s definition of intelligence as “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural settings” (Smith, 2008, para. 8). This definition is similar to what Sternberg proposes: “intelligence comprises the mental abilities necessary for adaptation to, as well as shaping and selection of any environmental context” (Sternberg, 1997, p. 1). Both definitions talk about adaptations to cultural setting or environmental context being Gardner’s definition focused on a practical capacity to demonstrate it.
However, both authors differed from what was established at the time and encountered difficulty in the education system for accepting any change as we will see below. Most of the definitions and tests were focused on who will be able to succeed in school (Gardner et al. 1990). The old evaluation system for intelligence was simpler than the first intelligence list of seven intelligences that Gardner proposed linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, spatial intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence (Smith, 2008). This listing was provisional; he later added naturalist intelligence. He and his colleagues are still looking at more additional possibilities as candidates for inclusion such as spiritual intelligence, existential intelligence, and moral intelligence, (Smith, 2008). If we take into account that the old system only took into consideration the first two aspects of intelligence: linguistic intelligence, and logical-mathematical intelligence, it is easy to imagine why most schools questioned these new concepts that are more complex to manage and evaluate. “Seven kinds of intelligence would allow seven ways to teach, rather than one” (Smith, 2008, para.28).

Intelligence Evaluation
Evaluation of intelligence has evolved to include what is called a “triarchic theory” which consists of analytical, creative and practical aspects of intelligence (Sternberg, 1996). However, what this author has found is that the three factors are only minimally related among them. “Creatively and practically intelligent people excel in a way that is distinct from the analytic way measured by conventional intelligence tests”. (Sternberg, 1996, p. 47). Nevertheless, there are more socioeconomic and ethnic diverse between analytically intelligent and creatively people. However, there are flows in the measurement system that show that the IQ tests is not a perfect one, and when people are tested in a classroom environment, they get different results if tested in a real-world one (Sternberg, 1996). We cannot assume that the IQ scores are telling us what is important about student creative and practical abilities. “Factors beyond IQ matter to the prediction of successful job performance and the bell curve is a bad temptation to predict who will be successful merely on the basis of IQ” (Sternberg, 1996, p. 53). In this aspect of intelligence evaluation, Gardner concurs that the intelligence assessment system needs to evolve to include multiple intelligences into account in an "intelligence-fair" way (Gardner et al. 1990). However, as Mark K. Smith (2008) said: ”Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory has helped educators to reflect on their practice, and given them a basis to broaden their focus and to attend to what might assist people to live their lives well, then it has to be judged a useful addition” (Smith, 2008, p. 8). Given what we have learned about the evaluation system evolution and gaps, we need to move forward and start reflecting on how we can improve our lives and the lives of the ones around us.

What is this about?
Multiple Intelligence theory has helped us very well to review and contrast that pure IQ and emotional intelligence are important but from the two, “emotional intelligence makes us more fully human” (Goleman, 1995, p. 45). Moreover, how can we be more human, than living our lives at its best?. Nevertheless, as Daniel Goleman mentioned: emotional intelligence at its best is called “entering flow”, being flow the “state of self-forgetfulness, egoless moments when people perform at their peak and when the motivation comes from the pleasure to do what they master to do” (Goleman, 1995, p. 90). In the same token, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1998) coincides to define flow as “the sense of effortless action people feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives, occurs when a person faces a clear set of goals that require a skillful response just above manageable challenge while getting immediately feedback on how well you are doing” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998, p.29). So there are three pre-requisites to feel this sensation: 1) clear goal, 2) manageable challenge and 3) get immediate feedback. This full involvement in a task is what makes us happy, the sense that we can have control over it, contrary to the happiness we feel when we are under “external circumstances” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998, p.32), like a wonderful sunset at the beach, or a good massage. These are only favorable external factors that do not need our direct action to occur. These events do not make us comply with the three requisites of flow. Therefore, we need to look around and see how can we have control of our lives and start feeling these sensations in a purposely way.

How can we be happy?
Finally, how we can assure we have more of these moments in our lives? For adult people, when most of our job decisions are already made, what Csikszentmihalyi suggests is that if our current job is beyond redemption because a bad choice in our early years, at least we should look to invest our leisure time as “a real opportunity to flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998, p.77). Although active leisure does not come easy, we should remember that in the past, before arts and science became professionalized, most of the inventions and discoveries were carried out in people’s free time (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998). We need to rediscover that if we are doing what we have a passion for and are in the “flow” we can be happier and on top of it get a pay for it. Furthermore, thinking about the future, we can guide our children to master any skill they have a passion for. The proposal is to include emotional literacy in our school system as well as in our homes as Goleman suggests: “Education centered in the pursuing of flow is a more humane, natural and effective way to guide children’s emotions; they can master any skill or body of knowledge spontaneously engaged in what they love” (Goleman, 1995, p. 94). We can then easily imagine a world where everyone is performing at its best because “it is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness that makes for excellence in life” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998, p.32).

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1998). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York, NY. Basic Books.
Gardner, H., Hatch, T., & Center for Technology in Education (1990). Multiple intelligences go to school: Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences. Technical Report No. 4. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. New York, NY. Bantam Books.
Smith, Mark K. (2008). Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences and education. The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved December 8, 2008, from
Sternberg, R. (1996). The school bell and the bell curve: Why they don't mix. NASSP Bulletin, 80(577), 45. Retrieved December 8, 2008, from Education: A SAGE Full-Text Collection database
Sternberg, R. (1997). The concept of intelligence and its role in lifelong learning and success. American Psychologist, 52(10). doi:10.1037/0003-066X.52.10.1030.

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