Tuesday, August 30, 2011

As the Cookie Crumbles (WWH, 8/30/11): Intelligence

(WWH, 8/30/11) The (current--these things can change so fast) Arch-Dickwad of the Dominionist, tea-bagging, neo-Fascist, raving Rightoids, Rick Perry was running his feculent gob at a recent speech to supporters at a meeting of the Houston Chamber of Commerce. In it he betrayed both his own fractured, almost comical misunderstandings of the purpose of BOTH education and schooling, as well as the deep animus he and his sympathizers cherish against an "educated" electorate. (Frankly, they needn't worry over much, but that's another story.)

The report of Perry's ramblings reveals a lot about the "epistemic" assumptions that Perry and his imbecilic ilk hold on matteres such as the need and purpose of schooling, who should have it, and what its ends ought to be. I have no compunctions about telling you that 1) he's wholly and entirely WRONG and 2) to read the article. My intention here is simply to use Perry's words and positions as a platform for a somewhat different discussion, about a deeper issue: What it "Intelligence?"

Lots of people, for example, remarked upon George W. ("The Chimperor") Bush's many apparent cognitive and interpretive lapses. But, according to those who have known him, he is a genius at getting people to like him. From the perspective of masstering things that make easier the passage of your life, that's a very GOOD way of getting through the world. It's "smart," where "smart means "to find an advantage and use it."

We all come equipped, at birth, with a whole array of potential ways of being "smart." They were once regarded as "talents." MIT psychology Prof. Howard Gardner's theory of "multiple intelligences." Gardner's central insight (going on 30 years go) is that what used to be called "talents" are in fact separate, unique, distinguishable forms or modalities of a general competence that is summed up as "intelligences." By which I take him to mean that "intelligence" is the application of our different adaptive application of what our "intelligences" bring to the problems we encounter, the way we MAKE "ways of making sense of the world."
In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings - initially a blank slate - could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early 'naive' theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains. (Gardner 1993: xxiii)
Intelligence is not a "number." It is an array of talents and skills which enable people to navigate and negotiate their unique life-worlds. For Gardner, there were/are several (8, now) discernible modalities of experience, of which ALL of us possess ALL, though in different proportions. I'm a word person. My brother is a musician. My sister is a painter. Others are athletes, or aesthetes, or entertainers. My grandfather was a math guy. Not everyone excels ate every thing, but we ALL excel at one or another. The point, he argues, is that are at least EIGHT of them, and that all of us possess ALL of them, though in different proportions and to different degrees.

We're all good at sumpin...words (me), numbers, athletics/dance, music, sculpture/painting, contemplation, social manipulation, street-sense. Those are Howard Gardner's (still temporary) categories of the kinds of human intelligences there are. In principle there could WELL be others. But the implication--that we have vastly underestimated (even misunderestimated) the complexity of the issue--eludes the political peckerwoods like Rick Perry, who boot it around like the head of a fallen enemy.

1 comment:

  1. Would you please be kind enough to make my day?