Some folks are so proud of their child’s intelligence that they brag about it to the world. Emblazoned on the bumper of their SUV is the message: “My kid’s an honor roll student,” to be replaced years later with a college decal from an elite university.
Since being smart is such a source of pride in our culture, let’s look at what we mean by “intelligence.”
Years ago, intelligence was seen as a single entity, referred to as the “g” factor: “g” for general intelligence.
Kids who were in front of the line when God handed out brains scored high on IQ tests and scholastic exams. There was every expectation that these kids would grow up to be successful in life or, in the case of a girl, marry a “successful man.”
For those unlucky kids who were not “college material,” boys would learn a trade or use their muscle power to make their way in the world. Girls would become secretaries and/or learn the feminine wiles to “get a man” to take care of her.
As the field of psychology became more sophisticated, we became aware that it was simplistic to think of intelligence purely as a “given factor” while not taking into account other contributors, such as great parenting, excellent educational resources, good mental and physical health, high motivation, sufficient self-confidence, being able to sit still, focus, concentrate and be free from emotional distress.
In addition, the ability to reflect on what you were taught was important. When we do so, we don’t let what was taught just wash over our bodies, touching only the surface. Rather, we consciously think about what we’ve learned, reflecting on what was said, searching for meaning and understanding. We give ourselves time to consider, contemplate, and immerse ourselves in the subject, becoming more informed and familiar with it.
The field of psychology now recognizes that there are different types of intelligence; some are rewarded in school, others ignored. These types are independent of one another. For example, you can be highly skilled at reading and writing, yet have incredibly weak spatial and social skills. Of course, the reverse is also true.
As our culture has become more diverse, we’ve become aware that other cultures have developed different assumptions about smartness. Some cultures put much more importance on effort and work ethic than do many Americans. Japanese parents would be ashamed to admit what some American parents brag about: “my kid’s so bright that he gets A’s without even cracking open a textbook.”
I hope that parents can appreciate the concept of “multiple intelligence,” helping their kids (and themselves) develop their minds in intriguing ways.
To assist in this journey, Dr. Howard Gardner, a leading developmental psychologist has identified these eight distinct types of intelligence:
- linguistic (ability to use language well)
- logical (capacity to understand logic and reasoning)
- spatial (understanding spaces and spatial layouts)
- musical (capacity to create and relate to musical patterns)
- bodily kinesthetic (movement and athleticism)
- understanding other people (common sense, social smarts)
- understanding oneself (personal and emotional intelligence)
- understanding the natural world (nature, animals, plants)
Which one(s) do you feel you are smartest in?
Which one(s) would you like to further develop?
Which one(s) do you recognize in your kids?
Which one(s) do you ignore in your kids?
In most schools and homes, it’s only the first two forms of intelligence that are truly appreciated. I look forward to the day when I see a bumper sticker that lets the world know: “My kid has a great knack for understanding people” or “My child is in love with nature.”