Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Acknowledgment/Intelligence
You are intelligent. Doesn’t that make you feel good about yourself? Intelligence is a highly valued quality that most people desire. But what exactly is it? Where does it come from? How is it measured? And most importantly for us, how does intelligence apply in the world of education? This article will address all of these questions.
What is Intelligence?
Encarta Encyclopedia defines intelligence as a “term usually referring to a general mental capability to reason, solve problems, think abstractly, learn and understand new material, and profit from past experience(1).” Britannica Encyclopedia defines it as the “ability to adapt effectively to the environment, either by making a change in oneself or by changing the environment or finding a new one(2).” Even these definitions, found in widely accepted encyclopedias, are different from each other. Even if we suggest that the general American public would agree on the definition of intelligence, many scholars and researchers have differing opinions. As of yet, experts have not fully agreed on one particular definition of intelligence. Many questions remain as to the qualities, origins, and measurements of intelligence so a consensus is difficult and unlikely.
At a fundamental level, many disagree as to whether intelligence is a general mental ability or if it varies between cultures. We know that different cultures value different things as representing intelligence (1). North American society values mathematical and verbal skills as intelligence markers while some seafaring cultures in the South Pacific value spatial and navigational skills(1). This article will not focus on cultural issues in intelligence, but it is worth noting that differences between cultures do exist and should be considered when assessing intelligence and intelligence tests.
How is Intelligence Measured?
Interest and research on intelligence began in the late 1800’s with the work of Sir Francis Galton who began to test people on qualities such as fame, awards, reaction time, and body proportions (1). James Cattell soon followed Galton’s ideas and developed over 50 tests that were intended to measure basic mental ability (1).
The first intelligence measurement to predict school success was spurred on by the French government, looking for an objective way to determine which students were capable of formal schooling and which classified as mentally retarded and would need remedial help. As a result, French psychologists, Binet and Simon, developed a test measuring practical knowledge, memory, reasoning, vocabulary, and problem solving (1). Binet’s test was revised by Stanford psychologist, Lewis Terman and published in the United States as the Stanford-Binet test(1).
Terman first coined the term Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as one score which was a function of mental age divided by chronological age. While the term IQ is still used, it does not refer to the same equation. Modern IQ tests determine a person’s score based on the standard deviation (difference from the average person of that age) (1,2,6).
Currently used IQ tests include the Stanford-Binet, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (Kaufman-ABC) (1). Individual IQ tests are expensive and time-consuming, and they can only be administered by specially trained psychologists. Group IQ tests, such as the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and the Cognitive Abilities Test are more cost-effective and consequently are often used in schools (6).
Different Theories on Intelligence
The “g factor”
Charles Spearman developed an early intelligence theory that involved a general factor, often referred to as the “g factor”. The g factor was considered to be the underlying mental ability that would influence performance on any intelligence test (1).
Primary Mental Abilities
As the g factor was questioned, the next idea was a theory of primary mental abilities, specific to different areas of ability, including verbal comprehension, verbal fluency, number, spatial visualization, inductive reasoning, memory, and perceptual speed (2).
Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence
Fluid intelligence is the biological basis of intelligence, involving reasoning ability, memory capacity, and speed of information processing (1,6). Crystallized intelligence involves the knowledge and skills gained through learning (1,6). Since crystallized and fluid intelligence are both measured on most intelligence tests, they are correlated with each other. Consequently, some see this theory as supportive of Spearman’s g factor.
|“||It’s not how smart you are, it’s how you’re smart!||”|
Recently, there has been an increased focus on the idea of different areas of intelligence(6). In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed a concept of intelligence that includes eight separate intelligences: logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. This theory of Multiple Intelligences was not focused on IQ tests but rather on explaining the wide range of abilities that people display(6).
The many critics of Gardner’s theory point to his lack of formal measurements for the separate intelligences, little supporting scientific data, and a negligence of the previous, well-established research suggesting the presence of a g factor(1,5,6,7). Despite all the criticism, the theory of Multiple Intelligences was widely accepted among educators because it gave a new perspective on the way school should be done(5). Perhaps the “slow”, low-achieving students simply weren’t given the right opportunities to display their intelligence in areas other than the subjects traditionally emphasized in school. This expanded the concept of intelligence and suggested the possibility that the traditional curriculum was much too limited. Some schools have attempted to design and implement curricula that assess and develop all eight of Gardner’s multiple intelligences (1).
Some teachers have assessed the effectiveness of their own classroom activities by analyzing how many of the multiple intelligences are addressed in each activity (3). If an activity involves linguistic, spatial, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences, then it would be considered more effective than an activity that only measures logical-mathematical intelligence.
The triarchic theory is a demonstration of the cognitive perspective of intelligence, focusing on how people use their intelligence (6). Developed by Robert Sternberg, the triarchic theory of human intelligence suggests three types of intelligence: analytical, practical, and creative (6).
Emotional intelligence “consists of the ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion (6).” The concept of emotional intelligence was developed in 1990 by Salovey and Mayer, and popularized in 1995 when Daniel Goleman wrote a best-seller entitled Emotional Intelligence. Goreman credited EQ for being 80% responsible for the amount of success an individual will have in their lifetime, with the remaining 20% being dependent upon IQ. Professor Chan Chieh has defined the five major qualities of EQ as being “self awareness, mood management, self-motivation, impulse control and interpersonal skills”. The Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS) is the most empirically supported of many emotional intelligence tests (6).
EQ and IQ are not dependent upon one another. They also differ in the fact that an individual’s EQ can be “nurtured and significantly strengthen and it is never too late for students to improve.” (Chieh) The challenge as a teacher is to foster that development in a traditional classroom. One option is to have allotted periods or courses that concentrate on self-study or personal awareness. Another option, that is far easier to implement within existing curriculum, is group work. Group is especially effective in EQ development when it is designed to promote creative thinking and intuition.
Origins of Intelligence: Nature vs. Nurture
The debate as to whether genetic factors or environmental factors are responsible for intelligence has gone on for many years(1,2). Many studies, particularly twin studies, point to the influence of genetics while many other studies, including adoption studies, environmental deprivation and enrichment studies, and home environment studies point to the influence of environment on intelligence (6). Both nature and nurture have been scientifically established to have a significant impact on intelligence. The exact percentages of influence can be estimated, but it is clearly a complex formula involving both genetic influences and environmental influences.
Why is Intelligence Important to the Field of Education?
|“||While the debate goes on in specialized and scholarly publications, there is little doubt that the idea of Multiple Intelligences has become part of the way educators and ordinary folks see the world.||”|
As educators, we must be aware of the different theories on intelligence because they influence the way we see, teach, and test our students. That’s not to mention the fact that intelligence theories can influence the entire school system, as we have seen with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. As teachers and administrators, we must acknowledge the influence of both nature and nurture so that we can be sensitive to children’s biological capability and also determined to teach them well and push them to their highest potential. It is not necessary that we all agree on which theory of intelligence to adopt, but we must remain open to different concepts of how children’s minds work. We all desire to teach well and to positively influence our students. Being aware of intelligence theories can help us do that effectively so that we know how we might reach our students and tap into their potential.
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- "Intelligence." Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007. http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation.
- “Intelligence.” (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 26, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://search.eb.com.proxy.wm.edu/eb/article-13356
- Martin, Graham P., and Carter Burnette. "Maximizing Multiple Intelligences Through Multimedia: A Real Application of Gardner's Theories." Multimedia Schools 7.5 (Oct 2000): 28. InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale. College of William & Mary. 30 June 2007. 
- McKenzie, Walter. (2002). “Multiple Intelligences: It’s not how smart you are, it’s how you’re smart!” Education World. http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr207.shtml
- Multiple Intelligences: After twenty years. (ChalkTalk). (March 2005) In Instructor (1990), 114, pS2 (1). Retrieved June 26, 2007, from InfoTrac OneFile via Thomson Gale: 
- Psychology: Themes and Variations. Sixth Edition. Wayne Weiten. Thomson-Wadsworth. 2004.
- White, John. (2004). “Unpick woolly thinking.” (Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences)(Opinion). Times Educational Supplement 4609. From InfoTrac OneFile.
- Chieh, Hang Chang. “Nuturing Emotional Intelligence in University Students.” CDTL Brief. Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning. March 10, 1999.