Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Intelligence in Learning Environments

The following was posted on the storytell listerv: http://www.storynet.org/storytell.html. For me, it's a reminder about the overarching goal of libraries to provide access to all kinds of information and to provide programs that meet those educational gaps as well as to motivate learning in general as opposed to learning a particular kind of knowledge:

What Is Intelligence, Anyway?
By Isaac Asimov

What is intelligence, anyway?

When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all
soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the
base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big
fuss over me.

(It didn't mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with
KP - kitchen police - as my highest duty.)

All my life I've been registering scores like that, so that I have the
complacent feeling that I'm highly intelligent, and I expect other
people to think so too.

Actually, though, don't such scores simply mean that I am very good at
answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of
answers by people who make up the intelligence tests - people with
intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence
tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I
always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was.

Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it,
watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his
pronouncements as though they were divine oracles - and he always fixed
my car.

Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an
intelligence test.

Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but
an academician. By every one of those tests, I'd prove myself a moron,
and I'd be a moron, too.

In a world where I could not use my academic training and my verbal
talents but had to do something intricate or hard, working with my
hands, I would do poorly.

My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society
I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has
managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.

Consider my auto-repair man, again.

He had a habit of telling me jokes whenever he saw me.

One time he raised his head from under the automobile hood to say: "Doc,
a deaf-and-mute guy went into a hardware store to ask for some nails. He
put two fingers together on the counter and made hammering motions with
the other hand.

"The clerk brought him a hammer. He shook his head and pointed to the
two fingers he was hammering. The clerk brought him nails. He picked out
the sizes he wanted, and left. Well, doc, the next guy who came in was a
blind man. He wanted scissors. How do you suppose he asked for them?"

Indulgently, I lifted by right hand and made scissoring motions with my
first two fingers.

Whereupon my auto-repair man laughed raucously and said, "Why, you dumb
jerk, He used his voice and asked for them."

Then he said smugly, "I've been trying that on all my customers today."
"Did you catch many?" I asked. "Quite a few," he said, "but I knew for
sure I'd catch you."

"Why is that?" I asked. "Because you're so goddamned educated, doc, I
knew you couldn't be very smart."

And I have an uneasy feeling he had something there.