Imagine a world where people with the most hair were considered the smartest. Imagine further: Instead of learning the 3R’s in school, children were taught to run track. Children born with the most hair were given the “inside track” and encouraged to run as fast as they possibly could. Children with the least hair were expected to walk backward slowly on the outside track. Everyone else was expected to walk around the track in the middle lanes, to keep in straight lines, and to try to keep in step. Only the children that followed the rules and reached the goal line would receive good grades and be promoted to the next level.
But what if someone wanted to cross lanes? What if someone decided skipping around the track would be more interesting? What if someone got off the track altogether and started singing? What if several joined hands and made up a new dance in the middle of the track? What if a child got tired of going counterclockwise and changed direction? We all know too well what would happen to these children.
Although this imaginary world is still all-too-close to the realities of many children, we now know that it is a myth to believe that a single I.Q. score or standardized high stakes test or grade is enough to measure intelligence. Thanks to neuroscience and cognitive studies, we find that there are many ways to be smart and that standardized tests, however rigorous, only tap a few of these intelligences. (Some studies have even shown that a child’s “creativity quotient” is a better predictor of future success than an I.Q. score.)
Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, after studying brain-damaged individuals as well as growing children, proposed that are at least eight intelligences. Most tests in school are designed to assess only a few of those intelligences – linguistic, logical and sometimes spatial intelligences. But children (and adults, too) also possess musical, visual, kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal (people knowledge) and intrapersonal (self-knowledge) intelligences as well. And all are important for living in a complex, digital world.
Furthermore, studies of the brain show that exercise of all of the intelligences strengthens and enriches neural connections – and new definitions of intelligence are much more about connections than single scores.
So, in today’s world, to be creative, to make connections, to find new patterns is what it means to be smart. Many of the children punished in the imaginary world would be the innovators for the changing world we live in now.
You can help your children get on the right track for inventing this new world by letting them exercise their own special ways to be smart.