True ‘intelligence’, covers many, many different qualities. As Einstein once said, ‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll live its whole life believing that it’s stupid’. The truth is, we’re all ‘intelligent’; just in different ways, at different things.
Why is this important to know? Because our education system does not always recognise this. There’s a whole list of reasons why it might not do so, but that’s a different story for a different blog. For now, though, we’ll explore a central idea that forms a large part of the problem: that what a young person likes to do and what a young person is good at doing are not necessarily the same thing.
Let’s picture a teenage boy. Let’s call him Dave. Dave is a quiet, friendly 15-year-old, who goes to an inner-city secondary school. Dave has a circle of close friends but is the sort that can get along with everyone.
Dave is choosing his A Level options next year. He’s getting along fine in most subjects and comes middle of the class in most tests. But for some reason he can’t really explain, he finds maths particularly easy, and regularly gets the best marks in the class. One day, Dave gets invited to discuss his A Level options with his form teacher, Mrs Turner. Mrs T talks at Dave about how good he is at maths: how he should definitely take maths A Level; how he could go on to a prestigious university. Dave - being Dave – nods along, smiling politely, not saying much.
But here’s the thing. Dave doesn’t actually like maths. It doesn’t interest him. He’s not passionate about it. Dave does like music. He’s interested in music. He’s passionate about music. He’s spent years scribbling lyrics in a notebook he keeps under his bed; quietly rapping to himself in front of the mirror when he’s sure his sister’s asleep in the next room. Mrs Turner doesn’t know this, because Mrs Turner didn’t ask. And in any case, how was she to know? Dave was never given an environment within the school where he felt comfortable and able to talk about his passions. But ultimately none of that matters, because maths is a ‘good’ subject; a ‘worthwhile’ career choice; a path to ‘success’. Rapping? Since when have rappers ever been successful?
So, how could we approach things differently? We, for one, would like to see an education system where Mrs T sits down with Dave - when he first walks through the school gates as an excited 11-year-old – and explains to him that he can be anything he wants. That ‘success’ means different things to different people. That he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for who he is or what he likes.
Of course, the education system has a critical role in ensuring that young people leave school with a core understanding of essential information. And of course, tailoring each young person’s timetable to support their passions would be logistically challenging. But we feel that we can, at the very least, try to understand their motivations. Then Mrs T would be able to explain to Dave that if he wants to be a rapper, he’ll need to work hard in his English lessons.
Ultimately, we owe it to future generations to try to bring about positive change. Because there’s more than one route. That’s the truth of it.