Fewer Tests, Not More

On the surface, it could appear as if I were in enthusiastic agreement with John Mayer. After all, he calls for more attention to creativity, and for tests of musical, spatial, and emotional (interpersonal/intrapersonal) intelligence.  Shouldn’t this hymn of praise to psychometrics be music to the ears of an advocate of Multiple Intelligences?

And yet, though I respect Mayer and Salovey’s work on emotional intelligence, I have no enthusiasm whatsoever for his recommendation of ‘more tests, not fewer.’  Already our kids are being over-tested in K-12, and when they don’t do well, rather than try to improve their performance, all too often we just test them again.

Next, Mayer assumes that we have adequate tests for these different strengths, dispositions, or intelligences. But most of the extant tests are simply multiple choice or short answer tests, and we know that such tests heavily tap linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. In my one effort to create measures of the various intelligences, my colleagues and I did not create short-answer instruments;  instead, in Project Spectrum, we created environments in which one could observe students as they work with different kinds of materials, what I call ‘intelligence-fair testing.’ So for bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, we look at how students master a new dance or for spatial intelligence, we see how they come to navigate an unfamiliar space.  One shudders to think of how such measures could be deployed on a massive scale.

Also, I identify conceptual problems with Mayer’s recommendations. He favors measuring creativity, but assumes that is the bailiwick of artists and musicians. As a matter of fact, individuals can be creative or non-creating in any domain; there are plenty of creative scientists, and many artists and musicians who are not creative at all.

Finally, let’s think about college admissions. At any selective school, admission officers are already deluged with information about the candidates when they can only admit one out of five, or perhaps even one out of 15! Imagine if they now received scores on several other tests of varying degrees of credibility. This might be a boondoggle for test makers and for those individuals who call themselves ‘college admission counselors’ or ‘coaches’ and charge outlandish fees for their services.  But would the students of colleges be enhanced?  I’d prefer to call for “Fewer Tests” and more trustworthy self-descriptions and letters of recommendations. But I also concede that such calls are unlikely to be heeded in the United States, to everyone’s loss.

To read John Mayer’s original Op-Ed click here.

Myside Bias, Rational Thinking, and Intelligence

This interesting line of research reveals that, under ordinary circumstances, having a high IQ does not inoculate you from being biased in your judgments about arguments and supporting evidence.  That is, both those with higher measured IQ and those with lower measured IQ are equally likely to exhibit biases in evaluating the plausibility of arguments. As the authors argue, the value of rationality turns out to be a concept that is broader, and more important, than sheer computational facility.

Three comments:

1. This study looks only at measured IQ. It would be interesting to know whether bias is less in individuals who exhibit a certain profile of intelligences; say, high interpersonal intelligence.

2. This work builds on the work of my colleague of many years, David Perkins. Many years ago, he and his research team demonstrated that high measured intelligence did not entail a disposition to consider arguments other than those initially favored.

3. Work like this brings together two of my interests: what it means to be smart and what it means to try to do good work. A good worker is one who can look at evidence in a disinterested fashion; through clear glasses, not those which are strongly tinted. Unless one weds intellect to certain dispositions, it is unlikely to be used in a constructive way.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

The Autism Advantage

I’ve often quipped that the individuals most skeptical about MI theory are mathematicians. They know that there is only one intelligence: logical-mathematical intelligence. But they become instant converts when one of their children has a learning disability, or even a very skewed profile of abilities and disabilities. All of a sudden I hear the phrases, “Oh, of course, we’ve always known about multiple talents” or even, “Ah, now I understand that they mean by multiple intelligences.”

When I was doing the research on MI, well over thirty years ago, the most powerful evidence for the independence of intelligences was the existence of ‘special populations.’ Because I was working with brain-damaged adults, what stood out for me were individuals who had a selective destruction of a capacity (e.g. language, spatial orientation) or, less frequently, a selective sparing of a capacity (e.g. music or personal intelligences). As far as I could determine, there was no way in which the intellectual profiles of such individuals could be accounted for by standard IQ theory.

I did not have personal experience with autistic children (though now I would say that I have known several children and adults who could comfortably be placed on the Asperger/autistic spectrum).  But I was struck by the isolated sparing, in some autistic children, of musical or mechanical abilities; as well as the selective damage to personal and linguistic intelligences in individuals with otherwise impressive spatial, logical, or musical capacities. And so the existence of an autistic population was further evidence in favor of MI theory.

Since that time, of course, there has been a great increase in the number of documented cases of autism/Aspergers syndrome and much documentation of particular configurations and possible causes and cures/ameliorations of this condition.

This article stands out because it designates areas in which we can expect many autistic/Asperger individuals to have an advantage and indicates how these can be utilized at the work place. Such demonstrations are more important than ever before. In the area of education, David Rose’s organization (www.cast.org) has put forth the intriguing and convincing argument that it is not learners who are disabled; it is curricula that are disabled. And CAST tries to repair this balance by presenting educational materials in ways that speak to individuals who have one or another kind of deficit.  I look forward to the time when we will also think of workplaces as being enabled or disabled; and when the workplace is disabled, it would be highly desirable to make it more comfortable for individuals with a variety of intellectual profiles. Not only would this serve the individuals well; it might even increase the efficacy and the comfort level of the workplace. No doubt digital technology can be mobilized to aid in this important undertaking.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Rise of the Machines

This article describes a new Research Center that will focus on threats to the very existence of mankind, what it terms ‘existential risk.’ Of course, the existence of our species has always been at risk, due to meteors, a new ice age, a meltdown of the oceans, plagues from the natural world (influenza) and plagues from the world of human cultures (wars). What is new is the imminent threats from human inventions like artificial intelligence or biotechnology, that could easily get ‘out of control.’

What caught my eye was the term ‘existential,’ since I speculated some years ago that there might be a 9th form of intelligence, what I call ‘the intelligence of big questions.’ Truth to tell, I had in mind questions about our own lives (what meaning does our life have if I know that I will die?) than questions about the survival of the species, but both can be well described as exercising ‘existential intelligence.’  In the article, philosopher Price says that a constant in human nature has been ‘human intelligence’ and that phenomenon is now going to change in the coming centuries. I am left with the question of whether our current, biologically evolved ‘existential intelligence’ is equal to the task and, if not, how technological or biological innovations will be brought to bear on the future of our species, or of its successors.

To read the article in its entirety click here.