“Appropriate stimulation is an essential part of the developmental process. Inappropriate stimulation is a stress that deforms the process of growth.“ – Dr. Ray Peat
Throwing intelligence and IQ in the same pot is something that has been bothering me for a long time now, because I believe there is an important distinction to be made – a distinction that our educational system fails to recognize. That’s why I wanted give the topic a little more attention here. As a possible future teacher myself, it’s something that’s dear to my heart and I hope I can give a better idea of my personal views on intelligence and IQ.
The way I see it, education can either activate or suppress mental energy. If it is mainly obedience training, it suppresses mental, social and emotional intelligence.
Psychologists have tried to give their own definitions to words like idiot, imbecile, moron, and genius, but they have just been refining the clichés of the culture, in which “dummy” is one of the first words that kids learn. Many psychologists have tried to create “culture-free” tests of intelligence, making it clear that they believe in something like innate intelligence, though they usually call it “genetic” intelligence.
Something that not many people realize is that the way a person has learned in school can shape his/her ability to master the culture and not much else. To simply accelerate the learning of a standard curriculum will increase a person’s “I.Q.” on a conventional test, but the important issue is whether it is really intelligent to learn and to value the things taught in those curricula. Some educators say that their purpose is to socialize and indoctrinate the students into their disciplines, others believe their purpose is to help their students to develop their minds.
But even sophisticated people can fall into stereotype thinking when they write about issues of intelligence. For example, no one considers it a sign of genius when a slum kid is fluent in both Spanish and English, but when some of history’s brightest people are discussed; the fact that they learned classical Greek at an early age is always mentioned. No one mentions whether they were competent in idiomatic Spanish.
I.Q. testing originated in a historical setting in which its purpose was often to establish a claim of racial superiority. More recently, the tests have been used to assign students to certain career paths. Because of their use by people in power to control others, the I.Q. tests have helped to create misunderstanding of the nature of intelligence. A person’s “I.Q.” now has very strong associations with the ideology of schooling as a road to financial success, rather than the enrichment of a shared mental life.
In a world run by corporation executives, university presidents, congressmen, bankers, oilmen, and agency bureaucrats, people with the intelligence of an ant might seem outlandishly intelligent. This is because the benighted self-interest of the self-appointed ruling class recognizes that objective reality is always a threat to their interests. It is when ideologically institutionalized stupidity becomes real stupidity, that the whole system loses stability. The culture’s emphasis on the fact that some highly intelligent people never held a prestigious job nicely illustrates their cliché mentality: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” But throughout history, intelligent nonconformists have supported themselves as craft-workers or technicians–Socrates as a stone mason, Spinoza as a lens grinder, Blake as an engraver, Einstein as a patent examiner, for example.
In conventional schools (as in conventional society) 10,000 questions go unanswered, not only because a teacher with many students has no time to answer them, but also because most teachers wouldn’t know most of the answers. When questions are answered, curiosity is rewarded, and the person is enlivened. In school, when following instructions and conforming to a routine is the main business, many questions must go unanswered, and curiosity is punished by the dulling emptiness of the routine.
Some schools are worse than others. For example, some children were given I.Q. tests when they started school, and each subsequent year, and their I.Q.s dropped with each year of school. In a stimulating environment, the reverse can happen, the I.Q. can rise each year. Since the tests aren’t “culture free,” their scores reflected the material that they were being taught, but they undoubtedly also reflected the increasing boredom and despair of the children in a bad school, or the increasing liveliness of the children in the stimulating environment.
People who still hold the idea of a fixed genetic mental potential believe that the I.Q. represents an index of intrinsic quality, and is as important as distinguishing between caviar and frogs’ eggs. However, many discoveries show that brains benefit from all sorts of mental activity and complexify structurally and functionally in response to stimulation. Everyday social experiences stimulate and support some kinds of brain activity, suppressing and punishing others. All of the activities in the child’s environment are educational, in one way or another.
Youthful playfulness is a quality that’s closely associated with intelligence. Stress early in life, such as isolation, reduces the playfulness and can impair learning, cause aggressive or compulsive behavior, learned helplessness, shyness, and other problems.
Freedom and variety are good for the brain, and tedious conformity is harmful. When a school is very good, it can spread a contagion of playfulness along with an interest in learning. This means that an environment that fosters optimal intelligence will necessarily promote the development of emotional health.
A sense of solidarity has to exist between teacher and student, for education to be successful. If ordinary family and social contacts could occur within such an atmosphere of mutual respect, psychopathology (including learning difficulties) would be much less common. Although the average student at school is fairly bright, an exceptionally bright student is likely to be ostracized by the less bright students. The harm done to the brightest students by their social isolation, which can be produced by a large difference of I.Q., has to be taken into account too. In studies, the incidence of neurotic fatigue, anxiety, and depression increased along with the I.Q. The least bright were more successful in many ways than the brightest.
Aggression, helplessness, and reduced ability to learn are typically produced by social isolation, and it’s clear that certain kinds of family environment produce these conditions in children. Schools seldom help, and often hinder, recovery from such early experiences. Decreased slow wave sleep, and anger, which are associated with the “type A personality” appear to have their origin in childhood experiences. Low income and financial insecurity are strongly associated with anger and sleep disturbances as well.
In today’s “smart drug” culture, there is usually the idea that the individual just isn’t trying hard enough, or doesn’t have quite the right genes to excel mentally. Many stimulants can increase alertness temporarily, but at the expense of long range damage. Whereas play, environmental variety and exploratory conversations stimulate the whole organism in an integral way, stimulating respair and developmental processes.
Education should provide a defense against the mind-damaging stresses that our culture imposes, turning off the dulling and brain-dissolving stressors and allowing normal responsiveness to be restored.
If we are really interested in fostering intelligence, the solution is freedom, in an interesting environment. And since violence and mental dullness are created by social stresses, even the desire to reduce school violence might force the society to make some improvements that will, as a side effect, foster intelligence.
I hope this makes you think a little bit about the notions of intelligence and IQ, how flawed they are and what needs to change in order to create a better functioning society. Learning more and more of the traditional curriculum at the expense of emotional and physical health is something that backfires and hinders the advancement of society in drastical ways. If we are to change this, we need to be aware of it.
(Special credit goes to Dr. Ray Peat)