At the turn of the 19th century in the United States, society was undergoing great shifts. Masses of immigrants poured into the nation, moving inland from their ports of entry or staying in the large eastern cities to fill the needs of the job-hungry Industrial Revolution. In retrospect, it is easy to see that the society of that day was elitist, racist, and sexist, its actions fueled by a fear of diluting "Anglo-Saxon purity." Employers of the time believed they needed a way to separate those who were educable and worthy of work from those who should be relegated to menial labor (or put back on the boat and shipped to their country of origin).
World War I contributed to homogenizing classes, races, and nationalities. Through military travels, enhanced communication, and industrialization, our population was becoming more cosmopolitan. A popular song of the time, "How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm After They've Seen Paree?" alerted the aristocracy to the impending trend toward globalization. Metaphorically the song proclaimed that to protect the existing separation of the masses into their "rightful" places, there was a need to analyze, categorize, separate, distinguish, and label human beings who were "not like us." Some means was necessary to measure individuals' and groups' "mental energies," to determine who was "fit" and who was not (Gould, 1981; Perkins, 1995).
Thanks to a mentality ruled by ideas of mechanism, efficiency, and authority, many came to believe that everything in life needed to be measured. Lord Kelvin, a 19th century physicist and astronomer, stated, "If you cannot measure it, if you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a very meager and unsatisfactory kind." Born in this era was Charles Spearman's theory of general intelligence. His theory was based on the idea that intelligence is inherited through genes and chromosomes and that it can be measured by one's ability to score sufficiently on Alfred Binet's Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, yielding a static and relatively stable IQ score (Perkins, 1995, p. 42).
Immersed in the "efficiency" theories of the day, educators strived for the one best system for curriculum, learning, and teaching. Into this scene of educational management entered Edward L. Thorndike from Columbia University. He went beyond theory to produce usable educational tools including textbooks, tests, curriculums, and teacher training. Thorndike continues to wield a tremendous influence on educational practice. His "associationist" theory suggests that knowledge is a collection of links between pairs of external stimuli and internal mental responses. In this context, learning is thought to be a matter of increasing the strength of the "good," or correct, bonds and decreasing the strength of the incorrect ones. Spearman's and Thorndike's theories still serve educators as a rationale for procedures such as tracking students according to high and low aptitude, the bell curve, drill and practice, competition, frequent testing, ability grouping, IQ scores as a basis for special education, task-analyzing learning into separate skills, and reinforcement of learning by rewards and external motivations.
When people view their intelligence as a fixed and unchangeable entity, they strive to obtain positive evaluations of their ability and to avoid displaying evidence of inadequate ability. They believe their intelligence is demonstrated in task performance: they either have or lack ability. This negative self-concept influences effort. Effort and ability are negatively related in determining achievement, and having to expend great effort with a task is taken as a sign of low ability (Resnick & Hall, 1998).
Toward a New Vision
Clearly, something new is needed if schools are to break out of this traditional, aptitude-centered mentality and make it possible for young people to acquire the kinds of mental habits needed to lead productive, fulfilling lives. We need a definition of intelligence that is as attentive to robust habits of mind as it is to the specifics of thinking processes or knowledge structures. We need to develop learning goals that reflect the belief that ability is a continuously expandable repertoire of skills, and that through a person's efforts, intelligence grows incrementally.
Incremental thinkers are likely to apply self-regulatory, metacognitive skills when they encounter task difficulties. They are likely to focus on analyzing the task and trying to generate and execute alternative strategies. They will try to garner internal and external resources for problem solving. When people think of their intelligence as something that grows incrementally, they are more likely to invest the energy to learn something new or to increase their understanding and mastery of tasks. They display continued high levels of task-related effort in response to difficulty. Learning goals are associated with the inference that effort and ability are positively related, so that greater efforts create and make evident more ability.
Children develop cognitive strategies and effort-based beliefs about their intelligence—the habits of mind associated with higher-order learning—when they continually are pressed to raise questions, accept challenges, find solutions that are not immediately apparent, explain concepts, justify their reasoning, and seek information. When we hold children accountable for this kind of intelligent behavior, they take it as a signal that we think they are smart, and they come to accept this judgment. The paradox is that children become smart by being treated as if they already are intelligent (Resnick & Hall, 1998).
A body of research deals with factors that seem to shape these habits, factors that have to do with people's beliefs about the relation between effort and ability. Self-help author Liane Cordes states: "Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential" (Cordes, n.d.). The following discussion traces the historical pathways of influential theories that have led to this new vision of intelligent behavior (Fogarty, 1997).
Intelligence Can Be Taught
Ahead of his time, Arthur Whimbey (Whimbey, Whimbey, & Shaw, 1975) urged us to reconsider our basic concepts of intelligence and to question the assumption that genetically inherited capacities are immutable. Whimbey argued that intelligence could be taught, and he provided evidence that certain interventions enhance the cognitive functioning of students from preschool to college level. Through instruction in problem solving, metacognition, and strategic thinking, Whimbey's students not only increased their IQ scores but also displayed more effective approaches to their academic work. Participants in such studies, however, ceased using the cognitive techniques as soon as the specific conditions of training were removed. They became capable of performing the skill that was taught, but they acquired no general habit of using it and no capacity to judge for themselves when it was useful (Resnick & Hall, 1998).
To accommodate new learning, the brain builds more synaptic connections between and among its cells. It has been found that IQ scores have increased over the years (Kotulak, 1997). These increases demonstrate that instead of being fixed and immutable, intelligence is flexible and subject to great changes, both up and down, depending on the kinds of stimulation the brain gets from its environment.
Structure of the Intellect
J. P. Guilford and R. Hoeptner (1971) believed that all students have intelligence, but they defined it in terms of "what kind" instead of "how much." Guilford and his associates believed that intelligence consists of more than 120 thinking abilities that are combinations of operations, contents, and products. Operations include such mental capabilities as comprehending, remembering, and analyzing; contents refer to words, forms, and symbols; and products refer to complexity: single units, groups, and relationships.
Twenty-six of these factors were found to be relevant to school success. Tests were developed to profile students' abilities, and curriculum units and instructional strategies were developed to target, exercise, and enhance each of the 26 intellectual capacities. Guilford believed that through these interventions, a person's intelligence could be amplified.
Theory of Cognitive Modifiability
Iconoclast Reuven Feuerstein, working with disadvantaged children in Israel, challenged the prevailing notion of a fixed intelligence with his theory of cognitive modifiability. Feuerstein believes that intelligence is not a fixed entity but a function of experience and mediation by significant individuals (parents, teachers, caregivers) in a child's environment.
This modern theory underlies a fresh view of intelligence as modifiable; it contends that intelligence can be taught, that human beings can continue to enhance their intellectual functioning throughout their lifetimes, and that all of us are "gifted" and all of us are "retarded" simultaneously (Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, & Miller, 1980).
Multiple Forms of Intelligence
Howard Gardner (1983, 1999, 2006) believes that there are many ways of knowing, learning, and expressing knowledge. Gardner has identified several distinct intelligences that function in problem solving and in the creation of new products: verbal, logical/mathematical, kinesthetic, musical, spatial, naturalistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential.
Gardner also believes that these intelligences can be nurtured in all human beings. Although each individual may have preferred forms, all of us can, with proper mediation and experience, continue to develop these capacities throughout our lifetime.
Intelligence as Success in Life
Robert Sternberg (1984) found that "mythological" IQ scores had little predictive quality in regard to success in later life. He argues for three types of intelligence:
- Analytical intelligence in which comparisons, evaluations, and assessments are made.
- Creative intelligence involving imagination, design, and invention.
- Practical intelligence in which use, practicality, and demonstration are paramount.
Sternberg believes that all human beings have the capacity to continue growing in these three domains, and he encourages educators to enhance them all (Sternberg, Torff, & Grigorenko, 1998).
David Perkins (1995) further supports the theory that intelligence can be taught and learned. He believes that three important mechanisms underlie intelligence:
- Neural intelligence is the "genetically determined, hard-wired original equipment" that one has inherited and that determines the speed and efficiency of one's brain. Neural intelligence cannot be altered much.
- Experiential intelligence is context-specific knowledge that is accumulated through experience. It means knowing one's way around the various settings and contexts in which one functions. A person's reservoir of experiential intelligence can be expanded.
- Reflective intelligence is the "good use of the mind; the artful deployment of our faculties of thinking." It includes self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying. Perkins refers to this capacity as "mindware" (p. 264), and it can and should be cultivated.
Drawing on vast amounts of brain research, Daniel Goleman (1995) asserts that the intellect and emotions are inextricably intertwined. One cannot be developed without the other. Educating the emotions may be as important as educating the intellect. Developing self-awareness, managing impulsivity and emotions, empathizing, and developing social skills are the most basic forms of intelligence. If these capacities are neglected, inadequacies may cause people to fall short of developing fuller intellectual capacities.
Robert Coles (1997) believes that children can become "more intelligent" by developing their inner character. He believes students develop a social/moral intelligence by learning empathy, respect, reciprocity, cooperation, and how to live by the Golden Rule through the example of others and through explicit dialogue about moral issues. Coles believes that every child grows up by building a "moral archeology," a moral code of ethics through interactions with parents, peers, and significant others. He believes that this capacity can continue to be developed throughout a person's lifetime.
A Fully Developed Intellect
Luis Alberto Machado (1980), former Venezuelan minister of intellectual development, reminds us that all human beings have a basic right to the full development of their intellect. More and more government leaders in the United States and other nations are realizing that the level of a country's overall development depends on the level of its people's intellectual development. Industrial leaders realize that to survive and progress, any corporation must invest in its intellectual capital by continuing to enhance the mental resources of its employees. Educators, too, are realizing that our minds, bodies, and emotions must be engaged and transformed for learning to occur.
Daniel Goleman (2006) cites neurological research that suggests that the human brain is a "social brain" with an innate capacity to bond with others, to empathize with others, to engage in social reasoning, and to have concern for others. He suggests that social prowess, not cognitive or physical superiority, is what allowed Homo sapiens to achieve its highest evolutionary accomplishments. Goleman makes the case that intelligence is not all "cognitive" but rather is composed of emotional and social intelligence as well.
Habits of Mind
Carol Dweck (1999) found that the highest achievers in school
- Have the highest vulnerability to helplessness.
- Are most likely to believe their intelligence is a fixed trait.
- Are more likely to want tasks they are sure they can do well.
- Are more likely to blame their abilities and show impairment in the face of difficulties.
- Aren't well served in long-term learning such as in college or careers.
You might think that students who were highly skilled would be the ones who relish a challenge and persevere in the face of setbacks. Instead, many of these students are the most worried about failure, and the most likely to question their ability and to wilt when they hit obstacles. (p. 1)
Increasingly we are adopting the mental model that intelligence is a set of teachable, learnable behaviors that all human beings can continue to develop and improve throughout their lifetimes. We must help students think powerfully about ideas, learn to critique as well as support others' thinking, and become thoughtful problem solvers and decision makers. The Habits of Mind provide a set of behaviors that discipline intellectual processes. Taken as a whole, the many definitions and interpretations of what is meant by intelligence lead us to conclude that the habits can be cultivated, articulated, operationalized, taught, fostered, modeled, and assessed. They can be an integral component of instruction in every school subject, and they may determine achievement of any worthy goal as one moves out into life.
We need to do such work if we truly are to be guided by the rhetoric "all kids can learn." We need to modify that slogan to "all kids do learn but not on the same day and not in the same way." Then, we have to understand what it means not only to say that phrase but also to put it into operation in classrooms. We can no longer be satisfied with a system that is willing to classify, categorize, and sort students on the basis of misaligned test scores.
As Lauren Resnick (1999) stated, "One's intelligence is the sum of one's habits of mind."
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