Your intelligence might be hiding from you
How Multiple Intelligences Theory can restart your life & career.
Nothing kills someone’s spirit like calling them stupid. And yet our education system (American) excels at this kind of soul assassination. They’ll even give you a percentile ranking.
Here’s the worst part: it’s not by accident, or incompetence.
It’s by design.
We have mountains of research that offer better models of teaching, learning, and testing. The status quo exists for a reason, to benefit rich ass holes. The ones who need a soy latte handed to them by someone who believes they barely deserve minimum wage, sprinkled with tips.
True reform will take decades, if it ever happens.
Meanwhile, I’ve got an important message for you: You’re not stupid — no matter what your teachers, friends, bosses, or family have said. You have a hidden intelligence. We all do.
Finding a hidden intelligence
Most of us managed to survive public school. Now you’re in college, or your early 20s. Or you’re mid life, and mid career. The old judgements still haunt you. The bad grades, the test scores.
You can’t be absolutely anything, but there’s a good chance you can achieve more than you’ve been told.
The answer isn’t just about believing in yourself. You have to find out what about your mind is most worth investing in. The truth is that everyone’s smart, just in different ways.
Maybe you’ve heard of MI — multiple intelligences theory, developed by Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard. His landmark book Multiple Intelligences has made waves in education. Gardner explains that the old school notion of intelligence is way off, and not measured appropriately by most standardized tests.
You’re smart. You just have to find out at what. There’s a range of thought modes. Here’s a brief (and partial) rundown:
- Visual-spatial. Think architects, designers, cartographers, photographers, and pilots.
- Bodily-kinesthetic. Think dancers, choreographers, martial artists, athletes, and personal trainers.
- Musical. Think recording artists and sound engineers, singers, song writers, and composers.
- Interpersonal. Think social workers, press agents, community organizers, hosts, and waiters.
- Linguistic. Think journalists, novelists, copywriters, editors, professors, and lawyers.
- Logical-Mathematical. Think scientists, engineers, and coders.
Everyone comes with a mix of these abilities. You gravitate toward your strengths somewhat naturally. But you have to pay attention. Harness them. Think about how you approach problems. Is your first strategy to map out your situation, write in a journal, or listen to music?
That’s not meaningless. It’s a clue.
We often confuse hidden abilities with pipe dreams. Part of us all wants to become a famous rock star. But if you can’t carry a tune, that’s probably not happening. It doesn’t mean you’re talentless, though.
Maybe you excel at something else, like interpersonal skills. Think about how you interact with others. Are you gifted at negotiating disputes, calming people down, or resolving conflicts? Embrace that strength, and find out how to leverage it.
My hidden intelligence
A part of me had always known I was made for writing and teaching. The details didn’t matter. Of course, it took me until halfway through college to straddle my future. Until then, I’d let everyone else decide.
Sure, I was good at piano and cello. But music theory gave me a headache. I’m a terrible dancer. And I have the people skills of a squid.
College taught me something I’d always known but should’ve paid more attention to. Writing helped me succeed at everything else. If chemistry gave me a tough time, then I’d write papers explaining difficult concepts. Something about writing made the whole thing easier.
Visuals make my head hurt. I’ve gotten better at reading and understanding them. But it’s always been my secret weakness. That, and I also get lost as hell without my GPS. Some of my most embarrassing moments involve me calling my spouse or coworkers for directions.
Imagine how long it takes you to learn directions to a grocery store. Multiply that by ten. Welcome to my brain.
People think I’m brilliant because I do the few things I’m great at. But you haven’t seen me put together a bookshelf backwards and then start sobbing on the floor. Thankfully, only one person has. If we ever divorce, I’m sure he’ll use smartphone videos as leverage.
Why more schools haven’t embraced MI
Some districts have started to incorporate multiple intelligences. That’s great for future generations, but the rest of us need help.
Take me, for example. My story is sadly typical of misunderstood intelligence.
My kindergarten teacher enjoyed telling my parents that I was “basically retarded,” a shame that stuck with me through grade school, even after I redeemed myself with higher test scores.
The label didn’t totally wear off until my induction into the “gifted education program” a few years later.
There’s only one big difference between gifted and regular education. Gifted education builds on progressive theories and research-based practices. It rewards risks and encourages diversity.
By contrast, regular education employs methods we already know don’t work. Lectures. PowerPoint presentations. Worksheets. Memorization drills. Endless quizzes and tests.
Everyone deserves gifted education, because everyone has a gift. Some school districts in the U.S. believe in this principle. Unfortunately, many of them don’t. They stick with regular education for the masses.
Why? For starters, they don’t have the money or resources to retrain all their faculty. If you want teachers to redo their handouts based on a textbook from 20 years ago, you’re talking about a serious amount of workshops, seminars, and retreats. Oh, and you’ll probably have to pay them more.
They also don’t want to rock the boat. Lots of wealthy parents want to believe their genius kids receive “something better” than everyone else. So schools buy into the myth that only the top percentile of students deserve a more progressive education.
Everyone else gets stuck with worksheets and drills. Even though we know they don’t work. In fact, we depend on it.
The economy can only support so many doctors, lawyers, and financial advisers. Like Jonathan Kozol explains, the world needs a steady supply of waitresses and flight attendants. He would know, since he’s been studying our broken school system for about 40 years now.
In Shame of the Nation, Kozol describes how school systems start grooming kids for the workforce as early as kindergarten. Teachers give them activities to complete on what kind of “manager” they want to be. Later, they’re tracked into embedded work programs.
A bright young girl in Kozol’s book wants to become a doctor when she’s eight, but a few years later she’s settled on working in a kitchen.
Not because she’s discovered a hidden intelligence, though. Because she wasn’t accepted into the honors program.
The ugly truth is that lots of young minds are “cooled out.” Sometimes because they’re poor. Or black. Or Hispanic. Even if you luck out, into the suburbs, the system might label you as “stupid,” in order to shrink the number of potential doctors.
We don’t want everyone to pursue high-paying professions. But we also don’t want to pay sanitation workers what they’re worth. So we force kids through an education system designed to make them feel worthless.
Take back your brain, and your future
Maybe you struggled through a poor, urban school designed to limit your aspirations. Or you got mislabeled and bullied by your teachers for being dumb, or slow.
Physical and mental disabilities exist, of course. And people with different conditions deserve the right care and tailored education.
The rest of the time, Intelligence with a capital “i” serves as a handy tool to manipulate people into working against their own interests.
Take your mind back.
You don’t always need an online self-help course. Sure, you might need a degree or certificate. But don’t just hand your money over to some place like University of Phoenix. That’s not going to help you, not unless you truly understand your talents and abilities.
That would mean digging a little deeper with MI theory. Poke around online. Take a free quiz. Do some reflection and brainstorming. Talk with your friends and family.
Triangulate your data. Based on what you know and learn about yourself, think about where your hidden or undervalued intelligences might lie. Maybe it’s too late to become a ballerina, or a best-selling novelist. But we can make the most of the future years.
Finally, screw anyone who insults or undervalues your intelligence. They don’t know you, and they’re not your problem.