Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Can fish climb trees?




What does it mean to be intelligent? Albert Einstein’s quote makes it drastically clear that when we judge people based on specific qualifications only judging one aspect of intelligence, we cannot truly say who is or is not a genius. Fish cannot climb trees. Well, maybe there are a couple that do--the Leaping Benny and the Mud-skipper, and perhaps an intrepid catfish or two--but on the whole, fish out of water are the epitome of, well, a fish out of water. So if we humans can understand the truth in Einstein’s quote, why do we insist on using one type of test to determine intelligence when talking about people? Surely there are as many types of intelligence as there are (pardon my pun) fish in the sea; how can we say this person is a genius because he passes some arbitrary IQ test while another person is below average because he doesn't?

I've been a high school teacher for most of my adult life, and in that time I have never met a student who didn't excel at something, even if some of those students did not excel in my content area. I have had students who can take a block of wood and turn it into something amazing like a recipe box or a sculpture or a pen but who cannot analyze a poem to save their lives. I have had other students who can calculate the tangent of a triangle without blinking, but if given an essay prompt can hardly put three words on a page.

Give this student an engine to take apart and put together and she can do it with ease. Give her a vocabulary quiz and she fails miserably. Give this other student a book report, and he will return it with annotations; but ask him to make popcorn, and he will burn it every time. Artists, musicians, mechanics, chefs, doctors, accountants, farmers, businessmen--all of these people have scholastic areas they achieve in and those they do not. Why is it, then, that we insist on testing them all the same way? While I would not say we should get rid of testing--everyone should learn the basics--we should realize that tests are just one source of information about a person and his or her intelligence. I understand, theoretically, the reason we as a nation are so concerned about our test scores compared to those of other nations. No one wants to be below standard or considered lower than others.

However, the idea of school shouldn't be to turn out a bunch of people who can do well on a standardized test. It should be turning out people who have an idea of where their passions lay and the wherewithal to begin that journey to get there. I wish that we, as a nation and a world, would truly understand the sentiment of Einstein’s quote. Heck, I wish I would--never mind all the rest. If I could truly see the forest for the trees, maybe I would figure out what kinds of tests I can give my kids to show what they’re really good at--and then encourage them in those areas. Then, if I do find a fish that can climb trees, that’s a bonus.