The Smart Ones

When you’re a kid, you learn the basics of education: English and Math. Throughout your years of learning, from middle school to high school, you take standardized tests that measure your intelligence based on your ability to understand mainly those two topics. Yet, what about the other types of intelligences that can’t be measured by a standardized test? What happens to those students who have exceptional skill and ability in other areas that are overlooked because they aren’t considered a good measure of “intelligence?” 

First, it’s important to take a look at Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner established that rather than one type of “genius” existing, intelligence can be divided into eight different sections: spatial, naturalist, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, and intrapersonal (Howard Gardner). 

These different sections all involve a different way of thinking. That isn’t to say that one type of intelligence is “smarter” than the other. And yet, why is it that when we think of “intelligence”, we think of someone who excels at math, science, and overall STEM topics? 

To provide some background, it’s important to address and define what is meant by “the different intelligences”. Someone with spatial intelligence can see the world in 3D, and someone who has the logical-mathematical intelligence can measure, evaluate, and hypothesize (Howard Gardner). Someone who is naturalistically-inclined is capable of understanding living things and nature, whereas if someone has an existential intelligence, they are more capable of reflecting and thinking on existential questions (Howard Gardner). 

For someone with an interpersonal intelligence, sensing people’s emotions and motives comes more naturally (Howard Gardner). Similarly, someone with an intrapersonal intelligence finds it easy to reflect and understand themselves emotionally (Howard Gardner). Finally, for someone with a bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, coordinating the body and mind is most natural, whereas someone who is more linguistically-inclined would find it easier to find the words to best express themselves (Howard Gardner). So, with the existence of all of these intelligences, why is there an imbalance between the intelligences? 

According to Marina Gannon, a Senior at Leonia High School, the most valued intelligence ends up being “whatever intelligence helps keep power”. She went on to say, “historically, bodily [intelligence], because leaders were often fighters. Now, as we are ruled by tech, even in war, intelligence which facilitates the creation of tech is most highly valued”. Another possible explanation is the pressure of school on students. 

Justin Del Valle, a Senior, adds, “Maybe that’s why there’s a bit of an imbalance; the emphasis of looking at life through pages instead of looking at life in general”. What he alludes to can be clearly observed, especially through standardized tests. At an early age, students are taught to value logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligences over others . For example, there is no standardized test that measures someone’s musical ability, or ability to communicate with others. 

And yet, there are some who disagree. Mark Porto, Leonia High School’s psychology teacher, disagrees with the idea that there is an imbalance. Instead, he argues that the type of intelligence valued depends on location and personal value. 

According to Porto, “If you’re doing a psychological experiment, you would need to get beyond your perspective to see where other places, intelligences are valued. So in inner-city Harlem, mathematics wouldn’t be the valued intelligence, it may be socialization. Whereas if you went to, say, a school of the arts, like Julliard, musical intelligence is more greatly valued”. He then goes on to say that this “imbalance” is “primarily a cultural concept” caused by an “educational thrust”. To clarify, he speculates that this “imbalance” has to do with the fact that “the most well-paid careers require that skillset”. 

So, careers in STEM are more likely to create financial stability than careers in other fields. Porto added, “There was a study that showed that mathematical capability in the elementary level showed more, or shall I say, increased success in college academics. So when you’re looking at studies that only focus on the math or reading skills in these early grades, of course parents are like ‘I want my kids to be more successful in careers, I’ve got to get them reading and I’ve got to make sure they understand the math’”. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea of an “educational thrust”. Schools want to push success onto their students, and therefore push the subjects that they feel will generate the most “success”. 

An important question to begin asking is, how do we solve this problem? How can students be expected to excel in school and grow into themselves and their identities if they’re deprived of their specific skill sets or intelligences? 

The answer actually lies with LHS. Del Valle, a member of the Humanities Academy, said, “Making academics is the best idea ever; playing to the passion and giving students choice[s]”. In Leonia High School, students with specific  intelligences can find where they belong, and can meet like-minded people to enhance their intellectual growth. Mark Porto stated that the development of academies “allowed students to gravitate towards those skill sets that they would most treasure or value”. Here, students are given the opportunity and creative freedom to discover themselves and where they feel they belong in the world.