I have been thinking about the nature of human intelligence this morning, a train of thought that was brought about by my filling out employment applications for summer teaching positions.
As a rule I score quite high on standardized tests, and many opportunities have opened up for me over the years based upon my IQ, ACT, SAT, and GRE scores. I say this not in a boastful manner, but rather because I find such tests to be of little use in determining the current or future value of a human being. Such scores only reflect a hypothetical potential ability of a person, but offer little in the way of analysis of a person's character, or how hard a given subject will work to attain goals.
Moreover, there are many criticisms of social and cultural biases inherent in such tests. Children growing up in homes in which the "learning environment" consists of little more than cable television will certainly perform at a lower level than children raised in a home in which self-edification is held up as a worthy goal.
As a young man I squandered some excellent university opportunities, preferring instead to make money in the business world. I dropped out of college at the age of 21, enticed by the income possibilities of climbing a corporate ladder and owning my own business.
Since deciding to return to the university setting seven years ago, I have gained a far greater appreciation for the value of hard work. Setting aside the debate over the meaning of university diplomas ("are they really just pieces of paper?"), I recognize that a BA, MA, or PhD demonstrates that a recipient of such a degree at least knows how to work and achieve goals.
But what does a high IQ really mean if that person is self-centered and mean-spirited? How does that person's measured high intelligence really benefit humankind? I offer as an example the personage of neo-Nazi Bill White, who claims to have achieved a score of 152 on the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale (I am ignoring for the moment the issue of the validity of his IQ claims).
And just how valuable is such a "genius" to a future employer - or society at large - in comparison with a dedicated, hardworking person who just happens to score lower on certain standardized tests?
I confidently entered my test scores in the application form, but I thought about people I know who might be as qualified (or even better qualified) than I for the same position, but who might get passed over because I aced the GRE and they struggled. In the end, I think these tests measure only one thing - the ability to take standardized tests.
And - truth be told - how accurate can a test be that purports to measure quantitative reasoning when a person like me - who had not taken a mathematics course since 1983 - scores 750 out of 800 possible points, and who admits in a post like this that he made educated guesses on over one-third of these fairly difficult math questions?