Intelligence & the Plight of the Average Student
Although IQ tests provide a narrow definition of intelligence, this article considers the possibility that alternate constructs, such as creativity, can also represent a person's aptitude. Hence, a rhetorical question surrounds whether a person with an average score on conventional IQ tests yet also possesses supreme creativity would still be considered intellectually average. The second section of the article examines the average student, both in terms of academics and social behavior. In today's society, our academic system is reluctant to don students with an average classification based on the fact that the performance of "Generation Y" has been exaggerated, because teachers naturally gravitate toward gifted students, as well as the fact that No Child Left Behind has focused on remediating underdeveloped students. Further, the "environmental" or effort portion of intelligence is explored, along with a list of colleges that acknowledge such exertion, followed by programs that assist average learners. Finally, behaviorally average students — those who are neither socially advanced nor delinquent — are discussed.
Keywords: Keywords; Academic IQ; AVID; Creative IQ; Emotional Intelligence; IQ Tests; No Child Left Behind (NCLB); Socialization
There are batteries of tests that exist to examine a person's intelligence quotient, including the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. These IQ tests attempt to provide a snapshot of a person's overall, full scale cognitive functioning, as well as categorically profile specific competencies through an assortment of subtests-e.g., digit span, letter-number sequencing, matrix reasoning, and vocabulary (Hill, et al., 2010). Although these assessments profess to capture a person's mental abilities, the weightier question circulates around the meaning of intelligence altogether. In other words, while the aforementioned tests have been scrutinized extensively for their reliability and validity, they nevertheless satisfy the question how to measure intelligence as opposed to what is intelligence? The answer to the latter is much more amorphous, complex, and perhaps impossible to adequately define. A series of speculative inquiries often hover over the topic of intelligence that revolve around its questionable origins (e.g., nature vs. nurture; Northcott, 2005; Sesardic, 2010) and trajectory. Regarding trajectory, there are countless tales of people who underperformed in school and/or on standardized tests and eventually became intellectual giants, such as Pasteur, Edison, Einstein, La Tourneau (Skromme, 1988); or the contrary case, in which high-achieving intellectual geniuses lead prosaic, conventional lives.
An example of someone who defied such a linear scholastic-career progression is Robert J. Sternberg, who currently holds distinguished titles as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and the president of the American Psychological Association. His resume includes a B.A. from Yale University, where he eventually became a professor of psychology and education, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. However, the foundation of Dr. Sternberg's impressive academic feats is rooted in poor test performance, followed by dismal expectations from his elementary school teachers who put their confidence in the high test-takers, which not surprisingly resulted in Sternberg's fulfillment of the meager expectations that were negligently extended his way (Sternberg, 1997; 2003; 2004; 2006). As a result, his professional exploits have sought to unveil the mysteries behind inexplicable concepts such as intelligence and IQ tests (Sternberg, 1998; Sternberg, Reznitskaya, & Jarvin, 2007), and in the process he has formulated several revolutionary theories.
For example, Dr. Sternberg devised a multidimensional theory of leadership called WICS (Sternberg, 2009; Sternberg & Coffin, 2010), which is an acronym that stands for Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized. As the name suggests, WICS encourages the belief that intelligence does not stand alone, but is a fusion of ingredients that collaborate together and affect a person's overall cerebral dexterity. WICS has served as the basis for a college admissions initiative called Kaleidoscope, in which student applicants submit standard information (e.g., transcripts, SAT scores, reference letters, college essays) in conjunction with an additional series of exercises. Exercises required of 2009 candidates asked that they respond to scenarios from the following disciplines: film, science, politics, and, history/cultural studies. They also had to create a short story from a given prompt (e.g., "Seventeen Minutes Ago…" or "The Eleventh Commandment…"), as well as respond to practical/personal and creative cues. The creative cue was outlined as follows:
…Use an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper to create something. You can blueprint your future home, create a new product, draw a cartoon strip, design a costume or theatrical set, compose a score or do something entirely different. Let your imagination wander (Sternberg & Coffin, 2010, p. 13).
Creativity vs. Academics
Skromme (1988) wrote a captivating article that recommended a complete renovation of American education, one that emphasizes creativity over academic prowess. He asserted that by age 10, creative children should be properly identified and encouraged to exercise their ingenious visions in lieu of going down a traditionally paved academic pathway, which inevitably yields a square peg continuously rejected from the system's staunchly honored round hole. If such a transformation were to take place, the benefits would not just lend themselves to effectively educated children who would presumably find suitable creative vocations, but society, as a whole, who would greatly profit from their initiatives. Skromme deviates from our conventionally held restrictive definition of IQ by defining many categories that would reflect a person's mental agility including the more standard AIQ (Academic IQ) as well as the CIQ, or Creative IQ. AIQ refers to the regurgitation of facts such as historically significant names and dates, or the insertion of numbers into established mathematical equations. Skromme contends that although a strong AIQ provides a necessary foundation on which ideas can be expanded, its rudimentary, concrete nature exemplifies the status quo; whereas a high CIQ helps forage new, unforeseen territory. This sentiment is corroborated by a passage presented in a 1932 speech by Charles F. Kettering, former Vice President of General Motors:
Also, another interesting thing in trying to develop inventions, is the lack of imagination in the young, technical graduate who has apparently been taught his mathematical formulas, and so forth, and has gotten his notebook so thickly imbued in his mind, that the minute you propose a new idea he turns to page 482, and tells you that it cannot be done! (cited in Skromme, 1988, p. 364).
A slew of generalities can describe the collective traits of people on various career tracks. For example, some characteristics of the creative innovators who have designed farm equipment include an average of 11.6 years of formal education, and that they tend to be either self-employed or work for small organizations that allow them the autonomous ability to think "outside of the box." Albert Einstein, who is perhaps the most prominent, world renowned intellectual icon, stated that, "Imagination is more important than knowledge" (cited in Skromme, 1988, p. 362). Interestingly, although Einstein was both highly intelligent and creative, he struggled in academic subjects that deviated from his beloved realm of physics. The author further describes a disheartening case of today's failed schooling through a girl with the pseudonym of "Frances," whose early test scores revealed an impressive IQ of 141, but whose CIQ, as measured by researcher Dr. E. Paul Torrance, was low. Frances was subsequently tracked throughout the next several decades, during which she attained a Ph.D. and two post-doctorate degrees. While bright and capable of conducting AIQ-oriented work, Frances was consistently criticized by her failure to pioneer groundbreaking theoretical constructs, expected from someone with such eminent academic achievements.
Currently, school systems place an exorbitant amount of confidence in standardized testing (LaFee, 2008; Policy, 2007; Popescu, 2008). On a daily basis, students take quizzes and tests that gauge whether they have sufficiently retained the material; the yearly assemblage of these examinations determines if they may transition into each subsequent grade. Moreover, high school students must take either the SAT or ACT in order to gain admission into university, and college students are required to have suitable GRE, MAT, GMAT, MCAT or LSAT scores before entering graduate school. Since college and graduate school applicants are screened based on the cross section of their grade point averages and performance on standardized tests, trial-run rehearsals are extensively attempted through appraisals such as the PSAT as well as SAT readiness programs, which have become a lucrative industry. It is likely that we all recognize ultimate extremes - in terms of both supreme intelligence as well as a lack thereof - and perhaps IQ tests can properly pinpoint these extremities, although the middle ground is a vast sea of enigmatic uncertainties. As previously discussed, our current emphasis on AIQ as opposed to CIQ may distortedly underscore the wrong qualities. However, for purposes of this article, "average" will be defined in a traditional manner, as those who have scored average within our hierarchical, test-driven society, which equates to an IQ score of 100 (Lynn, 1991) and/or a "C" grade point average. In reality, this characterization is highly arbitrary and limited, and our knowledge of "average" cannot exist without a definition of "intelligence."
The Academically Average Stigma
Aside from the fact that it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure intelligence, the fact remains that most of the world is probably average. Yet we live in a world where mediocrity is intolerable and therefore dressed up and embellished. This is particularly evident in younger generations who have been coddled, encouraged that the sky's the limit, and rewarded for putting forth even the most minimal amounts of effort (Warner, 2010), as evidenced in a recent popular book titled, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y (Tulgan, 2009). Within this puffed-up societal context, parents and teachers are inflating commonplace ideas, grades, and performances so much so that an "average" label is considered blasphemous. An unfortunate byproduct includes a society filled with narcissistic, entitled students ("Narcissistic," 2007) who become highly disgruntled upon receipt of authentic evaluations, as evidenced through the following student email:
After getting my grade for your class a couple of days ago, I keep going over and over what exactly you expected out of your SOC 152 students. I'm questioning who/what sets the standard for your class…To me, if a student does/hands in all assignments, misses classes no more than two times, participates during lecture, takes notes, attentively watches videos, and obviously observes/notes sociology in his/her life, it would make sense for that student to receive a respectable grade-an A. It seems like the work and time that I (and I'm assuming other students) put into this class didn't create the results that I (or you) wanted. Personally, I can't comprehend how my performance in your class equated to an 87 percent (Lippmann, Bulanda, & Wagenaar, 2009, p. 197).
Another reason why "average" has become a closeted term within the realm of education is that services bestowed upon both gifted and struggling students have become the cornerstone of American schools in recent decades. Teachers have always gravitated toward exceptional learners (Kirkham, 2006) for numerous reasons. Upper-level thinkers are considered a wise investment since it is assumed that their intellectual endowments will manifest favorably for society's future in terms of furnishing doctors, lawyers, researchers, and politicians. Focusing on the best and brightest also self-servingly caters to the sense of self-worth of the teachers, as it is tremendously reinforcing to serve as the conduit for fertile minds. It must be hard for teachers not to equate the exceptional marks of quick-witted students with quality of instruction, and thus smart students make teachers feel like they excel at their craft. In addition, schools benefit financially from high-scoring students, as the funds they receive are partially based on the test performance of their student body (Dittmer, 2004; Waddell, 2001). As such, history is replete with examples of teachers who favor intellectually advanced pupils, based on the fact that they boost egos and serve as economic commodities.
On the other side of the spectrum, the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act, (NCLB), in 2001 has mandated that all students meet certain standards, and therefore on a state-to-state basis, each jurisdiction has created academic benchmarks (Taylor, 2007) that they deem meet scholastic criteria satisfactorily. Schools that do not meet their adequate yearly progress, or AYP on a regular basis are penalized harshly; teachers and administrators may be dismissed from their stations, and parents are given the option to educate their children elsewhere (Gamble-Risley, 2006). Not surprisingly, special education has become bolstered through NCLB, which positively serves otherwise low-performing students (Hardman, Rosenberg, & Sindelar, 2005). With one segment of teachers dedicated to the high performing students and another segment dedicated to low performers in order to ensure AYP, average students fall through the cracks since their ordinary needs and normative accomplishments do not draw considerable attention from either end. The shameful element of this equation is that middle-of-the-road students are the ones at the proverbial fork in the road with one path leading toward a successful and rewarding future and the other path venturing into something less productive. These are the students that can literally go in either direction, and thus it is prudent to activate any educational aspirations to ensure that they do not opt for the wayward track.
Alternate Measures of Performance
Relying on standardized tests to unquestioningly rank students into respective...
(The entire section is 6509 words.)