A Discussion on Intelligence

Can we get past intelligence stereotypes?

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Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

As a child and then a young woman, my mom always wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian, however her dad made it clear to her that she could never be a vet because she was a girl. It bothered my mom so much, but she never went to vet school.

This gender bias from my grandfather — was it coming from the idea that girls were not smart enough to go into a medical field? Where did this notion of intelligence inequality come from?

According to a 2017 study, Bian, Leslie, and Cimpian concluded that gender stereotypes about intelligence begin to affect people at a very early age. In fact, because of my grandfather’s message, my mom’s interests and future career were influenced. My mom never lost her love for animals, however. You can read about that here:

In his 1996 article, “What Should We Ask About Intelligence?” Sternberg notes that basic notions and definitions of intelligence do not go far enough, not only in predictions of success and in recognition of achievement, but also in the categories of types of intelligence. I agree with him that intelligence tests do not address “the universe of tasks needed to assess intelligence” (Sternberg, 1996), because they do not address different types of intelligence including social and practical intelligence, creativity, or the multitude of types introduced in Gardener’s Multiple Intelligence Theory.

It would make sense that there would be stereotypes of lower IQ and inequality in opportunities across gender and racial differences, if the only identification of intelligence comes from a narrow definition. This is also sometimes the case in gifted education identification processes.

I believe that teachers will find more intelligence in their students when they teach and assess in broader ways that can encourage success in their classrooms.

This is the responsibility of teachers: to examine the ways their students are smart, rather than to ask how smart they are.

Individualized assessments of intelligence are important. We cannot generalize intelligence by racial or ethnic groups because so many factors play a role in determining intelligence. I also agree and understand that intelligence is viewed in different ways in different cultures. Suzuki and Valencia (1997) make a big case for understanding cultural pluralism rather than assessing intelligence in traditional ways.

As a teacher, I am always looking to understand a student and build from their strengths. This comes back to my belief that learning is individual and that best practices include differentiation based on students’ areas of intelligence and ability. It is important that we never stifle a child’s curiosity or intellectual pursuits. We need to look for ways to encourage all types of intelligence, so that each person has a chance to follow their own paths, regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic orientation.

© Samantha Lazar 2019

Bian, L., Leslie, S.J., & Cimpian, A. (2017). Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests. Science Magazine 355(6323).

Sternberg, R. J. (1996). What should we ask about intelligence? The American scholar 65(2).

Suzuki L.A. & Valencia, R.R. (1997). Race-ethnicity and measured intelligence. American Psychologist 52(10) 1103–1114.

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Poetry, fiction, and essays in celebration of being a Mom, Wife, Educator, Writer, & Lover of Life.

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