Taxonomy and Intelligence

As human beings, we tend to classify. This is an everyday activity that creates visible or invisible groups, and is usually helpful. The more time we spend on the task, more groups will we create. People classify objects and people. When people classify people, one of the taxonomies is by quantifying how much “smart” someone is. However, our classifications neglect that intelligence is not that easily analytically measurable. Intelligence is usually empirically determined – as capacity to solve problems, rationality, problem solving capability, ingenuity, or simple “being smart”.

The manifestation and importance of intelligence are valued differently in different social/cultural settings. Different societal values relate to intelligence through the level of usefulness to a specific social group – knowledge and behavior useful to Eskimos might not be useful to Incas. This raises the question of realistic uniformity of intelligence across different social groups and different cultural settings.

The singularity of intelligence has long being a discussion topic among psychologists. The original approach was that there is general intelligence that each individual has. On the other hand, recent research in brain structure has provided information for inclining towards the idea of modular combination of intelligence. This pluralistic concept of intelligence is related to different parts of the brain with a claim that there is no correlation between capabilities in one brain area and capabilities in other. The initial multiple intelligence concept included logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence. In addition, recent suggestions include also naturalistic, existential, emotional, spiritual, and sexual intelligence. There are suggestions that even more intelligences might appear. The claim is that all these intelligences have primarily separate development. The speed and level of development of each of multiple intelligences is related to genetic constraints and environmental influence, resulting in different individuals with different intelligences developed.

If we accept the notion of pluralistic concept of intelligence the question is how are we as future educators are going to accommodate that. The main focus of current education system, especially among standardized tests, is on linguistic and logical intelligences. Present system barely that even takes into consideration a couple of other intelligences and mostly does not even include others in the process of teaching and assessment. In addition, the assessment is usually constrained by cultural manifestation (e.g., the tests that require understanding of reading from left to right or established cultural norms). To achieve specific pedagogical goals we need to include the notion of optimal taxonomy of human capacities in preferred learning styles and corresponding teaching styles. The future of education is in customization that needs to include specialized teaching along with observing and consulting students. Future development in learning approaches needs to include different settings (e.g. in-class, at home, field experience, lab experience, etc.). There is a potential for different entrance exams for different majors since some intelligences are also important for particular careers (e.g. spatial intelligence for engineers). Finally, research in the field of brain structure and genetics should help us in the future, not just to appreciate but to develop all the diverse intelligence profiles.

Motivation and Identity

“Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?” One thing is sure – identity is what makes us an individual. Identity of an individual is a self-perception and a perception from a society, all in a certain context. Perspective on us as a person can be related to nature, institutional positions in society, accomplishments or shared societal experiences. At the end, we all try to “be someone” and “be happy”, fulfilling the three basic psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The identity is a result and a tool for pursuing those needs. It is a process, never a state.

As individuals relate and explore values, beliefs, and goals across lifetime they develop multiple identities. Once, I might have seen myself as a traffic engineer but now I see myself as a future faculty teaching traffic engineering. Even society across time develops different identities, especially after great historical events (such as Germans after WWII).

Education, as a significant part of each individual’s lifetime, directly affects the development of that individual’s identity. During education, a person is evolving through learning and development – all trough specific everyday actions that change us during the process. This is where motivation comes into play. Motivation directly relates to the amount of time or effort a person is willing to devote to that evolution. Motivation involves goal- directed action, since without motivation, there is no action, and individual is only under the effects of the environment. So, motivation is important – we need to understand motivation though the context in order to understand the actions and that change towards the identity that all individuals are pursuing.

But, what is motivation? Many theories related motivation to different sources. Some theories relate motivation to expectancy of results. They it to confidence in ability to perform a task and that sense of confidence can vary in strength, generality and level. They are stating that motivation is affected by expectations between causes (events) and outcomes, access to means for producing outcomes, and ability to produce desired events. Another group of theories includes reasoning behind engagement, introducing intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for action. They relate motivation to stimulation level and need for competence and self-determination. However, motivational reasons are often confused along with accompanying conflicting feelings (of control over the actions but also being immersed in the activity).

Finally, another group of theories integrates expectancy and value constructs while some even integrate motivation and cognition. These theories emphasize on the interaction between knowledge of oneself, domain-specific knowledge, strategy knowledge, and personal-motivational states. There is also recognition of utility value of task in relation to immediate and future goals. According to these theories, the integration of motivation and cognition accomplishes through self-observation, self-judgment, and self-reactions.

All the previous theories provide different insight into motivation, while still having some common agreements points. For example, there is always a conflict or coordination of immediate (e.g., enjoyment) and ultimate (e.g., survival) goals for motivation. None of the theories gives a complete approach to motivation, this is the reason a coordinated approach from all this different theories should be developed. Then, through integration of those theories we can try to resolve how motivation is included and reflected in the educational system – in tests, lectures content, working hours, working environments, assignments, etc.

Current education systems are not built upon significant premise of motivation’s role in learning. Current education systems are supporting ego-involved goals not task-involved goals – more of “will I look smart?” then “what will I learn?”. System is creating performance-oriented instead of learning-oriented students, where students are in essence learning to be test-takers, with emphasize more on performance and less on mastery. In addition to that, relation of motivation to social responsibility in learning is rarely considered. Teachers, along with parents, as primary socializing agents, have the key role in individual’s motivation development for support of identity development. Finding purpose and direction with regard to academic goals is one of the components. Another is the awareness of continual identity pursuit and thus motivation as an integral element of that process. The important role in motivation for successful academic/professional but also a personal functioning is the ability and desire to openly seek out and actively evaluate relevant information, and using that information for creating action constructions.

1) J. Bransford, L. National Research Council. Committee on Developments in the Science of, R. National Research Council. Committee on Learning, and P. Educational, How people learn : brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2000.
2) I. Kant, M. Weigelt, and F. M. Müller, Critique of pure reason. London; New York: Penguin, 2007