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.

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