Dryden on Intelligence

Gordon Dryden, the New Zealand-based co-author of The Learning Revolution, and more importantly a dear friend of mine, disagrees with many of the key points proposed in Charles Murray’s series of three articles from the Wall Street Journal mentioned in the post Murray on Education yesterday. It is important for me to note that Gordon himself “dropped out of school at age fourteen, and started learning.” Here is his response, parts of which I do not agree with but for the moment post without comments:

Murray makes the very valid point that we should not make academic ability and university qualifications as the sole criteria for educational success.

But, from my experience, he bases much of his argument on an invalid definition of “intelligence” and a reliance on IQ tests to prove that in a statistical way.

In the late 1990s, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, wrote “First, Break All The Rules”, with the subtitle: “What the world’s great managers do differently”. In that book, they summarize many years’ research by the Gallup organization into what makes a great manager. And theY concluded that, over the previous decade, “neuroscience has confirmed what great managers have always believed”:

1. That everyone is potentially talented, but in different ways. And one of the key tasks of a teacher is to identify and draw out those talents.

2. Skills, knowledge and talents are distinct elements of a person’s performance. “The distinction between the three is that skills and knowledge can easily be taught, whereas talents cannot.” But they can be developed, and differently-talented people can fit into effective teams.

3. “Talents are the major highways in your mind: those that carve out your recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behaviour.”

4. Talents can be separated into three categories: striving talents, thinking talents and relating talents.

* “Striving talents explain the WHY of a person. They explain why he gets out of bed every day, why he is motivated to push just that little bit harder.

* “Thinking talents explain the HOW of a person. They explain how he thinks, how he weighs up alternatives, how he comes to his decisions.

* “Relating talents explain the WHO of a person: who he trusts, who he builds relationships with, who he confronts, and who he ignores.”

“Talents” ‹ in this broad definition ‹ combines the seemingly inbuilt personal traits, personality, temperaments and drives of a person. And hopefully each of us can grow up in an environment where those inbuilt talents can thrive and develop, and where we can develop a love of learning that will enable us to keep on adding skills to those talents.

Even more importantly, that environment ‹ both in school and later at work ‹ should encourage everyone to learn to blend our own specific talents and skills with the talents and skills of others.

Thus each of us can be a success in our own way, and can keep on adding skills and knowledge to make us more effective and balanced.

Common-sense teaches us (or should teach us) that the talent required to be a highly successful nurse (of which empathy would probably be number one) is different from that required to be a great surgeon. And the talent that I personally might have (with a tested IQ of 130-plus) to be an excellent communicator is entirely different to other 130-IQers who might have the temperament to be great painters, musicians or software designers.

Likewise I can think of many other people I have worked with (with lower and higher IQs) who are much more brilliant than I am in many aspects of communication but way behind on others. Yet, when we work together, for example, in multimedia teams, we’ve been able to produce great television programs.

Just about every successful partnership I can think of also entails a blending of separate talents into “one whole”. Most successful marriages are like that, but so it works in business: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in founding Apple; Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt in leading Google; Pierre Omidyar and Meg Whitman in eBay.

The same applies to great software design: the combination of brilliant visionaries (the Allan Kays, Bill Joys and Rajesh Jains of this world) and the hundreds of mathematical “nerds” who can work 20 hours a day on the painstaking work to develop source-code.

And how about those geniuses who have “failed” at school: Edison (who didn’t even last a year in class) and Einstein, as examples?

Or those who have had strong “learning disabilities” in one respect (Virgin’s Richard Branson and Cisco’s John Chambers, both of whom are dyslexic – and grew up with the problem of seeing written words as reverse-mirror imaaes) but then managed to overcome these by developing other memory techniques? (Branson continues to hold up as the “most effective hardware I have ever used”: his tiny notebook, where he continually jots down new ideas and thoughts that come to him.)

Some countries, of course, still base most of their education system on IQ tests. Of the big nations, India would be the classic example. Probably a unique example. I know of no other country which deliberately tries to filter out hundreds of millions of citizens to arrive at the under 1 per cent of its population to qualify for entry into its seven big universities of technology. And certainly no other poor country that then exports those “great success stories” to subsidize the world’s richest nation!

Murray, in my view, is on much more stable ground when he argues against the concept of “college degrees” as being the only criteria for success.

Here I think the American “college sports scholarship” system is a much better model than any form of “intelligence” testing. In sport, colleges across the United States compete to give scholarships to highly talented golfers, tennis players, track and field experts and those “gifted” in other sports, from basketball to baseball. Now everyone knows, almost instinctively, that no one can really be the world champion in any of these events without balancing his or own talent with a series of other skills: working out how brain, mind and body work together, along with diet, management, goal-setting and the ability to work with a great coach.

So why not apply the same “scholarship” principles to all the different types of giftedness – and not just logical, academic and sports talent?

As Murray correctly puts it, in the very last paragraph of his three articles: “People who go to college are not better or worse people than anyone else; they are merely different in certain interests and abilities. That is the way college should be seen. There is reason to hope that eventually it will be.”

And there I would agree entirely. And here, at least, India may have got it partly right: by calling its main universities “Institutes of Technology”.

“Talent colleges” may be a better name. In today’s world of interactive communications, “talented nation” may be an even better aim.

Author: Atanu Dey


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