Dec 052007

I often speak of intelligence as something malleable. I do it on purpose, realizing it will annoy those who buy into some of the orthodoxies of the education establishment.

I will talk about how watching television will make you dumber. Not that it will waste your time, or that you won’t learn anything from it, but that it will make you dumber.

Or how studying some difficult subject will make you smarter. I don’t just say you will know more. I say it will make you smarter.

Another example: I say a lot of our leftwing friends destroyed their intelligence by defending the Clintons and all their scandals, and that this explains some of their increasing irrationality and incoherence these days. The Clintons asked them to believe things that were not true (e.g. when they were wagging the dog to avoid impeachment) and asked them to defend things that are indefensible, e.g. a lot of the attacks on civil liberties they are now criticizing Bush for doing. They went to the mat and did these things for the Clintons, with the result that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t as intelligent as they used to be.

There is a dangerous amount of that among the Bushophilliacs out there, too, but to a lesser degree. A lot of Bush’s former supporters are turning on him now. That isn’t a pretty sight either, but at least people aren’t making the full measure of sacrifice of their integrity and intelligence for him.

I don’t have hard data to support any of this, of course. I use it as a working hypothesis. But who knows? Maybe none of it is true. It’s a topic worthy of research.

I am glad to see that there is ongoing research on the subject of the malleability of intelligence, even if it doesn’t address such factors as pretending to believe things you don’t believe.

Here’s an article from Scientific American: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Subtitle: “Hint: Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life”

Here are a couple of sample paragraphs:

Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners—helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so. Like Jonathan, such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating; they offer opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater academic success and were quite likely to outperform their counterparts.