Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Intelligence

You know this moment in teenage TV shows when the characters get back their SAT scores and "find out" which ones of them are smart? In such shows there is always a character who never studies, always skips class, gets horrible grades, but then magically gets an amazing SAT score. Then there is also the nerdy type who studies all the time, always gets straight As, but who does much worse at the SAT exam. I hate this idea of intelligence as something that just happens. The implication is that there is no need to work on your intellect. If you are born smart, then eventually it will come out. If you aren't born smart, then you should just let it go.
It isn't easy to get my students to give up on the myth of "natural" intellectual capacities, which is very strange given the incredible amount of work they do to get their high grades. They still want to believe in the existence of this mythical "talent" that flourishes all on its own. I believe in artistic talent (maybe because it's something completely incomprehensible to me), but in academic matters there is just a lot of hard work and nothing else. You work, you get results. If you work a lot, sometimes you get results that on the surface look like "talent." But I personally find it pretty annoying when people tell me "Oh, you are just talented in this area" or "You must be naturally gifted in this particular field." Such comments disqualify all of the work and effort I invest in order to get published or finish the dissertation or prepare a talk for a conference.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! You speak four languages? That is because you are talented. Argh!
Ol.

Clarissa said...

I especially liked these comments about my dissertation. "Oh, you did the entire dissertation in under a year. You must be so gifted!" I'm not gifted. I just worked every single day like it was a full time job.

Anonymous said...

Buy the way, speaking four languages is quite common for Europeans...
V.

Anonymous said...

Quite common for "gifted" Europeans! My experience with Western Europe (the UK, France, Spain, and Portugal) led me to believe that the European polyglot was a myth. With Central and Eastern Europe it is somehow different, but then I cannot judge the level of sophistication of their linguistic knowledge.

Ol.

Clarissa said...

I have to agree with Ol. I wouldn't know about Central Europe, but in my country nobody speaks anything.

Among Western Europeans, the very well-educated might speak another language but their number is limited.

britney said...
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Tom Carter said...

Clarissa, unless a staggering amount of research is wrong, there are significant differences in intelligence among people, and it more strongly correlates to genetics than to any other factor. It's also obviously true that some people don't have the intelligence to cope with university-level studies. Hard work makes very intelligent people do better than they would have without the work, but no amount of work will help much for people who don't have the intelligence to start with. Sometimes highly intelligent people fail in life for lack of effort or other reasons, and sometimes the less intelligent succeed beyond expectations because of hard work. But any way you slice it, natural intelligence, or the intelligence one is born with, certainly isn't a "myth."

Having lived in Europe for a long time, I can attest to the fact that Europeans aren't natural polyglots. They study languages more than insular Americans for obvious reasons, but most aren't fluent in a second language. The most common second language is English, again for obvious reasons, but most aren't fluent.