In Part 1 and 2 of this series covered the nature of IQ tests showing that a one time test, and the issues that contribute to an ability to pass them, does not appear to be related to any absolute measure of intelligence. Indeed, the term intelligence is bandied around without much thought being given to its meaning.
This series was motivated by the fact that Boris Johnson, in what is turning out to be a thoroughly misguided policy statement, claimed that personal greed was a way to motivate economic progress and this is why success is correlated with higher IQs. He did not go so far as to suggest IQ tests are a basis for assessing the potential for a person to be selfish, but that is a possible interpretation of his logic, as presented. There is, however, considerable evidence to show that IQs are not correlated directly to creativity, the very foundation of the sort of economic progress through innovation that Johnson alludes to.
It will be recalled that in Part 1 we referred to Charles Darwin's observation in a letter to his son where he stated:
It is well-established that some 80% of economic growth comes from changes in how we accomplish tasks as a result of changes in technology and techniques. These changes are based on the accumulation of tacit and explicit knowledge, the identification of gaps and the creation of solutions through innovation. This can be summed up as creativity.
But what is it that causes people to be creative since creation involves, in its final form, beneficial changes in the way we do things or action of some kind. There is a very practical and applied aspect to all of this.
In Part 1 we referred to a system established in Portsmouth which had been advocated by Thomas McNeill (1910-2002), the headmaster of the Portsmouth Technical High School, to monitor students who were 11-plus borderline cases so as to transfer them from Modern Schools to a grammar or the Technical High School when their latent capabilities became apparent. This benefited many "late developers", a large number of whom excelled in later studies and higher education. This was a case study in the futility of attempting to establish student capabilities based on a one time test, including IQ tests. McNeill, was of the opinion that far more students could have been transferred successfully under this scheme but the other schools resisted greater numbers of transfers.
Under McNeill's headmastership, the the Portsmouth Technical High School had grown from modest circumstances in the mid-1940s as the "Building School" to become a large and somewhat unusual school. Although part of the state system, under McNeill's administration, the school had developed a large technical educational provision consisting of laboratories and workshops covering metallurgy, metal and wood work, masonry, materials, applied physics and chemistry, there was an observatory, and there was a boat building section to support their own class of sailing craft. The school orchestra was the largest in the city run by an enthusiastic music teacher, Reginald Wassail. It was the first school to introduce computer courses based on a computer donated by Basil de Ferranti. In addition to following the standard curricula that existed in grammar schools, subjects such as surveying and geology were also taught. All students followed the internal curriculum of the school that included all of the technological and practical pursuits. The school intake was at 11 years of age (in line with the Butler Act) and the leaving age was 16 but increasing numbers left after more advanced study and entrance to higher educational establishments at 18 or 19. The schools student population varied around 1,000 and at one time reached around 1,200. Within such a environment it was possible to observe the capabilities of many students as they developed and to observe the levels they attained. In this context, many of those who attended grammar schools in the city at that time had a mythical notion that "practical subjects" were for the less "gifted" and the emphasis in teaching was on "academic" subjects based on "chalk and talk" with almost no practical applications.
When asked about the issue of individuals being able to observe a state of affairs and to come up with practical solutions, McNeill's observations were that such individuals who would appear, perhaps every other year, who found personal satisfaction in assigning meaning and value to both theory (academic) and to the relation of this to practice. These same individuals possessed a basic discipline in acquiring the practical capabilities which in all cases required some practice and patience. So the balance between recognizing some concept which might take a very short time and being prepared to take the time to develop the practical techniques to apply that knowledge, was present in a small group of students. McNeill stated that such individuals in applying their hand in practice could observe impediments which would cause them to return to the theory as part of the enquiry as to the cause. In these occasions, some would succeed in rationalising the issue and end up improving their technique and their practical outcomes.
Others could develop this capability taking more time to get there but specific individuals were quicker on the uptake of both theory and the practice.
McNeill also observed that some students who were fascinated with theory developed a motivation to apply this in practice and became proficient. On the other hand students who at first seemed to have a bent for practice ended up with an enthusiasms to learn more about the theory and these also excelled in theory. Individuals that excelled in these processes were those who became enthusiastic because for them it possessed some meaning, either being no more than a fascinating voyage of discovery concerning how and why things work or because they saw some social or societal utilities or benefits arising from the application. There seemed to be family culture and sibling position effects influencing the latter related to the topics concerning economic and social issues as part of the interests of family members and, therefore, which featured in family conversations. In the case of all types of motivations, each advance in their capabilities seemed to result in immense internal satisfaction.
It is notable that these motivations were not related to desires to gains high marks in examinations but arose largely from a genuine enthisiasm and interest in the theory and practice of the issues concerned. Therefore, it is more than apparent that without a student being exposed to the range of theory and practice that can contribute to the advance of technique and innovation, the types of instruction received in academies and grammar schools cannot generate sufficient information about a student to judge their potential contribution to our future. This can only provide a partial profile that ranks student on the basis of highly academic, that is, theoretical pursuits.
It is necessary to conclude that educational establishments cannot equate any academic tests with the creative intelligence that is so vital to the advance of human wellbeing.
One hopes that the discussion provides pointers to indicate that IQ tests and other theoretical pursuits and tests indicate very little in terms of the contribution of people, who score well, to society and the economy. At the moment there is a distorted presumption that theory is a sufficient basis to judge a person's intelligence and even to go so far as to project their potential contributions to the advance of the economy. As we can see, this is only half of the story.
In the next article we will provide evidence that can help us define what intelligence is. The foundations for this definition were presented to the people of this country some over 150 years ago.