I just felt a chill running up my spine. It ran out of a horrible but true scene from the school days of a woman called Carol Dweck.
Children seated according to their IQ
In her book Mindset (the new psychology of success) she describes the seating plan for her sixth grade class of 1957. They were arranged around the room according to the results of their IQ tests.
She writes, "Only the highest-IQ students could be trusted to carry the flag, clap the erasers, or take a note to the principal."
For decades it was widely believed that IQ is fixed. So if you got a low IQ score, you were stuck with low intelligence for the rest of your life. Dim lights, for life.
Which is rubbish. But don't take my word for it.
An individual's intelligence is not a fixed quantity
Take the word of Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test. He was horrified at what society did with his invention.
"A few modern philosophers assert that an individual's intelligence is a fixed quantity... which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism... With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before."
How many children have carried the power-sapping belief I'm dumb into adulthood? How many, when faced with learning a new skill, have told themselves, I can't do it because I'm not smart enough? Why did their parents and teachers not attach a ball and chain to their children and be done with it?
We can develop expertise with 'purposeful engagement'
Robert Sternberg, one of the world's top experts in intelligence, puts it this way: the major factor in whether people achieve expertise "is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement".
Let's call intelligence 'expertise and adaptability smarts'. Believing that we either have the smarts now or we never will is a fixed mindset - a self-imposed ball and chain. Believing that we can develop smarts is a growth mindset - setting us out on the path of personal growth.
Rethinking what we tell ourselves about our IQ
For our childrens' sake - and our own - let's shape our beliefs into something more likely to lead to health and well-being. Like this:
- There are different kinds of smarts.
- With purposeful engagement, our smarts can grow. We can be smarter than we were.
- Our potential for expertise, knowledge and wisdom is unlimited.
Unless we believe otherwise.