The work of Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences is well known, but not so well known is the vastly significant work of his colleague, David Perkins. In his 1995 book “Outsmarting 10: the emerging science of leamabic intelligence”. Perkins challenges even more profoundly our conventional beliefs about the innate, fixed notions of intelligence. Intelligence itself, Perkins and many other cognitive scientists are quick to admit, is hard to define but we are all quick to recognise someone who haves in an intelligent manner.
Intelligent behaviour, Perkins argues, is due to three factors. Firstly, there’s no denying that some people are born with better brains than others; part of intelligence is unquestionably genetic. Part, however, is due to environment; we learn to act intelligently as we become even better attuned to our surroundings. Perkins attributes between 50 and 60% of what we mean by intelligence to genetic factors. He attributes up to 20% to experiential factors. That leaves between 20 and 30% for what Perkins calls Reflective Intelligence, or good “mindware”. In the development of Reflective Intelligence Perkins and others see great hope for our societies. People who learn to ‘think well’ develop skills that are not simply tied to a single context. Thoughtful people grow their intelligence; they think as well outside the box as inside it. “Nouse” – good old fashioned applied commonsense – is one description of Reflective Intelligence. So is the word gumption.
Gumption… ..another good homely word, leads nicely into the issue of Creativity. Creative people fascinate me. I always looked for really creative people to appoint as teachers in my school. Usually, however, within a couple of weeks I was regretting this. You can probably guess why! “People ( with gumption,” says an American text, “are willing to break the rules, not because they are anarchists, but simply because they feel the old rules no longer work for them. This single-mindedness is difficult for parents and teachers to tolerate, but it’s the key to how children develop expertise and confidence.”
As a society we should treasure creativity. Creative solutions most frequently arise on the boundaries between order and chaos. Creative people have to have space to go off in unpredicted directions. Systems find this frightening; they can’t cope with things that don’t ‘fit in’.
Schools, whether we like it or not. are mighty complex systems.
The British Government, as with other nations, has laboured hard and long for many years to improve its schools. Millions upon millions of pounds later (and tons of examination papers) still left the Confederation of British Industry very uncertain, in 1998, as to whether the next generation of ; youngsters would really be able to stand on their own feet.
Tony Blair set up a National Commission on Creativity. It drew from the work of many good thinkers. Eventually the report went to the Prime Minister. For 8 months there was no response, and then it was released with the mutest of publicity. Why? “The traditional academic curriculum is not designed to promote creativity.” stated the report. “Complaining that the system does not produce creative people is like complaining that a car doesn’t fly. ….it was never intended to. The stark message, nationally as well as internationally, is that the answer to the future is not simply to increase the amount of education, but to educate people differently.”
I learnt a lot about learning when I was young. My parents had an old man – MacFadgen was his name – who used to come in every Friday evening to do odd jobs. He was a great age – well over 80 – and I was only 8 or 9. He had served his apprenticeship, as a carpenter in the Portsmouth dockyards in the 1890s but by the time he qualified the Navy didn’t need carpenters. So, even though he had hands like a surgeon’s, he ended up as a stoker throwing coal into the boilers of battleships. To maintain his sanity, every cruise he ever went on he took his carving tools with him and bits of old oak, or ash, or holly. Every port he visited (or so he told me!) he looked for the most beautiful girl he could find and then spent the rest of the cruise carving her as a ship’s figurehead, some 6 or 7 inches long. By the time I met him he had several crates full of such carvings. Every Friday evening he brought several to show me. I was enthralled.
“Do you want to learn to carve?” he enquired one evening.
You can imagine my answer.