Reflections on what it means to be truly smart
Do you remember school days and observing how some students found some subjects pretty easy while others found those same subjects very tough? There were those who no matter how you explained a certain subject to them, just could not grasp what one was saying. Some of these people, on the other hand, would turn to experts when another subject they were more comfortable with was being taught or when they had to engage in some extracurricular activity outside of the classroom.
Some didn’t seem to excel at any subject or activity at all and one would wonder how they got into secondary school and survived till graduation. What about the people who knew all the answers but just never seemed to score top marks because they could not communicate their knowledge in tests and exams?
I remember constantly thinking how some of these people would get promoted to a higher class and ultimately get through life if they struggled this much. And you could see some of them struggle. They would attend all the classes, ask questions, hold discussion groups with a few other friends, and still perform poorly at examinations. Fast forward to many years later and many of these people are doing much better than anyone would have predicted they would. What happened?
One thing I eventually deduced from self-reflection and personal research was that many of the people in this category were not taught through means that helped them understand the concepts some other people understood so easily. Maybe after school, they had gone on to study in a society where advanced learning techniques were the norm, where their weaknesses were quickly identified and they were then exposed to more suitable learning styles. Maybe they had gone to learn a skill or trade that tapped more into their natural inclinations. Maybe they had gone through counselling which had helped them identify changes they could make in their lives, who knows?
Early on in my career, I stumbled upon an article that helped me understand this situation a lot better, in ways I could never have considered. It was based on excerpts of a book titled: “7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences” which was written by Dr Thomas Armstrong. In the book, the author noted that many students struggled with academic work because schools provided information and assessed knowledge in two main ways: reading and arithmetic. However, many students may not be intelligent at reading or arithmetic (intelligence is used here loosely to refer to learning styles and not necessarily cognitive ability).
The author noted that students who are not naturally primed to learn through reading and arithmetic would struggle a lot with formal learning for the same reason. He further identified seven kinds of intelligence that people could display to determine how best they learn and interact with the world, and these are:
- Word Smart (linguistic intelligence): such people are good with words and enjoy reading and writing. They are very good at spelling, word games, giving debates, telling stories, and they have good communication skills. They understand puns, sarcasm, etc. They have well-developed reasoning abilities.
- Math Smart (numerical/reasoning/logic intelligence): these people are good with numbers and enjoy problem-solving. They find it easy to understand maths problems, equations, puzzles, etc. They enjoy games involving numbers and are quite logical. They think in an orderly and organised manner
- Physically Smart (kinesthetic intelligence): people like this are good at physically expressing themselves using their bodies. They enjoy sports, dancing, and movement. They could be tactile and enjoy touching things.
- Music Smart (musical intelligence): such people are good with music and have a well-developed sense of sound. They love music and can express their thoughts through song, beats, and rhythm. They feel comfortable surrounded by music and enjoy creating their unique sounds.
- People Smart (interpersonal intelligence): these people are good with people. They understand emotions and can read people to a fair extent which makes them more empathic than the average person. They are sociable and know how to get along with people. They have well-developed social skills and can be diplomatic.
- Self-Smart (intrapersonal intelligence): people like this have a very good understanding of themselves. They enjoy introspecting and being alone. They have highly developed knowledge of themselves and their abilities. They can be quite deep as they tend to self-reflect a lot.
- Visually Smart (Spatial intelligence): such people are good with art, sketching, drawing, sculpting, and painting. They have a good sense of colour, pattern, and design, and are comfortable with visual forms. They enjoy expressing themselves in art forms and find it easier to relate to information that is presented in graphic format.
Some other scientists have added two new kinds of smart: nature smart (naturalist intelligence- people who are at being with nature and understand it) and existential smart (people who can ask profound questions about the meaning behind human existence). The beautiful thing is that there is no limit to the number of smarts one can have, people could even have all forms.
I remember struggling with subjects like Maths, Intro-Tech, Physics, and Further Maths in secondary school. I would sit in class and be completely lost when others would respond to the teacher’s questions. For the life of me, I cannot draw or paint anything perfectly even though I can clearly distinguish lines and colours. I know how hard I struggled in some areas before realising they weren’t areas of my natural strength and many of us are like this.
I wonder how many people have gone on into the world and are still struggling to excel at something they are not wired for, not knowing they are not tapping into their natural intelligence. Sadly, many teachers and schools back in the day didn’t know better and were only concerned with passing information across in the ways they were used to rather than seeking means of helping students excel at their subjects.
Thankfully, nowadays, there is a lot of awareness and many schools now recognise that children can learn in diverse ways. The learning experience has been further enriched to accommodate these different kinds of smart and many are better off for it. But the same can’t be said for all schools as many are financially limited and as such, can only stick to the basics.
Over and above, our society needs to develop more suitable learning techniques that encourage people to quickly identify their strengths and flow in that direction. For example, schools that focus on developing sports skills, musical and artistic ability, and vocational skills should be given pride of place.
In this technology-driven and enabled world, we can identify how best we learn and express our intelligence so that we can better interact with the world. We also owe it to our future to help those who come after us to navigate this foundational aspect of life. Learning can be fun and displaying our knowledge is much better when we do it as we are naturally inclined to; this is the way I see things today