Once upon a time not long ago, young children were seated at a table with an expert tester to determine their intelligence. In a short hour or so, by asking verbal, cultural questions, identifying patterns and manipulating objects the tester supposedly was able to precisely predict the intelligence of the child. The results of this magical process were to remain permanent throughout the child’s life. A significantly low score was intellectually deficient being condemned to an existence of forever being labeled “retarded.”
In the same process, a child receiving a significantly high score was granted forever the label of “superior or gifted.” This special status was insured for eternity. Children receiving this label were placed in an enriched program where they were entertained with solving riddles, playing games and being treated as intellectual geniuses. By being selected at an early age they were given all the opportunities and protections to cultivate their superior intellect. They were destined to lead us all into a better future.
Labeling a youth “superior” or “gifted” is as much of a tragedy as calling a child “challenged” or “retarded.” Both extremes of the Bell Curve of intelligence have been led to believe they would retain their lot in life regardless of their efforts. This universally believed “fact” that the Intelligence Quotient was absolute and unchanging over time has been shattered by an October 2011 study.
Lead researcher, Kathy Price, of the University College of London study found adolescent IQ varied by more that 20 points in either direction rising or falling over a four-year period. The researchers using neural imaging noted structural changes in the brain were proportional to the changes in IQ. Both verbal and performance components of the test were linked to changes in specific areas of the brain. The verbal area of the brain that controls speech and the non-verbal part that deals with finger movements were the areas where changes were noted.
This major revelation along with other studies shows that intelligence changes over time. Neural scientist, Sylvain Moreno, found verbal IQ of 4-6 year olds increases through the study of music. Stanford psychologist, Carol Diveck’s multiple studies noted students who believed that intelligence was dependent on hard work rather than innate intelligence tended to out perform the latter. These studies taken together make a strong case for the “exercising the brain” theory of education.
The research on Alzheimer’s disease clearly informs us that keeping one’s brain active in the latter stages of life prevents or delays the onset of the deterioration of the brain. Research on physical aging recommends that people stay physically active to maintain their vitality. Why would education of the mind be any different?
This brain exercise theory was widely accepted in the past by the educational establishment before Binet’s work on IQ. Educational programs had vigorous curriculums that were supposed to stretch one’s mental abilities. Once it was falsely established that intelligence was fixed and permanent, strenuous curricula fell out of favor.
Using a snapshot approach to proclaim a child has any permanent intellectual limitation is a horrendous act. People’s intellectual capacity can change especially in young individuals. Once a child buys into the label he becomes the label. He would always be ADHD, depressed, mentally retarded, gifted or one of many other destructive labels. Why would anyone strive to better himself? It is the curse of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
The American experiment is all about applying oneself to reach one’s dream. The IQ as permanent is ridiculous on its surface. Intelligence has too many facets to put into a simple formula. Some researchers have identified up to 120 different types of intelligence, not just a few. Different components of one’s IQ change with activating specific areas of the brain.
In our current educational atmosphere either students are over stimulated by electronic entertainment or on the other hand are dependent on parents and teachers to provide one-on-one passive boring instruction. Students are not being challenged. Our schools need to combat these two opposing ideas by raising the bar to encourage students to compete with others but most importantly to improve their own performance. The striving of students to be the best they can be acts as energy that strengthens their mental powers.
Our students should learn this simple truth: the harder you work at something the better you get. This means that instead of fighting the work, “Just Do It.” It will result in bright students with bright futures.
Dr. Maglio is the author of Invasion Within and Essential Parenting. He is a psychotherapist and the owner/director of Wider Horizons School.
Dr. Domenick Maglio holds a Ph.D. in Human Development with more than forty years of experience in the field of education and mental health. He is the author of Essential Parenting and Invasion Within. For the last twenty-five years, Dr. and Mrs. Maglio have resided in Hernando County, Florida, where they raised their four children.