Monday, 15 February 2010

An ‘Intelligent’ Educational Analysis

I was speaking to a very experienced teacher the other day about the challenges of teaching kids of different ‘abilities’ or who were struggling with particular subjects. She went off into a rant about how some kids are just ‘bright’ and others are not.

So, I said. You are saying that some kids are basically just stupid and therefore you can’t teach them aren’t you?

She protested loudly at my blunt and straightforward analysis of her point but had to concede it was correct. She then went on to tell me that there was no need to put children through some kind of mental assessment process to understand which ones had more capable brains than others – she could just tell, from her own experience, which ones are stupid and which ones are ‘bright’ or ‘intelligent’.

I asked if a child that she had taught maths to and who struggled with it, would be poor at all subjects?

Oh no, she said some kids can be very talented at one subject and absolutely hopeless at others..

So, I asked. Where does your ‘Intelligence’ theory fit it into that then? You now seem to be contradicting your own theory about kids being generally bright or generally stupid. Surely if a kid is generally stupid then they would be generally stupid in every subject?

She couldn’ t really answer that and as the conversation went on the argument collapsed. It’s not the first time I have heard a teacher come out with something like this.

So why would an ‘intelligent’, highly experienced teacher (and personal tutor) have developed such an illogical, inconsistent, unsubstantiated bias?

Well I guess it’s one step on from the phrase ‘A poor workman blames his tools’ - in this scenario it’s a poor workman going one-step further and blaming their raw material. And you can understand why poor workmen blame their tools, or their raw material – it means they don’t have to blame themselves. It’s a very human failing.

And this situation is no different. 

Whilst in our culture it is not really socially acceptable to exhibit prejudice towards one sex, or a particular ethnicity, sexuality or physical disability, it is largely socially acceptable to brand people as unintelligent or stupid.  It’s nicely dressed-up but it’s still prejudice. People are spoken about as being ‘bright’ or ‘intelligent’ – so therefore the others must be by implication ‘unintelligent’ or dull or stupid.

It seems to me that this form of socially acceptable prejudice is a huge barrier to improving educational achievements (as a whole) in this country.  

If culturally we don’t challenge this prejudice we allow teachers to maintain illogical barriers to progress. We let them have excuses for their own failure and a path to confirm their own prejudicial judgements about kids – by failing to teach them.

Teachers need to concentrate on teaching. Not wasting time making prejudicial unjustified, knee-jerk judgements about the innate abilities of their students.  

 If teachers are to be given positions of respect and reward in our society then they need to be respected for the outcomes they achieve. We need to reward and honour teachers who take on students who are failing and turn them round – and in so doing we must use these achievements to confound the fallacy that some kids are just too stupid to be taught..


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