THE ISSUES OF INTELLIGENCEWhat does intelligence mean? The idea of intelligence has been with us for a long time. Platon discussed similar variations more than 2,000 years ago. Most early theories about the nature of intelligence involved one or more of the following three themes:(1) the capacity to learn; (2) the total knowledge a person has acquired; and (3) the ability to adapt successfully to new situations and to the environment in general.
In the twentieth century there was considerable controversy over the meaning of intelligence. In 1986 at a symposium on intelligence, twenty-four psychologists each offered a different view about the nature of intelligence. More than half of the experts mentioned higher-level thinking processes such as abstract reasoning, problem solving, and decisionmaking as important aspects of intelligence, but they disagreed about the structure of intelligence: Is it a single ability or many separate abilities? Evidence that intelligence is a single basic ability affecting performance on all cognitively oriented tasks comes from consistent correlations among scores on most tests of specific mental abilities. In spite of these correlations, however, some psychologists insist that there several separate “primary mental abilities.” In 1938 Louis Leon Thurstone listed verbal comprehension, memory, reasoning, ability to visualize spatial relationships, numerical ability, word fluency, and perceptual speed as the major mental abilities underlying intellectual tasks. Joy Paul Guilford and Howard Gardner are the most prominent modern proponents of the concept of multiple cognitive abilities. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has had the greatest impact on education. According to Gardner there are at least eight separate kinds of intelligences: linguistic, musical, spatial, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and environmental.
Ability differences in schools. In the early
1900s, before group intelligence tests were readily available, teachers dealt with student achievement differences by promoting students who performed adequately and holding back others. This worked well for those who were promoted, but not for those who failed. The idea of social promotion was introduced to keep age-mates together, but then teaching had to change. When intelligence test became available, one solution was to promote all students, but group them by ability within their grade level. Ability grouping was the basis of many studies in the 1930s, but fell from favor until 1957 and the era of Sputnik, when concern grew about developing talent in mathematics and science. Again, in the 1960s and 1970s, ability grouping was criticized. In the early twenty-first century, teachers are encouraged to use forms of cooperative learning and heterogeneous grouping to deal with ability differences in their classes.
It is likely that educational psychologists will continue to contribute to education as they learn more about the brain and how learning occurs; the development of intellect, affect, personality, character, and motivation; ways of assessing learning; and the creation of multifaceted learning environments. It also is likely that some issues will spiral through these contributions. What is a useful and appropriate balance of discovery and direct instruction? How can teachers, who must work with groups, adapt instruction to individual variations? What should be the role of testing and grading in education?