Can Our Education System Destroy Talent?

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share in Email Print article
Written by David Clemens

Presenter: Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific Director of the Imagination Institute, University of Pennsylvania.

What is intelligence? This question has fascinated Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman since he was a child, as he tried to grasp an explanation as to why no kids were truly achieving in the groups they were placed in i.e. honors, remedial, or normal level classes. Kaufman observed that all of these groups were not reaching their maximum possibility. Why aren’t educators getting the best out of their students? Dr. Kaufman discusses the idea of small intelligence vs big intelligence, and relates these ideas to the Default Mode Network of the brain; essentially the state of the brain when it is at rest. Kaufman later builds on this concept by relating it to traits which best demonstrate lifelong creative achievement. His research has found that openness to experience is the single best predictor of this phenomenon.

“As a young kid, I remember thinking to himself, wow, nobody is winning anymore. Nobody is wining in this education system, and by winning, I mean getting the best out of any of these kids.”- Dr. Kaufman

What is intelligence?  For the first time in public Kaufman made the distinction between small “I” intelligence and big “I” intelligence.

Small Intelligence

To this point humanity has done a good job at monitoring small intelligence through measurements such as an IQ test. For example, scientists have studied the g-factor of human intelligence to measure cognitive traits like literacy, special reasoning, form something people can refer to as small I.

People with a high small “I” intelligence is one who has good inferencing ability and can recognize patterns easily. Some claim that intelligence doesn’t matter, but the alternative viewpoint to this criticism is that educators cannot get the best out of their students.

Kaufman believes that intelligence matters, however not in this traditional approach, but rather the way a person can measure it is inefficient in that it cannot be use to get the most out of a student.

The role of the executive retention brain network is correlated to this type of reasoning.

“Intelligence certainly matters, but not the way we have gone about measuring it is not getting the best out of students.”- Dr. Kaufman

Big Intelligence

Kaufman finds that if educators want to get the best out of students they must to consider not only the students own abilities, but also their engagement and motivation levels in the curriculum. Relevance to personal life and perseverance are also traits that need to be addressed.

When looking at the standard metrics of IQ the biggest predictor of lifetime creative achievement was the kids who fell in love with the future image of themselves and personal meaningfulness.

Kaufman conducted an analysis which compared IQ score to achievement. The result was that 50% of students over preform what is expected of them. This phenomenon is rarely mentioned, and thus asserts that the policies surrounding education need room to allow for kids to “surprise us” of our expectations.

The best predictors of lifeline creativity when correlated to IQ is zero after the 10 year or 20 year follow-up, signaling that they are not very strong predictors of intelligence nor creativity. Torrents, who conducted the original study, found a set of “beyonder” characteristics when considering lifelong creative achievement.

The standard IQ test nowadays does not take into account a student’s personal dreams or aspirations, Kaufman points to a set of “Beyonder” Characteristics:

  • Love of Work
  • Persistence
  • Purpose in Life
  • Deep Thinking
  • Tolerance of Mistakes
  • Open to Change
  • Risk Taking
  • Feeling Comfortable
  • Personal meaningfulness

All the above are personal characteristics that the current measure of potential does not account for. Of these factors the number one predictor of lifelong creative achievement is personal meaningfulness and a disposition towards liking a future image of themselves.

“I define intelligence, in terms of what really matter within out school systems, as is the dynamic interplay of engagement and ability in the pursuit of personal goals.” (Kaufman 2013).

How can we get to the Contents of our Dreams?

 To build on the need to support students dreams Kaufman has researched how to best build up their imagination. Kaufman believes that a student’s dreams are just as, if not more, important than the curriculum that is taught.

Default Mode Brain Network

From a neuroscience perspective, Kauffman has found is that the brain network that is most closely tied to the part of the brain that preforms IQ tests but rather the default brain mode network which is when the brain is at rest.

When in default mode the mind tends to be idle, this idleness encourages the brain to think towards the future and of personally relevant goals or rehearsed things that are unresolved. This is a recent discovery in neuroscience and has been coined the default mode network. Kaufman likens this network to be called the “imagination network” which participates in:

  • Daydreaming
  • Imagining and planning their future
  • Retrieving deeply personal memories
  • Monitoring their own emotional state
  • Reading fiction

Kaufman finds that if we do not give kids the chance to use this part of their brain it is a use it or lose it kind of situation. Engaging in these above activities can help increase perspective taking and compassion, both of which are important for the growth of a child. Kaufman provides the example of test anxiety of a case that especially effects ethnic minority students who don’t believe that they don’t belong in a classroom then their test scores will reflect that attitude.

Imagination is what fuels compassion for perspective taking in the ability to understand others. People who exercise these functions in the imagination network show higher scores when tested for “openness to experience”, a personality trait that demonstrates characters which signals creative achievement.

Openness to Experience Traits:

“I enjoy concentrating on a fantasy or daydream and exploring all of its possibilities, letting it grown and develop.”
“I am curious about many different things.”
“I like to reflect and play with ideas.”
“I have an active imagination.”
“I have a deep appreciation for beauty.”
“I get deeply immersed in music.”
“I believe in the importance of personal growth.”

In 2015 Kaufman and associates conducted a survey and found that all of the above statements correlated to different aspects of openness to experience. These were the single best predictor for lifetime creative achievement.

Kaufman also believes that these traits, combined with those who are not only dreamers, but also doers, are what educators should pursue in education policy.

Moving forward, Kaufman wants to come up with the New IQ- Imagination quotient- and challenges the audience to develop imagination potential which can then be submitted to the Imagination Institute via a grant competition on their website.

“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”- Joan Clarke

Editor’s Note: The preceding is an essay from a special print report produced by Diplomatic Courier after the 2017 World Government Summit in Dubai, UAE. To read the full report download our free app on your device or view the digital edition here.