What is Intelligence?

Jan 26, 2023 | Papillion

At Mathnasium, we frequently hear kids labeling themselves and others as either "smart" or not, and I always stop to listen when that comes up. In this context, the label tends to revolve around whether someone can do certain math problems, or do them quickly. I see it differently though.

First off, we are far from agreeing on what intelligence means, and our society's idea of it has changed over time. Second, our first ideas are often not our best ideas, so while speed of thought has its place, so do the ability to think deeply and critically, investing more time. Beyond that, we refer to concepts like emotional intelligence, book smarts, street smarts and common sense, to name just a few. Each of those implies that the ability to reason and learn effectively shows up differently in different contexts.

That's why I push back vigorously when kids say they're not smart. Each child (or adult!) has encountered only a portion of the contexts of his/her lifetime, and learned to use only some of the tools that will eventually be available. I believe it's important for people of any age to be exposed to the idea of multiple intelliegences. Gardner asserts the following are all distinct areas of intelligence and give us a much broader framework for recognizing one another's intelligence.

  • Visual-Spatial
  • Linguistic-Verbal
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic

Everyone has a different blend of these and when we support the individual's strengths, we empower everyone to contribute and succeed in ways for which they're well-equipped.