Becoming a Bad Word: Intelligence

Bopping about one day on my various blogs, I saw an add for an IQ site. You know how sites these days are able to target ads toward those who would be most interested? I wasn’t sure how to take this. It asked a question “What is the capital of Ontario?” which for me, of course, is easy: but it also irritated me no end. It was an ad for an “IQ Test” website. But such a question is not an indicator of “intelligence”: not in the least. It is a measure of general geographic knowledge, or perhaps a person’s capacity to memorize: but not intelligence.

What annoyed me is that this kind of error is being propagated and institutionalized through the advertising media… that “intelligence” can be replaced by “memorizing facts”. It’s been in the works for a long time, but that does not mean that it is correct. At one time I would have said it was due to the laziness of teachers: they’re more interested in teaching facts than in teaching how to reason through a problem. But it comes into testing: it’s a lot easier to mark a multiple choice quiz where every answer is choice between right or wrong, rather than a set of answers that have to be read and explored. But I note that it is also a product of students. These days, they would rather memorize than learn. It’s easier on the student side as well.

When I teach, I don’t teach memorization. I teach how to answer a question. And, no surprises, but it has come back to haunt me.

A few weeks ago I came on one of those “rate your teachers” websites that allows students to describe what they liked and did not like about their professors. I taught undergraduate geography and GIS classes at the University of Central Arkansas for a few years, and I was surprised to find that some of the students had “rated” me. Their biggest criticism was that I took too long to get them their grades back on exams: probably because I had to actually read through the “stuff” they had written on their exams. I did use some multiple choice, because that’s what they wanted: but I also used written material. If they actually learned in the class, they did better because of it.

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