Future of Education Week 2 opening and concluding reflection

by Rebecca Stuhr

What is intelligence? it is the ability to successfully navigate within the world in which you find yourself. It develops out of a particular cultural environment and does not necessarily translate across cultures. I think that there must also be something biological — a sort of use it or lose it aspect. That the brain grows and develops and changes, and if it is neglected it becomes less agile and even dormant. I experience my brain as a physical feeling–sometimes it is muddled, sometimes all the pieces are moving around and getting into order and the thoughts come clearly–and the whole body responds positively. Other times, the pieces are spinning in chaotic paths, not connecting–and the body is exhausted. Intelligence is being able to understand and to accomplish what you want to accomplish, whether that is reading and writing, cooking, experimenting, gardening, farming, building, navigating.

I do consider myself to be intelligent–not always smart. I’ve been told that I was intelligent since I can remember. I am intelligent when it comes to reading and writing — both skills I continue to develop. I was first a “colorer” and then I learned to read and that was what I always wanted to do most with my time. Writing was harder and I continue to work at it and learn from having others edit my writing and from doing and reading and reading and doing. I am better at expressing myself in writing than I am at expressing my ideas through speaking. I do not know science and find it hard to listen to people as they talk about scientific theories or practices. If the language is literary I can make sense of it, if it is technical–not so well. Business speak disturbs me and my brain shuts down–it is words swirling around in a big database of text.

If I want to do something and I have the energy and drive I can figure it out. I’m a musician so my brain does get exercised in a lot of different ways. I like working with foreign languages. I am interested in all kinds of things which is good for being a librarian faced with working in many areas, not as great for being a specialist. So, am I really intelligent? I’m not really sure. I work hard and often lack discipline. Maybe intelligence is a practice more than an inherent state of being.

The discussion on ability in the video interviews suggests that intelligence may be a practice. We can learn, but we have to be in the practice of learning. When I am meeting with students about research, I try to encourage them to think of it as a skill that one develops. At first it is time consuming and painstaking. Although it continues to take time and persistence, the process becomes second nature–like riding a bicycle. We aren’t born with the skills to thoroughly investigate a question or to critically evaluate the material that we must absorb on our way through that investigation, but it can become a process that we are good at and enjoy and desire to be involved in. Learning can be like climbing a mountain–it can bring us great satisfaction. If we’re lucky what we learn, we can pass on to others, and perhaps nudge the course of human history (thinking more locally than epochly) in better direction.