Throughout our week-long series on genius, we collected listeners' questions for author David Shenk. Shenk very kindly sent along his replies, below.
Why do really smart people seem to have no common sense at all?
- Melanie Hubbard - Oklahoma
Scientists are still struggling to define what intelligence is, and whether it has a general component or is more a collection of different skills. As you observe, it's quite common for someone to be very skilled in one area but seem totally clueless in another. It's also common for someone to be "book smart" but not "people smart" or "street smart." These observations validate Robert Sternberg's conclusion that intelligence is not a thing, but rather a set of accumulated skills.
I'm an educator in Boston and wondering whether you think the current education system fosters or hinders the development of genius in students. In addition, I'm an expert chess player and am a huge fan of The Immortal Game. Do you think the tool of chess could be a good way to foster the development of genius in students? Thanks.
- Johnny Sadoff
It's hard to answer the first part of the question because there are so many different approaches to education today. I think when teachers inspire students, challenge them, make them feel like they've got tremendous potential if they apply themselves, we get some amazing results. When teachers play the discipline game, try to force every student into the same thinking box, and expect rather little of students, it spells doom.
Thanks for the kind words about The Immortal Game. Chess itself doesn't necessarily do much beyond helping kids play chess, but a good chess instructor can use chess as a thinking tool to help students use the game to think about logic, strategy, social dynamics, and much more. So, yes, I think it can be a powerful tool if used properly.
If I could be a genius in one topic I would want to be a genius in the stock market. If I was, I wonder if I would have seen all this coming?
- Brenda - Grosse Ile
Not likely. Few of the best minds in finance told us this was about to happen. The very best stock market analysts end up with only slightly more successful bets than the average.
2. That a feeling of success is important for open minds necessary to learning. That feeling unsuccessful in school makes us feel stupid and feeling stupid shuts down the mind.
I agree with this. An elemental part of teaching is scaffolding, where you are working with a child at their level, giving them a challenge that's slightly above their level but is reachable. When they improve to that new level, there is a feeling of success and confidence that the process works. That's what you build on.
3. That each child has a personal set of learning modalities. And perhaps all children are primarily kinesthetic until a certain developmental age.
4. That about 1/2 of the student population finds school to lack opportunities to excel in their primary modalities.
These both resonate with me. Kids have all sorts of different ways of thinking, interests, sources of motivation, etc. Teachers need to somehow find a way to appeal to as many children in the classroom as possible. I'm not an expert at this, but it is a major challenge.
5. That complete focus on standardized tests can actually reduce the testing scores of these underserved students by depriving them of P.E, Recess, Art, Music, Nature and interpersonal communication in their school day. and
Again, I'm not an expert on this, but it resonates with me personally. All the things mentioned above help a person think better, feel more, have more energy and creative juices.
6. Society needs every one of its children to wake up every morning thinking "Hot dog, I get to go to school and do my stuff." We have got the world so screwed up we need these kids to stay in school, out of crime and gangs; and become physicists, geologists and teachers instead of prisoners.
Absolutely right. No one gets good at anything unless they like what they do.
The word genius is used very loosely in our society. Especially by groups like entertainers and media types that reward each other seemingly on a weekly basis. More than athletes, more than scientists, more than our nation of Dilberts, more than anyone.
You'll see in the book that I actually avoid using the word "genius." It's in my title because it's a compact way to say that we have enormous potential inside of us if we can tap into it. But I don't think distinguishing between geniuses and non-geniuses is useful at all.
Maybe you could define genius as a certain IQ or ability. There are many definitions one could think of.
I'm actually not interested in defining "genius." I'm more interested in the idea of people striving for greatness in their field of choice.