Knowledge and Intelligence are not the same thing

As a teacher one of the things that frustrated me was students who claimed not to be smart. Or that they were stupid. In most cases this was far from true. What the student  should have been saying was that there was information (knowledge) that they didn’t have. Stupidity is hard to overcome but a lack of knowledge is relatively easy to deal with. Intelligence is not knowing a lot (having a lot of knowledge) but being able to use that knowledge.

Knowing more information doesn’t make one smarter. Oh for sure it may help people make better decisions but if they were not smart enough to use the information it wouldn’t help them. I think that some of how to use information can be taught. I am not convinced that people’s intelligence (smarts if you will) is a fixed value. The mind can be trained. Information helps with that training but it is not intelligence by itself.

One of the things I used to say was that ignorance was curable but stupid was not. I’m starting to think that stupid can be improved to some extent but that it is difficult. Ignorance though remains pretty easy to cure. The problem is that it still takes some work and some people are not smart enough (or are too lazy or something) to put in that effort. And that is a shame.

I think there are a lot of very smart people who are not getting the knowledge they need to properly use their intelligence. This is the biggest problem in education today. Some kids don’t think education will help them. Others think they are stupid (often mistaking knowledge for intelligence) when they are not. Others have teachers or parents or peers or other external pressures not to learn or to make an effort at school. others think they don’t need it. I’ve known a couple of athletes who expected their athletic ability to make knowledge of other things unnecessary. I’m  not sure how to turn all that around. But we sure are missing a lot of potential when we lose the opportunity to provide knowledge to people with the intelligence to really use it.

One Response to “Knowledge and Intelligence are not the same thing”

  1. Have you heard of Carol Dweck’s theory of growth mindset? Growth mindset is the belief that by struggling with new material, you get smarter. Fixed mindset is the idea that you’re born with a certain amount of immutable smart. There is a lot of research coming out about brain plasticity and neurogenesis, which supports Dweck’s ideas. The trick is to get kids into a growth mindset – to convince them that it is worth working through challenging material because that is how they will get smarter, and that they can get smarter.

    I have a wonderful powerpoint intended for students that compares the brain to muscles. You build muscle by working out, increasing the challenge in manageable doses. You build brain by thinking hard, also increasing the challenge in manageable doses. You don’t go from numeric recognition to calculus, you go from addition to subtraction. You didn’t know how to add before you learned, then you practiced, now you know how. (Of course, this analogy doesn’t work for our students who are innumerate.)

    This is a long-winded way of saying that I agree with you and so do a lot of smart people.

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