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To what degree is being educated mistaken with being intelligent in our society?

June 05, 2017 by Lindsay Racen


What is the greatest quality that is attributed to a lifelong learner? Colleges and universities believe in the power of education and employers often filter candidates by level of degree attainment. However companies also place high priority on proven skills, abilities and overall intelligence. We’re taking a closer look on the dynamics of each and how they may be mistaken for one another in modern day.

Innovation – Education vs Learning

“The act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” This is one of many formal definitions of what education means. It is associated with attaining specific credentials by passing through levels of schooling, and historically drives our societal view of how accomplished we are in life and how smart we can prove ourselves to be.

What many misunderstand at times is that the intrinsic value of education has the power to reach far beyond this restrictive outlook. On paper having certain academic degrees listed is supposed to indicate that we have undergone and completed our education, but to true lifelong learners there is no end to education. Joi Ito presented his thoughts on the relation between education and learning in a 2014 TED talk. He is a proud tree-time college dropout who admits that learning over education an important concept for him. He makes the distinction by saying that, “education is what people do to you and learning is what you do to yourself…and what you need to learn is how to learn.”

The best of professors confirm this theory by going beyond the traditional lecture hall and number 2 pencils. They succeed when they empower, guide and inspire students to translate study materials into innovative practices that positively impact society. For those who watched Ito's presentation, just think about BI, or the before internet age, and how education differs drastically since then. Collaboration, information sharing and learning have transformed immensely since the web became more than something a spider spins. In order to innovate the field of education as well as its students, must adapt and progress along with the technology. Teaching and learning then come full circle.


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Intelligence – Quantitative vs Qualitative

Defining intelligence is one of the most difficult tasks that many people can undertake. Not only are there multiple types, with more emerging during the 21st century, but there are also multiple ways to measure the factor. Traditionalists may think of I.Q. which spurs thoughts of various assessments, societies like Mensa and Albert Einstein while others may think of Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins in the classic flick from the 90’s.

Many may even think it to be mostly scientific and quantitative. Alex Wissner-Gross actually offers a new equation for intelligence that is both thought provoking and most relevant to the digital age. He calls it the closest equivalent to Einstein’s E = mc2 for intelligence that exists today. The formula, or statement of correspondence is, F = T ∇ Sτ. Wissner-Gross uses intelligence as a force, F, that acts to maximize future freedom of action. In his words, “It acts to maximize future freedom of action, or keep options open, with some strength T, with the diversity of possible accessible futures, S, up to some future time horizon, tau. In short, intelligence doesn't like to get trapped.” This revolutionary concept can be seen in the TED talk network and serves as a fascinating presentation on the relationship between artificial intelligence and human nature.

Intelligence also can be highly qualitative when examined from another perspective. Research has also uncovered that there are nine types, or dimensions of, intelligence that people can have. Here is a brief description of each:

  1. Naturalist Intelligence – The ability to distinguish among nature’s different features such as animals, vegetation, geological configurations, cloud formations, and other such things.
  2. Musical Intelligence – The ability to recognize tone, rhythm, timbre, and pitch.
  3. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence – The ability to calculate and carry out mathematical operations as well as mull over hypotheses and propositions.
  4. Existential Intelligence – Also referred to as spiritual or moral intelligence, those with this type are drawn to exploring questions like why are people born, how do they get here and why do they die? They are deeply philosophical.
  5. Interpersonal Intelligence – “People smart” individuals use their interpersonal intelligence to interact with others in such a way that they are able to understand and communicate well.
  6. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence – People with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence have an almost perfect sense of timing, and their mind-body coordination is nearly faultless.
  7. Linguistic Intelligence – It is this type of intelligence that allows a person to appoint complex meanings and express these through the use of language.
  8. Intra-Personal Intelligence – While this type of intelligence does involve self-appreciation, it also comprises a wider understanding of the human condition.
  9. Spatial Intelligence – This type of intelligence involves the following core capacities: a dynamic imagination, image manipulation, mental imagery, artistic and graphic skills, and spatial reasoning.

The Standing Debate

So what is the connection between the expanded list of conditions – education, learning, and the different types of intelligence? And to what degree is being educated mistaken with being intelligent? The inspiration for this post was from a discussion titled this very question on Quora, an online community that exists to share and grow the world’s knowledge. Sifting through the public forum we highlight some thought provoking responses:

“Education, to me, is like a new tool in the toolbox. It is a product you buy (or your taxes buy) to help you achieve something - better job, better understanding, etc. Intelligence, on the other hand, is knowing what's in the toolbox already and how to squeeze the most out of a tool to achieve something. Education is great. But if you don't use it, it'll sit with the rest off the tools in the toolbox, corrode, and become useless. Your intelligence uses and maintains those tools so that they are always ready for the next job.” – Brent Vecchi

“In my opinion, to an alarming astronomical extent. In a lot of societies being educated, especially to University degree level, is seen as synonymous with being intelligent. However, we've all encountered University graduates we consider unintelligent. As the saying goes, "Many go through the University without the University going through them." – Dr. Mustapha Tahir

“I'm not sure it is a mistake. It is fair to assume that people who have attained higher formal qualifications are intelligent. They have after all succeeded in passing a test for exactly this. Whether education builds intelligence, or whether it only recognizes intelligence is another question.” – John Trevithick

“So educated in my sense is comparative: Some people are badly educated and some people are educated by life. The same with intelligence. It is comparative. If the intelligence is merely the mechanical ability to do IQ puzzles, in a set amount of time, the IQ being measured is a test for a mechanistic society that requires human machines, not sentient human beings.” – Robert Francis

So what is the final answer? It may still be up to debate but the dominant theme among discussion participants is that being educated and being intelligent are two completely different concepts. They may relate to the same idea of improving oneself and society, but they operate differently.

Education may be a mark on the ruler that indicates a certain level of achievement from a social standpoint, but learning is the variable that dictates application. Professors, facts and figures, in Vecchi’s model, are the tools within academia that students use for leverage in their lives and in their professions. Intelligence is being able to utilize those given tools to make a difference and implement ideas that pushes society forward.




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