I noticed an article in Scientific American entitled “Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of Smart Fools?”
They interviewed Cornell University psychologist Robert Sternberg who annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science they said sounded the alarm about standardized testing.
He addressed problems with IQ tests and college entrance exams that are selecting and rewarding people who have a particular kind of intelligence, but not the intelligence needed to solve significant challenges.
Tests like the SAT, ACT, the GRE—what I call the alphabet tests—are reasonably good measures of academic kinds of knowledge, plus general intelligence and related skills. They are highly correlated with IQ tests and they predict a lot of things in life: academic performance to some extent, salary, level of job you will reach to a minor extent—but they are very limited. What I suggested in my talk today is that they may actually be hurting us. Our overemphasis on narrow academic skills—the kinds that get you high grades in school—can be a bad thing for several reasons. You end up with people who are good at taking tests and fiddling with phones and computers, and those are good skills but they are not tantamount to the skills we need to make the world a better place.
He argues we must factor other variables with intelligence to cultivate the problem-solvers our society needs.
What I argue is that intelligence that’s not modulated and moderated by creativity, common sense and wisdom is not such a positive thing to have. What it leads to is people who are very good at advancing themselves, often at other people’s expense. We may not just be selecting the wrong people, we may be developing an incomplete set of skills—and we need to look at things that will make the world a better place.
He says wisdom is needed.
You know, it’s easy to think of smart people but it’s really hard to think of wise people. I think a reason is that we don’t try to develop wisdom in our schools. And we don’t test for it, so there’s no incentive for schools to pay attention.
He then notes that schools teach what they test, and to get them to learn wisdom, he believes, we should start to test wisdom.
If we start testing for these broader kinds of skills, schools will start to teach to them, because they teach to the test. My colleagues and I developed assessments for creativity, common sense and wisdom. We did this with the Rainbow Project, which was sort of experimental when I was at Yale. And then at Tufts, when I was dean of arts and sciences, we started Kaleidoscope, which has been used with tens of thousands of kids for admission to Tufts. They are still using it. But it’s very hard to get institutions to change. It’s not a quick fix. Once you have a system in place, the people who benefit from it rise to the top and then they work very hard to keep it.
I have problems with this approach. First, I am not convinced we can teach wisdom in formal classroom settings. Sternberg is right that one can learn from role modeling, but how much can be done in school? Very little. Wisdom is something acquired through experience which takes time.
Second, can you test for wisdom in a standardized way? Who decides what is wise? Will this just be another way to label our kids? Also, is substituting assessments a solution? Wisdom, like perseverance, grit, and other characteristics social emotional learning focuses on is subjective. What is considered wise by some is considered folly by others.
So I’m doubtful that we can assess wisdom in a standardized way and I am not convinced that we should.