Speaker addresses complexity behind intelligence measures

On Wednesday Sept. 25, Scott Barry Kaufman delivered the first speech of the 2013 All-College Hour Distinguished Speaker Series, titled “Ungifted: Redefining Intelligence.” Kaufman is a member of the psychology faculty at New York University. His new book is titled Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.

After Director of Student Life Chip Matthews introduced him, Kaufman began with speaking about his own experience with intelligence. As a child he had a learning disability and was put in remedial classes.

He shared an anecdote about the moment he first disagreed with the way others dealt with his intellect.

“I was taking an untimed history test and I thought, ‘I have the rest of my life to take this test – why am I here?’ A switch went off in my head,” he said. Kaufman proceeded to ask his guidance counselor if he could be placed in the gifted program.

The counselor cited Kaufman’s poor test scores as evidence that he would not succeed in gifted classes.

“What does achievement have to do with potential?” Kaufman asked.

Kaufman then discussed the way that the United States education system measures giftedness by using IQ and standardized tests.

“A lot of people call this test an ‘intelligence test,’ but it doesn’t get the whole picture,” he said. He offered alternative methods for measuring potential success, like tests for divergent thinking that measure creativity.

“I want to shift the focus from comparing people to each other to comparing people to their past and future selves,” he said. “The focus is on the whole person.

“There is the self-important aspect of intelligence,” Kaufman said. “I’m talking about your identity. Your engagement in academic and creative lives is influenced by how much you feel included in the group.” He said that situations in which individuals feel left out are threats to their potential for engagement.

Kaufman also focused on the relationship between engagement and ability.

“Probably some kids lose their talent because they don’t have the chance to develop it,” he said. “Potential is a constantly moving target. We need to rethink potential as readiness for engagement a certain place in time.”

Kaufman is also part of The Future Project that he said is founded on the idea that “maybe what we need to do is unrealistically believe in children.” The Future Project is an after-school program that provides high school students the opportunity to reach success in creative ways. Each student is assigned a “coach” who helps them complete a dream project.

Kaufman said his ideas do not only apply to students in high school.

“I want college students and adults to realize the potential within themselves – the ability to succeed,” he said. “I want them to realize that often we don’t know how close we are to success. I want to inspire people to believe in the qualities that they can build on in order to find a place for themselves in the world.”