Intelligent or Just Academic?

I read a very interesting article recently by Richard Gerver, one of the premier ex-head teachers in the UK who now focusses on campaigning for education improvements had been speaking with an MP about education & the current state of UK education. Richard was politely informed by the MP (who had never taught anyone) that he didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to the future of education (See Trust The Trusted – Richard Gerver’s Blog)

Let’s have a brief look at this man who apparently ‘knew nothing about the future of education‘:

  • Richard Gerver began his working life as an actor who worked as an advertising copywriter to make ends meet
  • He began teaching in 1992,  was identified by the school’s inspectorate in 1997 as ‘one of the most outstanding teachers in the country
  • By 2003 Richard worked with Tony Blair’s Government as an advisor on education policy
  • By 2005 he had won ‘School Head Teacher of the Year Award’ at the British National Teaching Awards for his work in leading a school local to me in Long Eaton, on the brink of closure to becoming one of the most innovative in the world
  • In 2006 his work was celebrated at The UNESCO World Arts Education Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. In the same year he was invited to Shanghai to speak about education transformation to members of the Chinese Government

And the man in Parliament with responsibility for making decisions regarding our children’s future (aka. MP) has no experience in teaching.

Come on guys; there’s arrogance & there is just plain stupidity.

As a scientist the starting point is to examine the evidence & then draw our conclusions, yet today it seems that we are driven not by evidence but by opinion, often of those who shout loudest or make our lives uncomfortable (what I call ‘Primary School Playground Behaviour’). We don’t even look at the evidence but take a Press Eye View, that is, we believe the bits we want & ignore anything that confounds that view.

The evidence above seems quite strong in favour of the hypothesis (view) that ‘Mr Gerver knows something about his subject.’

What did the MP disagree with?

The notion that there is more to education & a student’s life than passing exams.

Holistic has become something of a buzzword in many areas over the past 10 years or so & implies ‘a whole‘ not part of. We know that if we are treating some diseases, we can throw as many medications at them to alleviate the symptoms, but until we address the cause, the disease remains active & potentially destructive/fatal. Yet in education we focus on what grades people get in exams (the ability to take in knowledge & apply it logically to a set of specific questions), throw our resources & money at supporting that, but ignore other key issues that make our children effective (interpersonal skills, security, creativity, practical skills, etc).

The biggest flaw with this theory is that this ‘academic/intellectual‘ part of our brains & thinking is only a small part of the holistic  brain. Many people who are great at exams, score high marks, achieve top grades then move on to jobs where most of their work involves interacting with people. In short, if they can’t communicate they’re stuffed! One could argue they should never be let near such a role. But they are & they fill our prestigious universities & medical schools all over the country.  The concept of vocation, fit for the job or best candidate is a very narrow view & I believe not only inappropriate but dangerous.  Of course we need a certain level of understanding & ability to do many of the jobs we do, but I know many people who would have made great doctors but never had the chance because their grades ‘were not good enough’  & I know plenty of people who studied/are studying medicine but should never be let near a patient!

There is a documented psychological condition known as the Oxford Psychosis where profoundly intellectual (academic) individuals are functionally useless because they can’t communicate with people or lack social skills. Very ‘clever‘ but functionally quite useless in most of the settings they are likely to work today, even if they remain academics they will need to communicate with others (but having worked in at least one university academic department, this simply does not happen!).

Those who think differently with a less structured way of thinking get left on one side.  I remember a brilliant artist at school who was advised by a teacher, “You’re great at art but you need a proper job!” Fortunately he went on to became an architect whee he could apply not only his artistic talents but also his amazing ability at maths.

It’s a scary notion that we are grooming a slipstream of academics/intellectuals, when we need intelligent people, that is people who not only know the facts but also know how to interact with people so that these facts can be translated into something useful that works.

Trying to push many artistic individuals down a path of mathematical & scientific logic is a route for disaster.

I am a STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) Ambassador for schools, but just by the title one can see the limitations of the scheme; that it will only appeal to part of the population in education. One could even ask, “Why are so many children disenfranchised & excluded in education today?”  Whilst the answers are complex, I think a key component is that many pupils with a more artistic way of thinking are railroaded into sciences & maths for the sake of good Government statistics (& school ranking) NOT for the sake of that child’s best route of development.

In my work with confidence building using the reptiles (Meet The Beasts) I come across a wide range of abilities as ranked by the school system.  What I find most distressing is that it is either the so-called ‘gifted & talented’ (i.e., can do exams) or totally disenfranchised students that receive many of the benefits: visitors; courses; extracurricular  activities; etc whilst those who need the input & encouragement (especially those who don’t stand-out for any particular reason but work hard) miss out.

Some of the most intelligent students I have met in our reptile sessions, especially when it comes to social awareness, understanding of group dynamics & just getting stuck in are in the ‘lower ability groups‘ as ranked by current school criteria.  They are also the ones in whom I see the greatest positive change & benefits from our visits. I remember one lad who asked whether I wanted him to look after our Bearded Dragon whilst I was showing our other animals to the rest of his class. He took care of the lizard AND when some of the class started getting a bit fractious whilst waiting for the snakes to be brought around, this same lad, without prompting went to tables of students who were a bit restless & let them handle the Bearded Dragon, thereby alleviating potential problems.  Some of the most difficult classes I’ve death with have ben  ‘top sets‘ who more often than not, ‘know they are good‘ & have little respect for others.

I think another scary fact is that whilst we in the UK are becoming entrenched with improving academic standards, other countries are forging ahead in many of the creative skills necessary for emerging technologies & industries. It seems that not only are we disadvantaging our children through poor choices & focussing only on a selective part of the problem, but by so-doing, we also disadvantage them when it comes to competing in the World markets & emerging technologies, many of which require ‘soft‘ skills & creativity, combined with knowledge.  Sadly, academia & intellect do not creativity make!

So, back to our friendly MP who I think has mistaken ‘passing exams‘ & ‘good grades’ with intelligence, when they are only a part of the story. From my personal experience in industry, the key skills we need now & will need in the future, such as people skills, are becoming a scarce commodity, with far too many mangers knowing what needs to be done but having little idea how to get their people to do it!

At times like this, we need less arrogance & more awareness of where the help is available, tap into that & use it to the advantage of all.  I pray for the day when insecure people stop trying to control things they don’t understand & learn to be part of a bigger unit that shares the success BUT more importantly, achieve the goals they set, even hopefully exceed them.  So here’s to more real expertise, more security & less arrogance.

So, is it the MP or Richard Gerver in this instance?

As a scientist, reviewing the evidence I would be compelled to choose Mr Gerver 🙂

About waywood

Hi & Welcome to my thoughts. I share subjects that are important to me. As you’ll notice, these subjects can be quite broad & varied. I like variety; I like breadth & I like a challenge. I am passionate about helping others overcome their fears, grow in confidence & succeed. Although many people would label me as an achiever, I have battled low confidence, low self-esteem & a couple of nasty, long periods depression over the years. I can’t say, “I know how you feel” but I can hopefully empathise & offer some of the things that are helping me to turn my life around. Please feel free to comment, share & enjoy. Take care, best wishes & keep well Stuart
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