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Intelligence Oxymorons

Daily Herald
Friday, November 26, 1999

Intelligence Oxymorons
by William McNerney

One of the latest fads in education today is the theory of multiple intelligences. We are all brilliant in different but equally important ways. What a concept! Parents, teachers and students are all presented with a win-win situation. Self-esteem is guaranteed.

Students who are poor in math and art and athletics may be good in interpersonal relationships. Or whatever. It may be hard to prove, but it is surely hard to disprove. And yet, a small voice asks if the door to multiple intelligences can be closed. Are we not ignoring other equally important intelligences?

How about a sense of humor-comedic intelligence? We could probably find many people who would agree that a sense of humor is not a talent shared by all. We are all familiar with excellent students who just don't get the joke, though how we might identify and quantify the risibility factor might be a daunting challenge. We should probably take a closer and more sympathetic look at the class clown.

Another talent that needs to be explored is the special ability of some people to convince others that certain ideas have merit, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. It's about time that we recognize the special intelligence involved in becoming a successful con artist.

In the musical "The Music Man," Professor Hill convinced many parents that their children were musically gifted and could play an instrument without learning about notes and practicing scales. The professor's special talent was demonstrated when the parents, mesmerized by Professor Hill's words, believed that their children were actually playing well, in the face of a discordant cacophony to the contrary. This clearly argues for the existence of a flimflam factor as a form of intelligence to add to our list.

And yet another form of intelligence is easily distinguishable - the ability to make up silly little rhymes which, if repeated often enough, have the power to short-circuit the thought process of the gullible, and lead them to believe that childish rhymes reflect substance and logic. Thus we have "drill and kill," "jugs and mugs" and "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit." There must be a niche for the silly rhyme talent in our society, if not in education or law, then surely in advertising.

If we can identify an increasing number of intelligences, we should be able to find a congenial slot for everybody. And the quest for additional intelligences has just begun, limited only by the imagination and spurred by the catalyst of egalitarian impulses. Let's hope the business community can find the openings to accommodate the growing number of talents that are being discovered and honed in today's classrooms.

William McNerney
St. Charles, Illinois

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