What Gould Wrote About Intelligence

In his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man, the late biologist Stephen Jay Gould reviewed the history of measuring intelligence. He observed that that intelligence has become reified in our concept of knowledge and learning. He noted that mental capacity is important to humans, that “We therefore give the word ‘intelligence’ to this wondrously complex and multifaceted set of human capabilities. This shorthand symbol is then reified and intelligence achieves a dubious status as a unitary thing” (24).

A century’s worth of educators, educational policy makers, and other stakeholders have believed that there is something singular and real that is measured by intelligence tests. This was extended to SAT tests that purported to measure students’ aptitude until the name was changed. This was extended to the myriad of tests given to the most recent generation of students whose education has been corrupted by the need to collect data.

Gould captured the reality of humans “intelligence” in the sentence quoted above. Our capabilities are complex and multifaceted. Growth in any and all must be recognized as intelligence, and the sooner educators and educational policy makers understand that and begin to act that way, the sooner we will all be able to enjoy the benefits of a fully educated population.