January 20, 2022

Modern-day Bohemian Rhapsody or Do schools kill intelligence?

Picture this: One day, a persistent beeping sound wakes you up earlier than your brain can function. It’s not the construction site next door, just your alarm marking 7:00 am. You’re forced to get up and perform everyday tasks of personal hygiene and maintenance, only you’re not sure whether this is real life or just fantasy as you walk across the corridor leading to your bathroom.

Suddenly you’re taken away by a dark figure, throwing you inside their car and driving somewhere far away, where they could dump you. You can barely remember the car ride, or the colour of the car, or whether you put on shoes before you left. Your gaze meets the giant concrete building behind bars, waking up panic in your subconscious, as you hesitantly walk towards the entrance in a whirlpool of regret and somehow Freddie Mercury’s rustling timbre. You wonder to yourself, what is this place? A hospital? Or worse, is this a jail? Or worse… No, it surely cannot be… School?! You take a deep breath and that’s all you remember until that beeping sound wakes you up once again inside that tyrannical vicious cycle.

Didn’t this journey feel scary and confusing? You’d be surprised if I told you that this is what school feels like for many students worldwide; a headache-giving pandemonium of which they can recall only bits and pieces. When they go back home, they withdraw from answering frankly to the everlasting question: “What did you learn at school today?”

Have you ever considered that they might not have learnt anything?

Schools have imposed a certain type of intelligence on students for centuries. It’s hysterical to think that Alexander the Great was most probably evaluated in the same way you and I were, through exams and quizzes that still haunt our sweaty nightmares. Yes, Aristotle was indeed one of the greatest teachers of all time, but would it be excruciatingly bad to deviate from the standards he proposed almost 2,500 years ago?

At this point, a tiny bit of theory needs to be introduced, so I apologise in advance for the traumatic flashbacks that may arise, reasonable remnants from your unsettling school years. In modern times, it’s necessary for everyone working in education, but also the general public, because real-world knowledge shouldn’t hurt to acquire despite what we’ve been taught, to be acquainted with the multiple intelligences model, as proposed by Harvard scholar Howard Gardner. His theory states the existence of not one, clear-cut, IQ-test type of intelligence, but nine. Nonetheless, while researching in schools, he concluded that modern-day education only acknowledges two intelligences, linguistic and logical-mathematical.

Let’s experiment with this ourselves. I want you to think about someone you considered intelligent when you were young, preferably in school. Who were the gifted kids, the ones described as “a pleasure to have in class” (top ten most hurtful phrases), the book-smart students? Did you think of someone good at drawing? Or perhaps an excellent dancer? I will assume the liberty to suppose not, and that’s because only the conventional types of intelligence as stated above were “worth praising”.

If you asked me who was the smartest student in a 6th-grade class I recently taught, I wouldn’t dare say the ones who participated the most, or the ones that showed extensive knowledge of English. It might be an aspect of my job, but not of my character. The most intelligent kid in that class was a student sitting on his own, in the very back of the class, as punishment for his “bad” behaviour. As the other teachers informed me, he constantly gave them trouble, never participated in the classroom, and always talked to other students, disrupting the lesson. One day, the school psychologist even came to see him, picking him up in front of the whole class while I was teaching. I guess she didn’t disrupt my lesson.

What I valued in him from the very beginning were his interpersonal skills, as well as his empathy towards other people. He never gave me trouble, as I think he was sensing the respect I had cultivated for him. The peak moment, that made me realise his wit, was during the last week of classes before Christmas while making cards for the students of the first grade. His wishes, which he wrote all by himself, were truly touching. I will not reveal his exact words but his sense of other people’s feelings and the advice he gave, having lived his own school experience, will stay with me forever, almost literally since this card might have magically found its shelter in a little corner in my apartment. A Christmas miracle, some might say!

Then, how does education promote equality when the majority of its systems cater for only two of nine intelligence types? I’m not here to teach you the rest, but it’s very interesting to do so in your spare time. It’s important, however, to bear in mind that everyone contains tiny little specks of each intelligence, some in greater and others in a lesser degree. Everyone is intelligent in their own way, and borrowing Dr Gardner’s own phrase (also eloquently put by Elena Pappa in a stunning talk for TEDxAUTH 2019), “It’s not how smart you are that matters; what really counts is how you are smart!”

Watch Howard Gardner discussing Multiple Intelligences

Elena Pappa, The Black Cat Incident: A Perspective- changing tale, TEDxAUTH 2019

Watch Sir Ken Robinson, a distinguished educator, in the most-watched TED talk of all time, “Do schools kill creativity?”, also the inspiration behind the title

Kiriaki Arnaouti (she/they)

Born a Drama queen, both literally and figuratively. Her mind is constantly switching back and forth between Greek, English and Spanish but her heart is set on two things only; iced coffee and books. Her Sagittarius nature convinces her that she’s the funniest person alive, but that’s for you to discover!

Panagiota Katsaveli (she/her)

Born and raised in Kilkis, but her imagination has convinced her that she has lived in many countries around the world. Spends most of her free time watching TV shows, while adopting the personality and behavior of her favorite characters. The combination of perfectionism and laziness that characterize her will eventually be her destruction. Chocolate, wine, coffee and pizza is what she is made of.

Savvas Katsidonis (he/him)

Born and raised in the sunny island of Rhodes, he found himself striving to adapt to the new rules and vibes of a megacity, which he now loves. A book-enthusiast and travel maniac daydreaming about the past, the future, the history in general. Volunteering, learning new languages and taking photos of everyone but himself are just some instances of his life, when he does not sleep or watch series.

Leave a comment

Get in touch

This independent TEDx event is operated under license from TED.