science | July 28, 2013

Get Smart About Potential: Scott Barry Kaufman On Redefining Intelligence

Lavin's new science speaker, Scott Barry Kaufman, is calling for a paradigm shift in how we view intelligence. Often, we rely on standardized academic testing and IQ tests to determine a child's "giftedness." The results of these tests can remain attached to kids throughout their academic careers and are difficult to overturn. "Testing is typically a one-shot deal," Kaufman writes in The Los Angeles Times. "You're either gifted or you're not, for the rest of your life." And if you score on the "non-gifted" end of the spectrum, like Kaufman did, it can be difficult to overcome that label and achieve your full potential.

In Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, Kaufman points to research suggesting we may be looking at intelligence all wrong. Currently a cognitive psychologist at New York University, Kaufman was once told that he might not be able to finish high school. An auditory disorder he had a child made it difficult for him to process words in real time. As a result, he was diagnosed with a learning disability, repeated the third grade, was put in Special Education classes, and routinely did poorly on IQ testing. He was told that higher level academic pursuits were probably beyond his capability. Kaufman was fortunate to have teachers who believed in his potential and we was able to complete his PhD from Yale and a master’s degree from Cambridge. Not all children are so lucky.

"We’re sending this message in school that you’re either born with this potential to achieve or you’re not born with this potential," he says. "[What happens is] people who are told they’re not born with this potential stop trying." But what if our potential for success isn't innate? As Kaufman believes, talent is honed over time through a combination of abilities and engagement. "Potential isn’t something that’s fixed at birth," he says in The Globe and Mail. "Potential is a moving target." While he believes IQ testing has its place to help educators guide their students, it shouldn't be the only marker of ability. Instead of being so obsessed with grouping students and comparing them with each other, Kaufman asks "why can’t we understand that people do have different proclivities and do develop at different rates?" If we start to think about intelligence with a broader focus, we can help create environments that help all kids to do well in life.

In widely applicable talks, Kaufman discusses how to harness and foster talent and creativity both in the classroom and the boardroom. By limiting the definition of what intelligence is, we create roadblocks to opportunity for a big group of people. He calls on all of us to reimagine what it means to be smart, and, what it takes to succeed. To hire Scott Barry Kaufman as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.

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science | July 25, 2013