Now, I am not one for putting people into boxes – least of all because of how much knowledge they hold in their head or the material value of their academic status (if that is not confounding two measures). However, when it comes to measures of intelligence, particularly amongst students still in the precarious stage of pre-18 schooling, I admit to harbour a passion for seeing the education sector providing correct and fair schooling for all. This has improved in the few years, certainly, but I am not the first to say that there is still a far way to go to see that those who, one way or another, struggle with what has come to be seen as ‘traditional’ schooling, get the learning they deserve to advance in their chosen career.
In today’s consideration, I want to draw attention to a phrase I have been seeing on school-review sites and on some school websites, too: the profession that enrolling your child at this school will not only help them achieve academic excellence but they will also come away as a well-rounded child.
Let us first consider what that might mean or imply. Some people are polymaths—that is, those able to acquire multiple skills*—though, we can ask whether polymaths also include those who work hard enough to acquire their new talents and skills, even if they are not naturally gifted (as a searchlight intelligence/polymathmatics implies). Certainly, all- or well-rounded to me implies that a student will have a searchlight intelligence and show effort if not achievement in more than one field of education. If not, they will show extreme acuteness in their subject or field of choice (for instance, achieving consistently high test scores in Maths, Further Maths, and Physics) and will show an eager participation in an additional field, whether that be study or recreational interest. Recent studies* have in fact found correlational results that music may have a positive effect on increasing stimulation of memory as well as attention on executive functioning – that is, learning pathways. Thus, one could ask that an all-rounded child would be one with a strong musical background or supplement to their work. (Of course, we do not rule out similar correlations between sport and increased brain function.)
Alas, with high factual and academic intellect often comes a toll: low social/emotional intellect. Not for want of trying, of course; children with high intellect are often aware of the necessity for social interaction (though, we must not discount those who choose to neglect their social side for studying), but for them, engaging in social interaction is fraught with peril, and often social cues go missed. Perhaps, indeed, because they are aware that the stakes are higher. Perhaps, because a person has more facets than a fact does. People change their minds; numbers rarely do. Sometimes, a lower emotional intellect may stem from lack of exposure to the template of social interact – just as if you were living with a completely different culture. For the first few weeks, you feel as if you are walking around in a clumsy suit too big and with ‘OUTCAST’ stamped on your forehead. Eventually, you get used to the culture, but this only occurs after repeated exposure and, for want of a better idea, note-taking.
In the case of the naturally bright children, they can be faced with shying away from peers, due to not being entertained by the same materials. A lack of mutual understanding and a mutual template only increasing possible feelings of isolation and lower emotional intellect. Particularly for younger children, frustration is sooner felt within situations where they are not intellectually satisfied by conversation, stimuli, or once-planned events.
And whilst schools are working on (or at least have started working on) changing the teaching structure so that more versatile learning styles are incorporated*, many still advertise at raising a good ‘all-rounded’ child. When one looks at what that might include, one hits on possible flaws in the definition. That is: many schools define an all-round achieving child by their grades and their contribution to academic life. A good all-rounder might be considered as: a sixteen-year-old tipped for the Russell Group with five AS Levels* in subjects classed as arts, sciences, humanities, languages, whilst also being an active member of the school band, drama society, humanitarian charity society or similar, and a sports team. Yes, these people do exist.
And it’s not just that pressure that gets to a student of that calibre. Notice what’s missing? The social aspect. Under the pomp and circumstance of that fictional list, in which appears to be many opportunities for social interaction, many overachievers fall through the cracks, socially. They might be the cellist who hides behind their instrument, or the lead actor whose stage-hatred of other characters comes from genuine classroom bullying. Or the volunteer who always listens to the people she helps, whilst knowing that nobody will listen to her.
In the same vein, more medical professionals are recognising the depression in those who do not present with typical symptoms, such as apathy, lack of energy, goth-like gloom*. It is worth researching high-functioning depressives, as the condition is not something I have studied or researched. In short, many sufferers go undiagnosed because their grades and academic work and extra-curricula activities are all strong and unaffected by their mood. Why/How? Because they use throwing themselves into such activities as a way to distract themselves from the pain and intrapersonal hatred depression can bring.
Such people may indeed be classed and considered by the education profession as successful, but often they are lonely, of lower interpersonal emotional intellect than average, and confused at the way people act, because it makes no sense in their world-shape and with the knowledge they have so preciously gleaned. As I said, knowledge does not change, and lacks situational specificity. Even the fields of psychology are about two or three years behind ‘real’ life. Of no fault of their own, but because research by necessity moves so slowly from hypothesis to conclusion.
Why is this important, to not let academically-strong children be considered well rounded (without also considering their emotional intellect)? For the same reason that many are petitioning for schools to include more practical lessons, such as how to change a tire or how to pay one’s taxes. The school may be turning out good ‘all-rounded’ scientists and writers and artistes, but when faced with post-university and the job field, many of these over-achievers are struggling to acquire or sustain jobs because they are struggling to know how to interact with others to the satisfaction of their employers. This is particularly precarious when many modern employers expect their new employees to arrive with a full knowledge of training and work procedures.
And is this a fault of the job sector? No, I say. This is a fault of the schools – and of defining what an ‘all-rounded’ child is expected to be against who they actually are.
*See also searchlight intelligence
*Such as Degé, Kubicek, & Schwarzer (2011) and Moreno, Bialystok, Barac et al (2011)
*The above image includes a very simplified version of the variety of learning styles. For further reading, I advise also looking into multiple intelligence theories, like Gardner’s 1983 theory.
*Now, it has been a few years since I have been at school, so I am not sure if AS Levels still exist. For comparison, the average UK student (of my generation) will take four subjects in Year 12/Lower Sixth as half of their ALevel (aged 18) qualification and then drop one subject and continue with three. Some students choose to start with three and drop none, as reputable universities require three ALevels for entry.
*#Gothproblems jokes aside, it is also crucial to mention here that depression often presents not as a constant cloud over someone’s head, but as something that can be triggered around a period of, say, lightness. It is an episodic illness.