More on IQ
September 27, 2020
Readers who have been paying attention will have noticed my mid-week post of Sept. 17, when I came out as a sapiosexual.
That triggered a comment from my long-time friend Robert Malchman, and a response from me: you can see both here.
In another comment, another long-time friend asked the question, “What does IQ mean.” Apparently, my unconscious worked on that for a while, because I found myself with a recovered memory.
It was about 1964; I was 12, in 7th grade, when the school administered an IQ test. I was categorized as very gifted. It came as no surprise; I had been consistently weeks or months ahead of my peers in every class. The IQ figure was on my ‘jacket” or “cume file,” the manila folder with which each teacher was introduced to me until I graduated from high school. It set certain academic expectations.
[In fifth grade, after Mrs. Stephens gave us her diagnostic tests, she told me to my face, “You already know everything I am planning to teach this year. Out of respect for the other students, make a show of turning in the papers and taking the tests, but you have the run of the classroom to do whatever you want.” It was like self-administered Montessori. The least boring year of grade school.]
Thank God, my mother refused the school’s suggestion that I skip the grade. I was already the youngest person in the Beaumont class of 1966 because of my Sept. 17 birthday. Mom had been skipped two grades, and regretted the way it stunted her social adjustment. Thank you, Mom, for saving me from that.]
She sat me down for a talk. For a woman whose professional psych education consisted of Psych 1.01 and 1.02 at Portland State, a 28-year-old woman with a 12-year-old son, she had a lot of profound wisdom. She was also a teacher of “slow-track” high school English at the time.
“Pauli, this doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful or accomplished or happy. It’s just a measurement of how fast your brain works, and how strong it is when performing certain tasks. You have the tools; it is up to you what you do with them.”
She compared it to athletics. “You can measure how fast someone runs, or how strong they are by how much weight they can lift. But that doesn’t tell you if they’re going into the Olympics, because it is what they DO with the strength and speed that matters. How hard they work at it. How much they want it.”
I took her advice to heart: I literally never missed school, rarely missed a class (until senior year) and did homework every night and all weekend from 7th grade onwards. I missed a lot of family day trips on weekends, but I was admitted to MIT.
Then she gave me the most important advice I ever received on the subject of IQ. “Don’t tell your friends, even if they ask. When some adult pats you on the head [back when adults could do that without being arrested] and says ‘Aren’t you smart,’ say, ‘Yes, thank you.’ And whatever you do, never brag, never act superior, and never sneer at or belittle people whose brains aren’t as fast and strong as yours.” I specifically remember she didn’t say “as smart as you,” because she said there were different kinds of smart.
She picked the still-fresh example of a couple of New York Yankees baseball players, “Do you think Roger Maris or Mickey Mantle laugh at ballplayers who don’t perform as well as they do? No, I am sure they don’t.”
I boiled this advice down to “suffer fools gladly,” which turned out to be an excellent life lesson, given the average prevalence of fools at school and work and every other institution of society.
During my 11 years as a teacher, I made it a point, time and again, to call aside gifted students who mocked their less-gifted classmates. “Yes, you’re smart. You’re always going to be the smartest person in the room. If you want to get along in this life, keep it to yourself. Suffer fools gladly. It doesn’t cost you anything, and it neither makes them feel bad about themselves nor you.”
I taught one gifted, home-schooled student (his parents put him in public school starting in 8th grade to socialize him) who laughed out loud at others’ wrong answers to trivial questions. I had the talk with him. He seemed to listen, because he was smart enough to hear it. He was an otherwise quite pleasant young man. More than any other student, I hope he heard what I had to say and took it to heart, because I know if he did, it made his life better.