Yesterday’s Horizon on BBC2 featured a monster supercomputer that performs millions of calculations per second and can crunch mountains of data for days on end without stopping for a microsecond. And so what? It’s just doing what it’s been designed, built and programmed to do, like a child coached to perform in an examination.
The progamme’s makers quickly moved on to consider other sorts of ability. “Intuition, imagination and creativity make each of us unique,” said presenter Marcus de Sautoy. “How do we develop them?”
The whole issue of creativity was at the heart of this programme. What does it consist of? We need to consider adaptability, flexibility and motivation, according to de Sautoy. If creativity is one of the keys to our humanity and our intelligences, what does this say about our school system? Is creativity at the heart of what goes on – or passing standardised tests and exams?
Do we teach adaptabilty and flexibility? Is it even possible to teach them? Or do we create the conditions in schools that enable children to develop such attitudes and skills through activity and experience, as Plowden proposed, forty years ago?
As for motivation – do we even stop to think about the role of motivation in relation to underachievement – as we work through our set curricula and expect pupils to follow our instruction, regardless of their lack of true motivation, regardless of their indifference?
Horizon showed two robots teaching one another to perform certain movements, then randomly naming those movements, creating their own language, communicating with one another with words and gestures, learning and teaching through creative interaction, and learning through meaningful, contextualised communication. We see such learning taking place in good nurseries and early years settings every day – so why do we so often change all that and think we need to start simply programming children by the age of seven? Good schools and good teachers, it needs to be said, continue to teach, and allow children to learn, through pupil interaction, collaboration, communication and peer tutoring.
True intelligence springs from curiosity and an urge to find meaning in our lives and our world. And the best way to develop all of our intelligences simultaneously is to learn through activity and experience.
The programme went on to say, “What’s truly remarkable about our brains is that everything becomes automatic with practice. Doing things instinctively – seeing, moving, etc – is what makes us human.”
This claim, to say the least, appears to us at 3Di simplistic and problematic. All sentient creatures do things instinctively and automatically. We can programme the brains of animals to do things automatically through training.
Social intelligence and the ability to empathise and behave sensitively make us human. Intuition, awe and wonder, love, virtuous behavior and other things we might see as spiritual intelligence, also make us human. The fact that we have six distinct intelligences that work together harmoniously and creatively makes us human. The fact that we have an intellect and a tremendous capacity for critical and creative thinking, not just data-crunching ability, makes us human. The fact that we can choose to control destructive emotions through using our six intelligences simultaneously makes us human. The fact that we have complex feelings and emotions and not just instincts makes us human.
The challenge is to re-make our education systems and our workplaces in the 21st Century to recognise all of our intelligences, to prioritise all of them equally, and to work out ways of developing them all simultaneously, positively and creatively, using the positive motivation of pupils and adults alike who regard learning as enjoyable and worthwhile.
We can do this. The best education systems in the world are already doing it.