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Volume 16, Number 3
May/June 2000

Schools Need to Pay More Attention to "Intelligence in the Wild"


Traditional schools usually emphasize the kind of intelligence students need to solve clearly defined problems. By stressing this kind of "laboratory intelligence," schools typically ask students to engage in focused, systematic tasks that have unambiguous goals and a clear choice of answers: learn this list of words and how to spell them, learn who the presidents were. The tasks may be challenging, but they are challenging in a predictable way. The attention paid to standards and assessments often works to increase the emphasis on this laboratory intelligence.

What's missing is an appreciation for what I like to call "intelligence in the wild." The phrase may conjure up images of someone trekking through the jungle, but it actually refers to intelligence as it is used to get along in the world, to handle gritty situations in smart ways. For example, "the wild" might be a classroom or the street or even a used-car lot. It might involve running a corporation or managing a scout troop. Intelligence in the wild includes the ability to recognize problems hidden in messy situations and the motivation and good sense to choose which problems (because there are always too many!) are worth the time and energy it will take to solve them.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


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