Did Columbus discover America?.

In my last post, I reported on the answers to the IQ test question,”Who discovered America?”. The variety of responses I recorded attests to the variability in psychological test responses, even within one, apparently objective , “right-wrong” subtest.

Interestingly, I’ve learned most about  individuals from their errors, miscues and misunderstandings. A correct answer tells you very little. But  “mistakes” can be very informative.

Consider the person who says that the Indians discovered America, even as he notes that “They say Columbus.” This response  earns no points because it does not conform to the small set of “acceptable” answers in the examiner’s intelligence test manual. This response, presumably delivered in good faith, can typify the critical thinking of a very bright person. Often enough, bright, independent-minded individuals know what the “accepted” answer (i.e. Columbus) is but be unwilling to produce it. Indeed, the idea of simply acceding to  “proprieties” in authority-subordinate (as in psychologist-examinee) relationships are unacceptable to them. They cling to their  integrity. When they believe that what is conventional “truth” is not absolute truth or that it fails to reflect the real world, they cannot suffer the “shame” of betraying themselves.

This  sort of independent thinking is often seen in gifted individuals who find conventional academics irrational,  restrictive and dismally dull. Of course, such a response can emanate from  oppositional persons, those bent on demonstrating that they do not “buy” everything an authority says or refuse to submit to the dictates of propriety. Not surprisingly, gifted children can be quite “oppositional” precisely because that is the only way they can express their own ideas and opinions and because, in fact, they know so much. Too often, their “tangential” or “inappropriate” or “nit-picking” answers have been ridiculed, rejected or trivialized by a teacher or parent.   So in defending their own self-respect, they begin, more often, to take issue with seemingly unimportant details.

But isn’t it precisely  originality, innovation, insight and creativity that a legitimate education aims to inspire and nurture? Instead, when a child insists that Columbus did not discover America, we penalize him or her. Grades are lowered, a classmates’ and teachers’ snide and rejecting remarks are hurled. And conformity, uncritical thought, is secured; thinking is denigrated.  What a loss!


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