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Controversies about Intelligence, IQ, and Children’s Education — Guest post by Dona Matthews, PhD, and Joanne Foster, EdD

Beyond Intelligence

Intelligence is a much more interesting, variable, and dynamic process than a lot of people realize. The more that’s being learned about the brain, the more cognitive scientists and neuropsychologists are emphasizing the active and evolving nature of intelligence, and the diversity of developmental pathways that can lead to higher levels of competence and achievement. Intelligence changes over time, and parents can help foster its development by ensuring that their children have plenty of opportunities to learn. Ability is spread much more diversely across the population than the demographic distribution of IQ scores would suggest, and is much more amenable to environmental influences like family life and day-to-day experiences.

IQ scores have little to do with working intelligence. They don’t begin to measure how effectively children adapt to different environments, how well they learn from experience, whether they’re likely to invest the hard work over time that’s necessary for success, or how they deal with obstacles. An intelligence test score can reflect how well a person understands complex ideas and is able to perform certain kinds of reasoning tasks on a given test on a given day, but it’s not a great measure of that person’s functional intelligence. Nor does it have much to do with whether or not someone needs advanced academic programming.

Although we have dedicated much of our professional lives to ensuring that kids with advanced academic abilities get the learning opportunities that match their abilities—aka, gifted education—we have to admit that sometimes identification and programming options are delivered on the basis of innate, elitist, and stable notions of intelligence. However, educational practice is changing for the better as more and more teachers and school administrators recognize the nature of intelligence, including how it develops, and various implications for those who have high-level abilities or other special education needs. Parents and educators are finding creative approaches and exciting strategies to ensure that all children’s learning needs are met—at home, in classrooms, and within the community.

For parents, the exciting news is that their children’s intelligence is more interesting and dynamic than IQ begins to measure, and that meaningful educational experiences can be found in all kinds of easily accessible and sometimes surprising places, without the complications of a ‘gifted’ or other label, or for that matter, costly financial burdens.

In Beyond Intelligence: Secrets of Raising Happily Productive Kids, we discuss exactly what that means in practice. We write about the nature of intelligence and creativity; review current evidence on how ability develops across the life span; describe the roles of mindsets, motivation, resilience, and effort; and discuss the ways schools and the social environment can be chosen and adapted to help children discover and follow their passions. Our emphasis is on practical recommendations for parents, from their baby’s birth, through to their young adult’s need for guidance and (respectfully detached!) support. It is empowering to realize that intelligence changes over time, and can be developed with nurturing, respect, and access to rich, variable, and challenging learning experiences.


Dona Matthews has taught at several Canadian universities and was associate professor at Hunter College, City University of New York, where she was the founding director of the Center for Gifted Studies and Education. Her previous books include The Development of Giftedness and Talent across the Life Span.

Joanne Foster teaches educational psychology courses at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. Dr. Foster contributes to the journal Parenting for High Potential. She’s also the author of Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination.

Visit the authors’ website at

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