The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong

‘Intelligence is not an innate aptitude…’

It is difficult to shift paradigms and I have just started a book that may assist us to change perceptions about the potential of all our students – and ourselves.

Steven Johnson, one of my favourite authors and thinkers, recommended via twitter last week, The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk. I have now read half this excellent tome, days after release in the US, as, I am pleased to say, it is available for your Kindle.

You can follow David Shenk on twitter too.

David Shenk

Too many people still believe that some are born with innate ability and that ‘giftedness’ is more predetermined than earnt through hard work and dedication. Shenk dispels this in his highly readable work, opening with a story about a baseballer, Ted Williams, whose purportedly “laser-like eyesight” made him virtually “superhuman”, at least as portrayed by the media of the day. Shenk goes on to relate that Williams trained obsessively from an early age and his determination to be a ‘hitter’ was what was extraordinary, rather than any innate giftedness. Williams himself said all the media hype was “a lot of bull” and that his achievements were the “sum” of what he had put into his game over many years.

This made me think of our equivalent, Don Bradman. Most Australians know that ‘The Don’, with his near perfect batting average of 99.94, spent countless hours throwing a golf ball against a corrugated rainwater tank, using a cricket stump to practise hitting, rather than a bat to hone his ‘eye’. I still remember my second class teacher telling me that Bradman saw the ball faster than anyone else and he was ‘a natural’.

Much of this reminds me of the 10 000 hours theory I read about in the recent book by Sir Ken Robinson, The Element. Williams and Bradman may have been born with some unique advantages but both spent far longer practising than most, I’m sure. Shenk argues that few are biologically restricted from success, at the highest levels, in any or all endeavours.

It is not that our genes are unimportant but more that, as interactionists would explain, “your life is interacting with your genes”. Shenk relays how we need to replace the idea of nature/nurture with that of “dynamic development”. What educators need to take to heart is that “genes influence everything but determine very little”.

The ideas Shenk explores have been more exciting, intellectually, than any of those lessons in Science about Gregor Mendel’s peas. Please try and get your hands on a copy. I’d love every teacher, student and more importantly parent to read Shenk’s book. I will post a Part II, with any concerns or criticisms of Shenk’s work when I have a chance to complete the book, probably in a few days time.

As an aside: I do wonder what proponents of ‘streaming’ in schools would make of this book. Would it change their minds?

Part II is here.

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