IQ – EQ = Bullingdon Club

It is not clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value.”

Professor Stephen Hawking

“He’s very smart. He has an IQ.

Leo Rosten

He’s like a lighthouse in the middle of a bog – brilliant but useless.”

John Kelly attrib

The comments by Boris Johnson in 2013 about the fact that a person’s IQ is a major determinant in life and that some people were not bright enough to succeed, caused considerable reaction, even amongst his own party, many of whom, in typical fashion, were quick to dissociate themselves from the Mayor’s remarks. Mr Johnson continued in the same vein, describing greed as a ‘valuable spur to economic activity’ and arguing that ‘some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy.”

He might be right, if we are describing success as he seems to be describing it, which is having a certain innate intelligence to exploit the job market to maximum effect, often in jobs that are non-productive but derive a good living from the labours of others – no doubt those with lesser IQs. Perhaps, just perhaps the system is at fault and the jobs that we reward best are not the most important at all, but simply those that have been created to provide a living for the non-productive members of society, dealing in a self-made world of little importance and maximum return.

The widespread use of the IQ test in the first half of the 20th century came about for a variety of reasons, including the need to identify mental retardation in children. One of the pioneers, French psychologist Alfred Binet, a key developer of what later became known as the Stanford–Binet tests, however, thought that intelligence was multifaceted, but came under the control of practical judgement ‘otherwise known as good sense, practical sense, initiative, or the faculty of adapting oneself.’ Intellect on its own is not a measure of potential success; sadly, it is often the opposite, as Binet was to evidence himself when his tests were used by the eugenics movement in the USA as a proof of intellectual disability, resulting in thousands of American women, most of them poor African Americans, being forcibly sterilized based on their scores on IQ tests

I was in teaching long enough to treat IQ scores with caution. I even had misgivings about some teachers knowing the IQ of their pupils and most certainly, would not want to share it with parents for fear of how the information might be misused. This isn’t some form of denial, but simply knowing the effect that certain data has on the way we judge people, creating a glass ceiling of expectation. Too often we assess children by data that ignores all the variables that make for a successful adult – even a successful academic. I have known too many people with high IQs who achieved nothing of note, who lacked any sense of responsibility or morality and whose EQ was sadly deficient. It is hard to reflect on the swaggering insouciance of the Bullingdon Club, for instance, without asking how such seemingly ‘intelligent’ people could be so socially ignorant as to think that such displays of elitism, such disdainful behaviour towards their society was ever acceptable (i) But is it that surprising when most of its members have been separated by virtue of their IQs for almost all their school lives from the majority of the population? Indeed, there is evidence that very many ‘intelligent’ people, confident in their academic standing, are deficient in other areas of life, especially social and emotional, struggling in relationships and in making moral judgements and yet who end up in positions of power by virtue of a misplaced confidence in an ability that might well have no practical currency whatsoever.
On the other hand, I have also known a similar number whose IQ was in the average band, or even below, but who more than compensated for a lack of IQ points by displaying Binet’s ‘practical judgement’ who overcame whatever number was attached to them. They didn’t grow up in a vacuum and their empathy for others was not merely cerebral, but actual.
While not quite agreeing with the writer who stated that “I have come to the conclusion that a good reliable set of bowels is worth more to a man than any quantity of brains” it is hard not to despair about a system of measurement that is used as a determinant for selection by our schools. In judging a pupil, we should always be more interested in an attitude of ‘I can’ rather than IQ and those for whom a respectable work ethic, a healthy dose of empathy, an ability to learn from others (and from other intelligences), a sense of purpose and a modicum of curiosity and enthusiasm allows them to achieve all manner of things even if that does not include the ability to float aimlessly in the fish-tank of academia or off Canary wharf.

(i) Boris Johnson did have the grace to describe his time in the Bullingdon Club as ‘a truly shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness and twittishness.’

By Peter Tait

A retired teacher and head for 17 years, now focusing on writing, both on education and further fiction and non-fiction (previously having published two novels and a non-fiction book on Thomas Hardy's wives and other women, a biography, poetry and numerous articles on education).

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