The Relationship of Intellect and Education

February 26, 2021

Is there a correlation between education and intelligence? If there is, why should you care? If only the answer was a simple yes or no. As with anything worth talking about, it is more complicated than a one-word answer can address.
First let’s define intelligence so that we are all on the same page. Intelligence is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”. What knowledge? What skills?
Here is where things get a little dicey on the measurement front. Some professionals subscribe to a model that measures five general skills and some argue that many more than five exist. Regardless of how many skills there are, your IQ or Intelligence Quotient is a way to measure something very important to your education, the HOW you can learn. There are different learning styles and, according to Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences. This means there are different ways of taking in information. The more ways you are exposed, the bigger your learning “toolbox” becomes.
That brings us to how intelligence and education are related. Current academic practices are modeled after business concepts rather than being designed to make learning broader and more enjoyable. Say what now? Administrative models do not focus on how good your education is, how well it prepares you for life outside the classroom or how to expand your way of thinking so that you become a well-rounded individual.
These models focus on a seller/buyer relationship. Supply and demand is an example of this. In a business world, high product demand leads to higher price points. It’s why your iPhone sells for more the day it’s released and then decreases as time goes on. The same is true of college. Public subsidizing rises in response to increased tuition so colleges can price higher in response to the demand. In the end people are leveraging the rest of their lives into student debt in order to pay the increasing cost of a college education.
Don’t walk away from this article mad at every teacher, advisor, and dean at your college. They are not the people putting into place policies that have turned college into another capitalist venture in which there is a product (your education) and a customer (you). In fact, the people you interact with in college deserve a great amount of respect for choosing to impart their knowledge to you to help change the course of your life for the better. Well, that’s all fine and good you say, but how does that tie intellect to education?
If the leaders and policy makers of the academic world focused on how students learn instead of selling you the golden ticket to life, they would create an environment that enables diversity in learning and increases the chances of success for all students. By the way, that golden ticket you’re after is nearly as hard to get as the one offered by Willy Wonka. According to, more than 30% of all college students drop out before they finish their freshman year, but that is a whole different story, and we will not cover it here.
How can we change things? As with any systemic issue there needs to be a change from the top down. Most of us are aware of how painfully slow policy change can be. What can you do until then? Change it from the bottom up. Instead of asking your professor “How do I get an A” which unwittingly says, “I’m just here for my golden ticket, why not ask how their subject can increase your critical thinking or help you in your life journey. As you sit in that mythology class thinking “this has nothing to do with the job I want,” remember that one of the ways we increase the neural pathways of our brains is by variety. The more you expose your brain to, the better it gets. Unused pathways in the brain will eventually die off (thank my psychology teacher for that little tidbit!). Perhaps that needs exploring since research in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Britain, France, Germany and several other countries are showing a decline in IQ. Maybe by deciding that your education, which inevitably increases your intellect, is more than just a transaction you can help your brain gain some pathways. If you are a “change the world” kind of person you could be one small step in upping global intelligence. For that, you would at least get my thanks.

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