Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Future Bright by Martin E. Martinez

Higher intelligence is linked to higher achievement. The demands of our world and culture are calling for higher achievement to address increasingly complex problems. As individuals and societies, we should strive to increase intelligence, which is possible, to arm ourselves to overcome these challenges. This is the opinion advanced by education professor Martin E. Martinez in his book Future Bright.

Martinez builds his case by starting with the link between intelligence and achievement. He cites studies that indicate that in school, work, and personal life, achievement is positively correlated to intelligence.

He moves on to describe what intelligence is, drawing on historic and current theories and research. A significant portion of the book is devoted to defining and understanding intelligence. The prevailing model is hierarchical. A single general intelligence is linked to achievement in all areas. There are also different types of intelligence that are linked to success in clusters of specific skills. Intelligence is affected by both genetics and the environment, and by both individual and cultural factors. If you are looking for a primer on intelligence that covers a lot of ground relatively briefly, you can find it in these chapters.

The hope that Martinez offers is that intelligence is, in part, learned, and it can be increased. Two major types of intelligence, most strongly related to general intelligence, are fluid and crystalline intelligence. Fluid intelligence is related to successfully dealing with novel situations. The heart of fluid intelligence is problem solving.  Crystalline intelligence is structured knowledge, such as is attained from formal education. It is not merely an accumulation of facts; it is an organized mental repository of useful information. The primary skill for crystalline intelligence is critical thinking, the ability distinguish credible, worthy, and useful ideas.

Problems solving and critical thinking are skills that can be learned and improved. Similarly, we can learn new information. By these means fluid and crystalline intelligence, and with them general intelligence, can be increased.

Intelligence is not the only determinant of success, for many intelligent people are not successful. Another important factor is what Martinez call “effective character.” These are personality traits that Martinez suggests can be learned or improved in most people. The critical trait is conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is associated with setting and pursuing goals, working with diligence, and seeking excellence.

Martinez offers several strategies for increasing intelligence. One that is in keeping with the motivation behind this blog is to increase crystalline intelligence (structured knowledge) by reading books. A work as long a book must be structured well to be coherent from beginning to end. In addition, effective written communication presents ideas in a manner that lends itself to analysis by critical thinking. Nonfiction books are especially useful for cultivating crystalline intelligence.

Though the strategies are aimed at the individual, he discusses how some of them are adaptable to parenting and schools. Because Martinez in the early chapters suggests societal benefits to higher intelligence, it makes sense that his book would also include suggestions for policy and cultural adaptions.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Martinez, Martin E. Future Bright: A Transforming Vision of Human Intelligence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.