From a contemporary perspective, intelligence proves multifaceted and complex. I remember once in a post high school, pre junior college vocational “cashiering” class, a fellow student (and rival) once said: “some people are smart in some ways, others smart in other ways.” I just laughed. I laughed, smugly. I laughed her words right off my shoulder because I was finally kicking her butt at something, and I knew I was smarter, and I just wanted others to know it too. We both flunked, and we both didn’t get our “cashiering” certificate. I cared; she didn’t. This was my first harsh lesson in multiple intelligences dealt to me by someone, I felt, who was intellectually and socially inferior. My how it is with time that people and their attitudes change.
For me a very personal part of Vico’s treatise “On the Study of Methods of Our Time” speaks to this valuable lesson for not only learners, but teachers. Intelligence is not something completely proven with accurate numbers and a “cashiering certificate.” Instead education should include the “human character, of its dispositions, its passions, and of the manner of adjusting these factors to public life and eloquence.” Obviously, neither one of us were cut out for cashiering; we were meant for bigger and better things. Why did it take me so long to realize the complexity of intelligence? Why did I always feel so dumb around others, even though I knew I wasn’t?
According to Vico who realized this a way long time ago, my view of intelligence was outdated: I “was unable to engage in life of the community, to conduct [myself] with sufficient wisdom and prudence.” No telling whether I learned to hate myself as a learner because of an educational system that is based on numerical truth, seemingly “unambiguous” but failing “to inquire into human nature . . . which is difficult to determine.” As Vico argues the educational system based on ethics calls for students like me, to weigh our talents and knowledge with “Chance and Choice” in our learning decisions, performance, and achievement. My dad and mom always claimed that I was so smart, but lacked common sense, and I think they’re somewhat right. I find that now in academia my then absent common sense, or street smarts, has a welcoming place, a different angle and I’m not afraid to use it. I’ve grown since that uncomfortable first experience with multiple intelligences. I understand that learning and teaching is a balance between abstract truth and common sense. And at the same time life is balance between chance and choice. Vico, very early, scrutinizes that “those whose only concern is abstract truth experience great difficulty in achieving their means, and greater difficulty in attaining their ends.” Although I’ve never heard it layed down so clearly before Vico, I abide by a wariness of abstract truth. My friends will tell you I embrace it. One thing is certain, now, I’m less mean to myself as a learner and as a teacher.