“Three Reasons Why Schools Neglect Spatial Intelligence” by Jonathan Wai first appeared on Psychology Today.
In Why Don’t We Value Spatial Intelligence? I stressed that as a society we have neglected spatially talented students who are not as good with words and numbers but who are quite talented at manipulating figures and shapes in their minds. In this article, I offer a few reasons as to why schools tend to neglect spatial intelligence.
1. Standardized Tests Do Not Include Spatial Measures
Standardized tests that kids take throughout school and even the SAT, ACT, and GRE do not typically include spatial measures. Alex Knapp of Forbes—in his article Why Schools Don’t Value Spatial Reasoning—writes: “I suspect that testing spatial reasoning, especially in a standardized way, is more difficult than standardizing the testing of math and verbal skills.” It turns out that we have reliable and valid spatial measures; we just do not utilize them. However, there are certainly not as many spatial measures out there today because testing for spatial ability is currently unimportant in schools hence there is little motivation for most test developers to include a spatial measure. Simply put, if we are not testing for it, we are neglecting it.
2. Most Teachers Are Not High Spatial
Knapp also writes: “I don’t have a lot of hard data, but I can make some educated guesses… that the people most drawn to education in the first place are precisely the people most comfortable with verbal and math reasoning—introducing bias in favor of those skills.”
Here is the hard data that confirms Knapp’s hunch taken from one of my research papers. Although there are certainly teachers who have high spatial ability, according to the chart above, people with education degrees (far left) have the lowest spatial and math ability of all the groups (verbal is on par with engineers). Teachers, just like anyone else, will tend to relate to students who have similar strengths as their own. Knapp is correct in that teachers tend to have similar levels of math and verbal ability and relatively lower levels of spatial ability. Therefore, it would make sense if teachers don’t recognize spatial talents as being as important as math and verbal talents simply because they have never really found them important in their career or their personal lives.
3. Spatially Talented People Are Not Very Vocal
When was the last time you saw a mechanic or engineer write an opinion editorial? Or have you ever heard of one that decided to join the speaking circuit? David Lohman has written an article—Spatially Gifted, Verbally Inconvenienced—which basically shows that people who tend to have higher spatial ability also tend to be less verbally fluent. What this means is that people who are high spatial but lower math and verbal would probably be the least likely to express their dissatisfaction with the school system in writing or speaking. Instead, you’re more likely to find them quietly tinkering away in their garage, busy inventing some new gizmo that will change our lives.
So in a nutshell, I think these are three key reasons why schools neglect spatial intelligence. What do you think?
For more on this topic see The Spatial Thinkers That Get Left Outside Higher Education’s Gates.