Published Online:

Letter to the Editor

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Copyright 1988 The triarchic theory views human intelligence in terms of analytic, synthetic (or creative), and practical thinking. It is one of several contemporary theories that seek to broaden our conception of what it means to be intelligent.

By the criteria of these new approaches, children and adults whom traditional theories would not regard as very intelligent--an imaginative entrepreneur, for example, or a street-smart business person or student--are judged in a more favorable light.

In contrast, Mr. Baron's theory of rationality narrows the domain of intelligence: It views intelligence strictly in terms of rational, logical thinking.

Such thinking is a part of intelligence in the triarchic theory, too. But it is not all there is to intelligence, in my view.

Although it may not be logical, thinking that is imaginative or practical is not necessarily illogical. Rather, it is alogical. And it is the stuff of most important--as well as mundane--problem solving and decisionmaking.

People do not have to resort to formulas and canned algorithms to be smart, although at times they well may. The tension between views such as Mr. Baron's, emphasizing rational processes, and my own, stressing not only rational but also more intuitive and practical thinking where formulas do not apply, underlies the disagreements between us.

Mr. Baron claims the triarchic framework is "loose" and "arbitrary." Unsurprisingly, he recommends his own theory instead.

Why, then, have other scholars almost ignored his framework? In a review of Mr. Baron's book Rationality and Intelligence, Douglas Detterman--editor of the journal Intelligence--pointed out that the logical rules of thought to which Mr. Baron is attached tell us relatively little about how people use their intelligence.

When a scientist conceives an experiment, when a teacher decides how to handle a disciplinary problem, when a business executive develops a way to sell a product, we just don't find--in the real world--the kind of formal, rule-based thinking about which Mr. Baron writes.

The triarchic theory deals with intelligence as it is actually used. The framework is not "loose": To the contrary, my book Beyond iq shows that it is tightly, hierarchically organized. I did not repeat the details of this organization in The Triarchic Mind because I intended the book to be nontechnical.

Nor is the framework "arbitrary." Indeed, the distinction between analytic and synthetic thinking is not only supported by my own research but also well-grounded in contemporary theories of the brain.

And differentiation between academic and practical thinking is so firmly established in psychological research that I am surprised anyone in 1988 would view it as arbitrary.

Mr. Baron argues that I arbitrarily assign the same name to different mental processes. But my colleagues and I have in our research demonstrated the unities of processes across several inductive- and deductive-reasoning tasks. These studies are described at some length in Beyond iq but not in The Triarchic Mind--again because they are technical.

Mr. Baron also claims that the experiments I have conducted are not closely linked to the advice I give. Beyond iq, however, presents pertinent experiments testing the various aspects of the triarchic theory.

I will readily admit to speculating at times about the implications of the research for education. If researchers never speculated, there would be no field of educational psychology at all.

No matter how the research is conducted, there is always some leap between an experiment and any implications for education its designer may draw. But if we want education to profit from psychological research, then we must be willing to make that leap.

Mr. Baron's preoccupation with rational thinking is perhaps understandable, given his own peculiar lapses of logic.

He argues, for instance, that I sometimes give bad advice. His example is my suggestion that you "consider whether the goal towards which you are striving is really the one you want to reach."

Claiming this advice "subtly supports errors in judgment," Mr. Baron suggests that my recommendation could lead to "single-mindedness--making decisions on the basis of a single goal and ignoring tradeoffs.''

Since his logic was too subtle for me, I asked half a dozen other people whether my advice supported single-mindedness. The connection was too subtle for them, too. Most, in fact, thought it did the opposite--by encouraging one to review one's goal, to consider consequences of one's decision, and to look at alternatives.

Mr. Baron says that practice of mental processes by itself does not lead to transfer. I agree. My own research on teaching vocabulary-acquisition skills leads to this very conclusion.

But this same work--along with an insight-training program Janet Davidson and I have devised--shows that theory-based practice substantially increases intellectual skills. And with respect to The Triarchic Mind, Mr. Baron is attacking a straw man. All of the exercises in the book are grounded in a theory made explicit to readers.

If Mr. Baron had data proving that theory-based practice and training do not work, I assume he would have been quick to present them.

Mr. Baron assails my conception of metacomponents--higher-order processes used to plan, monitor, and evaluate problem solving. This attack shows just how out of sync with the rest of the field he is. Similar processes have been suggested by many other researchers in intelligence.

He also finds at least some of the precepts of intelligent thinking that I present "obvious." So do I.

But I offered these principles on the basis of their importance to intelligent thinking--not on the grounds of their obviousness or subtlety.

Moreover, a major point of the book is that sometimes people do not do obvious things--either because there can be a large gap between thought and action, or because they don't think of the appropriate precepts when they need them, or because they don't know how to apply them.

Finally, Mr. Baron argues that I am too concerned with measures of outward success in the development of the triarchic theory.

But he misconstrues the theory: Measures of outward success are used as criteria against which to externally validate aspects of the triarchic theory.

Measures of outward success were never used in developing the theory. If the measures derived from a theory bear no relation to external criteria, however, then indeed they may be somehow idiosyncratic to a particular theoretical framework.

Mr. Baron argues that we should use as validation criteria people's personal criteria for success. As a believer in and user of multiple criteria, I agree.

Personal criteria are limited, however, if used by themselves. Should we label as intelligent a student who desires just barely to pass his courses and manages to fulfill this goal? How about the scientist who derives a theory that does not work but who isn't bothered by that failure?

Because no single criterion of success is the "right" one, my research uses multiple criteria. Ideally, judgments would be based on both individuals' and society's standards.

The triarchic theory of intelligence is not wholly adequate. No theory of intelligence is, at least not yet.

But the theory has generated a substantial amount of empirical research and has served as the basis for a published training program and a forthcoming abilities test.

My goal is not to eliminate testing but to strengthen it: to provide educators with better tests, more closely linked to the teaching of intellectual skills.

Mr. Baron says that other theorists--whom he does not name--have already gone beyond the triarchic framework. If so, I am pleased to hear it. Any good theory plants the seeds for the new and better theories of the future.

As all theories are eventually superseded, so shall mine be, whether now or at some time in the future. But the framework that replaces it needs to be broad rather than narrow in its conceptualization of intelligence.

Mr. Baron writes as though his viewpoint is widely shared. It's not.

Indeed, a perusal of the Social Science Citation Index reveals that my work based on the triarchic theory has been cited (with corrections for self-citation) more than five time as often as Mr. Baron's work based on his theory of intelligence--the point of view he fields in his review.

Phillip M. Danner Principal Fort Lauderdale, Fla. To the Editor:

In her recent Commentary, Susan Ohanian assailed former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's suggested reading list as "demeaning to children, their teachers, and the whole wonderful world of children's literature" ("How To Create a Generation of 'Aliterates'," Oct. 12, 1988).

And she termed Mr. Bennett himself a "cultural elitist" in whose hands such a list could be "terribly dangerous."

Ms. Ohanian's political bias has clouded her educational insight.

Writing that "culturalists are ... short on pleasure," she makes it appear that Mr. Bennett's list would eliminate pleasure reading from the curriculum. That is simply nonsense.

And she intimates that children would be forced to read books above their grade levels and thereby be turned off to the joys of reading. More nonsense.

Using two examples of children who are exceptionally poor readers and who most likely could never read a newspaper--never mind Charles Dickens--she builds an emotional argument against Mr. Bennett's "little list."

The implication of her stance is that educational policy for the majority should be based upon the minority's needs. This is reverse democracy.

She speaks of the needs of individual students as a key element in determining curricula. But her essay appears to place individual students' desires ahead of their needs.

After reading Ms. Ohanian's Commentary, one wonders if she is willing to admit that the classic books are of any value whatsoever.

The real disgrace in education today is not that children are taught that the "only good author is a dead one," but that children are not taught effectively how to read at all.

Warren Marcus St. Andrew's Episcopal School Bethesda, Md.

I am responding to Martha C. Brown's letter lambasting the "Facing History and Ourselves" curriculum and charging bias on the part of its supporters ("Weighing Charges of 'Bias' In Denial of History Course," Oct. 19, 1988).

At St. Andrew's, where I have taught the course for three years, it has enjoyed tremendous support from the parent body and the school administration and has received excellent evaluations from participating students.

Ms. Brown charges that the curriculum "teaches little history and uses the horrors of the Holocaust as an entree to issues of nuclear armament and other political and social controversies." This is an unfair description of the course.

In fact, it includes much European history before World War II, the history of antisemitism (as a case study of prejudice), and the events of the Holocaust, the liberation of the camps, and the Nuremberg Trials.

The "controversies" she mentions are used in the final chapter as examples of issues that responsible citizens may consider as they become informed, vote, and act in other constructive ways.

I would hope that such "controversies" are not to be avoided in curricula that encourage thinking about democracy, current events, and individual choice and responsibility. What lesson are we teaching if we consciously avoid controversial issues?

Ms. Brown also misrepresents the role of personal journals in the course. These journals are totally confidential, and they allow students to report and reflect on class activities.

The journals are a valuable tool, particularly for students who have difficulty articulating their views in class.

Ms. Brown asks, "What do young teenagers gain from this emotionally trying experience?"

The study of some parts of history is troubling. But students acquire through this course an understanding of the sequence of events by which a civilized country turned into a deadly fascist nation.

In doing so, they also consider the effects of individual choice, the patterns of their own thinking, the continuing existence of prejudice, and the complex impact of education, propaganda, and the media, among other topics.

Ms. Brown worries that educators, by using curricula like "Facing History," are "neglecting essentials."

But responsible citizenship education--such as that offered by this curriculum--should be one of the "essentials."

W.M. Eplen Waller, Tex.

Terry Northup attributes the current state of educational bureaucracy in Texas to the Republican governor, Bill Clements ("Republicans Said To Back State Control of Schools," Letters, Oct. 26, 1988).

But House Bill 72, a tax bill disguised as "education reform," was passed during the term of a Democrat, Gov. Mark White, by a legislature under the influence of" the billionaire H. Ross Perot. And the legislation was interpreted by a state board of education hand-picked by Mr. Perot.

By removing virtually all local control and placing power in the hands of Mr. Perot's minions on the state board, this legislation severely damaged Texas's education system.

Fortunately, on Nov. 8, 1988, the voters of Texas once again returned to an elected state board.

Jeff Bullock Phoenixville, Pa.

In 1977, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law requiring students and teachers to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. During the 1988 Presidential campaign, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis's opponents questioned his judgment and patriotism because he refused to sign the bill ("Conflicts Over Pledge: A Long, Tense History," Sept. 7, 1988).

Taken voluntarily, the pledge is a noble expression of faith in God and country.

But when people are forced to take any sacred oath, the words can ring hollow.

What upsets Governor Dukakis--and the U.S. Supreme Court--is a government that tries to ram the Pledge of Allegiance down people's throats.

What is it about the Constitution that upsets Vice President George Bush?

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories