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Grading Einstein

Maxwell Ericson, an 8th grader at a demanding Manhattan middle school, effortlessly argues in a fashion fit for a president, has ample knowledge of the Roman art of war, and believes that Dante’s “Inferno” would be the best horror movie yet. Almost every aspect of Maxwell’s demeanor screams, “I am a smart and interesting person.” And yet his report card is screaming in mediocrity.

Maxwell’s case is not uncommon. Many of those whose intelligence is not reflected perfectly in the way schools grade students go unrecognized, at least in school. Historians say that Einstein was a moderate student, with the average mark on his report cards corresponding to the grade “good,” not excellent. This makes an appealing story for all misunderstood geniuses, but not every Einstein gets acknowledged eventually.

We automatically assume that gifted students will eventually find their way, on their own — they’re smart, right? But unrefined intelligence is like a muscle. If it’s not used often, it will have trouble emerging to its full power. So when schools don’t sufficiently encourage personal curiosity, students lose out in the long run, because they will be less able to start using their potential later.

But what exactly is completely unrefined intelligence? It can be hard to identify. Any exam would probably defeat its own purpose in identifying a student’s raw potential. And IQ tests, though possibly effective in determining one form of genius, cannot reveal creative genius.

Instead, unrefined intelligence has to emerge through opportunity. Some schools have taken an initiative to reveal it in their students already. By offering a variety of extracurricular programs, schools give students a chance to develop their potential. By including dance, art, music, and writing workshops, students’ brains are stimulated.

My current school, NYCiSchool, does something similar to that. It allows students to intern once a week in a field that interests them for four hours a day once a week, rather than having a regular class. This lets us have experience in fields that we are considering having a future in. For example, a friend of mine is interested in becoming an artist, and consequently she spends every Wednesday helping another qualified artist. Another one of my peers hopes to fence in the Olympics, and thus she takes fencing courses once a week as well. Schools need to draw out intelligence from students by giving them opportunities like these.

Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” Simply because not all forms of intelligences can be measured, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t count.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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