We can trick ourselves into thinking that measuring a person’s intelligence is like measuring a five-year-old’s weight. What measurement you get applies only for today. How will that child measure up tomorrow? In large part, that is up to the child, and to all of us.

David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us, 2011:43

Throughout my formal education I was considered dyslexic.

It wasn’t until I went to university and was actually assessed for having dyslexia that I discovered I was not in fact dyslexic.

The fact that I spent years of my life classed as dyslexic should clearly illustrate just how poorly my intelligence was assessed in the early stages of my education.

It’s an example of pigeonholing someone into a specific and narrow intelligence type, based purely on stereotypical observations and lazy thinking.

My perceived dyslexia affected my educational opportunities in so far that I would occasionally be placed into a special class focused on dyslexic and slow learners and then would not be encouraged to develop further in my regular classes.

I can recall an instance of my year 6 teacher, Mr Turner (someone I do not have very fond memories of) discouraging me from attempting to read a book that he termed too advanced for my reading level.

Even though it was precisely the process of forcing myself to read a book that was too advanced for me that empowered me to be able to read and to discover my love of learning.

Overall, the attitude I experienced in my formal education was that I was a lost cause and I was to be attended to by the learning difficulties teachers.

But, in all the schools I attended, the additional learning difficulty classes I attended never seemed to last for long.

The one positive experience I had of attending a additional classes was when I was living in the Forest of Dean and, a couple of times a week, I was sent to a different school for my learning difficulties.

I enjoyed going to those classes because it always felt like I was going on an adventure and they other school had a great tuck shop.

Also, to that other school’s credit, the classes did actually help and not just with my learning, they helped to boost my self-esteem too.

The truth of the matter, as I have now come to realise, is that I did not have dyslexic learning difficulties, I had emotional learning difficulties.

Emotional learning difficulties which were triggered by the traumatic breakup of my parents which transpired shortly before I started primary school.

That was a life shattering and emotionally unsettling experience which I was never taught, either by family or my education, how to process and constructively move on from.

I had learning difficulties because I felt emotionally disengaged from everything around me and threatened by everything around me, including my education.

How did I keep myself safe with such a state of mind and emotions… I locked myself away in my imagination.

When I should have been engaging with my learning, I spent most of my primary and secondary formal education building elaborate daydreams.

In those early years my creative thinking flourished, just at the expense of everything else.

It is only in recent years that I have finally come to terms with my early life trauma and cracked the code for bringing everything into balance and building a better life for myself.

But because my formal education, with its total lack of understanding of emotional intelligence, had never really helped me deal with the trauma of my parents breakup and its resulting manifestation in my learning difficulties, I was largely written off by my peers, my family and my teachers as someone who probably would not amount to much.

The best I could hope to do in life would be to grasp the basics and just get by.

Fuck that!

My perceived dyslexia neither stopped me from being admitted into university nor did it stop me from excelling in bachelor’s degree. I achieved the highest mark ever awarded to a dissertation at my institution as part of that degree!

Furthermore, I have since built my own postgraduate education to plug all the holes in my formal education and to empower to understand the world so I can orientate myself in it for maximum success.       

No longer do I struggle to learn, but I thrive on it, as the vast breadth of my MTA’s curriculum stands as testament towards.

I now consider myself to be a big picture thinker and a proactive problem solver.

I built my own postgraduate education in Sustainable Globalisation and Creative Enterprise so I canbecome a knowledgeable flexible thinker and proactive problem solver who can always create beneficial opportunities out of the personal, professional and planetary challenges we will all face in the fast-evolving 21st-century.

My MTA Mission Statement

The irony is that, after all these years of learning and development, people perceive me as being very intelligent and assume that I was always that way.

I get the impression that some make the mistake of thinking that I was born with an especially thorough aptitude at acquiring, retaining and acting on knowledge.

Absolutely not.

I do not believe anyone is born like that, I certainly think it has more to do with the life experiences of a person goes through…

Do you come out of the womb waving your arms in a certain way or what? I think you become a tennis player. I think the same is true for chess it always gets tricky with teachers when you start they, they would agree with that, if I say oh, he is a born camel racer. People go are born used car salesmen. We all go, what? But if I say he’s a born artist, or a born musician, we suddenly think no yeah, there may be something in this. So I would want to question how much is hard wired at birth. I don’t think very much is in terms of specific skills like that. I think it’s to do with opportunities we get and that kind of resilient dedication to practice.

Professor Gorden Stobart, What future for education?

It is down to practice, the deliberate and repetitive action of constantly pushing yourself to grapple with new bodies of knowledge to eventually understand and to act on those bodies of knowledge.

I never felt inspired to work hard during my primary and secondary education, it was only when I started to invest in myself by discovering my love of reading and studying on my own terms that my intellectual capabilities gradually developed to their current aptitude. 

To this end, I very much consider myself to be not just a learner, but a life-long learner. The idea that someone just stops learning is absurd to me.

Human beings have remarkable brains, but what’s the point in having them if we do not keep stretching or developing them?

I believe that the more people we have who stretch and develop their intellects, the more proactive problem solvers we will in have in the world and the greater society will benefit as a result.

Everyone is different, everyone is informed by different life experiences and everyone learns differently as a result.

I do subscribe to the idea that there are different intelligence types…

The idea that there’s a, just a common general intelligence where others come along and say no, there aren’t there are seven forms of intelligence. And then Howard Gardner comes and says there’s eight and a half forms of multiple intelligence. And then, I think the top score it was Gilford who found 120 different forms of intelligence.

Professor Stobart, What future for education?

I believe that the intelligences a person favours and develops the most varies from person to person and the education system ultimately lets students down by adopting a one-size-fits-all and one-intelligence-for-all teaching approach.

I believe that a person’s overall intelligence is best assessed when it is broken up into different intelligence and aptitude types.

While the exact number of different intelligences vary from theorist to theorist, I think the education system would be better serving its students by thoroughly taking into consideration the different intelligence types and then tailoring each student’s education to fit their intelligence types

But there are two essential cognitive abilities that the formal education system can not afford to under-develop.

Whatever intelligence you want to term them under, I am talking about creative thinking and emotional intelligence.

A person’s ability to imagine alternative and future possibilities and their ability to empathise with themselves and the people around them are cognitive aptitudes that are essential ingredients the development of a proactive problem solver.

Now more than ever we need proactive problem solvers in the world. You only have to look at the very long list of problems facing the human face in the 21st-century and I’m not just talking about the climate crisis!

If a student can not imagine themselves in a role or specific standard of living how can they ever direct their personal vision and education to enable them to attain that specific role or standard of living? 

An active and proactive imagination is essential for personal growth and it is especially useful for translating complex bodies of knowledge into something which you can intelligently understand from your point of view and frame of reference. 

It was the cultivation of my imagination and learning to empathise with myself that got me out of the dyslexic pigeonhole and saved my education.

The irony is that it came at the expense of having to endure a very poor education. Even bad life experiences, when properly put into perspective, can be valuable learning experiences; as I have also come to learn with the traumatic breakup of my parents.

But this is why I do not consider the formal education of my primary and secondary periods to be a complete waste of time, because I spent so much of that time daydreaming and further developing my imagination.

An imagination that allowed me to picture my way out of the pigeonhole and become a flock of different intelligences all flying towards a common goal – creating a best possible positive change in my life and in the world around me.


This post was created from a reflection essay I wrote in 2016 for my participation in the What future for education online course I studied as part of my Education Innovation concentration.