That the educational institution is presently in serious disarray cannot be doubted. In particular, there seem to be few workable answers regarding the problem posed by a generation of more or less feeble and deficient students. I believe that many of them, perhaps a majority, are truly lost and cannot be salvaged by any means we may have at our disposal, even the most sophisticated. They are the terminal victims of a vast and pervasive cultural betrayal suffered at the hands of the school and the home. As much as this may offend our cherished egalitarian sentiments and samaritan proclivities, their condition is frankly irreversible. The “window of opportunity” for these unfortunates closed a long while back and we are the ones who closed it. Trying to help these students recover what they have lost or rather have never even been introduced to at the proper times in the cumulative course of their intellectual growth—curriculum, after all, means “race course”—is a self-defeating proposition.
They suffer from structurally the same predicament as Third World nations striving to accomplish in a few decades a social and industrial modernization that in Europe took centuries, with all the attendant ills, tumults, failures, and absurdities that come as an effect of such belated recuperations. For a frightening proportion of this generation of novices and probationers, the race is over before they have approached the starting gate. But at the same time I believe that a substantial minority may conceivably be “redeemed” if we are willing to acknowledge what I somewhat casually term the IP (or Intelligence Potential) factor—that quick of natural smarts crying out to be shaped and cultivated.
The IP is a far more important category of mental performance and behavioral response than the relatively static IQ. The latter tends to discourage our efforts toward the intellectual retrieval of our students by virtue of its very perdurance or perceived fixity. We are tempted to assume that, whatever our investment of time, energy, and hope, IQ won’t change significantly. Or we tend to believe that IQ is really a political category, a measure of class privilege or a function of racial conspiracy, and thus ignore or derogate it altogether. But the IP index is crucial to the activity and engagement of teachers since it strongly implies the real possibility of a certain “upward mobility” in the cognitive potentials of students. The fact that IP is not amenable to statistical distributions and that it resists numerical techniques of correlation argues powerfully for its viability as a category of scholastic application. It is a qualitative, not a quantitative factor, and it derives its authenticity from actual experience, not from tests and questionnaires (always value-laden), graph-like tabulations, bell curves and standard deviations, and all the other components of a clumsy and repressive administrative apparatus.
Every teacher is acquainted with students whose academic performance is poor or mediocre but who give evidence of a kind of residual “native intelligence” that remains embryonic and untapped. These are the students for whom the window can still be opened. The potential is there, slippery, truant, and unquantifiable, yet somehow palpable and unmistakable. Though it may not show up on tests and charts, it is clearly recognizable through a host of flexible or idiographic indicators which one would be hard put to specify and itemize but which would include such qualities as humour, vulnerable defiance, unexpected willingness to struggle with new material, sudden astute remarks, a demonstrable capacity for being reached, a sort of active passivity, even something as objectively intangible as what I sometimes call “eyelight”—what in the spiritual optics of earlier times was known as lumen ocularum—or as subjectively convincing as the restorative sense of surprise and delight one feels when a timid or unlikely student first speaks, like listening to a tenor who is not Pavarotti. Sometimes it is just a general radiation of affect or a kind of unexpected tentacle-attentiveness one divines or construes in the otherwise unprepossessing figure before one slouching toward the hour of release.
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