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Rethinking Smart: Intelligence is Not a Number

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Updated: Apr 13, 2016

Rethinking Smart: Intelligence is Not a Number

If you’re a parent like I am, chances are that during at least one late-night homework assignment you heard those frustrating words: “I’m just not smart enough to do this!”


It’s not hard to see how students, not to mention parents and even teachers, get this fatalistic notion about what it means to be intelligent. So much of what we call education—from classes centered on memorization, regurgitation of facts and passing tests, to forcing kids to sit still at desks for hours—favors a certain kind of student while leaving others floundering.


For example, IQ, or “intelligence quotient,” is a single number used to express how well individuals perform on a series of questions and puzzles. If you score higher than 140, you’re allegedly an Einsteinian genius. If you score lower than 75—well.


But a 2012 study of more than 100,000 people—the largest to date—suggested that IQ alone is a poor indicator of overall intelligence. Instead, abilities like short-term memory, reasoning, and verbal agility—all governed by separate brain “circuits”—together comprise that illusive quality we call “being smart.”


Roger Highfield, co-author of the study and director of external affairs at the Science Museum of London, said the findings “disprove once and for all the idea that a single measure of intelligence, such as IQ, is enough to capture all of the differences in cognitive ability…between people.”


None of this surprises my friend Dr. Kathy Koch, author of the new book, “8 Great Smarts.” She’s been telling parents and educators for years that children aren’t just intelligent or unintelligent. It’s much more complicated than that, and as the founder and president of Celebrate Kids, Inc., she specializes in exploring and unlocking the different types of God-given learning abilities.


My wife and I have learned so much from Kathy, and I was privileged to write the foreword to “8 Great Smarts.” As the title suggests, the book unpacks eight different “smarts,” or areas of gifting that commonly show up during early education. These “smarts” are based on the research of Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard, who first proposed the theory of multiple intelligences.


Kathy has made his ideas understandable and usable, not to mention she’s brought a distinctly Christian worldview to bear on them, too. The eight “smarts” are: “body smart,” “word smart,” “number smart,” “people smart,” “self-smart,” “music smart,” “picture smart,” and “nature smart.” These are ways in which children’s brains are fundamentally wired, and they shape how our kids think and live, right down to their careers and life goals. The problem, says Kathy, is that school often encourages just two or three of these, treating language and logic skills as true intelligence and the rest as nothing more than interesting pastimes.


Children who are “word smart,” or “number smart,” for instance, probably excel in the classroom. But those who are especially “body smart,” or “picture smart,” may find themselves struggling. Worse, they may come to believe they’re just not as bright as their peers, or maybe even that they’re less valuable.


But there’s enormous potential in the other six “smarts.” Those gifted in these areas often grow up to be athletes, artists, therapists, composers, and even scientists. And that’s why so many get excited to find out how diverse intelligence really is—when the lie that some kids are just smart, and others doomed, is debunked.


It’s a moment I witnessed in my own family when my wife and I began to discover the ways our three girls are uniquely gifted and intelligent. And my wife and I learned a ton about each other, too. Trust me—we’re wired differently!


To get a copy of Kathy’s terrific book, “8 Great Smarts,” come to and click on this commentary. Then enjoy watching your children come alive as they realize it’s not a matter of whether they’re smart, but how they’re smart.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: April 13, 2016

Rethinking Smart: Intelligence is Not a Number