Everything else you grow out of, but you never recover from childhood.
Let’s begin by sorting this out:
Ability: Simply means what someone can do. It relates to their present level of skill in a particular field. Eg: Lazarus has the ability to run fast.
Capacity: Is future-oriented. It means that little bit beyond your current ability: the things you might be able to do if you worked hard. Eg: Lazarus has the capacity to win many of his races.
Capability: For the select few. Everyone has abilities and some even strive to realize their full capacity. But only a small percentage are capable of doing spectacular things. Eg: Lazarus has the capability of winning an Olympic medal.
Applied to cognitive functioning, according to these definitions, people can have particular intellectual abilities and, with hard work may reach a certain capacity. But only a rarified few will have the capability of becoming truly gifted thinkers.
My question is this: Who decides? Who looks at what you are able to do right now and then decides what your capacities / capabilities might be?
The answer is simple: all of us do it. Regardless of how qualified we are. Adults in particular do it to children. And the things parents and teachers tell us about our abilities, capacities and capabilities so often stay with us for life. The things these neuro-bigots say about us become self-fulfilling prophecies not because they are true, but because we trust these people and internalize their judgements of us. We thus believe we are only capable of so much, and begin to limit ourselves accordingly.
I have heard some teachers argue that they tell kids that they will not amount to very much to spur them on to great things. But I think this is just dishonest. And cruel. I’ve also heard many, many parents and teachers talking about a kid’s IQ as if this is some kind of quantifier of a child’s lot in life. IQ tests were never designed to quantify intelligence (beyond identifying those with clear neurological disabilities), much less to predict future success. IQ has as little correlation to success as being a teacher or parent does to knowing how young brains work.
Socio-economic circumstances and intellectual stimulation play an equal, if not greater role in determining a child’s mental capacity and even capability. Yet neuro-fatalists will persist in looking a child’s IQ, standardized test scores and general behavior and making predictions about that child’s future. Worse, these judgements then determine how they act towards these children and affect the opportunities they provide for them… and, hey presto, the predictions come true as if by magic. It’s the equivalent of a fortune-teller telling a mark that they will meet someone new and exciting – and said mark then subconsciously looking for ways to make this prediction happen.
The sad thing is, they’re wrong. So many teachers and parents suffer under the delusion that their roles give them a special privilege to make deterministic judgements about the mental aptitudes and prospects of the young people they have in their care. They do not.
Bottom line: Every child has a diverse range of abilities. But we need to be very careful when we try to use these to predict what their capabilities or even capacities might be. And we need to be even more wary when we use superficial evidence to try and scaffold the kind of future we think they are pre-destined to have. Rather, let’s challenge and inspire – and give them the space and time to be what they want to be.
The Heritability of IQ (Wikipedia article).