I am going to do my best to refrain from delving too deeply into philosophic waters, but it will be necessary to refer–which I shall do explicitly when appropriately–to specific western philosophies and their influence on modern thought and higher education. To begin, I’d like to turn to an article in the Atlantic.com that Laura Pasquini, a PhD candidate in Texas, shared a couple of days ago. The article, entitled The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence and written by Adam Grant, details the rise of emotional intelligence on the scene and then contrasts it with findings from current research1. Emotional intelligence, it seems, is not a virtue in and of itself. The ability to masterfully manage one’s emotions can very well be used to manipulate others. Adam Grant goes on to explain that researchers discovered that some people who exhibit high emotional intelligence are able to mask their emotions while using their understanding of the emotions of others to manipulate them. While it’s not all bad, as the author later points out, the article reveals the existence of a disconnect between how we understand a particular ability and how that ability is actually used. Like Voldemort, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it’s possible to do great things with one’s abilities, but that doesn’t mean those things aren’t terrible too.
That leaves us with a question. What would lead us to believe emotional intelligence in and of itself would help cure our many social problems? We don’t hold the same ideas about cognitive intelligence. History is littered with highly intellectual persons who did horrible, evil things. I believe one reason it’s easy for us to separate the ability from the person who uses the ability is where we lie on the philosophic timeline. We’re at a point in Western history that follows years of the institutionalization of a division between the mind and the body. From this, we need only know something. It’s not that important to know how or what we should do. So, we failed to ask the question: What should an emotionally intelligent person do? If emotional intelligence was supposed to fix a number of social ills, it’s not unreasonable to assume that we consider what people were doing is somehow wrong. I suppose it could be that we’re worried about what’s happening to them, but at some point it comes down to people and the things they do–or don’t do.
I believe emotional intelligence is like a tool, kind of like Harry Potter’s wand. Well, like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. The Elder Wand, for example, in Dumbledore’s hand was a tool for good, but in Voldemort’s hand, it was a tool meant for evil. So, let’s think about what this means for educational policy, higher education, and student development.
There are all sorts of skills we hope students gain during their time in college. We also hope they develop along Chickering’s vectors–that they eventually become interdependent; but for each of these skills, these vectors, what is it that we hope they do? Well, we hope they use them for good, for one. No one wants to be the one to find a young, hurt, orphaned wizard only to see him unleash a reign of terror on the world upon graduating. Educational policy is supposedly geared toward educating students into becoming something–but no one seems to know what that is. The number of students who find gainful employment may be one way we measure our success, but as a graduate student in a counseling program, I want to measure success for the students who cross my path in more than just dollars. So, maybe we should consider policy as the groundwork we build from. Some educational policies state that graduates should be proficient in what they learn, while others say that they should possess particular skills when they graduate. What educational policy doesn’t tell us is what students will do with the things we intend to teach them. The simple way to think about implementing these policies seems to teach students the information they need. Of course, this is necessary and important, but students are new to what they’re learning, so it’s unlikely they have a clue as to what they should do with what they learn.
I believe Leadership & service-learning programs provide a great example of how we can help students develop emotional intelligence, and a host of other characteristics, but also help them learn how to use them. In my graduate assistantship, I have seen how students not only come to know something that we believe will help cure our social ills, but also what to do with that knowledge. This, I believe, is where Student Affairs is a crucial component of higher education. Leadership & Service-Learning programs and their departments show how Student Affairs is an integral part of the process of educating students. What would higher education look like if we put more emphasis on how students used what they learn? My hope is that doing so would mean fewer Voldemort’s and more Harry Potters and Dumbledores in the world. How, and what, do you believe we can build from the foundation of current educational policy to help more students reach their Harry Potter potential?
Previous research was lacking in scientific rigor. Author Adam Grant noted the following: “As University of Lausanne professor John Antonakis observed, “practice and voodoo science is running way ahead of rigorous research.”‘ Martin, J., Knopoff, K., & Beckman, C. (n.d.). The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/the-dark-side-of-emotional-intelligence/282720 ↩