Where Emotional Intelligence Meets Higher Education
What is intelligence? Although most people affiliate the concept with cognitive aspects, more and more we are starting to realize that the social and emotional aspects are just as much a part of it. Charles Darwin first made the connection between emotions and humankind’s ability to survive and adapt, and in 1985, Wayne Payne introduced the term “emotional intelligence” in his doctoral dissertation.
Since then, this buzz-phrase has become so commonplace that it is often just referred to as “EI.” Some even suggest that one’s EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) is actually a greater indicator of his or her intelligence than IQ. An extreme view perhaps, but it is undeniable that these “soft skills” have become more and more important in today’s workplaces.
So it’s only fitting that higher education institutions are now beginning to pick up where grade school left off (remember comments on your report card like “plays well with others” or “needs to work on sharing?”) by grading students on things like their ability to effectively interact with others. As the website Good reported in an article called “Should Colleges Give Grades for Emotional Intelligence?”, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina is to start certifying students whose soft skills-level indicate that they are ready for the workplace. Others are sure to follow suit.
While I agree that throughout their entire formal schooling experience, students should be taught how to do things like solve problems and prioritize, I worry about the idea of grading them on these and other soft skills, especially the social aspects. Here’s why: We are living in a time when social and behavioral disorders are considered commonplace. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one out of every 88 children is now diagnosed with autism – a neural development disorder that impairs one’s social and communication skills. The CDC puts this figure closer to one in 50 children when the many undiagnosed instances are taken into account. Additionally, the agency estimates that 3-7% of children now have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. For many, the condition can remain through adulthood.
For reasons like these, we need to be sensitive about casting judgment on the many people who differ from the traditional. I worry that grading students on their soft skills could further ostracize them. Plus, it’s important to remember that those with autism often have an above average ability to focus intensely on a subject and make sense of complex systems that would baffle the average mind. Is it fair to say that someone like this isn’t ready for the workplace?
However, if soft skills can be fairly taught and graded in a way that does not alienate any students, and if each student’s unique strengths and weaknesses are taken into account, I think they could all graduate more prepared and ready for the workforce. The challenge lies in finding a balance that acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in higher education.