Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, September 25, 2023
by Neil Senturia
I get a resume. In it, the guy tells me everything he has done and what he can do for me, and he ends by mentioning that he is a member of Mensa.
That fascinates me. I get that your resume might tell me your college, your achievements in sports and business, the awards you have won, but how many resumes include Mensa?
Mensa, in case you are a dummy like me, is the oldest high-IQ society in the world. There are over 50,000 members in America in 134 local groups. The San Diego chapter has 800 members.
Mensa is Latin for table. The organization uses the word to illustrate its “round-table society where ethnicity, colour, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational and social background are all completely irrelevant.” To be allowed to join you need to score in the top 98th percentile or higher on a supervised, standard test. You know where this is going. I am going to take the test.
First, let’s consider for a moment the unintended consequences that lurk in this decision. Testing is a land mine. I consult with my daughter and her husband who are school teachers. Spanish immersion and “challenged” students. They know their stuff. The dark sentence for education is that testing tends to put young people in an early box (not a pine one but might as well be in certain countries).
What do we mean when we say he/she is “smart” and what is the correlation between that and “success” however you define it? My other daughter throws me the high hard one. She asks, what fueled your success? I surprise myself with an honest answer. I wanted to show my parents that I was not the total failure that they thought I was.
So I went to the Encinitas library on a Saturday morning and took the test. A little under two hours, seven sections, visions of the SAT back when I wanted to get into college. What is it about testing?
There are lots of studies, but in the final analysis, what is the relationship between IQ and achievement? Where is the test for motivation?
When I started grade school, they divided us up into sections, A, B, C — with C being for the not-so-smart. You were marked at the age of 10. I don’t remember my section.
At the end, I asked the test proctor what Mensa members do when they get together. She said, “Oh, you know, the usual, astrophysics and word games. It is the perfect place to tell the joke about Einstein, Newton and Pascal walking into a bar.” I can hardly wait.
San Diego has a few notables, Marty Cooper (invented the cellphone) and Richard Lederer (author of 50 books, “the Wizard of Idiom” and “Attila the Pun” and father to Annie Duke and Howard Lederer, both champion poker players).
I guess in some way, we all live in reflected glory.
My wife and I support entrepreneurship. The stories of people who never did well in school and then went on to achieve greatness in many disparate fields are legion. What is it about the word smart, and how does it impact a life?
And what about the word dumb? The test did ask about word opposites. If you want to twist your mind, consider the issue of how and who gets picked when there is more demand than supply.
I want to believe in opportunities. I want to believe that IQ is only one factor. Scholars have written multiple papers on the correlation between IQ and decision-making and curiosity and judgment. Not much. By the way, would you be so kind as to define “intelligence?”
It was fun. I like taking tests. I am competitive. But I could see clearly the risk and danger if our society picks its winners too early. I think we need to encourage and support the idea that not everyone blooms at the same time.
There is no standardized test for life.
Oh, you want to know my score? Well, my favorite line from Groucho Marx should suffice. “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
Rule No. 218:
Grand passion will take you further than good grades.