Does time have wings? – a response to Watson

The recent furore caused by Nobel Prize winning DNA pioneer, James Watson in an interview he granted Sunday Times, a British newspaper, in which he was quoted as saying Africans were less intelligent than Europeans reminded this writer of an incident in 1987.

This writer, who was stationed in Bolgatanga came down to Accra to visit the family and decided to take the five-year-old daughter to Kumasi to go and meet her paternal grandmother for the first time.

At the State Transport Yard this writer met a classmate he had not seen since they finished secondary school in 1969 and entered into a hearty conversation.

When father and daughter eventually got on board the bus the daughter asked: “Daddy, does time have wings?”

Father: “No, why ask?”

Daughter: “You and your friend kept on saying; how time flies; how time flies. If time has no wings how can it fly?”

The father had to use the next 30 minutes of the journey to explain the use of words and their various meanings.

When she eventually got to the grandmother she soon discovered that while this writer and her mother called her Nana the grandmother was calling her Maame. So she asked why her grandmother was calling her Maame instead of Nana. This was explained to her that the person she was named after was the mother of her grandmother that was why she calling her Maame.

The five-year-old girl had already moved to the third level of learning – application – according to the Benjamin Bloom Taxonomy.

Fortunately, Watson has since said that the way the words were presented did not reflect properly his position. “I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways they have. To all those, who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly.”

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website, Dr Craig Venter, the scientist/businessman, who led the private effort to decode the human genome, was quoted as saying: “Skin colour as surrogate for race is a social concept not a scientific one. There is no basis in scientific fact as in the human genetic code for the notion that skin colour will be predictive of intelligence.”

So far so good but let us analyse the concept of intelligence test. Websters New World Dictionary on power CD writes: Intelligence is the ability to learn or understand from experience; ability to acquire and retain knowledge; mental ability; measured success in using these abilities to perform certain tasks.

Alfred Binet, a French psychologist, introduced intelligence test in 1905. The intelligence quotient that is arrived at supposedly indicates a person’s level of intelligence. It is the mental age (as shown by intelligence test) multiplied by 100 and divided by the chronological age.

If scholarship agrees that because the variation in scores for different age groups taking graded test increases roughly in proportion to the increase in age and, therefore, mental ages cannot be used accurately to compare the basic ability of children of different chronological ages – apparently because of the length of their experiences – then it stands to reason that there would be no justification for intelligence tests that do not take into consideration the environment of the children.

Let us go through a hypothetical intelligence test derived from the Ghanaian environment and let us see how European children would fare.

a) You have a bar of chocolate for breakfast. List any 50 possible steps taken by men/women to produce the cocoa in the chocolate.

b) There is a plane crash but you successfully parachute and land safely in a tropical rain forest. You have a machete and lighter.

Answer the following questions:

1. You hear the chirping of many different types of insects. What time of the day is it?

2. You also hear the croaking of frogs. What time of the year is it?

3. You see a rat which you want to kill for food but it enters its hole. What simple method would you use to get it since you are too tired and weak to dig it out?

4. Since there are many echoes in the forest what noise would you make to call for assistance?

5. If you see a path in the forest what signs would you look out for to determine whether it is a footpath or animal’s trail?

6. As you walk along a footpath what sign would indicate to you that you are approaching a human settlement?

7. If you meet a person as you walk along the footpath what should you do? Why should you do that?

8. On reaching the settlement where are you likely to be taken to?

9. What would you be offered first?

10. If there is a community meeting you will discover that one person repeats the words of another. What is the relationship between the two?

Jean Piaget, the father of cognitive development, maintained that intelligence is always related to an organism’s adaptation to its environment.

Humanity must do away with negative thoughts towards each other. We are all in the same boat and the welfare of all should be the concern of all.

Source: A GNA feature by Boakye-Dankwa Boadi