Contributed by Ben Koch

In graduate school I had the opportunity to pursue research on a great curiosity and passion of mine: spiritual intelligence, also known as “SQ” (in contrast to “IQ”). In all honesty, when I first set out I didn’t know the construct of SQ even existed. I was driven more by my discontentment with the reductionist, limited view of traditional intelligence and the power it has over the psyche of public education. IQ scores are used as the basis for both gifted and special ed programs as if they were numbers figuratively stamped onto our foreheads when we begin school. Yet I’d had many students who defied this alleged number label on both ends of the spectrum:

  • Students with remarkably high numeric IQs, but no sense of compassion or justice or kindness. How valuable is that intelligence?
  • Students with alarmingly low number IQs, but who displayed extraordinary “heart” and character, with potential to be real complete human beings.

So how do we begin to discuss and explore this unmapped dimension of intelligence? SQ, I found, is the best place to start. Although it may take years for this concept to take hold in the mainstream, many powerful minds have already begun to trailblaze toward that goal. Following their lead, I conclude my research with very practical and concrete suggestions for classroom teachers in developing SQ in students.

I have included an excerpt from the introduction to my research below, but you can also access and download a PDF of the complete project here: IntelligencePaper. Please add your 2 cents, share links, and add to the discussion.


Spiritual Intelligence: A Tool for Meaning and Hope

Introduction: A Crisis of Meaning

Of all the gifts a teacher has the potential of giving a student, perhaps the most vital and significant is to empower the student with the ability to create a meaning and a vision for her life.

     Yet how do we as humans create meaning for our lives? This is a philosophical, even theological, question well beyond the scope of simple assertions. Yet if we narrow our scope to explore what teachers can do within the classroom to help students develop the capacity to create meaning, we can indeed gain a little ground. Brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen (2000) asserts that our brains our designed to seek out meaning, and that unless teachers are able to provide students with opportunities to discover meaning, “we will continue to produce robots and underachievers” (p. 279). Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1984) holds an even stronger belief that the “will to meaning” is the primary motivation of our existence.

     With the search for meaning being such a basic part of our makeup, it would seem that a teacher’s job in this regard would be relatively straightforward—we simply push along, or guide, our students in their natural, spontaneous quest for meaningful contexts. But what if the educational system itself is sabotaging this natural, healthy quest for meaning, and in fact depriving students of opportunities and contexts for the healthy development of meaningful lives? The very fact that standardized tests have become the guidepost around which all curriculum seems to revolve, and so much teacher energy is devoted, is a sad indication that this deprivation is occurring. Educational philosopher William Ayers (1993) believes that “standardized tests push well-intentioned teachers and school leaders in the wrong direction; they constrain teachers’ energies and minds, dictating a disastrously narrow range of activities and experiences” (p. 118). Many other roadblocks to meaning will be discussed in later sections.

     Unless we as teachers want to propagate our future with the robots that Jensen has warned us about, we must quickly and skillfully remedy, or at least counteract, the narrowing effects of the current educational system. Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall (2000) have given us a wonderful framework through which to do just that. They have developed the concept of “spiritual intelligence (SQ).” In their book, Spiritual Intelligence, The Ultimate Intelligence they outline the basis and technique for engendering the overarching intelligence in human consciousness that enables our capacity for meaning, vision, and value.

     This paper will argue that teachers should engender this holistic form of intelligence in order to serve our students the most profound gift we can: enabling them with the ability to create vision and meaning in their lives.  I will assert that teachers must acknowledge, understand, engender, and promote this deeper “holistic intelligence.” I will argue that it is the unifying quality of this deeper form of intelligence that provides individuals with a sense and context of meaning on which to base their qualitative life decisions. Only by embracing and developing this spiritual intelligence (to be referred to as “SQ” throughout this paper) can teachers begin to counteract the constrictive forces of the current educational environment. 


About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

4 responses »

  1. 3D Eye says:

    Thanks for that, Ben. Your ‘category cloud’ contains a lot of words that also feature in ours, so we’re looking forward to catching up with your previous posts. Thanks for ‘following’ – we’ll do the same – and future collaboration looks like a good idea.

  2. bensten says:

    Wonderful addition to the discussion. Thank you. I have visited your blog and find it a great resource. I look forward to “following” and even some possible future collaboration!


  3. 3D Eye says:

    “Please add your 2 cents, share links, and add to the discussion.” – Totally agree with your thoughts on the “narrowing effects of the current educational system”. We badly need to transform our education systems in the US and the UK, and in most other countries. We need education for human ‘values’ and we need to show young people how to develop a great many ‘virtues’ – which are also the essence of spiritual intelligence. Social intelligence and emotional intelligence are also essential elements of developing our full potential as human beings. Our 3Di model of human intelligences also includes the instinctual and personal intelligences – as well as the intellectual, needless to say. Many schools, by focusing on preparation for academic tests and exams, barely even develop the intellect, let alone creativity and imagination.

  4. […] a previous post, I introduced the concept of Spiritual Intelligence (SQ)–the notion that a level of intelligence beyond traditional logical, rational and academic […]

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