38. Aptitude

Standardized testing became popular in the 20th Century and is still used today. It categorizes people according to certain traits. Particularly their aptitude.

The most famous of such tests measures intelligence. Others are used to determine the extent to which someone can perform a job or succeed in a degree program.

Learning all we can is challenging. Mostly trial and error as we grow to adulthood.

Tests are designed to overcome our dependence on trial and error. They are meant to efficiently reveal an aptitude we did not realize. A short cut.


Aptitude tests cover two fundamental issues: (1) measuring what they are supposed to measure and (2) consistently measuring potential over time. The first condition is validity; the second is reliability.

Statisticians can check both validity and reliability. Within parameters, which is a fancy word for a range of conditions. Like weather forecasters telling us the probability of rain is 30%.

Validity is never 100 % because written language can be interpreted differently.

Reliability is never 100% because human moods vary each day.

Other problems surface with aptitude tests. They are weak in assessing a person’s abilities across the full spectrum of human personalities and aspirations. Now and in the future.

Cultural influences. Past and future emotional experiences. Relationships. Hardships. Mind-altering revelations.

They are not good in predicting the power of ambition, gritty determination to succeed, and acceptance of failure as motivation to do it better next time. Of circumventing traditional approaches to solving problems. Thereby discovering something entirely new.

Another factor is the self-fulfilling prophecy. Which can work in both directions.

Some do what is prophesied by tests because they are predisposed that way. How can the test be wrong?

For me it worked the opposite way. When my sixth-grade teacher said an aptitude test suggested I would be a good accountant. From that point forward I never wanted to be an accountant!


Today, educational psychologists say a test is just one tool to help students discover talents and potential. I agree. When it is a means to stimulate dialogue and reflection, with a full understanding of the test’s strengths and deficiencies. But even those conditions may not be enough.

Aptitude is like an internal shapeshifter, looking like one thing today and quite another tomorrow. It becomes a valuable part of who we are only after we are forced to rise to an occasion.

To face a challenge and overcome it.

A man against the elements, who almost dies yet succeeds in the face of certain disaster. A woman who finds herself alone after a family tragedy or disruption. Yet reaches deep into her reservoir of talents to build a new life.

Where do those kinds of aptitude come from?

Were they lying below the surface all along, just waiting to be tapped? Why did they not show up earlier?


As educators, my wife and I believed our job was to help students locate the aptitude below the surface. And give them confidence to try it out. To use it as much as possible in and outside the classroom.

It was more than giving students self-confidence. Which in immature minds can turn into cognitive or physical bullying.

Finding and using a subsurface aptitude must be channeled into a disciplined and respectful set of behaviors. A quiet yet persistent way of conducting oneself, thereby showing up as thoughtful leadership, caring service, or a creative contribution.

In recent years I have wondered where my aptitude for caregiving comes from. Some would say such an ability is more deeply rooted in innate love than something nurtured from learning experiences.

That may be true.

But love is a nebulous emotion that defies precise definition. It involves connectedness and loyalty. The best way I can describe it is in terms of loss. The thing that happens to my innerworkings when I lose someone fully intertwined with my life.

Brother. Parents. Other relatives. Friends.

Nevertheless, learning experiences in the context of universal truths and overriding aspects of living must play a role. Maybe it is associated with the acceptance of responsibility.

Can responsibility be an aptitude? Families teach their children to be responsible all the time. As in other forms of educational experiences, some children are quick learners while others are not. Teachers call it readiness.

When are young people ready to define, accept and practice what we know as responsibility?

My definition of responsibility is the innate willingness to be there. To “be there” when others need help.

In my youth I was much influenced by Isaiah 6:8 – Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Maybe the “be there” idea of accepting responsibility was an aptitude just lying below the surface. Whatever it was and is today, it is something I both accept and absolutely must practice. And my wife felt the same way. In many ways much more so.

To be there for the deprived. The shunned. The disenfranchised.

In recent months I have seen thousands of others who must also have an aptitude for responsibility. At a much greater level than I.

As I said before, it humbles me. It makes me understand how many are being responsible in ways that entail a much greater sacrifice than my own.

It also encourages me, because a few others believe everything bad that happens is someone else’s fault. Conversely, everything good that happens is because of their actions.

I long for the time when my wife and I could sit in our den and talk about responsibility as an aptitude. As a couple. As educators who believed schools were being dragged into the training mode of thinking, limited to preparing students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


That schools were no longer partners with families in the development of worthwhile values, but preparation academies for business and industry. To support a strong economy.

Under the notion that families and churches should be solely responsible for the “soft” values. Defined by some as being inconsequential when compared to making tough decisions.

To taking definitive action to preserve the right of individuals to be assertive and presumably effective in a dog-eat-dog world.

Believe me, caregiving is anything but a “soft” value. It requires a kind of toughness that percolates up through the aptitude that lies below the surface of good people.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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