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Tyrone Schiff
Peter Educates Us

The concept of retardation is often looked upon negatively. Only 2-3% of children

in school are afflicted with one of the levels of retardation which include mild, moderate,

severe and profound retardation (Weiten, p.349). These measures are based on an IQ

range that the individual falls in. Generally, mentally retarded people just require a little

extra time and help when it comes to various daily activities. A clear example of a

mentally retarded subject who had mild retardation would be Peter, the boy depicted in

the documentary seen in class. Although he was a little gregarious at first, kicking,

screaming, and not listening, it is an absolute wonder to see the progression that he made

through the course of only one year. Along the way, he dealt was difficult circumstances

and new experiences that he was forced to adapt to and all the while performed

marvelously. Robert Sternberg, a psychologist who primarily focuses on intelligence,

would agree that Peter expressed a number of the qualities that Sternberg asserts in his 3

facets of “successful” intelligence. Therefore, Peter displays that he is mildly retarded

based on his ability to express the facets of intelligence described by Sternberg.

Sternberg developed a view of intelligence that can be broken down, initially, into

three components. The most significant component when discussing our subject, Peter,

will relate to the componential sub-theory which, “describes…mental processes that

intelligent thought depends on” (Weiten, p.363). This is further broken down into

practical, analytical, and creative intelligence. As Sternberg puts it, these three

components are related to “successful intelligence.”

Sternberg describes practical intelligence as the type of intelligence one uses in

everyday life. Peter initially had a lot of problem with simple daily school tasks, but as is
Tyrone Schiff
the case with retarded people, all they need is a little extra time and help to improve. By

the end of the school year he was participating in class, reading, following directions, and

running during gym (Educating Peter, 1992). These skills all progressed dramatically

through the school year and are a great indicator that Peter is in fact mildly retarded.

Another factor that makes up the “successful” intelligences is the concept of

analytical intelligence. This involves reasoning and judgment (Weiten, p.363). Peter was

often times reprimanded for some of his actions, such as kicking and hurting other

people. However, his teacher and his school mates would try and calm him down and as a

result Peter recognized that his actions were inappropriate. Towards the end of the school

year, he was very good at listening and got on well with his friends. Peter showed an

awful lot of this intelligence on the last day of school when he recognized just how sad

the day was and that he wouldn’t be able to see all his friends (Educating Peter, 1992).

The final “successful” intelligence that Sternberg outlines is called the creative

intelligence. This relates to being inventive and dealing with problems (Weiten, p.363).

Peter had to be creative on a daily basis. He was dealing with situations and problems

that he had never encountered before. Peter had to work quietly by himself, learn how to

deal with other children, and interact with people (Educating Peter, 1992). Although

much of his daily tasks were new to him, he was able to adapt to them and be successful.

Peter’s story is a triumphant one. He was presented with a very daunting task of

acclimatizing to a school environment even though he was mentally retarded. Yet, over

the year at school, though there were a number of obstacles, there were more victories.

His progression was unbelievable, and the things he accomplished were truly amazing.
Tyrone Schiff
Without doubt, Peter can be considered mildly retarded as he effectively used Sternberg’s

three “successful intelligences” of practical, creative, and analytical intelligence.

Works Cited

Weiten, W. (2007). Psychology: Themes and Variations. Belmont: Thompson


Wurzburg, Gerardine and Goodwin, Thomas C. (Producer and Director).

(1992). Educating Peter (Produced by HBO) (Videocassette) (Available from
Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Princeton: New Jersey)