Intelligence quotient, or IQ, is the defined as the ratio of mental age to chronological age. The movie, I Am Sam, raises an important question; does an individual’s IQ have an affect on whether they can be a good parent? Many theories have been developed to better understand and measure intelligence. The Single Factor Theories, Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory, and Gardner’s Theory, along with Baumbrind’s theory on parenting styles can all be used to analyze the characters in I Am Sam.
The movie questions the relevance of IQ score and its impact on the ability to parent.
If a person has a high IQ does that mean they are a good parent, and if a person has a low IQ does that mean they are a bad parent? The Single Factor Intelligence Theories determine IQ through standardized tests. The first intelligence test was developed by Binet in 1905, and determined IQ as being a person’s mental age divided by their chronological age multiplied by 100.
Over the next few years the test was modified by others. In 1937, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test was created. This test stated that 2/3 of all children, ages 8-18, score between 85 – 115.
This test claimed that a child that scores 130 or above, is a gifted child, but a score of 70 and below indicates the child is retarded. Later, David Wechsler created a more modern test, and which has become more commonly used today. The Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children (WISC – IV) is arranged by ten different areas of problems to be solved, starting with the easiest and working towards the more difficult. It calculates the score with a verbal and non verbal scale. These intelligence tests show a direct correlation between IQ score and school performance.
They are designed to measure what you know, but abilities in areas such as reading and creativity can not be separated from known facts, and can provide an incomplete picture of a person’s mental capabilities. Also, these tests can be economically biased and do not take into effect the person’s home environment or stress levels on the day of the test. The character Sam, from I Am Sam, has low intelligence according to the Single Factor Theories. He is in his mid-thirties, but has the IQ of a seven year old child. He also has been deemed mentally retarded as per court records.
Sam struggles to raise Lucy, his daughter, after she is abandoned immediately after birth by her mother and left with him. When he first brought Lucy home, Sam did not know he had to feed a baby every few hours, nor did he know how to change her diaper. During Lucy’s first year of school, Sam was able to help her with her homework and reading, but as Lucy grew older, Sam began to struggle. It became more difficult for him because his reading capability is of a low level, so when Lucy brought home reading assignments, he was unable to read at her level eventually.
Sam’s low IQ correlates to the fact that he can not help Lucy with her homework past that of first or second grade level. Sam works at Starbucks as a bus boy and is paid not much more than minimum wage, therefore he struggles financially and only can afford to live in a very small one-bedroom apartment. He cannot afford the things Lucy requires for school, such a shoes and clothes. Lucy is taken out of Sam’s care by Child Protective Services because they feel that Sam is unfit parent because of his low IQ and he will hinder Lucy’s learning capabilities.
According to the Single Factor Intelligence Theory, Sam is not intelligent. Rita, Sam’s lawyer in the movie, is considered to be intelligent according the Single Factor Theories. To become a lawyer it takes many years of schooling and the ability to speak ‘intelligently’. As a partner in her law firm, it shows years of dedication, hard work, and motivation. She is able to afford to live in a large beautiful home and drive an expensive car. She has been successful life because she has normal intelligence and has a higher IQ. According to Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, Sam is not intelligent.
He lacks componential intelligence, because he is unable to think abstractly as he has difficulty thinking concretely. Sam struggles to interpret information effectively, he scores low on an IQ test and has the IQ of a seven year old. Sam does show some signs of experiential intelligence, but those are quite limited. When Lucy is taken away from Sam, the length he goes to see her shows his creativity.
He rents a new apartment close to the neighborhood her foster family resides in, and becomes employed in a dog walking business so he is able to see her. Sam lso flies paper airplanes near her so she is aware that he is nearby and still watching over her. He also has the creative ability to make origami, in which he constructs a wall in his apartment towards the end of the movie. Although Sam has a difficult time expressing his thoughts in his words, he often attempts to give his opinions and insight. Sam tells Rita she must leave her husband, and even though he does not completely tell her why, he clearly sees that Rita’s home life is not good and offers her his insight. His words may be limited but his thoughts are clear.
Sam does not however react well to new stimuli. Lucy persuades him to try a different diner for breakfast instead of going to their weekly place of IHOP. When Sam places his order with the waitress, he insists on ordering pancakes French style (the order he places at IHOP each week). When the waitress explains they do not serve that kind of pancakes and attempts to coerce him into ordering something from their menu, Sam refuses and creates a scene. He was reluctant to try the diner to begin with. Sam does not show signs of contextual intelligence.
He does not have ‘street smarts’ which is shown when he is solicited by a prostitute, and is completely unaware of her meaning. The police arrest him because they believe him to be trying to buy the prostitute’s services, and he tries to tell the police he did not know in which he truly does not. His lack of street smarts is also evident when Lucy tricks him during one of his supervised visits. She tells Sam that they were given permission to go to the park unsupervised, but this was not true and Lucy was just trying to run away together with Sam.
He believes her and keeps Lucy out really late into the night. Sam gets into trouble for taking her and breaking the visitation rules. Based on the three components of Sternberg’s Theory, Rita is intelligent. She is high in componential intelligence. She is a partner in her law firm and has a lot of education. She demonstrates experiential intelligence as she is able to synthesize information. Being a lawyer, she must able to gather information from various areas and put it together to help the case she is presenting. She is able to manipulate the truth with this ability without lying.
Her contextual intelligence is high and this is represented in her personal life. She is able to adapt to her environment. Her marriage is falling apart because her husband is never home and is cheating. She avoids the situation by trying to ignore and pay little attention to it. She is able to maximize her strengths by being a powerful lawyer as she minimizes her weakness of being lonely. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences states that all have multiple intelligences and some have strengths in one area over another. It lists seven different types of intelligence.
The first type is Logical / Mathematical intelligence which is the ability in logical problem solving. Next is Musical intelligence, this is the ability to appreciate music. Spatial intelligence is part of the making of and appreciation of various forms of art, such as sculptures or video games. Bodily kinesthetic is the ability to use one’s body in a skillful way. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to perceive other peoples and understand them, the ability to read people. Intrapersonal intelligence is the understanding of yourself, your emotions and strengths.
The last is Naturalist Intelligence, which is the ability to recognize various types of plants and animals, and even understand the weather patterns. According to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Sam is intelligent. Even though Sam does not display intelligences in most of the areas, he does display musical and spatial intelligence. Musical intelligence is shown when he relates life and events to The Beatles. For example, Lucy (Lucy Diamond) is named after The Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. He relates many experiences, especially when under stress, to John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Paul McCartney.
Sam’s neighbor in his old apartment building played the piano and he also notes that she plays well and is able to play a little himself. He shows spatial intelligence when he created the room full of origami and stacked them on top of each other to create walls. Rita is also intelligent according to Gardner. She displays logical and interpersonal intelligences. She is a problem solver. She has to think logically about cases and determine what will get her the outcome she desires from the judge or jury. She is able to determine an outcome in advance and know how to manipulate it.
She also represents interpersonal intelligence as a lawyer. She has to understand her clients (i. e. Sam), the judge (or jury), and any other individuals involved in her case (i. e. Child Protective Services). She has to be able to read them to figure out what kind of approach and tactic to use in order to win. Diana Baumbrind, in 1972, developed a theory which identified fours aspects of family functioning and parenting styles. The four aspects of family functioning are: warmth or nurturing; clarity and consistency; maturity demands; and communication between parent and child.
Baumbrind’s Parenting Style Theory suggests that there are various types of parenting styles and identified four: authoritative; authoritarian; permissive indulgent; and permissive indifferent. Parenting style is a set of attitudes toward the child that a parent transmits to the child to create an emotional climate surrounding parent-child exchanges. Authoritative parents display a warm, accepting attitude toward their children while maintaining firm expectations of and restrictions on children’s behavior.
Open communication between parent and child is facilitated within this emotional climate. Long-term outcomes for children and adolescents of authoritative parents are more favorable compared to outcomes for children of authoritarian or permissive parents. The authoritarian parenting style is characterized by a harsh, rigid emotional climate combined with high demands and little communication. Permissive Indulgent parents display warmth and acceptance toward their children but do not place demands or restrictions on children’s behavior.
Permissive indifferent parents do not display any warmth or control with little communication, and places low demands on small children but very high demands on older children. According to Baumbrind, Sam is a permissive indulgent parent. He is not mature mentally himself, therefore he has low maturity demands of Lucy. He cannot grasp maturity beyond his own level. Sam is also low in his control over Lucy, because he has little control of himself and his own actions at times. Sam cannot illustrate his thoughts into words and therefore can not clearly communicate rules or expectations.
Lucy becomes more of a parent to Sam, than Sam is to Lucy. He is also low in effective communication because he cannot express himself with words effectively, and he is not able to have deep thoughtful conversations when he himself does not understand. Sam is high in his nurturance and warmth. He clearly loves Lucy, and this can be seen with his constant hugging and holding her. He also nightly reads a bedtime story to her, takes her to the park, and goes to any length he can to gain custody of her back.
Even though children of permissive indulgent parents can become less independent and take little responsibility, this does not make Sam a bad parent. Rita has an authoritarian style of parenting. She is low in her warmth and communication because she constantly is yelling at her son, Willy, and even when he gets upset and when Lucy hugs Rita, she does not pay any attention to his reaction. Willy also ignores her back when she tells him that it is time for bed, but he continues to ride his scooter around. She is high in her control as she is constantly telling Willy what to do and that he should listen to her.
She tells him she hates him at the moment and to get in the car when he will not do as she says. She is high in her maturity demands also, as she expects Willy to be able to handle the fact that both she and his father work a lot and do not spend much time with him. In fact he is still just a child that needs his parents for stability and guidance. Rita is not a good parent according to Baumbrind. Therefore, when looked at collectively, a person does not need to be intelligent to be a good parent. Intelligence may or may not relate to parenting styles.
Sam is not considered intelligent according to the Single Factor Theories and Sternberg; however his parenting style is not the most negative as defined by Baumbrind. Rita is intelligent, but is not a good parent. Her parenting style is the most negative. Even with a lower IQ, Sam’s is considered to be the better parent. The movie, I Am Sam, shows the difficulty people have separating intellect from other areas of people’s lives, such as parenting. In retrospect to the movie, we cannot conclude that the two are related, a person does not need to be intelligent to be a good parent, and having a high IQ does not always make a good parent.