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Category archive: Intelligence

Monday May 05 2008

Here.  Quote:

Educational romanticism characterizes reformers of both Left and Right, though in different ways. Educational romantics of the Left focus on race, class, and gender. It is children of color, children of poor parents, and girls whose performance is artificially depressed, and their academic achievement will blossom as soon as they are liberated from the racism, classism, and sexism embedded in American education. Those of the Right see public education as an ineffectual monopoly, and think that educational achievement will blossom when school choice liberates children from politically correct curricula and obdurate teachers’ unions.

I am certainly a romantic in the sense that I believe that millions of children could be doing massively better than they do at school.  But I do not hope to see “educational” achievement blossoming.  Just achievement.

Murray’s point is that many are of limited “intellectual ability”, and maybe they are.  But many non-intellectuals do indeed flourish, as soon as they leave school and get stuck into real life.  This is because in real life, intellectual cleverness is not, to put it mildly, the only virtue that matters.

To repeat something which I suspect you are going to read a lot more at this blog if you stay with it: good education does not mean mere exam success, higher academic standards, etc.  It means what you need to learn to have a good life.  And for many, the best way to start learning about real life is to start real life.

Quote again:

The parallels between the trajectory of the Soviet Union’s attempt to reform its economy and the trajectory of the federal government’s attempts to reform the public education system are striking. By the mid-1980s, Soviet leaders knew that they had to introduce supply and demand into the economy, but they couldn’t bring themselves to try honest-to-God capitalism, so they tried to decentralize decision-making and permit some elements of a market economy while retaining central price controls and government ownership of the means of production. The reforms were based on premises about human nature that were patently wrong. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the educational romantics - and George W. Bush is the Percy Bysshe Shelley of educational romantics - knew that public school systems everywhere had become bureaucratically top-heavy and that many inner-city schools were no longer functional. They knew that the billions of federal money spent on upgrading education for disadvantaged children had produced no demonstrable improvements. But they thought they could fix the system. Bush’s glasnost was to implement accountability through measurement of results by test scores. Bush’s perestroika was a mishmash of performance standards and fragments of a market economy in schools, while retaining public funding of the schools and government control over the enforcement of the new standards. ...

Amen.  But, the conclusion to be drawn from this is not to be satisfied with the Western educational equivalent of the Brezhnev regime.  The conclusion, which Murray hints at obliquely but does not spell out: capitalism for all!  The real thing.

It worked and works for adults.  Freedom for adults – all adults - had and continues to have exactly the kind of transformational effects that anti-romantics regard as delusional.  Yet they happened and happen.  So, why not try the same thing with children?

If the modern electronic industry (in the form of things like the thing I’m typing this into) had not happened, most anti-romantics would say that it was utterly impossible.  Yet capitalism routinely extracts extraordinary achievements from very ordinary people indeed.  The subtitle of Murray’s article is: “On requiring every child to be above average.” Under rip-roaring capitalism, just about every adult is “above average”, by the standards of pre-capitalist times, and by the standards of the still severely non-capitalist places now.

Maybe children can’t do freedom.  Maybe, by their nature (nature again), they can’t handle it.  But we could at least make a start with adolescents.  We could at least liberate the big children, the children who aren’t really children at all.

Monday April 21 2008

I have now read the first of these three pieces, and am greatly looking forward to reading the other two.  Here’s how the first one starts:

My husband Jason is a major video game geek. We have boxes in the garage, full of all his old game systems, and the games he couldn’t trade back in for credit on newer ones. The guys at the local GameCrazy don’t know his name; they just call him “big spender.”

I’ve known about this fascination since we started dating, and in fact, his ability to press the pause button and continue to interact with the people in the room was one of the things about him that impressed me to begin with. We’d curl up together, him with the latest Zelda, me with my laptop, and I’d cheer with him when he beat a level, and be dutifully sad when the solution to the puzzle eluded him. We discussed the ethics of cheats, and whether it was worth it or not. To this day, I get all nostalgic about our dating days when I hear the startup music to “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.”

When we had our first child, Jason and Rowan spent many the happy hour cuddling together, while Jason narrated game strategy, and Rowan soaked up the comfort and security of being in his Papa’s arms. That’s not a direct benefit of game playing by any stretch, but it does set the scene for What Happened Next.

Rowan pretty much demanded a controller of his own from the time he could make his hands obey his direction. And he knew the difference between when the controller was connected, and when it was not. No substitutions tolerated; he wanted to play.

Some amazing father-son bonding times have happened in front of The Box. Sometimes, it’s a game that Rowan can play, sometimes, Rowan sits and watches Jason play and asks questions. Part collaboration, part adoration, it’s precious time that the two of them share together. Usually, I go to bed pretty early, so the two pals hang out, and more nights than not, Rowan still falls asleep in Papa’s arms while they play together.

Just for that alone, I’d say video games were worth it and then some.

Deep thanks to Adriana for alerting me to this lady (see in particularly this).  She and Adriana are collaborating on, if I understand it right, stuff like this.

Sunday February 10 2008

Do you have to be educated, and in particular highly qualified, to get ahead in the world today?  Some interesting reflections by BGC in a comment on this:

The more I look into it, the more it seems that the most parsimonious explanation of educational differentials in modernizing societies is that both education and signalling are less important than we realize; and that IQ is the major factor with personality/temperament as an important secondary factor.

To parody, IQ and temperament are destiny (with a high IQ and a conscientious temperament being optimal on average for both status and income). Several longitudinal IQ studies have shown near-perfect social mobility with respect to IQ (ie. poor kids with IQ rise to the level predicted by their IQ; rich kinds with low IQ fall).

The picture is modified by the fact that IQ is substantially inherited, and that there are big average IQ differences between social classes.

IQ and temperament predict educational attainment - however, of course, educational credentials are also vital, and add noise to this correlation (no matter how clever and hardworking you are, you can’t be a doctor without a degree - but you could still become an entrepreneur).

In the long term, as psychometric testing improves or is all-but replaced by genetic testing - and when the relatively modest effects of education become established - it may be that the amount of time spent in full time education will begin to diminish, and will become much more focused.

We can dream.  I agree that intelligence and temperament are both very important, but believe that education, truly understood, is also crucial, rather as you need an acorn and a friendly environment to make an oak tree.  Remove either, and it’s no oak tree.

But that doesn’t mean that the right environment for clever people with a good temperament is necessarily “education”, as commonly understood now.  Doesn’t education, done well, make your “temperament” better?

All of which is a bit beside the point that the original posting was making, which was a rather intriguing conjecture about how more education, as commonly understood, reduces inflation.  Which is a new idea to me.

Thursday January 17 2008

Madsen Pirie takes a swipe at Common Error No. 9, which goes:

“It is wrong to allow bright children to go to special schools. This deprives the ordinary schools of their beneficial influence.”

Pirie concentrates on the immorality of such a policy:

The vicious notion is that children, whether bright or not, should be regarded as the instruments of the ends of others, instead of ends in themselves.

However, he leaves unscathed the implied claim that such a policy actually would help unbright children.  Presumably he doesn’t care.  I certainly don’t, except insofar as the idea makes a mildly interesting blog posting.  I oppose this policy no matter how much good it might bestow upon the unbright, on the grounds that such compulsion is just plain wrong, and that compulsion in all other areas of life (definitely including educational life) does miles more harm than good, so why should this policy, even if some children might benefit from it, be any different?

If you support such a policy, but if your true purpose is to achieve more equality of outcome by making the bright less bright, by dumbing down the bright rather than raising up the unbright, then you wouldn’t care if such a policy really did make the unbright any brighter either, any more than I do.  You’d still favour compelling the bright to mix with the unbright, just as I would still oppose it.

But, if you think that such a policy is justified, provided it actually achieves the desired effect of making the unbright brighter, you would want to know if it actually does have this effect.  So, does it?  I don’t know for sure but I very much doubt it.  But then, I would, wouldn’t I?

Monday December 31 2007

Perry de Havilland puts the case for home schooling, by simply copying out what she says.

imageBut, she’s doing okay for herself, isn’t she?  Her education hasn’t been a complete failure, even if she sometimes finds speaking English sentences in public hard.  As commenter number one here says:

Give her a break you people are all just jealous. I’d rather be hot than smart anyday!

My prejudice about girls who know how to organise their make-up and appearance when young is that later they are liable to be quite good at organising other things.  In other words, they ain’t necessarily so dumb.  Not so clueless, you might say.  They just had different priorities to the ones favoured by some of their teachers.

Tuesday December 11 2007

Malcolm Gladwell writes about the Flynn effect, which is the tendency for IQ, whatever exactly IQ is and however exactly you measure it, to rise from generation to generation, suggesting that IQ is an environmental effect rather than a genetic one.  Flynn picture on the right from here (on the right - scroll down a bit).
Start of Gladwell’s article:

One Saturday in November of 1984, James Flynn, a social scientist at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, received a large package in the mail. It was from a colleague in Utrecht, and it contained the results of I.Q. tests given to two generations of Dutch eighteen-year-olds. When Flynn looked through the data, he found something puzzling. The Dutch eighteen-year-olds from the nineteen-eighties scored better than those who took the same tests in the nineteen-fifties - and not just slightly better, much better.

Curious, Flynn sent out some letters. He collected intelligence-test results from Europe, from North America, from Asia, and from the developing world, until he had data for almost thirty countries. In every case, the story was pretty much the same. I.Q.s around the world appeared to be rising by 0.3 points per year, or three points per decade, for as far back as the tests had been administered. For some reason, human beings seemed to be getting smarter.

Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings - now known as the Flynn effect - for almost twenty-five years. ...

End of Gladwell’s article:

“The mind is much more like a muscle than we’ve ever realized,” Flynn said. “It needs to get cognitive exercise. It’s not some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark.” The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person’s mind but the quality of the world that person lives in.

I recommend reading what’s in between as well.

Questions: Will this effect eventually stop?  Are there any cases of IQs going down over time, from one generation to the next?  Because surely an environment can get stupider, can it not?  Might that be what would be meant by the decline of a civilisation?

If so, good to able at least to believe rationally that our civilisation is still on the up and up, as I definitely believe it is.