Man, Education is a...
Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment--you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.
One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education's role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated. Today and over the next two days, I will put the case for three simple truths about the mediating role of intelligence that should bear on the way we think about education and the nation's future.
Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.
Bingo. Sorry, but some people are born smarter than others, and nothing can change that. Also, stop blaming everything on education; the nature of America's media (a topic for another time) has the largest effect in several of the aforementioned cases (it's cool to be a thug, remember?).
Even if she is taught to read every bit as well as her intelligence permits, she still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that.
Yep. The sad truth is that Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Shelley, etc. are lost on most people. Just about everybody I know hated reading The Great Gatsby and Romeo and Juliet for school; in Gatsby's case, it was the inability to appreciate the grand symbolism and the interesting characters. In Romiet's case, the outdated English caused problems with merely following the story.
The topic yesterday was education and children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution. Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher. Today's simple truth is that far too many of them are going to four-year colleges.
America is obsessed with college; it's become incredibly "common" over time. College used to be more of an elite endeavor, something less pursued, but there's this bizarre idea that everybody's better off when they try to go to college. At school, it's all about college; we are not at all educated about alternate options (i.e. vocational school). Learning a specific trade would be more beneficial to a good percentage of those who attempt to attend college, but people are little-exposed to the option; instead, we have drones around us chanting, "You must go to college".
There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college--enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.
Raw statistics that show too many people are attempting the climb.
[Teenagers] are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because "vocational training" is second class. "College" is first class.
And, of course, everybody wants go first class, right? It's the cool thing to do.
In professions screened for IQ by educational requirements--medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia--the great majority of people must, by the nature of the selection process, have IQs over 120. Evidence about who enters occupations where the screening is not directly linked to IQ indicates that people with IQs of 120 or higher also occupy large proportions of positions in the upper reaches of corporate America and the senior ranks of government. People in the top 10% of intelligence produce most of the books and newspaper articles we read and the television programs and movies we watch. They are the people in the laboratories and at workstations who invent our new pharmaceuticals, computer chips, software and every other form of advanced technology.
Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence.
It's true, and the top 10% needs special educational attention, but that goes against America's idealistic views on equality. Some people want to believe that everyone has potential to do/be what they want, but it's not true. I'm never going to be a professional athlete, nor will I ever be a world-class violinist. I am capable of writing good poetry, which is something most people are incapable of, regardless of how much they wish or try. That's just how it is.
How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.
Ridiculous. That's all I'm saying.
The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities--in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them. That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.
Very true. I've been in a class that's got the right idea (Gifted and Talented), but trust me, I never hit a wall there. Really, there wouldn't be much social consequence in dividing out special classes are particularly intelligent people: by middle school (or even before then), everyone knows who the smart ones are, and there really isn't as much jealousy or prejudice present as some people seem to think. Noone's feelings will be hurt if you group together all the high-IQ folk and chuck quantum physics at them.
That's several of the major points; all three articles are solid and make great points on the flaws of American education. I've a huge concern for the education of the next generation, for I am experiencing the entire process first-hand, and it's aggravating, frustrating, and at times, downright appalling. How can the people upstairs be so stupid?, I often ask myself. Guess some people are incapable of seeing clearly; or did they just get a bad education?
LAEvaside: A related article, courtesy of Dan Schneider. [/laevaside]