Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Man, Education is a...

Please direct your attention to these articles, which I noticed via Dan Schneider's mailing list, credits to Don Moss: Intelligence in the Classroom, What's Wrong With Vocational School?, and Aztecs vs. Greeks. Now, please note this statement; America's educational system is screwed up. Yeah, I just bashed the whole thing. The three articles linked make some great points on what's wrong with the current educational program in America; let's interpolate a little bit to highlight some major points:

~~~~~Part I

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.

~~~~~Part II

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.

~~~~~Part III

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?

Take Care,

LAEvaside: A related article, courtesy of Dan Schneider. [/laevaside]


Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

Great post. I'm going to link to this. You realize this far earlier than I did, (or at least when I bothered to articulate it- I think I did realize it) not to mention that a lot of the times the so-called 'smarter' kids are bored in school and just don't care. That's how I was in middle school. And for me, when I got to college I found it no better. My high school honors and AP English classes and teachers were all better than the profs and the formula I had in college, which is part of the reason I got depressed during my 1st year. I felt a little overwhelmed by how underwhelmed I felt about my classes. There just wasn't any passion there. But one of the points the articles(s) made was how people who are not smarter generally don't realize it, which makes them the most difficult people to argue with, especially since they tend to pontificate and rely on quoting others to make their points, because they have no independent thought of their own and don't have the ability to realize that.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Dan Schneider said...

Neil- this article is a few years old, but is tangential to the points in those quoted articles- which were forwarded by Don Moss.

10:22 AM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

Thanks for the link, Dan. I'll edit that (and the article on Dan Moss since I neglected that fact that he forwarded the Wall Street articles) into the intro.

Jessica- I've had a pretty good understanding of these problems for about a year or so; later I might lay out the basic educational system the way I see fit. I can understand your feeling of switching to high school to college, somewhat; now that I've transitioned from junior high to high school, the work feels just as easy (there's just more of it) and the teachers aren't as good anymore (generally speaking).

People can be categorized into three main categories: people who realize that they are not gifted and are okay with that; people who are not gifted but fail to realize it; and people who are gifted and realize it. There are those who can't follow the instructions, those who can, and those who can write them.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

And then there is one more, which is what I was- gifted and not realizing it because I lacked the confidence, and those who were my elders were incapable of seeing it, not to mention in my youth I was always being told there was something 'wrong' with me. I knew I was different in some significant way, but I didn't know what way that was because I hadn't realized my talent yet. I suppose had I grown up now, I'd be classified as someone with ADD because of an overactive imagination, and put on medication. Don't even get me started with that one! I hate when parents do that because I think that 'disorder' is just BS and that their kids are either lazy or just daydreamers, which is what I was (the daydreamer). But the last thing you want to do is medicate someone for either of those 2 things, implying that some pill will fix the problem, when the solution should come from one's right to be as they are. For that I'm glad I grew up in the times I did.

1:02 PM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

That's a good point, and true; I overlooked that. I don't know anyone at school akin to you, but that may be because of the lack of confidence you mentioned (which could stem into introvertedness and therefore leave someone unnoticed). I would venture that everyone gifted realizes it at some point, but it takes some longer than others. Oh, and sometimes people mix up 'wrong' and 'unique'. Aggravating.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I feel like before we start dividing people into 'gifted' and 'not gifted' we need to define exactly what is meant by this.

Some people can intuitively fix cars without needing any training - I would consider that an immense talent or gift. Is being able to write fiction, poems, or novels somehow 'better' than being naturally talented at fixing automobiles? Another example: some other people are not necessarily rational or kind or even sane, but they might be fantastic orators, capable of rallying crowds to whatever purpose they choose (see: most dictators). Does that qualify as being 'gifted' ?

I have to admit that on the basis of reading this, I don't have any idea what 'gifted' really means. Certainly it's possible to provide specific goals and means of completing them, along with the idea of talent, interest, and skill, but...

Also, notice how a significant proportion of 'gifted' individuals in the education system seem to come from upper-middle-class to rich backgrounds? If you have parents supporting you every step of the way, helping you with homework, encouraging your interests, and preparing you for standardized tests, it's very easy to get the sense that you're somehow specially talented or gifted over others. Keep in mind, I'm hardly saying 'everyone is a genius' or 'everyone is the same', I just feel like there's a subtle elitism that can creep in when you start going around classifying people as more 'gifted' and 'intelligent' than others. It doesn't necessarily have any application in the real world, either: look at most political leaders and you'll see that they're hardly 'gifted' or 'geniuses' - they're just either incredibly canny, or they have connections.

I was watching a panel recently on Charlie Rose, where he interviewed recent winners of the MacArthur Fellowship or 'genius' grant. But I wouldn't consider any of them 'geniuses' - having read stories by the writer who won it and seen work by the visual artist, I don't see how any of it displays any kind of superhuman or rare talent. Once again, promotion and connections. That's just one example, of course, but it shows how these terms get bandied about without anything necessarily underlying them.

I think the point of the above article that's of the most importance is the idea that trade schools are somehow less worthy than college - a manifestly ridiculous idea and one probably genuinely harmful in the long run, as you point out. That seems of more importance than whether anyone is 'gifted' or not. Can't we say 'X is talented at chemical engineering' or 'Y is talented at sculpting' without having to draw up an imaginary class system of 'gifted' and 'non-gifted' ?

And this is coming from someone who was tagged as 'gifted' all through school and placed in AP classes, scored upper 1500's in SAT, etc. I'm telling you, it doesn't necessarily mean anything. Find what you enjoy doing, and keep doing it, that's what matters. Talent, hard work, and dedication win out.

3:28 PM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

Jason: I made sure to quote portions a couple portions of the article that make it clear what sort of "giftedness" the writer of the article and I are referring to. "Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher." So, the lower half of the first part is under 100 IQ, and the first three paragraphs of part three give an estimated division line between gifted and non-gifted at about 120. If the term "gifted" sounds elitist or too general, I apologize; I use it only to parallel the article writer's definition (an IQ of approx. 120 or higher). "Genius" is an even worse term; you are correct in saying that hard work is needed to push one's limits, and "genius" makes it sounds like everything comes easily. Then again, people with 120+ IQs never get to push their limits, so they might get the false impression that they are "geniuses" (hence the need for special classes).

Also, you are correct about people having a knack for a certain function. This article, however, is about the raw ability to excel, absorb information, and (most importantly) think for oneself in an academic category. I am not stating that other talents are any better or worse than the raw ability to process information in an academic field; the two are certainly different, though, and have to be treated differently. Fixing cars and running a football are great talents, but fundamentally different from the ability to work complex equations or hold an interesting narrative line.

I enjoyed your response; thanks for stopping by.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

Also, notice how a significant proportion of 'gifted' individuals in the education system seem to come from upper-middle-class to rich backgrounds?

This is very true, and also something to consider, which is why when they came up with that bell-curve, it was done in such a way to benefit whites and upper-middle class types, somehow implying that the poorer kids and those who are minorities are less intelligent. All that is stupid of course, and one's education has to be taken into consideration when trying to figure intelligence. 'Genius' is an overused word, it implies that someone just 'has it' without working for it. I tire of moms saying their kids are 'geniuses' when they have yet to accomplish something. One can have a 'genius' for a thing, be it arts, science, politics, etc, and it is just about finding that niche. But where one is a 'genius' in one area, he/she is not in another. I'd hate to see Newton's paintings, for example, just as much as I'm sure Picasso's math was mediocre.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Neil, thanks for reading. I agree with you that football and mechanics are categorically different from that kind of academic pursuit. I think that's one of the inherent problems with the education system - the 120+ IQs aren't being put in a context where they can push their limits, and the other students aren't necessarily being encouraged in the right direction either.

I think by the time of early high school, it's usually clear where people's interests, talents, and predispositions lie - and putting everyone through the same kind of program often has that deadening effect mentioned. If someone is academically oriented that way, it should probably be picked up earlier - same with orientation to particular trades or skills.

And unfortunately, as Jessica points out, colleges classes aren't necessarily better.

Anyway, keep up the great poems - I've enjoyed all the ones you've posted on this blog.

7:07 PM  
Blogger jdogmoney said...

"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.


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."

So very, very true.

There's not been a class that really challenged me.

I can usually go about half capacity and still pass the class, so I've never felt a need to really try.

I'd like it if that would change.

A class where if I didn't do my very best, I'd be kicked out.


A girl can dream...

Luckily, I happen to be gifted with a sense of humility, as well.

I, to put it bluntly, know I'm smart, but I also know just how smart I am. I have two older brothers, each at least as smart as I am and probably much more, who were all too happy to keep my ego in check.

With all due respect,

Postscript: On a different note, I believe one of the reasons that not very many people liked Gatsby is the way they "taught" it. Of course, that's old news.

10:55 PM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

That's true... My dad keeps me in check, somewhat, and I try to challenge myself and keep humility in mind. And yes, Gatsby was poorly taught; that probably put some people off immediately, before they had a chance to like it.

Also: Thanks Justin. I'll be sure to stop by your blog soon (free time's been fickle the last week or so).

9:27 PM  

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