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No Dumb Kids Left Behind?
Interesting op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve. Murray says the real limits on children -- the ones that cannot be repealed -- are the ones placed on them by intelligence. You can pump up a high-IQ underachiever to do better in school, but a kid with a low IQ is likely to be "left behind" no matter what. Here's an excerpt from Murray's piece -- the first in a three-part series:

Some say that the public schools are so awful that there is huge room for improvement in academic performance just by improving education. There are two problems with that position. The first is that the numbers used to indict the public schools are missing a crucial component. For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95.

...To say that even a perfect education system is not going to make much difference in the performance of children in the lower half of the distribution understandably grates. But the easy retorts do not work. It's no use coming up with the example of a child who was getting Ds in school, met an inspiring teacher, and went on to become an astrophysicist. That is an underachievement story, not the story of someone at the 49th percentile of intelligence. It's no use to cite the differences in test scores between public schools and private ones--for students in the bottom half of the distribution, the differences are real but modest. It's no use to say that IQ scores can be wrong. I am not talking about scores on specific tests, but about a student's underlying intellectual ability, g, whether or not it has been measured with a test. And it's no use to say that there's no such thing as g.

While concepts such as "emotional intelligence" and "multiple intelligences" have their uses, a century of psychometric evidence has been augmented over the last decade by a growing body of neuroscientific evidence. Like it or not, g exists, is grounded in the architecture and neural functioning of the brain, and is the raw material for academic performance. If you do not have a lot of g when you enter kindergarten, you are never going to have a lot of it. No change in the educational system will change that hard fact.

That says nothing about the quality of the lives that should be open to everyone across the range of ability. I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. My point is just this: It is true that many social and economic problems are disproportionately found among people with little education, but the culprit for their educational deficit is often low intelligence. Refusing to come to grips with that reality has produced policies that have been ineffectual at best and damaging at worst.

Would we be better serving the kids lower on the IQ scale if they learned skills more suited to their level of ability and job potential -- basic reading and writing skills, elementary reasoning, calculation of percentages and such...and taught them a trade -- instead of treating them like they're college bound?

Posted by aalkon at January 16, 2007 10:44 AM

Comments

Probably...but what's really scary is how many of them DO end up in college- and how many then go on to teach.

Posted by: Jennifer Emick at January 16, 2007 12:35 AM

I have an "interesting" kid who was on a college track in high school and I had to fight to get him out of it. Dylan has Aspeger's Syndrome. Struggles like a drowning man in most subjects: science, cooking; is astonishingly bright in others: trigonometry, Spanish. Tests at "moron" level in standardized tesing like SATs or other educational assessments, but can recite entire scenes of a film with full characterization and sound effects after seeing it twice.
School shouldn't be wall-to-wall misery, which it was. Even now it's accented throw-rug misery, which I suppose we all endured.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at January 16, 2007 4:55 AM

Most kids in the inner city aren't being treated like they're college-bound. They're being treated like they're stupid, expendable niggers. I performed at idiot level in high school -- lots of D's on my report card -- and my guess is that it had a lot to do with my fucked-up family life and all the weed I was smoking. If someone had decided to restrict me to the trade school track at the time, I would've never gone on to get a PhD from a top-tier U.S. university. I'm successful and I do good work now, probably because I live in an opportunity society where an individual's entire educational and career trajectory isn't decided by the result of a childhood IQ test.

Posted by: Lena at January 16, 2007 5:57 AM

I've known my step daughter since she was 2. By then I had raised 2 kids to adulthood, so I knew how to spot an intelligent child, and she definitely was not. I couldn't tell my husband what I observed, but knew he would find out eventually. Now she's 10 and struggling in school. He throws good money away on tutoring and still her scores remain 2 grades behind. Her school spends money on extra help, and she remains 2 grades behind.

Her basic intelligence is probably around the 70 to 80 range and no amount of tutoring or special classes is going to change that fact. And still the school and her father struggle to make her something she definitely is not.

Posted by: The Necklace Lady at January 16, 2007 6:00 AM

The stigma of vocational ed holds back lots of kids who would be happier not going to college. Our school district has an amazing program-kids can learn CAD-CAM, robotics, learn to be a med tech, etc. My brother-in-law runs a company that makes precision metering equipment. He is always short of skilled machinists. Lots of kids with dyslexia and other learning problems have amazing skills in this area.

Posted by: Ruth at January 16, 2007 6:00 AM

Murray wrote: "...in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95."

We have to ask what IQ it takes to acheive a "basic acheivement" score. If it takes an IQ of 100, then we would seem to be doing pretty good. If it takes an IQ of 80, then we have room for improvement.

Posted by: doombuggy at January 16, 2007 6:05 AM

School shouldn't be wall-to-wall misery, which it was. Even now it's accented throw-rug misery, which I suppose we all endured.

I always thought my friend's (Ivy-educated and amazingly well-read) husband was a good guy. Then I heard him say this to his kid:

"You know, (kid's name omitted), not everybody has to go to college."

...and then I thought he was a great guy.

The kid is now doing better in high school, and he is going to go to college. But, that took a hell of a lot of pressure off. Not everybody is college material. And Ruth is quite right about "the stigma of vocational ed."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 16, 2007 6:40 AM

USA Education System - big winners and big losers

European System – no big winners, but no big losers

Our kids are led to believe that they can be brain surgeons right up until the end (graduation) and some actually bet the odds. European kids know that they will drive trucks, stock shelves, or whatever from the onset. No big winners, but a better understanding of reality.

Posted by: Roger at January 16, 2007 7:54 AM

I am one of the bright ones. I dropped our of high school two years early, told the state I was homescholing, and went to Community College. 127 credit hourse later - still no degree. I've tried lots of different courses of study and received nothing but encouragement from my very bright family.

Now I'm learning to be a baker and I'm really happy about it. (As opposed to pre-med, physics, mathmatics, and biology). Sometimes the college track doesn't work for the bright ones either.

Posted by: Dawn at January 16, 2007 8:05 AM

In a lot of countries in Europe, education is free, up to and including university. My aunt in Germany, for example,has 2 PhDs. What they choose to do with their education, and what job opportunities are available is the difference between the US and Europe.

An education isn't solely for employment opportunities. A population that can think critically, process data efficiently (especially now), and has a good general knowledge of science and history will have a better quality of life. Unfortunately, they will also ask hard questions and will not be as easy to dupe with the BS that spews from the government. This leads me to believe that it is not in the best interest of the US government to push for a higher standard of education (but that's just my suspicious mind at work).

And people don't look down their noses at the trades in Europe either. You have to be pretty smart to be an electrician or you wind up crispy!

If you're going to compare things in the US with any other country in the world, it's a good idea to actually do research, so that your comparisons are valid.

Posted by: Chris at January 16, 2007 9:03 AM

"Most kids in the inner city aren't being treated like they're college-bound. They're being treated like they're stupid, expendable niggers..."

You have my heart forever with that sentence, Lena.
(And with the rest of your comment, too).

Much of inner city education is already being run by bell curve economics. That's the real joke.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 16, 2007 9:18 AM

"An education isn't solely for employment opportunities."

It's no guarantee of employment opportunities, either. For 99.99999999999% of the population, basket-weaving falls under the "hobby" category, not the "marketable money-earning skill" category. It's good for people to understand the difference, and perhaps pursue education in both categories.

Time or Newsweek published an article not long ago about high school dropouts. The slant of the article seemed to be that schools should do more to keep kids from dropping out of high school - keep them in and "rehabilitate" their grades as much as possible.

As an example, they showcased a really dumb 15-year-old girl who started skipping classes with her friends to ride around town in their cars all afternoon. Not surprisingly, her grades dropped and she was flunking out. When she asked, "What should I do now?" the school said she should probably just drop out, and the article demonized the school for its stance.

However, I don't see why the school should divert its resources away from hardworking students to give her the special, extra attention she would need to catch up. She was fortunate enough to be born into this country and have an education offered to her at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer, but she chose to squander it.

If anyone (besides her own dumb self) is to blame in this situation, it would be her parents. Where were they while she was goofing off all day? Seems they were high school dropouts, too, but they came of age in a time when you could quit school, get a union job in a factory, and still make more money than a lot of people with 4-year college degrees. Times have changed, and those jobs are now in Mexico. Maybe they should send their daughter there, in exchange for a Mexican or two who is willing to come here and work his or her butt off.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 16, 2007 9:25 AM

Gould took "Bell Curve" apart with salad tongs and a pocket knife.

Posted by: Crid at January 16, 2007 9:46 AM

Chris-
I am a American who has done all her university studies in Europe and frankly, it wasn't all that great. If you are interested in learning for learning's sake, you are a winner. If you know exactly what job you want to do, you will also probably come out ahead. Otherwise? American university is a lot better.
I've never actually thought about the ideas brought up by this post- that there is an intelligence curve and all kids are not going to get top grades no matter what. It really is a conundrum, how do you address the fact that there are always going to be students who don't perform without sending them to some sort of educational ghetto? How do you give kids the confidence they need and still adjust learning to different levels?
Frankly, I think that learning how to learn is the best thing that you can get from school. University should be reserved for people really interested in learning more in a specific area.
And what is this bizarre rumor that in Europe, the trades are respected? In western Europe, all the building trades are dominated by imported E. European workers.

Posted by: Nicole at January 16, 2007 9:50 AM

"Gould took "Bell Curve" apart with salad tongs and a pocket knife."

Where? Gotta link?

Posted by: Lena at January 16, 2007 10:31 AM

I'm a teacher, and I'm sure that other teachers will pelt me with No. 2 pencils for saying this...but yeah, college isn't for everyone and we are in fact doing a lot of students a disservice with the assumption that "everyone" can go to college if he/she works hard enough.

I personally think that a student should be able to sit down with his/her family and guidance counselor at some early point in high school and talk about vocations. Students who're interested in a trade would still have to get "core" classes...very well-balanced math, good critical reading, basic written communication, and such. But there's no reason why a kid can't start some apprenticeship work in a trade and get a head start on that part of life. I don't think that kids should be "tracked" entirely on test results, either. It needs to be a choice.

Lots of teachers are duped into thinking that education can completely transform every kid out there. And that's a noble sentiment. But at the end of the day, not every kid is cut out to be a brain surgeon or an engineer. I tutor one young man whose parents are absolutely beside themselves because their sixteen-year-old won't be going to college. Know what? He doesn't want to. The kid wants to be a mechanic, and he'll make a damn fine one. Hell, I'd have him work on my car next Tuesday if he opened up a shop.

I think part of the challenge will be avoiding stigmatizing vocational programs...keep people from thinking that it's for "dumb" kids who can't make it in a normal program....when in fact it's that the college program is an ill fit at best.

Posted by: Karen at January 16, 2007 10:47 AM

"I think part of the challenge will be avoiding stigmatizing vocational programs...keep people from thinking that it's for "dumb" kids who can't make it in a normal program....when in fact it's that the college program is an ill fit at best."

Karen, I loved your post. I don't understand the stigma behind vocational programs either - since when is learning a marketable job skill something to be ashamed of? Based on what I pay to have my car fixed, those guys aren't doing too bad!

I went to college for four years because I wanted an accounting degree, which I wanted because I knew I could always find work in that field. I saw my four-year degree as vocational training, too, except that it took longer and cost more money. I would do things differently if I had them to do again.

College life was just an extension of high school in so many ways. It is getting more and more expensive, and lots of people end up like a friend of mine, who majored in photography because she thought it was fun, and will probably never make more than $17,000 a year. Yeah, yeah - do what you love and the money will follow. Whatever. If you know how I can make a living sleeping late, reading books for fun and playing with my dog, let me know. Until then, I have to do something people will actually pay me to do.

Your student can always take a class here and there, later in life, if he feels like getting a four-year degree or if he just finds something interesting and wants to take a class or two in it. Learning doesn't stop when someone reaches the end of their government education - in fact, in many cases that's when learning starts. The poor kid's parents need to chill. I'm glad he has you for a teacher.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 16, 2007 12:23 PM

I have retired from teaching high school math after 27 years of doing so. There is one element that seems to be lacking in this discussion. Some observations:


  • If a student lives in a family and/or an environment that does not value academic education, that student will probably not value academic education.
  • If the parents of a student believe that it is solely the school's responsibility to educate that student, the student will not become educated.
  • You can't teach a kid to read if there are not books in the house.
  • It takes a village to raise a child.

And Jennifer Emick: Who taught you to read and write?

Posted by: Gary Steiger at January 16, 2007 4:16 PM

> Where? Gotta link?

Sorry, it was one of those books, the essay collections from that magazine. There are dozens. I'm sure you've seen them, they've consumed a LOT of pulp. As Stephen himself once said: "I'm well aware of the horrors that have been visited upon our forests by eager natural historians...."

This may be it/no warranty:

http://tinyurl.com/yp89hk

Posted by: Crid at January 16, 2007 4:17 PM

> It takes a village to raise a child

GrrrrrrrRAAAAHRR!!!!

shivvsshhh.........

Posted by: Crid at January 16, 2007 4:20 PM

A population that can think critically

That describes too few people in this country -- and it's perhaps why god belief has such a stronghold.

On the other hand, my retired friend Pierre, a master woodworker in France, lets nothing past him, doesn't believe in god, and is in the middle of reading Hannah Arendt (despite never having attended college). Wendy McElroy is another very smart person who never went on to college. And I nearly dropped out before I graduated, but ended up finishing. I read much more now (in terms of studies, etc.) than I ever did in school. And learn much more, too.

Best class I ever took in school: logic, in 10th grade.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 16, 2007 6:10 PM

When they said "Frankly, I think that learning how to learn is the best thing that you can get from school." I thought right on. Learning is hard. (at least for 90 percent of us :-) )

But I do think that our schools teach in a very dumb way. We learn all term about American history. OK we take tests to see how much we remember but aside from the basics, how much do we really remember????

I had a great teacher that made history come alive. I remember some of the basic details but what I remember most is that a group of people wanted to have a decent life and were willing to work and fight for it. They worked long and hard and had to fight too many times, but they created a country where almost anyone has a chance to do great things. Two people who both dropped out of school and then went on to things that they loved did pretty good. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Then there was the guy who did eBay, and Google, and a few thousand other companies not so big.

The thing is we really need to stop the political bull shit and restructure our schools, our government, and get the country back on track before we go the way of the Roman Empire. :-(

Elder Norm

Posted by: elder norm at January 16, 2007 9:42 PM

Gary Steiger --

My parents didn't finish high school, and my siblings didn't finish college. I'm a professor in a medical school. My secret? The great miracle cream of civilization, of course: Male homosexuality.

Lena

Posted by: Lena at January 16, 2007 9:50 PM

That's so great Lean. About the parents and the homosexuality. (Hetero guys have little idea how easy it is for homosexual guys to get laid.)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 3:28 AM

"Best class I ever took in school: logic, in 10th grade."

Me too. I took a Logic class in community college, taught by this old hippie dude. He got us right into it, like he was Socretes.

I think that course should be required in every school curriculum.

"Hetero guys have little idea how easy it is for homosexual guys to get laid."

Hetero guys must know that! The media is always portraying gay guys as promiscuous party animals!

"And what is this bizarre rumor that in Europe, the trades are respected? In western Europe, all the building trades are dominated by imported E. European workers."

Do you mean bricklayers, electrians, drywallers? Which trades? Are they well paid, or treated like grunt labourers? If they are all skilled, I guess it's basic economics-too many of anything drops the price down. They should move to Canada or the US. The skilled tradespeople over here are getting older and retiring, so there's going to be a shortage in the near future.

Posted by: Chris at January 17, 2007 8:07 AM

Lena, what do you teach?

Posted by: Crid at January 17, 2007 4:51 PM

"Introduction to health outcomes research" and "Meta-analysis, decision analysis, and cost-effectiveness analysis" (I'm particularly pleased with how the word "anal" recurs through the title of that one).

Posted by: Lena at January 17, 2007 7:11 PM

"Two people who both dropped out of school and then went on to things that they loved did pretty good. Bill Gates..."

For the record, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and not high school, as some people may have inferred from this statement.

People really do need to learn the basics somehow, somewhere, if not in school, then home-schooling, courses over the internet, private study...

Posted by: Chris at January 18, 2007 8:44 AM

Amy - keep us posted on the rest of the articles in this series

Posted by: CornerDemon at January 18, 2007 2:05 PM

For some reason many of the posters here, Lena especially, whom I suspect is one of those “stupid, expendable niggers" she refers to, seem to want to impress themselves and others with their own IQ level while at the same time instructing us all at how humble they are ... a typical hypocritical American behavior. High IQ Europeans are quite open about their intelligence.
Instead of boring us with your anecdotal intellectual attainments why not address the issue that Murray raises, namely that IQ, or specifically "g" in humans is persistent and incontrovertible.

Murray is right. There is nothing that can be done with dumb kids, whether they are White or Black, although unfortunately Blacks don't exactly excel in the IQ department at the best of times, which is why there is so much social chaos in Black communities.

We waste hundreds of billions of dollars every year trying to "educate" kids that are dumb or retarded. Better to use the money to dissuade the parents, forcibly if necessarily, to avoid reproduction.

Posted by: Wayne Penner at January 22, 2007 5:22 PM

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