Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Golden Oldie from 2007: "Half of all children are below average in intelligence""

From January 2007, a politically incorrect reminder in this election cycle about the money we pour into our public schools, prompted by this post from the Instapundit

My father-in-law used to say that 50% of all doctors finished in the lower half of their class. Now, good old Charles Murray, still "truthing" after all these years, points out a problem with demanding too much of our educational system here:
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.
You can do a lot of things with education, but improving innate abilities is not one of those things:
Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort. 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.
Oh my! It's a good thing that the lower 20% can't read the Wall Street Journal because they might get offended.

Update: This is not the fault of teachers or the public schools. But with so many of the upper 50% of the intelligence percentile being sent to private schools or even home schooled, the make up of the remainder of the population pool that the public school teachers are swimming in means that many of them are working against a strong current.

But it ought to make us take a hard look at what we are trying to do in our schools and why we are doing it.


  1. One of the great tragedies of education, over the last twenty years, has been the steady erosion of vocational education. I submit that mechanics, carpenrters, welders, plumbers and other tradesmen (tradespeople?) are as essential to the functioning of a society as PhDs. College is not a worthwhile pusuit for eveyone and, as the Dirty Jobs guy demonstrates, not a prerequisite to be a worthwhile member of society.
    I wish they would bring back vocational ed.

  2. There is still voc ed - at the community college level.

    I was looking for a basic welding class to allow me to so some work on my son's MG which I thought would be taught at a night high school level - but found only at my local CC.

    I suspect it's all about federal and state money flowing to the CC level, or as it is now known, "post secondary education."

    1. That is one good thing that CC are doing (I took welding, myself, at Corpus Christi in the CC there. I enjoy it and am considering purchasing a good, self contained, arc rig next year). The money from federal and state sources is a big factor in course menus (and boy, I don't miss academic politics in the slightest, I agree with Henry Kissinger's observation about disputes being more viscious where little of substance is at stake), big driver for things like lengths of school years, too (funny, they managed to function on just one "in service day" per school year when I attended public school, fewer assitant principals et al, as well, couldn't possibly be a correlation between administrative overburden and success rates. How many flag offciers are we up to, now?).

      I'd like to see more of it at the HS level, a colleague of mine taught science courses at a local HS and noted that they had dismantled their vocational programs, got a raft of administrators in exchange, though. Such a deal.

  3. When I went through Junior High School we were all given a set of aptitude/intelligence tests, You were then encouraged (but not forced) to join either the college prep or vocational paths for high school.There were opportunities to change paths at various intervals. This seemed to work pretty well, but I suppose we can't do this anymore because of self esteem issues etc.

    As a side issue, since I was about 4 I insisted that I wanted to be a US Navy officer. This singlemindedness really bothered my parents, so they spent some hard earned savings to put be through aptituse/intelligence tests at the University one summer. Results were that I would make a good candidate to be a naval officer--and that seemed to work out OK.