kitchen table math, the sequel: Seth Roberts on IQ

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Seth Roberts on IQ

Charles Murray vs. Charles Murray
The Bell Curve (1994) by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which argued that IQ is destiny, was the most IQ-glorifying book since . . . well, ever. Now Mr. Murray has taken a big step away from his position in that book, yet he continues to glorify IQ.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Mr. Murray wrote an op-ed piece (“What’s wrong with vocational school?”) with which I mostly agree. His main point is that for most students, college is a waste of time. As a college teacher (at Berkeley), I have seen that all too clearly. Mr. Murray has an unfortunate way of stating his position. “A four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.” I’d put it differently: A four-year college education teaches analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the interest of most people. I am sure that if my students or anyone’s students were more interested in the material, they would learn it better. That most college students are not interested in the same things as most college professors is a good thing, economically speaking. A healthy economy is a diverse economy; a diverse economy requires a wide range of skills and knowledge, much wider than the narrow skills and knowledge possessed and taught by college teachers. But it is a bad thing for the students and teachers, who are trapped. They have to be there. I feel worse for the students, of course — they are paying to be there.

It isn’t complicated: IQ tests were designed to predict school performance. They do. People with higher IQs do better in school. To believe in the value of IQ is to believe in the school system it reflects. To glorify one is to glorify the other. Now Mr. Murray has taken a step away from one (the school system) but not the other (IQ). Well, nobody’s perfect.


In The Nature of Economies, Jane Jacobs pointed to the stultifying effects of discrimination. “Macho cultures typically have pitiful, weak economies,” she wrote. “Half their population, doing economically important types of work, such as cooking and food processing . . . are excluded from taking initiatives to develop all that work [e.g., open a restaurant] — and nobody else does it, either.” IQ discrimination is also stultifying. If our society did a better job of helping students who are not good at college — helping them find jobs where their abilities shine, instead of wasting four precious years of their lives — the entire economy would benefit.

This has become an issue for me. In my own district, as in everyone else's, kids who are "receiving services" are simply assumed to be defective.

No effort - none - is made to find out what they shine in, or what they could shine in if someone took them seriously and taught them to mastery.

I've seen at least two boys who have obvious talent for math who aren't going anywhere in math because they are receiving services, etc. They "struggle in school," so "struggle in school" is their entire identity.

The only way out of this dilemma is athletics. Everyone believes you can "struggle" in school but be good at sports. That was one of the main arguments in favor of the fields bond; the fields should be built to give something to the kids who "struggle in school."

Of course I'm sympathetic to that argument, but it makes me furious that we have so many kids struggling in school that we have to build $5.5 million dollar fields to save them. Why are so many of our very bright, hard-working kids struggling in school??

(This isn't an argument against building fields, btw. Schools should have athletic fields and facilities. Fields or no-fields isn't my point. My point is: if we're spending $19,000 per student kids shouldn't be struggling.)

The notion that you could struggle in school but be, or become, terrific in a particular subject simply does not exist.

Seth on Factor X

from an exchange with Steve Sailer:

The Flynn Effect implies that there are one or more powerful environmental effects on IQ. They can raise or lower IQ on the order of 20 points. For simplicity, let’s say there’s just one factor, Factor X. If you are high on Factor X, your IQ will be 20 points higher than if you are low on Factor X. Herrnstein and Murray speculated on the possible genetic cause of Black/White differences and other group differences without knowing (a) what Factor X is and (b) where Whites, Blacks, and other groups fall on this factor. Once those two pieces of info were known, there might be nothing left to explain. Differences in Factor X might entirely account for the observed group differences.

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 2
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 3
Seth Roberts on IQ

fuzzy math makes you smarter
IQ quiz
school raises IQ
intelligence is verbal, perceptual, and image rotation
math isn't English


Ben Calvin said...

Catherine, have your read The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis?

Although nominally about football, it is strongly illustrative of how environment and socialization can affect IQ scores.

Which in a way goes back to the point that IQ is fairly effective predictor of school success

And of course Michael Lewis is a very good and compelling writer.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've got the book!

Ed got it for me for Christmas. Haven't read it yet, but it looked fantastic.

I'm a huge Michael Lewis fan.

Anonymous said...

College is only a waste of time because of globalization and cheap labor off shore.

That is why college does not make sense. It's simply out of context. If we had not opened up to China and India like we did these grads would have been sucked up in an instant with good paying jobs. Not anymore when you can hire someone in a foreign market that can live on about $1000 a year.

And we have 30 more years to go. Problem is everyone says globalization is great. In my opinion globalization will require the whole sacrifice of this generational work force from about 2001 forward.