Charles Murray (of The Bell Curve fame) has written a series of articles for the Wall Street Journal on intelligence (available free here). One frustrating aspect of the articles is that Murray doesn’t cite his sources. Consider this statement:
Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.
We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.
Is Murray really suggesting that we shouldn’t bother to teach children of average ability how to read and write effectively? Murray later claims that only small, “temporary” increases in IQ are possible, and that poor performance of many schools is due primarily to low IQ in their student population. But there’s more:
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.
And then there’s this:
The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.
The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good.
Only the gifted — those with IQs above 120 — are worthy or capable of being “good,” Murray suggests. Murray offers little evidence to support these notions, other than to point readers back to his 1994 book. What I’m wondering is if Cognitive Daily readers might be interested in generating a list of resources to help open Murray’s mind a bit. He could start with this one.
Any other favorites, readers? Please share them in the comments.