Thursday, January 18, 2007

Created Unequal

[posted by Callimachus]

How do you feel when you read this?

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.

In full agreement? Instinctively hackle-raised? If you want him to be wrong, can you prove he is? Don't be lulled by the Mr. Rogers' sweater of his comfortably self-effacing rhetoric. What he's saying is cold. And he's going somewhere with it.

Here and here and ultimately here.

Then there's this:

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.

Absolutely right. Mind is muscle. You have to get it out and exercise it. Too many public school systems I know from experience lack a challenge at the top. Exceptionally smart kids have the system figured out by 4th grade, and, barring some catastrophic personality disorder, can rest assured they will get As and Bs with minimal effort right up to the day the superintendent hands them a diploma.

The schools, for their part, are happy to keep such kids on board since they ramp up the overall standardized achievement test scores. They keep them fed on "advanced" courses and programs that are more like rewards than challenges. But if you never run up against something that you can't master at first sight, and if you are never forced to actually put that gray matter to work and make it sweat, you're not learning. And worse, you're not learning how to learn. That kid with the average IQ who is struggling through his first Shakespeare play in the classroom next door is getting it. Your smart kid isn't.