27 July 2008

Shock News: Schools are not so bad!

Charles Murray in the WSJ 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."

The truth is, of course, that the most important factor in educational "outcomes" is the intelligence of the pupils being educated. Apart from effectively teaching the majority of schoolchildren to read, write and add-up and enforcing discipline, if only by allowing the majority of pupils to leave once this aim is achieved, there is nothing more even the best school can hope for. That would at least allow the minority of children with above average intelligence to pursue an academic career unmolested by those of a more prosaic outlook. The idea that education can be used to pursue some form of social engineering is arrant nonsense and dangerous to boot.

As Murray says:

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."


Shuggy said...

I agree very much with the spirit of your post - opposing the notion that schools can and should become a branch of social work. Apart from anything else, those of us who are teachers aren't competent to do this. However, I'd take issue with this:

The truth is, of course, that the most important factor in educational "outcomes" is the intelligence of the pupils being educated.

"Of course"? Evidence, argument, anything to support this? Obviously intelligence is a crucial variable and it is true that a politically-correct age wastes a great deal of human energy pretending this isn't so. However, my own experience contradicts your assertion. My own school performance was mediocre, yet when I returned to education as an adult I excelled my peers. And ten years of teaching experience tells me my experience is by no means atypical. Of course other variables have an enormous impact and the point about these is that these can be influenced by structure and policy, whereas innate intelligence can't.

oldandrew said...

I agree with Shuggy.

There are real problems with making schools take on responsibility for things that are really part of students' homelives. R.S. Peters described schools that do this as "orphanages for children with parents".

However, there isn't some kind of *intellectual* underclass. We can do a hell of a lot for kids that aren't that bright. It's the kids with no aspirations, not the kids with no brains, that are the problem.

Teaching Blog here
Latest entry: 26/7/2008

Saltburn subversives said...

"Of course other variables have an enormous impact and the point about these is that these can be influenced by structure and policy, whereas innate intelligence can't."

"Of course"? Evidence, argument, anything to support this?

mutleythedog said...

I think I agree largely with you. I believe that schools should be voluntary after 14 or so...let those who want to learn get on with it and the others can go to work.

Shuggy said...

Saltburn subversives - I gave you my own experience and argued I'd seen examples of a similar nature during ten years of teaching experience. Allow me to elaborate:

"Where's your homework?"

"Don't have it. My dad escaped from Barlinnie prison last night so we had to be evacuated whilst our house was surrounded with armed police officers."

A true story.

If you want to tell me that educational outcomes are purely, or even largely, a function of intelligence, I really think the burden of evidence lies with you.

Roger Thornhill said...

Surely it is aptitude + attitude.

fewqwer said...

Since 'intelligence' is pretty much 'academic aptitude' by definition, it hardly seems controversial to claim that it is the best single predictor of educational outcome.

Revin Floyd said...

I would venture so far as to say that to anyone considering themselves reasonably “educated” human beings with sufficient intelligence and ability to think rationally and imaginatively, it should be undeniably obvious that the K-12 age-denominated school system, as deployed today in the U.S, is the is the fundamental prevailing force stifling the development of natural curiosity, creative potential, and intrinsically motivated didactic effort and scholarly achievement in school aged children. Before anyone goes naming and blaming this or that factor of students or teachers, we would do well to examine the systemic learning environment. The students most at risk of failing to meet the requirements of the school system are those with the greatest potential for developing intellectually (i.e. the obnoxious student who talks back to teachers who see him as out of line for expressing his righteous indignation for having to endure such a tragic irony as going to a concentration camp five or six hours a day to learn how to become mindless zombies in the capitalist meat grinder). The girl who questions the infallibility of the text books or the legitimacy of a teacher’s authority or a principle’s power to exact discipline and punishment. These are the children who should be most likely to succeed, but now that’s pretty unlikely now isn’t it.