Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bell Curve Guy is Back

He wants to abolish the SAT. Lots of people on the right and left find themselves agreeing with him, despite his infuriating, eugenics-sounding argument that rich, white kids are genetically smarter. Better get rid of Head Start then! It's just a big waste of money since parents who can't afford preschool have dumb genes.

"Mr. Murray said he had been thinking about these issues for a book he is working on about higher education, titled “Simple Truths.” He has four of them: Ability varies; half of all children are below average; too many people go to college; and the future depends on how the gifted are educated. At the moment, he said, “our college system is broke.”"

My take?
Ability varies; True. So do requirements for different jobs and for human happiness. Human intelligence and skills are multifaceted. Mr. Murray, for example, evidently lacks empathy and social intelligence.

Half of all children are below average; Seems true, but not on every dimension. Everyone has a variety of strengths and weaknesses, which change over time. The rigidity and negativity of the "below average" label is contrary to the principle of educating people to live up to the best of their own individual abilities.

Too many people go to college; Especially if you mean a four-year BA program, far too many people enroll without the ability and support they need to succeed. But the percentage of population with BAs almost perfectly matches the percentage of jobs requiring them, suggesting there's no surplus of graduates.

The future depends on how the gifted are educated: I think the future of a democratic society depends on how well we prepare everyone to succeed to the best of their abilities. The funny thing about gifted people is they tend to find their way toward appropriate sources of information and mentors on their own.

At the moment, he said, “our college system is broke.”

Yeah, I got to agree with that one.

3 comments:

Adam said...

Hmmm... I don't know how that all ties into abolishing the SATs, but I tend to agree with a lot of what you're saying (for once).

I do, however, think that there is some validity to some of what Mr. Murray has said. Rich kids are better prepared and have a better opportunity to do well than their counterparts... but also have a lot more temptation. I could see his point if he said that wealth is generally achieved by those who are intelligent and that intelligence is often a combination of nature/nurture that you find in wealthier households. I almost feel guilty about saying that though... even though there is an *element* of truth to it. Thinking that race is a factor is just completely idiotic.

Yeah, ability varies... but I wouldn't go so far as to insult Mr. Murray for having difficulty distinguishing correlation from causation (I've noticed you have done the same in prior posts/columns).

Half of all children are below average... now... I understand what he's saying but his terminology is wrong. What's more important is knowing why those who are "below average," in fact, are. Perhaps that way we can help fix deficiencies? Worrying about feelings and labels (your idea) isn't going to help as much as finding the source of the problem. And just accepting and writing off the "bottom half" (his idea) is only sure to exacerbate the problem as time marches on.

Too many people go to college? It's true... if it weren't then, as you pointed out, the matriculation rate would be much higher. What does this matter? I think college is an invaluable experience - even for those who didn't finish.

The future depends on how the gifted are educated: You're both right... get over it. You can take the high-horse position and feel good about yourself, but there is also truth in what Mr. Murray has said. Luckily, many of our schools have overcome this dilemma with honors/IB/AP programs for secondary education and colleges are inherently designed to have a relatively equal pool of cohorts depending on the selectivity of the school... so maybe this isn't as much of an issue as we all think? The fact of the matter is we need to be concerned about everyone’s development and at the same time try to tend to and nurture our best and brightest.

Sorry – didn’t mean to be so long winded.

Eric said...

"Too many people go to college; Especially if you mean a four-year BA program, far too many people enroll without the ability and support they need to succeed."

Here at Louisiana Tech, too many TOPS recipients are far more worried about which fashionable clothes to wear than the subject of class. The plain truth is that most students just don't appreciate that college is an privilege/opportunity--not a right.

At this university, I'm sure many students get education loans for tuition so they can continue the high-consuption lifestyle they enjoyed on their parents' dime. Sacraficing $5 lattes, tanning bed memberships, new cars, and premium fashion would go a long way to reducing student debt.

You're on the right track with this statement: "The funny thing about gifted people is they tend to find their way toward appropriate sources of information and mentors on their own."

The funny thing about appreciative, motivated, and determined people is that they tend to find their way toward appropriate sources of college funding on their own.

Anonymous said...

Anya, I hope you're not one of those dogmatic folks who thinks that intelligence is only based on environmental factors (education, social, etc.). If you accept - as most scientists do - that intelligence is at least partially genetic, then it's no surprise that rich kids disproportionately get into good colleges. Rich kids are disproportionately the children of people with above-average intelligence, and rich kids will tend to have more of it themselves (hard as that is to believe in a world where Paris Hiltons exists - there are obviously exceptions to every generalization).

By contrast, most people on the lower end of the economic scale tend to be less bright. That's a large part of why they're on the lower end of the scale. People who start out on the low end of the scale but who are naturally bright (usually immigrants) tend to do great. That's confirmed by IQ tests, SAT scores, and all kinds of other measures, as well as anecdotally from our own experience. Though you won't see that if you happen to be one of those people who is constantly blaming "society" for why certain people just can't seem to get their act together even though they live in the richest, most free and open society in the world.