Friday, July 28, 2006

I may be a little behind on this

But in reading all this about intelligence, I couldn't help but find it fascinating. Here is an interview with Charles Murray, a man probably most famous for a very controversial book he co-authored, called The Bell Curve. The ideas (that I was able to glean from reading about it, not from reading it) from this book made some sense to me, until I read this comprehensive review of the book by Howard Gardner, and I re-thought things.

For example, Gardner writes:

To understand the effects of culture, no study is more seminal than Harold Stevenson and James Stigler's book The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education (1992). In an analysis that runs completely counter to The Bell Curve, Stevenson and Stigler show why Chinese and Japanese students achieve so much more in schools than do Americans. They begin by demonstrating that initial differences in IQ among the three populations are either nonexistent or trivial. But with each passing year, East Asian students raise their edge over Americans, so that by the middle school years, there is virtually no overlap in reading and mathematics performance between the two populations.

Genetics, heredity, and measured intelligence play no role here. East Asian students learn more and score better on just about every kind of measure because they attend school for more days, work harder in school and at home after school, and have better-prepared teachers and more deeply engaged parents who encourage and coach them each day and night. Put succinctly, Americans believe (like Herrnstein and Murray ) that if they do not do well, it is because they lack talent or ability; Asians believe it is because they do not work hard enough. As a Japanese aphorism has it, "Fail with five hours of sleep; pass with four." Both predictions tend to be self-fulfilling. As educator Derek Bok once quipped, Americans score near to last on almost all measures save one: When you ask Americans how they think they are doing, they profess more satisfaction than any other group. Like Herrnstein and Murray, most Americans have not understood that what distinguishes the cultures is the pattern of self-understanding and motivation, especially the demands that we make on ourselves (and on those we care about) and the lessons we draw from success and failure--not the structure of genes or the shape of the brain.

Even after reading this review, I am still fascinated by Murray's new ideas from his book In Our Hands. I am sure that you all (specifically Dan, Tom, and Finnegan...and Mom and Dad) have opinions on this way of eliminating the welfare state. Basically, every adult in America over 21 gets an annual $10,000 untaxed cash grant from the government. Everyone has to buy health insurance and is encouraged to put some money in the bank for retirement, but after that, people can do what they want with the money. A dangerous idea? Most definitely. A good idea? Maybe, maybe not.

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