Friday, January 19, 2007

Don't the Europeans do this better?

I love school. Apparently, I am more in the minority than even I would have guessed. Charles Murray has an intriguing series of articles in this week's Wall Street Journal about the way our educational systems work. Some excerpts:

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.

A reality about the job market must eventually begin to affect the valuation of a college education: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason--the list goes on and on--is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman's job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction?

The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.

Elitist? Sure. Pragmatic? Yes. Is it anti-democratic blasphemy or insightful prophecy?

I have a few thoughts, having been a student for some 20 years, in "gifted" programs, a competitive liberal arts college, and what might be considered a vocational education. But first, what do you think?


thedesertvoice said...

pragmatic in a 'brave new world' kind of way.

what is the health index cut off for health care?

thedesertvoice said...

seriously, this is shocking.

but still not as shocking as your love of regina spektor...


Dana said...

thedesertvoice is the most overrated screenname in the blogosphere.

please, readers, don't let his exaggeration deter you from sharing your thoughts.

i don't necessarily agree with Murray, i'm just intrigued. seriously, what do you think?

thedesertvoice said...

seriously, i'll tell you what i think. mein kampf is a great book.

thedesertvoice said...

plus, i think the exaggeration might be that dumb people shouldn't be allowed to learn

John P. said...

without saying that I "agree" with the basic argument, I do find it at least thought-provoking...Though i am afraid that such an approach eliminates a persons potential for intellectual growth in diverse directions. For example, i was an average high school student, at best. I earned a 3.0 and had moderate interest in a few of my classes. It wasnt until college that I became a much more curious person, and it wasnt until junior year that i began to refine that curiosity. Would this type of approach have eliminated the opportunity for that kind of discovery?

On the other hand, i have often wondered about our cultures insistance on telling little kids that they can be "anything they want." I would not suggest this is a bad thing. However, at times I think that this kind of vague affirmation results in my current paralysis when trying to figure out what the hell i am supposed to do with my life.

there is, in my mind, some benefit in the apprenticeship methods...the academy, however much it might deny it, is swiftly moving away from such a model. Even in some PhD programs you may find yourself "on your own."

The more i study in this field, the more i realize that i am not properly equipped to do so!

but i digress.

Karen said...

Maybe we will see if the thoughts on intelligence level/IQ's and higher Education are "accurate judgements" soon. When I was in high school, I was not encouraged to attend college at all and I have to say that now, looking back, I know why. I, like John P, was a mediocre student at best. I do not know what my official IQ was, but I do know that I definately did not show any characteristics of one who should persue higher education. Instead, I was encouraged to purse a "trade." I did so and once again, was a mediocre student, but learned my trade, actually enjoyed the field and performed my duties well. Now, I am persuing further education - meaning I will be taking classes that will push my ability to think, rationalize and make "accurate judgements." We'll see what happens. Maybe I should take an IQ test...just for fun.

Jess said...

Actually, our measures of IQ probably should be investigated and perhaps even reconsidered. Given that analytical problem solving skills are on the rise, there is a question of what test is appropriate? Also, I'd say, lets none of us take an IQ test. The Flynn effect, which is a yearly rise in scores which results in (depending on the area of the world) a rise of 5 to 25 points per decade. If the test is not restandardized, then we could a) end up drawing the (improper) conclusion that those who were normal a few decades ago could actually be mentally retarded?! or b) find a drop in the numbers of individuals who actually are mentally retarded and deny them the resources they need.

And you thought the legal psychologist didn't know IQ issues. Tsk!

Dana said...

John and Mom are right, I think, to point out that education works to heighten our curiosities and help us to think in new and different ways. Everyone, I think, can and should benefit from those things, regardless of IQ or career path.

But the part of the article that was intriguing to me was the huge emphasis that we put on education as the "silver bullet" or a cure for all ills. I don't think that going to school necessarily makes anyone a better person, a more concerned citizen, or a greater contributor to the common good. Those qualities, while possible to encourage and nourish in the academy, are more likely to be fostered in local communities, families and churches.

But then, I'm always excited about the possibilities of combining the two contexts.

Sarah said...

I agree, Dana, that education is not a panacea for all social ills, but it could be the great equalizer for children who are considered "at risk." Teachers have an enormous influence over students -- much more so that we realize, I think. Even though homelife might be tough, children spend more hours in school than they do with their families. I have seen firsthand that school can turn kids who ordinarily would not "make it" into successful students who will hopefully become productive adults.

The cliche, "it takes a village to raise a child," as much as I hate to give credence to it, is true! Families and communities who are involved in the entire process of raising and nurturing a child can defeat many social ills. Teachers have major influence -- combine that with influence from family, church, Boys and Girls Club, etc., and you have the makings of a well-adjusted child -- one who is interested in school, curious about life, and feels secure.

On the subject of "gifted," this really pushes my buttons! The strategies teachers and schools use to challenge gifted students should not be limited to those identified in the 99th precentile. These strategies of hands-on investigation, self-directed learning, cooperative group learning, etc., work with ALL students, esp. those who may have learning disabilities. The adult world requires critical thinking skills -- we should be teaching and fostering these skills in all of our students -- not just the ones identified "gifted."

Dana said...

Thanks, Sarah. Teachers are definitely part of the village that it takes to raise the child, and I agree wholeheartedly with you about using innovative techniques for all kids in elementary, middle and high school.

I guess my questions are really about the ways that we view college education. Does the village metaphor hold up when people leave home for big, often impersonal universities?

Some places maintain the village feel more than others, I suppose, and that might make all the difference.