Sniff! Sniff? The odor and smells of racist thought â€“ the modernist forms of Social Darwinism â€“ are hanginâ€™ round. And in some of the most interesting and influential places and forms.Recently, the illustrious Wall St. Journal (WSJ) ran three straight days of editorials about who should get to partake of our exalted Higher Education opportunities. Charles Murray â€“ the sometimes extinguished purveyor of IQ (â€œThe Bell Curveâ€ â€“ with R. Herrnstein, â€™94) â€“ seems to make the case that half of us are smarter than the other half. Smarter, that is, by our â€œnature,â€ born better, born worser; smart-stupid.
Too-tired mothers, not very involved or intellectual families, kids who donâ€™t â€œappearâ€ like your college stars, cultures of poverty, immigrants? Never mind!
Training for the menial, clean up the slopâ€¦not enough. Our schools have gone from not many, no child-labor laws, to universal schooling in less than a century. In that period, a few years of school transformed into high school for most, and college has become almost a necessity: K-16. Education, at least the credential, is now crucial for qualifying for decent paying jobs.
Who deservesâ€¦who deserves what? Murray simply assumes that the Bell Curve and IQ portray the human condition both correctly and adequately.
When the more mature amongst us were young, IQ was the mantra of once a year. Mensa was the gathering group of those who had the highest IQâ€™s. But the â€œRosenthal effectâ€ showed in 1978 that teacherâ€™s expectations were very powerful in predicting and shaping IQ. And we no longer got â€œtestedâ€ very often. (Who gets to make up IQ tests, anyway?)
The truth? Or are we talking mostly politics, culture, history, classâ€¦? Lurking is Social Darwinism, the idea from a century ago and more, that much of life is predetermined. Going back to thinker who is most revealed in Murrayâ€™s push to teach the â€œGreat Booksâ€ is Aristotle. We find in his politics which preach the necessity of monarchy to maintain the world in peace and politeness that: â€œsome men are destined by nature to be kings, and others to be slaves.â€
Donâ€™t the rich deserve to be rich: smarter (and they work â€œharderâ€)! The survival of the socially â€œfittest.â€ (I don’t think so).
Democracyâ€¦under attack? Murray showed up on Bookspan about a year ago when Harvardâ€™s beleagured late president â€“ Larry Summers â€“ played a similar card in claiming that men are a bit â€œsmarterâ€ than womenâ€¦a very old story as well. This time Summers got fired. But the ideas lurk in these times of political oddness and unrest.
Whose America? Whose world? Who deserves what? Are we born free and equal, or are we â€œprewired?â€ The tabula rasa or Blank Slate which began American democracy: or arranged about the depiction which the Bell Curve conveys?
I think Democracy, however complicated and changing, is more human, more â€œinteresting,â€ more of what schools and teaching are toward. Read Aristotle! â€“ surely, but critically, and with a sense of what his ideas have wrought, and continue to ring in the Wall Street Journalâ€¦of all places.
Begin with the idea that weâ€™re all (ALL!) born geniuses, and weâ€™ll be teaching toward a common-good future. Inspire the future: thatâ€™s what we teachers try to do, as we try to inspire our kids to grow, and grow beyond today.
With the idea of IQ already having determined the future, we teachers are prone to celebrate those who already appear talented, and to neglect or dismiss those who havenâ€™t already blossomed. This is a bad idea for future Democracy, and a negation of the joys of lifeâ€¦to come.