[Susan notes: Charles Murray's three-article series on IQ provoked a lot of mail, which the Wall Street Journal has published under the headline Quantifying Intelligence and Learning Is Inexact and Counterproductive
Published in Wall Street Journal
In response to Charles Murray's three-part editorial-page series "On Education": "Intelligence in the Classroom," Jan. 16; "What's Wrong With Vocational School?" Jan. 17, and "Aztecs vs. Greeks," Jan. 18:
I applaud Charles Murray's call to re-emphasize the enduring philosophical wisdom of Aristotle and other greats in today's higher education. But the essential tools of higher learning, including generosity of spirit, intellectual curiosity, and ultimately moral vision itself are not quantifiable abilities. That is why Aristotle calls the study of ethics an "inexact science." Thus for Aristotle, intelligence broadly construed to include college aptitude cannot be precisely determined by an "intellectual quotient" test. It should be considered only with a host of other data such as essays, grades, recommendations, etc. The author of one of our American classics has an IQ of 103, well below Mr. Murray's litmus test of 120 for intellectual professions. If Mr. Murray had his way, this brilliant author might have been funneled into vocational school instead of studying creative writing at Columbia.
Julian Friedland, Ph.D.
Leeds School of Business
University of Colorado
Mr. Murray's essays speak well the unspeakable truths about education and intelligence in America. The foolish policies forced on us by the PC crowd have wrought havoc in the schools. Nobody has been helped by the false egalitarianism that permeates these institutions. Recognition of achievement creates pride. Recognition without achievement only breeds contempt.
Half of all children are not below average intelligence, as Mr. Murray claims, at least mathematically. They are below mean intelligence. In IQ, as in income, the difference matters. The difference between an IQ of 101 and one of 99 is statistically insignificant. Indeed, the difference between 95 and 105 is de minimus. In spite of the "precision" that a layman may infer from an IQ measurement, the accuracy of IQ tests is, after many years, still problematical. The tests, in spite of educators' dedicated efforts, are still culturally biased. Swings of 10 to 20 or more points between tests are neither rare nor surprising.
Robert Myers, Ph.D.
Mr. Murray provides dangerous cover for educators to give up on students based on their IQ-measured intelligence. The neuroscience he references demonstrates that all children are born primed to be learners. But the quality of experiences in their earliest years shapes their brain architecture and affects their ability to learn later in school. For children living in poverty, poor nutrition and toxic environments stifle the stimulation their young minds need to be wired properly. Efforts to improve our education system must take this research into account.
Milton J. Little Jr.
Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.
(Mr. Little is president and CEO, United Way of Massachusetts Bay; Mr. Shonkoff is director, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.)
It is true, as Mr. Murray writes, that ability is distributed among human beings in a normal pattern that means some will be more gifted than others. And it is true that the test of the most advanced education must rely upon pushing students to the point of failure. It is false, however, that college serves the purpose of posing that test, just as it is false that college education is beyond the abilities of the average, and even somewhat less than average student. I agree that it is necessary to advance claims of excellence in education. But this must occur in a context that recognizes the practical reality of universal access.
Prof. W.B. Allen
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Mich.
In arguing for greater realism in education, Charles Murray never convincingly explains anywhere in his three-part series how the cornerstone of that policy is to be determined. The closest he comes to doing so is that we'll know underlying intellectual ability when we see it.
He advocates dividing up children at an early age on the basis of their presumed innate intelligence into various educational tracks. But if the identification is incorrect, which is not uncommon, the damage done to the individuals involved and to the nation is incalculable.
It is common knowledge among neuroscientists that intelligence is part and parcel of the nature/nurture continuum. At the end of the day, who is at the top 10% of the society is determined by not only the IQ but also by hundreds of other complex variables, many of which are not under the control of the individual. Special education for "gifted students" on wisdom and morality is a laughable idea.