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Andrew Adonis, the Schools Minister, did not even try to hide his irritation. Writing in The Times on August 21, the day the GCSE results were released, he lashed out at those who would claim that the exams were being dumbed down instead of celebrating the increasing numbers of students getting A and A* grades.

"It is the class-based elitism that instinctively wants to ration success and cap the aspirations of the less advantaged," he wrote. "The underlying premise is that there is a fixed pool of talent in society." And then came this breathtaking assertion: "There is no genetic or moral reason why the whole of society should not succeed to the degree that the children of the professional classes do today, virtually all getting five or more good GCSEs and staying on in education beyond 16."

Why breathtaking? Isn't that pretty much what both Labour and Tory politicians say? It is part of the received wisdom among politicians whenever they talk about education: except for a few children with severe handicaps, they assert, all children can succeed on the academic track if the schools do their job. Politicians argue only about which policies will achieve this obviously attainable result.

Adonis's statement was breathtaking nonetheless because, scientifically, it is not true. His belief that nearly all children can be proficient at academic skills is educational romanticism. Many children are just not gifted enough to learn to read and write at more than a rudimentary level, far short of the level required by a GCSE, and the schools can only tweak their performance at the margins. An educational system that serves all the children must begin by recognising that truth.

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October 16th, 2008
8:10 PM
It seems to have escaped MunsterFellow that the nations he is touting as having attained great results with state schools are all ethnically and culturally homogenous, thus lending greater credence to the notion of a genetic component of academic ability.

John Harrison
October 7th, 2008
12:10 PM
I worry about the advocacy of 'innate intelligence' when it appears that the human brain is - theoretically at any rate - severely underutilised. Estimates vary, but tend to fall in the 3-5% range; that is, only around 3-5% of all the neural connections that could be made are in fact made. By the same token, I worry about politicians blythely talking about children 'reaching their full potential'. I work on the principle that whatever value you give to n, there is always n+1. In other words, we can all improve at all activities if we put our minds to it and practice (which doesn't make perfect). The nub of the problem seems to me to be not whether some people's minds are 'better' than others, but how we have come to value certain abilities over others - as if they are in some way innately 'better'. It comes, I believe, from a long history of schooling based on an 'elitist' curriculum that values abstract thinking and other 'academic' skills simply because the only people that were given schooling were the 'chosen ones' (chosen to become scribes and priests or shamens in some arcane religious practice or other) or the offspring of the rich and powerful. Going to school (a word derived from the Greek, skole - leisure) was a privelege enjoyed by those who didn't have to work for a living. We have carried this elitist view of education through to a world that believes in equality, so that now everyone must be given an elitist-curriculum-based schooling and is expected to become part of the elite - whether they want to or not! As a result, the institution of school has become not only synonymous with education but confused with it. The government, anxious to demonstrate to the electorate that it is spending our money wisely and well is obliged to measure and mark the performance of these institutions to show how pass rates have 'improved' by a percentage point here and a higher 'value added' there to prove what a good government it is and why we should continue to vote for it. The institution has now become more important than the pupil. The pupil is a mere cypher who will either 'succeed' or 'fail' at an ever-narrowing curriculum (teaching to the test) that simply ignores their individual inclinations, aptitudes and abilities. Despite the best efforts of numerous dedicated, committed, highly capable teachers, the institution provides the irremovable label (of success or failure), the institution defines what you do and what you don't do, and the institution fails you and fails your teachers. Compulsory education should be concerned with raising young people to the point where they are able to cope with the modern world. Schools may be the most efficient way of getting them to this point - at around the age of 14. At this age they should leave school - having gained a School Leaving Certificate (a certificate of competence, NOT of academic prowess) - and then be free to pursue a personal education of their choice from teachers (not schoolteachers). More of this idea may be learned by visiting

October 5th, 2008
9:10 PM
Common Sense - Bravo, at last something written which acknoledges differences in the human race!

Tom Burkard
October 4th, 2008
8:10 PM
Allan--exactly the point I was trying to make, except I suppose I didn't make it clear that by "normal distribution", I merely meant that scores would be distributed along a normal bell-curve. As you quite rightly say, that curve will be displaced if all pupils receive the same intervention--in the case of Bloom's experiment, the entire curve would no doubt have been displaced by two standard deviations. In fact, similar displacements have been observed when ineffective pedagogies, such as whole-language methodology, have been replaced by synthetic phonics. In 1996, I published data showing a displacement of + one standard deviation for a school which defied the (then) official orthodoxy on teaching children to read, and introduced synthetic phonics. Indeed, it was data such as this which proved crucial in the 2005 decision to introduce synthetic phonics throughout England.

October 3rd, 2008
1:10 PM
"So for example, Dr. Benjamin Bloom in 1984 discovered the two sigma problem. If you take a child, any child, from the exact middle of a class (the 50th. percentile), and then replace classroom training with one-on-one instruction from a skilled tutor, the child's performance moves to the 98th." Only if the other children have not had the one-on-one training! If they had, then the entire distribution of would have right-wards and the 50%-er would still be a 50%-er. A gross misunderstanding from a previous contributor. Clearly, Mr Murray is quite correct and that talent is distributed in a natural manner, per the natural distribution curve. Why is it called a natural distribution curve?

October 2nd, 2008
9:10 PM
There cannot be the slightest doubt that capacities and abilities, including (and maybe especially) intelligence, are unevenly distributed by birth and inheritance. It is nonsense to suggest otherwise. Sorry, but natural inequality is real, and much of it cannot be overcome by even the most ardent social engineering. As a rule of thumb, all are better off by letting gifts and talents find their natural outlet, not by propping them up and misleading their possessors into false senses of ability. To even debate this, let alone deny it, amounts to a serious, hopefully wilful, blindness about some of the most basic facts of human life. However, what can one expect after decades of liberal fatuity amounting to cultural marxism.

Tom Burkard
October 2nd, 2008
2:10 PM
Michael Cushman takes Charles Murray to task for looking only at data that proves his point, but the Benjamin Bloom study he bases his argument on doesn't even do that. All that the two sigma study proves is that individual tuition using scripted mastery learning produces far better results than whole-class instruction. Our "Sound Foundations" basic literacy programme (which meets the above description) does indeed produce extremely good results--but the reading and spelling scores of pupils using it still fall along a normal distribution curve. Admittedly, basic literacy skill correlate weakly with IQ, but I would be willing to make a very large bet that you would get the same normal distribution using material that placed higher cognitive demands. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that people will go to in order to delude themselves about the variability of human intellectual potential; as has been pointed out many times before, we are perfectly prepared to accept that there are innate genetic differences in every other human characteristic.

Edward Green
October 2nd, 2008
10:10 AM
Sadly Mr Murray is correct in every particular of what he writes, no matter what ifs and ands and buts the pc brigade come up with. The truth is that they are being chippy, divisive and self deluding, they are also showing a contempt for practical skills and the "working class" that noone on the "political right" feels - the leftist campaign to make everyone the same (usually apart from their own precious children) is the greatest of the many ills these fools have inflicted on us.

Michael Cushman
October 1st, 2008
6:10 PM
Well, if you only look at data that proves your point, you can look pretty smart! Schools are lousy places to learn, just like hospitals are lousy places to get well. Mr Charles Murray makes a great logical argument. It's been made many times before. Its wrong because he confusing two different ideas. Schools are time-based, group instruction. Using school data to prove or disprove whether individuals can or can't make significant leaps in achievement based on different instructional methods is a BIG error in logic. I'm always surprised how may people don't catch it. Instead of looking at classroom data, the scientific way to reason through this is to look at all the studies involving one student and one technique. So for example, Dr. Benjamin Bloom in 1984 discovered the two sigma problem. If you take a child, any child, from the exact middle of a class (the 50th. percentile), and then replace classroom training with one-on-one instruction from a skilled tutor, the child's performance moves to the 98th. percentile. Now the little one looks like a genius! That well known finding blows Mr Murray's argument into little bits of rubbish. The gap between human potential and what schools actually accomplish is tragic. Can you imagine how many little Einsteins the world could produce if we closed that gap? What else works? No other technique has proven as good as a tutor, but many have proven to have statistically significant effects on learning. A short list is --Formative Assessment --Scripted Instruction --Mastery --Confidence-based Markings I'll grant you that if everyone received one-on-one instruction from a good tutor, or used any of these other techniques, some would still do better than others. No two people are alike. I'm positive that for every topic in every subject, someone would learn the fastest and someone would learn the slowest. That proves individual differences, but it doesn't prove much else. Further, recent studies show that IQ scores are rather plastic. Get a good night's sleep and your IQ goes up. Listen to music. Do a puzzle every day. Exercise. How much food is in your stomach matters. How much glucose is in your blood matters. Your mood matters. Your belief in your ability to learn affects your IQ... and try not to eat lead ;-) And so on... So here's an irony for you. Mr. Murray is probably from the same class he claims has a superior IQ. I'll grant you that no two brains are the same, but how come Mr. Murray, with his superior IQ, made a big mistake in logic and failed to apply the scientific method to his analysis? Being able to write and article about human intelligence and schools, doesn't mean you really know how to think, deeply or critically. This makes another point. People reason to prove themselves right. "Reason" is seldom that at all. Mr Murray will probably never change his thinking because he would have to admit he isn't as clever as he thought, and people almost never admit that. But he is right that schools don't do a good job and almost all efforts to make schools better have been a waste of money. Finland is a great exception, BTW, because they have a superior curriculum. Good for them! That's a systemic change that helps all students. Good luck, UK.

Bob Williams
September 30th, 2008
9:09 PM
Murray's comments are a welcome addition to his several related articles on the nature of academic performance as it relates to intelligence. His comments are consistent with the research findings over the past several decades and should be taken to heart by all educators. There is one point with which I disagree. The heritability of intelligence was stated as falling in the range of 40-60%. This is correct for children and adolescents, but is a significant understatement for adults. The heritability of intelligence increases throughout life, starting at something like 40-45%, then rising to 70% in young adults, then rising further to 80-85% in older adults. Childhood heritability increases dramatically because the factor known as "the shared environment" (family, etc.) is substantial in children, but then completely vanishes between the ages of 12-20. It is for this reason that adopted children have some correlation to their adoptive parents and siblings, but when they reach adulthood, they have no more correlation with their adoptive family than they have with randomly chosen strangers. This applies even in cases where the children were adopted by parents of a different race. As adults the adopted individuals have the same intelligence correlation with their biological parents as non-adopted people have with their biological parents. The heritability of intelligence is very strong and the 80-85% range can be calculated by several diverse methods,* all of which produce nearly identical numbers. [*Falconer's formula, the correlation of identical twins reared apart, and path analysis.]

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