Category Archives: voldemort

The Dark Enlightenment and Duck Dynasty

The Dark Enlightenment has been discovered. Eeeek.

I’ve written about my adoption by the Network and have nothing to change–it’s not something I consider myself part of, per se, but they apparently find my writing helpful. I’m fine with that. I would refer Jamie Bartlett to the above image to reinforce what seems to me to be obvious: the “dark enlightenment” is not characterized by political objectives and has very little unity of purpose.

hbd chick wrote a detailed response to the Jamie Bartlett column which, to the extent I understand it, I agree with. But I would refer someone trying to figure this thing out to read the comments, particularly this one by T. Greer:

The many voices in the ‘dark enlightenment’ do not harmonize. They don’t share the same ideals, aims, or even impulses. They defined by a shared enemy; were this enemy to disappear then so would all talk of a cohesive ‘dark enlightenment.’

The major strand that unites the entire community is a willingness to frankly state opinions polite society does not accept (but in many cases once did) and listen to others do the same.

That is, as I say in response, the defining element of the Dark Enlightenment is not political, philosophical, or cultural views, but a shared loathing of “The Cathedral”. Unfortunately, I can’t find one clear definition of the Cathedral that doesn’t involve reading all of Mencius Moldebug, who I don’t really understand and makes me feel Hemingway brusque. I use the term Voldemort View to characterize the most likely reason for the achievement gap; the Cathedral can be thought of as the Canon of Modern Anathema, the official dogma of views that must not be spoken. Some of the views are actual truths, others are opinions. But if they are uttered, the speaker must be cast out into the darkness and, more importantly, economically ruined.

I can think of no common objective the nodes in that diagram share, but we all hate and despise the Cathedral. Our touchstones are not racial purity, male dominance or a derailing of democracy (all objectives I unreservedly oppose) but the expulsion of James Watson, Jason Richwine, and John Derbyshire—whether we agree with them or not. I almost never hate people. But I hate the Cathedral. Probably in part because I trusted it a couple decades ago, and there’s nothing like a reformed ex-smoker. Screw you if you want me to righteously disassociate. Take my ideas on their own merit or don’t, never assume I agree with any idea unless I say so. But if you’re the sort who demands indignant condemnation, it will be my considerable pleasure to deprive you of that satisfaction. In short–but why be short when English has so many words?—I will not disavow on principle.

I suggest that if the “dark enlightenment” is spreading, it does so not because of any distaste for democracy, much less some weird white guy radicalization, but because the general public is slowly becoming deeply tired of the elites getting exercised about exorcising yet another heretic.

And so to Duck Dynasty, a show I vaguely knew of before the fuss. Phil Robertson opines, identity groups cluck, and all the pundits write cynically about the outrage, secure in the knowledge that the machine will roll over and crush Robertson. But then, glory be, the Robertson clan doesn’t just refuse to back down, it refuses to apologize, and for once, the cultural segmentation of American society turns out to be a net positive. Christians everywhere have time to make their displeasure known, and A&E realizes that the money move lies in keeping Phil, leaving GLAAD out in the cold. Truly a great day. And if you can’t understand why an agnostic with no interest in denying the reality of pre-civil rights America would celebrate that outcome, you don’t understand how much I hate the Cathedral.

Patton Oswalt quoted Steve Sailer’s pithy statement “Political correctness is a war on noticing”. A few of his followers disapproved. The resulting twitter fest is very funny, as a couple of Oswalt’s followers try to alert him to the evils of Sailer, and Oswalt remains blithely unconcerned. Money quote, from Oswalt: “I’ve never been scared of ideas. I can hear all kinds & still keep my feet. Think I’ll call this stance ‘diversity'”.

But then you’ve got the earnest, well-meaning Michael Pershan, one of the only actual math bloggers I read. Pershan is Jewish, I think, although he never mentions it on the site (I remember his wedding announcement vaguely), and I mention this only because when I read this twitter mess my first thought was “he’s Jewish, he went to Harvard, he lives in New York City, and he didn’t see this coming?” But I think he’s a particularly observant Jew (not like noticing things, like observing Jewish custom), and until recently taught at a Jewish boys’ high school, so perhaps he doesn’t get out much.

Anyway, he takes gentle issue with a PoC teacher blogger who makes what would normally be called racist statements were he talking about anyone but white folks, and gets “schooled”, literally, in a key plot point: in the identity culture, all whites are the same. Michael Pershan, like many reflexive progressives (the sort who haven’t really thought it through but hey, all their friends are doing it) wants race and gender warriors to accept that there are “good” whites and “bad” whites. He wants to be able to point fingers and shame bad whites, but is troubled that the PoC and women seem to paint all whites and all males as the same. The identity divas will have none of that, and kick him around for a while. Pershan has retired from both the fray and Twitter, which is too bad. Not that I sympathize with his point of view. If you want to walk the identity path, baby, then all whites are equally undeserving of their largesse. You either reject or embrace the identity and entitlement game in its entirely; there are no half measures. The correct response is to deny the identity folk all satisfaction. It’s okay, they mostly enjoy the process, gives them something to complain about.

And just to show the compartmentalization of my ideas: I think many of the people beating down Michael Pershan in that conversation are just fine, as teachers. I often agree with them. Not always. Jason, the PoC blogger who started the sound-off, has a good teaching blog, and I don’t find his writings on identity to be insanely insufferable, which is a compliment.

I want more Duck Dynasty victories. I want the Michael Pershans to laugh at the very idea of seeking approval from identity divas. I want the Cathedral thwarted routinely and eventually dismantled. Not as a blogger, but as a person.

As a blogger, I’ll still write about education policy and education itself from all different angles, including the lamentable determination to ignore cognitive ability.

On that point, I’ve noticed a recurring theme that Razib Khan made in the hbd diva post, also seen here in Rod Dreher’s call for silence on HBD: the notion that most people who “embrace” (their word) racial differences don’t have a clue about the science.

I find this flummoxing. I know that Razib, who has his own node on the Network, is not criticizing the ideas themselves, but rather the people promoting them as ignorant. But who are these people promoting science, good or bad? I’m not sure if he’s talking about me. I’m certain the commenters on Rod’s site, from the “reasonable conservatives” to the “moderate progressives” are criticizing the ideas as wrong and the people promoting them as ignorant.

I don’t read the other sites much, save for Steve Sailer and Razib Khan, so maybe they’re doing all sorts of bad science. For myself, I don’t do science. I barely do math.

I often see reporters refer to “beliefs” or “opinions” about IQ. My “beliefs” about IQ involve the degree to which IQ is inaccurate, missing some aspects of intelligence that might be largely irrelevant to measuring IQ among white populations, but highly relevant in others. Actually, they wouldn’t go so far as “belief” or “opinion” but maybe “wonderings”.

But they aren’t talking about those beliefs, but the “belief” that IQ is meaningful, that IQ is not the same in different populations. That’s not a belief.

Or, as Steven Pinker famously wrote of Malcolm Gladwell’s maunderings on IQ: “What Malcolm Gladwell calls a “lonely ice floe” is what psychologists call ‘the mainstream.'”

When taking down a heretic, Cathedral strategy demands that the heretic be easily expelled with a minimal degree of cognitive dissonance. And so no one takes on Steven Pinker. Many reporters regurgitate what they understand of the Flynn Effect, but no one asks James Flynn if black IQs are, on average, lower than white IQs and whether that might make a difference to academic outcomes or whether the gap can easily be fixed with a more nurturing environment. Only one person asked Harvard’s Christopher Jencks why he blessed Jason Richwine’s doctorate, or why Harvard signed on for it. These people are of the Cathedral and if they challenge the canon, maintaining orthodoxy becomes impossible. So they are left alone, ignored politely when they speak anathema.

I don’t do science. I keep my blog anonymous because of I explore the impact of the Voldemort View, the view that must not be spoken, the view that says the achievement gap between different racial and income groups is primarily caused by differences in cognitive ability, on educational outcomes. I believe that IQ is imperfect as a metric of cognitive ability, although I can’t prove it and my opinion is still inchoate (ooh, Thomas of Convenant!). I accept the mainstream findings that shows a clear and largely unchanging difference in IQs by race and income. If Steven Pinker, James Flynn, or Christopher Jencks have said anything that disagrees with my representation of mainstream research, most fully articulated here, I’m unaware of it. So don’t ask me about IQ and race. Ask them.


Noahpinion on IQ–or maybe just no knowledge.

Well, turns out that Noah Smith has made my last post for October an easy choice.

It all began when he and Miles Kimball declared that there’s only one difference between kids who excel in math and kids who don’t—the first group work hard, the second group doesn’t.

Robert VerBruggen did some neat research showing a strong correlation between ASVAB scores and algebra grades and even with my normal caveats about grades, that’s strong support for the notion that “smart” has something to do with “good at math”.

Then Steve Sailer chimed in with a great bit of snark on restriction of range, having picked up on a gem of a quote that I’d missed:

On the first few tests, the well-prepared kids get perfect scores, while the unprepared kids get only what they could figure out by winging it—maybe 80 or 85%, a solid B.

Hahahaha. Oh. Okay.

But then, Noah Smith pops in and doubles down in the comments section:

Even students at the 20th percentile of IQ can do high school math pretty well. I’ve taught them to do it many times. Dumb as a box of rocks, but a box of rocks can do algebra.

I instantly asked for a cite. Then I saw he’d made a similar claim at his own blog:


But you don’t need to be a math whiz to do algebra. Someone with an IQ of 70 can handle that, I bet. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

Um, what?

So I tweeted it and he responded—well, I have no idea how to link twitter conversations, but here’s some of it. Smith then went on to snark at me for not proving my claim, somehow forgetting that he’d made two claims that I was asking him to support. Hal Pashler of the Learning Attention and Perception Lab agreed that documentation of algebra proficiency in low IQ students is important.

The tone of Smith’s response makes me wonder if he understands what he has said—and what it means in the world of education. Similar claims include:

“All my clients lose 50-100 pounds and keep it off. Permanently.” said the nutritionist.

“Our little country town lives in perfect harmony with the Palestinians.” said the Israeli farmer.

“Well, I get 60% of black voter support,” said the Texas Republican.

“Oh, I just logged onto Healthcare.gov and signed up for a cheaper policy for my family,” said the Florida plumber.

“Yeah, I just dip lead into this little tincture I cooked up and shazam! gold.” said the alchemist.

I mentioned that I had taught two students with documented low ability. Smith misunderstood, I think: Is your only quantitative evidence the fact that you personally were unable to teach two kids algebra?

That’s not what I said, of course. I was emphasizing that I could document an experience of teaching low IQ kids, and it’s actually quite unusual for teachers to have that info. Because I write about cognitive ability as I experience it in the classroom, I have mentioned time and again that I work with students on the lower third to the middle of the cognitive ability spectrum. But perhaps I should make clear that I’m talking about the ability spectrum you see in high school, which weeds out the bottom. Math teachers don’t run into all that many genuinely special ed kids, as opposed to those with mild learning disabilities.

I believe most states have two broad categories of special education. The kids are either educated as part of the general school population or they aren’t. The kids with mild disabilities–executive function, attention deficit, dyslexia—are educated with the others. These are kids who have the same academic requirements as anyone else, except they have a legal document defining their accommodations: extra time on tests, sit up front, use of a calculator, whatever.

The kids with severe disabilities–emotional, mental, physical—who can’t be educated with the rest, have their own classes. In most schools I’ve worked in, there’s more than one class. There’s the class for kids with mild IQ deficits and emotional difficulties, the class for the severely autistic or severely retarded, and so on. At the high school level, we don’t really call it “mainstreaming”—that’s much more of an issue in elementary school, as I understand it. Some of the kids in “special day classes” are capable of attending general ed classes in their strong subject (remember that not all disabilities are cognitive), sometimes in math. But high school teachers aren’t ever dealing with severely disabled children unless they teach special ed.

So who goes into special day classes, and who goes to general ed? Specifying a particular IQ as a cutoff is like standing up and saying “YO! Sue Me!”. But an IQ of 80 is generally considered the cutoff between “normal low” and “borderline retarded”. So I’ve always assumed that somewhere between 75 and 85, kids are deemed better off in their own classes.

Then in the general population, in math, you know that the basement of your class will usually rise slightly with each step, so the lowest IQ in your math support or pre-algebra class is usually going to be lower than the lowest in your algebra class, which is probably lower than geometry class, and so on. Using what I knew about special ed unofficial placement, and what I know about my schools (usually 5 or 6 on the Great Schools scale), I have used 90 as a rough bottom of the range of IQs I teach in public schools.

But I never had any hard knowledge of that until last year, when through a complete coincidence I learned the IQs of two of my students.

Tre, who was in a math support class of mine last year, had phenomenal retention of any concrete fact he learned. Total inability to grasp abstract concepts. Couldn’t estimate. Couldn’t isolate x. Couldn’t figure out what the slope of a line was. I’d ask him things like “if you rolled a ball down this line, which one would go faster?” and he’d struggle for minutes just to figure out what I meant. If it wasn’t real, it didn’t exist. He got pretty good at percentages without actually understanding them—but 20% was divide by 5, 25% was divide by 4, 10% was divide by 10. He was motivated. Great kid, fantastic athlete, failing algebra for the fourth time kept him off the his strongest sports team his senior year and broke his heart. But he took up a second sport and made the state finals. He seemed a bit slow in conversation, but nothing that would mark him as really low intellect. He held a job, worked hard, was a popular kid. There was no way he would be passing the test, and when I communicated this to the AVP, she said, “He was not classified correctly, for various reasons”—one of the reasons probably being that Tre is black. She mentioned his tested IQ that his parents included in his file, and it was well south of 90, but still much higher than 70.

Mohammed was in another of my math classes last year. Unlike Tre, does not communicate his mental disability immediately. He talks quickly, cracks decent jokes, likes people around, while Tre was happier off in a corner listening to music. It took me a while to realize that Mohammed, who is neither black nor Hispanic, wasn’t retaining any information at all. Once I did realize this, I looked more closely at his IEP and saw he was a special day students with an IQ in the mid-80s. Also an excellent athlete, but very different from Tre. No fact grasp at all. He couldn’t remember what you told him five minutes ago, much less yesterday. But he could solve a simple algebraic equation with a calculator. He’d have to relearn it almost every day, but he had the ability to abstract that Tre lacks. He very badly wanted to move on to the next math class in the sequence, against the recommendation of his special ed adviser, and nagged me constantly to support him in this quest. I was willing to help him try, but his sport kept him out of the classroom a couple days a week for nearly a month, and everything I’d managed to do to keep him not rolling backwards was undone. So I passed him and talked him into an easier course.

The point is this: Tre and Mohammed, while not obviously or actually “dumb as a box of rocks”, as Smith indelicately put it, were noticeably less able than almost all my other students in five years, despite considerable motivation on their part and a huge amount of support on mine. I have probably had a couple other students with as low intelligence, but couldn’t be sure because they were never around or made class miserable by misbehaving. This suggests to me that my rough approximation of my students’ cognitive ability is correct. I haven’t taught many kids with IQs south of 90, and most of them my lowest IQ kids were in my Algebra I classes.

And the bottom of my particular class distribution is not capable of algebra mastery. Algebra survival, sure. Ability to solve a simple equation with advice on how to turn it concrete, yeah. Remember with lots of reminders that 3-5 is a negative number, yes. Remember with lots of coaching that y=mx + b is a way to describe a line, okay. But not anything approaching knowledge, and you’ll have to cover it all again in the next year.

Since I began this, Robert VerBruggen did additional ASVAB crunching and found that kids who scored low on the ASVAB (2%) got mostly Ds and Fs, but some As in Algebra II. But he also pointed out “Not really clear that all of them both (A) genuinely have IQs that low and (B) genuinely learned algebra.” And here I’ve already linked in my post on fraudulent grades. As we teach algebra today, a kid with an IQ of 90 can’t get an A in algebra I, much less algebra II, unless his teacher is lying.

I’d be surprised if many 70 IQs got around to taking the ASVAB, but the caveat is this: 70 IQs would not be uncommon in a predominantly black population. My current school is 10% black and that’s the highest African American population in any school I’ve taught at. My sample size for blacks, total, is maybe 100—tutoring, teaching, everything–in 11 years. And most blacks in this area are high functioning. It would not surprise me at all if I only ran into blacks whose IQs were 80 or higher. I have many excellent black students who are top performers.

I do not believe that a 70 IQ of any race can master Algebra I, much less Algebra II. But I want data. I have been asking nearly as long as I’ve had this blog if anyone can show evidence of successful mastery of algebra by IQs less than 100. I don’t believe it exists, at least not since 1975, when we began ignoring IQ. And I’m absolutely shocked that anyone, even a liberal, even someone who sneers at IQ, would openly brag that it was no big deal to teach advanced math, much less algebra, to kids with IQs below 90.

Maybe Noah Smith is already trying to walk this back. I can’t find the original tweet to me in which he said math tutors are having great success with kids of 70 IQ. Here’s my response to it, but I can’t find the original tweet. Apologies if it’s there and I missed it, but most of the rest is there. He’s now saying to Robert VB (don’t make me type it out again!) “some” kids could pass but of course, this all began because he said an IQ of 70 could handle algebra and that he routinely teaches algebra to kids in the bottom fifth.

As I tweeted, if Noah Smith were right, we’d never need special education. We’d be teaching kids with 70 IQs algebra, a little geometry, maybe writing analytical essays on Of Mice and Men. But Jim, one of my commenters, had a much better analogy: the Supreme Court has made it functionally impossible to execute murderers with an IQ below 70. So someone with an IQ of 70 knows—barely—that it’s not a good idea to kill people, but can handle the quadratic formula and rational expressions, no sweat? Really?

It’s really quite simple: Noah Smith is almost certainly talking out of his posterior. But boy howdy, would I love to be wrong. Show me these IQ 70 kids learning algebra. Please.

******

I was bound and determined to get this in before my WordPress account thought October was over. Apologies for typos, I’m cleaning it up.

Second note: Tre and Mohammed are both pseudoynms, and I changed details about each. I went back in and changed even more info, just to be certain.


The Reverse Drinking Game

Well, school’s about to start and I’m two thirds of a way through a piece that I probably won’t finish for a while, and I’ve decided I need something longer than Twitter but shorter than the usual me to send out when people are being annoying.

So let’s call this the reverse drinking game post. Every time someone doesn’t mention cognitive ability while discussing student outcomes, go grab a beer.

So for example, Michael Petrilli writes about the problem of proficiency:

Proficiency rates are terrible measures of school effectiveness. As any graduate student will tell you, those rates mostly reflect a school’s demographics.

Grab a beer.

When Checker Finn rebuts Petrilli, saying:

One more point: Mike began his argument with the assumption that many schools have scads of entering pupils who are already far below “proficiency” when they arrive. He had in mind middle and high schools—and there is no doubt that many such schools do indeed face a large remediation challenge with incoming eleven- through fourteen-year-olds who have already been gypped educationally in the early grades.

Crack one open.

When Richard Venning writes:

The inconvenient truth I describe below is that when we benchmark academic growth rates, the best velocity is often not adequate to catch kids up to college and career readiness within a reasonable time.

and

However, far too many schools also have students in poverty making low-growth rates, where they progress more slowly than their advantaged peers and that is not acceptable.

Grab two beers. Three, if you spot: “Among students that score in the bottom performance level in Colorado, the percent making adequate growth is in the single digits. The statewide goal is 100 percent. Schools with top statewide velocity for low-income students are not moving kids to proficiency within three years—and Colorado is not alone.”

When Rick Hess, Rishawn Biddle, Michael Brickman talk about lowered AP scores, the importance of entrance standards vs. the importance of high expectations, go grab a whole sixpack. Or maybe some single malt scotch.

When Jason Bedrick, Michael Petrilli, or Andrew Rotherham sneer at the public schools “failing children”, it’s time to bend an elbow.

When the primary ed school credentialing organization proudly announces that it is raising the bar on “teacher quality”, when everyone goes all atwitter about Jason Richwine‘s work on teacher cognitive ability (before he broke the rules on Hispanic cognitive ability), ask yourself why so many people are willing to discuss the impact of teacher cognitive ability on academic achievement (you mostly have to squint to find any ) but never mention student cognitive ability. But do it before you get a beer, because I find, at least, that I often start banging my head in annoyance and it’s best to do that unarmed.

When people say that income matters more than race to academic achievement, tell them they are lying or misinformed on your way to the fridge.

Tweet or email whenever you spot an opportunity to play.

Hey. Under 500 words! A new record.


Jason Richwine and Goring the Media’s Ox

I first ran into Jason Richwine’s name while writing part one and part two of Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, and I know this because I had to keep referring to the study to get the names right. Was it Weinrich and Biggs? Bigwine and Rich? Bigrich and Wein? Very confusing.

My two-parter was dedicated to the argument that Richwine’s study was complete crap. Richwine and Biggs ignored the well-documented difference between secondary content teachers and elementary school teachers. Then they confused “teachers” with “ed school majors”, when fewer than half of undergraduate education majors become teachers. Finally, the study largely ignored credential data, which would have allowed them to focus on actual teachers—a group with a much higher SAT scores than education majors. And all those objections leave aside the fact that teaching success is, believe it or not, at best marginally linked to teacher intelligence.

So I was familiar with Richwine, and once you’ve memorized the name, it’s hard to miss. I distinctly remember reading his Room for Debate piece, arguing that teachers are getting paid more than their cognitive skills warrant. He wrote much the same thing in the Washington Post, where he got a whole live chat segment (“Many organizations use IQ tests, most notably the U.S. military, to make employment decisions.”) He and his co-authors chastised Arne Duncan in The Huffington Post (and also Education Week) for not understanding that “the wage penalty disappears when teachers and non-teachers are compared using objective measures of cognitive ability”. Then he was arguing in The Atlantic against a teacher bar exam and extensive teacher training because “Smart students on the fence about whether they want to become teachers will likely choose the math and science courses (which have broad labor market value) rather than wasting time on education courses (which have value only if they pursue teaching).”–but then concedes that IQ doesn’t seem to be all that linked to teaching.

And in all this time, no journalist ever wondered “Gee, I wonder if one of the authors of this study focusing on teacher cognitive ability, which we’re giving an avalanche of unquestioning coverage to, has any ideas on IQ we might find really offensive.”

But of course, Richwine’s dissertation was a complete secret. Oh, wait. No, it wasn’t. He wrote an article summarizing his dissertation, “Dealing with Diversity the Smart Way”:

I intend to focus on one such important characteristic—how smart the immigrants are…. IQ, a construct that psychologists use to estimate general intelligence, has been separately linked to elements of social capital…It is time to bring the IQ-social capital link out of the academic journals and into the policy debate. Doing so could help us deal realistically with the problems Putnam has identified.

He wrote this article for AEI, where it was completely ignored. Oh, wait. No, it wasn’t. The NY Times wrote approvingly of the article in its “Idea of the Day” blog:

Now, exploring Putnam’s work in The American, Jason Richwine, who encountered the professor while a student at Harvard, has a suggestion for managing the immigration driving so much diversity: screen to admit smarter immigrants, since evidence suggests higher-I.Q. people are more inclined to “sophisticated ethical thinking, altruism, planning for the future, political awareness, adherence to informal community standards of behavior, and cooperation for the greater good.”

Of course, the Heritage Foundation had no idea that Jason Richwine was interested in IQ. Well, hang on. Richwine wrote a piece for its magazine opposing the diversity lottery visa, clearly referencing his earlier work. It even gets a footnote.

Maybe this was just the first time Richwine came out against Hispanic immigrant success in the mainstream media. Nope, here he is in the Dallas Morning News, “Latino immigrants are not on path to economic parity”:

Though we want to believe Hispanics are on the old European path to economic assimilation, the evidence does not support our desires. This fact becomes more undeniable with each new data set collected and each new analysis performed, but prominent commentators are still seduced by wishful thinking.

Finally, Richwine wrote a much-discussed takedown of Richard Nisbett’s book Intelligence and How to Get It (which I used in my preschool and Philip Dick essay.)

So Jason Richwine’s interest in Hispanics, immigration, and cognitive ability has all been well-documented in major publications since his dissertation, although only Dave Weigel (see below) and Garance Franke-Ruta have pointed this out. Nonetheless, Richwine’s dissertation appears to come as a complete shock to most journalists and policy wonks. (Apparently, the Internet’s memory is a black box they don’t know how to crack.)

But even more strangely, his dissertation seems to have shocked and dumbfounded his dissertation panel. George Borjas has been telling everyone who asks and some who didn’t that he’s got no truck with this IQ nonsense:

“I have never worked on anything even remotely related to IQ, so don’t really know what to think about the relation between IQ, immigration, etc….So I just think that, on the whole, the focus on IQ is a bit misguided.”

Richard Zeckhauser, also on the dissertation committee, told Dave Weigel in the same article:

“In my estimation, our School gives too much emphasis on moving from findings to policy implications in scholarly work…In many cases, merely presenting the facts would be a preferable way to go. That makes it much harder for one’s opponents to dismiss what you say, or to accuse you of manipulating facts to reach policy conclusions…. If one complements one’s empirical assessments with values issues, those assessments get questioned, particularly if one addresses a controversial realm of policy, as Richwine surely did in his dissertation.”

Christopher Jencks, the third man, asked if he had any comment on his approval: The Nation: “Nope. But thanks for asking.”

Okay, I’ve never been to Harvard, nor have I ever gotten a PhD. But surely the dissertation committee actually reads the dissertation?

Weigel doesn’t ask either Borjas or Zeckhauser the obvious followup questions. In fact, he obediently quotes Zeckhauser’s disdain about Richwine’s subsequent work without asking Zeckhauser what problems he had, if any, with the dissertation he signed off on. Nor does he ask Borjas why, if he had no interest in nor understanding of IQ, he was on Richwine’s dissertation committee. But then, Weigel’s weird article has all sorts of oddities for a supposedly reported piece. Richwine’s “friends and advisers saw this coming”, but the advisers make no mention of their prescience in the article and Weigel doesn’t mention a single friend, on or off the record. ?

Speaking of odd, Dylan Matthews, the Wonkblogger credited with the kill, never apparently googled Richwine, because he mentions none of the information above. Presumably someone just sent him the dissertation, although it’s even funnier to think of Matthews “working” his sources at Harvard to dig up information a simple search would have provided, including an article that would have discredited Heritage’s hasty disavowal.

But the more interesting question is why Matthews only now noticed Richwine’s heresy. After all, Matthews has blogged quite a bit about teacher quality, so you’d think he’d have run across Richwine before, and been eager to discredit a racist who obsessed about IQs. But then, Matthews has been notoriously unsympathetic to teacher unions, declaring during the CTU strikes that teacher strikes hurt student achievement, celebrating TFA’s apparently superior performance over traditionally educated teachers, and writing in favor of teacher merit pay. He’s also a big fan of Raj Chetty’s work, which I’ve discussed (and dismissed) here (the Chetty paper seems to create a clear divide between the Wows and the So What’s—here’s Kevin Drum, also on the So What? side).

Meanwhile, Dylan Matthews has been in favor of immigration and amnesty a long time (he was apparently a pre-pubescent blogger), and despite being against open borders as a teenager, he’s all for it, now. He wrote this article boosting Hispanic assimilation, without apparently ever coming across Richwine’s arguments to the contrary.

Hey, if Dave Weigel can make unsupported assertions, I can, too, although I will qualify: it seems that Dylan Matthews went out looking for opposition ammunition to bring down Jason Richwine because his own favorite ox was being gored. Given the gift of the dissertation, he did no further research to find Richwine’s well-documented articles in this area, which is why he allowed Heritage to skate by with a denial that’s close to an outright lie. Matthews paid no attention to Jason Richwine’s open discussion of IQ when it involved teacher quality and merit pay, causes Matthews openly advocates for.

And once he brings up the dissertation, all the other journalists and immigration advocates (these are not, sadly, distinct groups) jump on the news and repeat it avidly, pointing and sputtering, as Steve Sailer says, without doing the tiniest bit of reporting (with the aforementioned exceptions), obediently repeating the canard that Richwine “asserts” that Hispanics have, on average, a lower IQ than whites when it’s a well-established fact, not something he dreamed up as part of his research. Nor has anyone in the media seriously pursued the cognitive dissonance found in the story of “Richwine the racist” writing his “Harvard PHd dissertation on Hispanic inferiority”. I think only a Daily Kos blogger has pursued the obvious point for anyone genuinely outraged about Richwine’s IQ research: If this research is so obviously beyond the pale, if Richwine is “asserting” (rather than repeating established science) that Hispanic IQs are lower on average than white IQs, why on earth is Harvard and its trio of distinguished advisers giving this dissertation writer its approval and a PhD?

So if I were to interpret this pattern of behavior, I’d say that the mainstream media has no interest in pursuing that point. Presumably, the media isn’t interested in bringing down Harvard–hell, these days, most opinion-makers are alumni. They aren’t interested in stopping IQ research. They just want the issue to bring down opposition to immigration reform. Then they’ll go back to “hands off” on IQ, ignoring it completely until they need to bring it up to bring someone down. In this way the Word is maintained, and all those who challenge it can be brought down when the time is ripe.

So Richwine can talk about IQ and mostly white teachers and it’s fine, because many prominent journalists these days are elitists who secretly think our schools would be better off with a more intellectual teaching pool. He can be forgiven for assuming that the media had gotten a lot cooler with cognitive ability, when in fact he wasn’t in any real danger until he took the wrong side of a cause it cared about.

And that lesson resonates tremendously. I just wrote with some pride that more than a few reporters follow my writing. I do not for a moment imagine they agree with me on everything, or even anything, but I’m not important enough to follow for the news value, so surely they must see something worthwhile in my writing? I think? So Jason Richwine’s saga makes me very, very nervous. I maintain at best a loose anonymity; anyone who wants to find out who I am can do so. I am not good at worrying; no matter how many times I say I worry about being outed and fired, I really don’t act like it. But after this, I can all too easily envision being noticed, through some fluke of attention, by the national media, and having someone with too much time and a big, ungainly ox whining over a wound deciding to out me. And then follow headlines like “Ed Real has been writing about race and IQ for a year or more”, probably written, with wholly dispassionate disapproval, by the same reporters who follow me. Worse, maybe, by reporters who don’t follow me but who are tipped off by those who do (“Hey, I can’t use this but here’s some good stuff!”).

If I am cynical, it’s adequate to the occasion. Not enough to stop me writing, though, because I’ve had a genuinely fantastic year as both a writer and a teacher, and that’s too much fun to give up. So take all my professions of concern with some salt.

But there’s one other point worth mentioning, and it’s this: we simply don’t talk enough about the impact of immigration on our schools. Hundreds of schools throughout the nation are 70% or more Hispanic; the majority of the students children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, a substantial number of which are illegal. Dozens of schools throughout the nation are 80% or more Asian, hundreds more top 40%, even though the Asian population nationwide is just 4.8%.

For all the reform and progressive bleats about our failing schools, Asians, Africans, and even Latin Americans see the American education system as a big draw. So they come here in huge numbers, and the communities that absorb them are forced to spend far more on education than they otherwise would. Immigrants often utterly transform a school district; cultural values and language problems are just two of the onslaught of issues that schools are forced to deal with, certain of little support and lots of blame. And while the administrators and teachers let loose to talk about the issues are usually full of happy talk, the original community as a whole is rarely pleased—and if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll always find teachers who are dismayed by the changes.

I don’t have to link these stories in; everyone knows what I’m talking about. The concern and unhappiness is always presented as racist, the immigrants as adorable, hardworking, and confused by societal requirements imposed by a country they mostly came to for money, and the folks who have a job building up services (at taxpayer expense, of course) are the admirable heros, working against the evil prejudices of community to help the newcomers. All the feel-good stories courtesy of the same media that ignored Richwine’s IQ research while it trumpeted his research attacking teacher intelligence, yet turned on him to tear him apart when he argued for limiting Hispanic immigration.

So here we are again, discussing amnesty and still more immigration, and no one’s asking what it will do to our schools. No one is wondering if perhaps we should charge non-citizens, legal or illegal, for a service they so clearly consider valuable, what with the Hispanic obsession about the Dream Act, the Chinese birth tourists and the Korean wild geese. No one is concerned that abysmal teen employment numbers, even more atrocious in areas with high levels of low-skilled immigrants. But everyone will be blaming the schools for failing to educate all students to the same standard, whether it’s possible or not, and for any problems that fall out of the cultural clashes that the policy wonks don’t think of when they talk about the economic benefits of generous immigration policies. (For all Jason Richwine’s concern about low IQ immigrants, he doesn’t seem interested in their impact on American education, and still seems ready to blame teachers for the outcomes. Since I’m on the topic of cognitive dissonance.)

I want to stress this to any of my students, past, present, or future, many of whom are recent immigrants, who might stumble across this blog (along with WHY ARE YOU READING THIS WHEN YOU NEVER DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!) that I don’t see any of them individually as harmful, that I wish the country had resources enough to welcome everyone who wants to come. I don’t blame any immigrants for responding to America’s open door policy. But it’s time to close the door. It’s certainly not time to open the door any wider. And Americans can’t rely on the media to represent their interests, because the media’s already picked the other side.


The Dark Enlightenment and Me

I am a node on the network of the Dark Enlightenment.

I myself refer to the subject as the Voldemort View, the View that Must Not Be Named. But everyone else is naming it, and the damn names keep changing. I had just gotten used to HBD. Now, just as I’m becoming to accustomed to Dark Enlightenment, the new buzz word seems to be neoreactionary.

Steve Sailer discusses my essays, on occasion. The notorious Derb has me in his reader, a great honor even though I would take none of his infamous advice. Charles Effin’ Murray said nice things about me on Twitter. Don’t think I don’t brag about these achievements to my few friends, even fewer of whom even know this blog exists, much less read it.

So my appearance as a node shouldn’t come as much of a shock. And yet it does, a bit. I’m not ashamed or worried, nor am I rushing to disavow the association. Let’s be clear that, should my real name ever be linked to this blog, that placement on the node would be a career ender even if my individual essays didn’t do the trick. I could be logically worried, even if I’m at the third level of commitment, beyond just pointing out facts and well into theories and proposals. I could be concerned on practical grounds even while acknowledging that I meet some of the criteria: rejecting the Cathedral, beyond skeptical and flatly opposed to increased immigration at this point, worried that democracy leads to mediocrity, convinced that political labels are obsolete. (And lordy, the whole typology obsession reminds me of libertarian buddies I had in the 80s and 90s. I myself used to love typing and am depressed to discover I’m less interested as I age—just one more sign of encroaching decrepitude.)

But I’m surprised because I didn’t realize the Network had noticed me, much less adopted me, to some extent. I am not a big part of their conversations. I participate in Steve Sailer’s blog quite a bit, Razib Khan and West Hunter a little (the science is too hard), and occasionally comment on the others. In contrast, I have regular email and twitter discussions with reporters and education policy folk, both of which comprise a flattering percentage of my tiny twitter following. In the online world, I see myself as a teacher who knows a lot about education policy (as opposed to most education policy folk who barely dabbled, if at all, in teaching), rather than a member of the Network.

The newcomer will see much that shocks in the Dark Enlightenment body of work. The elites fuss over Sailer and Derbyshire, but both men are writing for general public consumption—a brave public, a curious public, but public that includes the uninitiated. The folks writing for the converted are a different story. I get a lot of traffic from Chateau Heartiste, so clicked on the site once to see what it was about, and holy crap. It’s not fun to read but what makes it tough—for me, anyway—isn’t that he’s wrong. He isn’t. He’s taking the basic economic fundamentals of mating, removing all the sentiment, tenderness, and fun from them and laying the stripped version out cold. What makes it tough is that his brutal accuracy is offset by a huge lack, and a lack that characterizes Dark Enlightenment discourse in general. Empathy, maybe? I offer this as observation, not criticism. And it’s a good thing my few friends don’t read this blog, because they’d all be commenting that “lacks empathy” is high on my checklist of personal shortcomings. But I shall push on with an example.

One of my ed school instructors became a friend, and in an early conversation, he asked me why I was so cynical about education. I told him I wasn’t cynical about education, but rather the people who wanted to “fix” it, since all sides of the education policy debate were ignoring cognitive ability. He asked about poverty, I told him about poor whites outscoring high income blacks, he asked for cites. Over a period of a year or so, he read the info I gave him and sent me interesting articles he’d come acrosss. He thought The Role of Intelligence in Modern Society was extremely compelling and, like me, became fascinated by the possible differences in crystallized vs. fluid intelligence. A Hispanic, he asked me what I would say to those who point to our troubled past, in which whites denied blacks and Hispanics a chance at advanced education by tracking them out of these options.

I responded in two parts. First, I said, I would like to see hard data on the “troubled past”. Everyone repeats the truism, but I’ve never seen data. Were schools of the 60s and 70s putting high-scoring black and Hispanic kids into middle or low-tracks? Do we have proof that it happened? Because most folks have absolutely no idea how huge the gaps are, and it’s just possible that the schools weren’t actively discriminating. Second, assume that the data shows that schools were actively discriminating back then. I find it impossible to believe that today’s schools, bastions of “tolerance” lectures and multi-culti support, would suddenly initiate rampant discrimination against low income kids. But I agree that we should be extremely cautious. We should, for example, allow anyone to take advanced courses, regardless of test scores, and then carefully monitor results. We should give all sorts of support to black and Hispanic children who feel isolated in advanced courses, because like it or not, culture and group identity matters. And, as I’ve written before (and first conceived of in these conversations), we must continue to research the best ways to educate students with below average cognitive ability, rather than pretend such problems don’t exist.

About six months ago, this friend told me that I had completely transformed his thinking, so much so that he now grew impatient when he heard the usual platitudes trotted out—and since he is a researcher at an elite education school, he hears the platitudes all the time. He sees now that he teaches a doctrine, not a method (not that there is a method). He can’t understand why everyone else is in denial—that is, of course he understands, but he can’t believe the nonsense he hears spouted by people whose expertise he used to accept without question.

I convinced a full-blown liberal progressive, a guy steeped in elite ed school tradition, to consider and then largely accept cognitive ability as the root cause of the achievement gap. Bow to my greatness.

Yet he wouldn’t have listened to word one had he not known me as a prospective teacher, one who had to fight like hell to make it through the program, who cared passionately about teaching kids, helping them succeed. I am well aware that, while my opinions on cognitive ability and the social policies that ignore it haven’t changed in a decade or so, my new career as a teacher has deepened my understanding of the issues involved. I have more street cred, if you will, but I am also even more aware of the human cost of the policies I oppose—as well as the impact that my desired policies would have on many of my students. My opinions require bifocals; one lens for broader policy, one lens for the individuals I work with every day. I might oppose immigration, particularly illegal immigration, and affirmative action, but I will advise my students of every possible option they have under existing law. I have taught and coached illegal immigrants to higher SAT/ACT scores, advised African American students with solid but not awesome test scores to apply to top 30 schools, even though I knew white and Asian kids wouldn’t have a chance with those scores, even though I want a world in which African Americans wouldn’t be accepted with lower scores. Until that day, my students are my students and I’ll work to give them every advantage I can.

When people read my blog, I hope they see that part of me. Yes, I scathe and mock, yes, I despise the denial that wastes time, money, and lives, yes, I’m angry that opportunists throughout the political landscape go further than simply deny cognitive realities and blame the wrong people (teachers usually, parents sometimes) for the failure of their wholly unrealistic expectations. But I never mock the underlying conditions that everyone’s denying. I’m totally comfortable with the word “smart”, but believe the word “stupid” should be reserved for an otherwise “smart” person who just isn’t using the brains god (or genes) gave him. Feel free to mock my cognitive dissonance.

I don’t see low cognitive ability as a flaw to be fixed. I am well aware that people deny the import of cognitive ability because they see it as an insurmountable disability, one that just doesn’t fit their vision for future. What the hell are we supposed to do, in this modern society, with those who don’t have the mental abilities to master the abstract world we live in? Well, that’s the real challenge, isn’t it? Let’s set some goals, rather than deny the problem.

In other words, odd as it may sound coming from a ruthless sarcastic cynic, I see my Voldemortean views as, er, kinder and gentler than those seen from full-fledged members of the Network. I grew up overseas—-way, WAY overseas—and I’ve lived in one of the most diverse areas in the country the rest of the time. It’s easy to mock “diversity” and “multi-culturalism”, now that their sell-date seems way overdue, but here’s a story that happened last Friday:

During lunch, I’d decided to jet on over to Starbucks, something I rarely do, when I ran into one of my intermediate algebra students who had stopped by to ask me if I’d be interested in reading his science fiction screenplay. He then proceeded to tell me the story outline, about a man who woke up with temporary amnesia, struggling to make sense of the society around him. I was anxious to get my iced latte, but drawn in despite myself, as the student related the details of that society and the conflicts driving the plot. As we reached my car, he said, “…and what I really need now is someone to read it and spot all the story development gaps I missed. I know they’re there, but I need outside eyes to find them.” Tell me that’s not a writer.

We chatted for a bit, coffee be damned, and I gave him some advice and told him I’d love to read his story (Why he’s asking me, a math teacher, I dunno).

This kid is black. He’s a Nigerian immigrant. His story had nothing to do with Africans, blacks, white oppression, or anything even remotely involving civil rights. He’s a geek who wants to write a kick ass science fiction screenplay, and is spending hours of his free time crafting his vision.

When I finally left for Starbucks, I found myself trying to bring down my great mood by imagining all the ways in which he probably hadn’t acculturated. Like, his dad probably has 8 circumcised wives, all of them living off food stamps and welfare, that the kid probably wants to be rich and famous so he can recreate his father’s harem. It was all nonsense, but I was determined to crush the delirious joy I found in that little exchange, the feeling of oh my god, here’s the vision in action, here’s what everyone has in mind when they talk about giving blacks, immigrants, “people of color” equal opportunities to live the American dream. Not a kid who wants to major in African American studies, work for “social justice” or beat Lebron at his own game, but a creative artist who’s getting good grades in school yet isn’t sure if he wants to go to college, not because he doesn’t like school but because he thinks his time would be better spent writing. How frigging cool is that? And I wanted to temper any celebration of that young man because I know that as awesome as he is, likely with no circumcised harem in the background, he’s just the fringe of a much bigger, messy group that won’t assimilate as well, a group that would, on average, simply add to the problems we already have educating our own population with its racially imbalanced mix of low ability people who are going to struggle in this modern world.

But that conversation reminded me, again, of the awesome achievements our society has made because of this commitment to a diverse population with equal opportunity, achievements that I think might possibly be exclusive to…whites? England and its offspring? You don’t see a whole lot of concern for diversity or equal opportunity in Africa, Asia or South America, and it’s not all that strong in Europe, save England. And we’ve been tremendously successful over the centuries in expanding opportunity, expanding rights, and assuming that equal outcomes would follow. Who can blame people for seeing the most recent stall as a temporary setback rather than an outright limit?

It’s easy to forget that part. I often do, because lord knows the elites, in their eagerness to ignore reality in favor of an all-too-attractive delusion, are out to discredit people like me, to at best point and sputter, at worst destroy our careers.

Anyway. I confess I’m secretly proud of my little node on the network, even if nonplused by some of the company. But I will continue to identify myself primarily not as an HBDer or a member of the Dark Enlightenment, but as a teacher who has a clear sense of the problems in our current educational policy.

I think, somewhere in this typically longwinded screed, is some advice for the brethren in the neoreactionary cause (not the top dogs, but those, like me, on the lower tiers). But it would be far too condescending to spell out, and they’re a smart bunch.


Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat

…but anyone who has spent more than a minute thinking about education reform knows that kids experiences between the time they are born and the time they enter kindergarten at age five matter a whole lot in terms of how well they are going to do once they are in school, and I would say that even hardened cynics would concede that high quality preschool programs could make a dent in our mile-wide achievement gaps.” — Michael Petrilli, around the 1:24 mark.

As of 2013, no one knows how to use government programs to provide large numbers of small children who are not flourishing with what they need. It’s not a matter of money. We just don’t know how.Charles Murray

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Philip K. Dick

You know how every one mentions the Perry project as the gold standard, a small “hothouse” study that had good results but the fear is the results can’t be replicated? Here’s the data they’re talking about comparing cohorts at age 27 and age 40 (click to enlarge):

So all those people tweeting and posting excitedly about the pre-school initiative—this is what they’re worked up about? “Hey, if we take really incredibly at-risk kids and spend billions on them in pre-school and manage to replicate the very best outcome we’ve ever managed, only 1 in 3 of them will be arrested five times by their 40th birthday, instead of 1 in 2!”

That’s the gold standard, the “good news” in preschool programs: the achievement gap moves barely a nudge, measured cognitive ability goes up a tad, and the jail gap isn’t quite as spectacularly awful. Pick your own personal favorite preschool research and you’ll still get the same results: not anything to complain about, but the subjects are still much more similar to the control group than to any middle-class norms.

And yet, do-gooders keep talking up preschool, despite Russ Whitehurst‘s appeal for hardheadedness. They blow past the so-far indifferent results and talk up the happy day when we’ll do it right. Then they combine that dream with the current meme on the Vocabulary Deficit—currently in vogue because of E. D. Hirsch and the NAEP results—and so you see folks on the right, left, and even the supposedly unbiased talking up the possibility that vocabulary instruction, or the lack thereof, is causing the achievement gap.

But I’m going to ask everyone to think about Erwin Schrödinger’s paradox, sort of.

Say a single welfare mom has a sixth baby that she doesn’t really want and in a moment of grief and despair she sticks the baby in a box with a subatomic parti….no, wait, that won’t work. But she puts the baby in a box and leaves it on a street corner in front of a security camera—and then, right after she drops the baby off, the camera breaks and the last shot we have is of the foundling sitting in the box, while a rich, childless couple approaches, just after having been rejected by their ninth adoption agency, in search of a child to whom they can devote their lives and considerable income.

We don’t know what the child’s ultimate fate is. Maybe the rich, childless couple happen upon the baby and raise it as their own. Or maybe the single welfare mom comes to her senses and returns to her baby, which she raises with her other five kids by different fathers. The security camera image doesn’t say, so as with Schrödinger’s cat, we can imagine either outcome.

According to the vast majority of educated elites, the adopted version of the child would be successful and happy, starting preschool with a rich vocabulary and, after an academically demanding high school career, embarking on a successful adult journey. The version raised with the welfare mother would, in contrast, start preschool with a vocabulary deficit in the thousands of words, which a struggling public school with incompetent teachers won’t be able to fill, and embark upon adulthood in a life of poverty—assuming that adulthood didn’t start earlier than eighteen with either a pregnancy or a jail term.

According to the experts who actually study these outcomes, the environment in which the child is raised would have relatively little impact. Adoption studies don’t usually track granular academic achievement such as grades and test scores, but they do track IQ and personality and long-term academic outcomes (highest degree received, etc), and all available evidence from adoption studies says that by adulthood, IQ tracks more closely to the biological parent than the adoptive parents.

So if we were staring at that last frozen image from the security camera, wondering if the rich parents or the struggling welfare mom ended up with the baby, we could console ourselves on this point: academically, the outcomes would probably be a wash.

For the past twenty years or so, our educational policy has been devoted to ignoring the considerable mountain of data that suggests neither government nor parents can do much to mitigate the academic and life outcomes of children living in poverty, because the outcomes aren’t really caused by the poverty. All research suggests that the child’s IQ is linked closely to the biological parents’ and IQ, not poverty, has the strongest link to academic outcomes.

To point this out in public is to commit heresy or, as Steve Sailer puts it, to invite a “point and sputter” fest. Blah blah Richard Nisbett, blah blah French adoption study, blah blah blah BLAH Malcolm Gladwell, blah blah Duckworth (who did, after all, find that “earning a high IQ score requires high intelligence in addition to high motivation”).

If you are genuinely wondering what to believe, don’t cherrypick. Read a summary of generally accepted understanding (Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns). Definitely take any claims of making young children smarter with a big dollop of skepticism, since fadeout is a nearly universal downer when looking back at early childhood studies. And if you ever see a mention of the Flynn Effect, go ask James Flynn himself:

The most radical form of environmental intervention is adoption into a privileged home. Adoptive parents often wonder why the adopted child loses ground on their natural children. If their own children inherit elite genes and the adopted child has average genes, then as parents slowly lose the ability to impose an equally enriched environment on both, the individual differences in genes begin to dominate.

(I guess Nisbett missed that, given his liberal appeal to the expert Flynn, coupled with what seems to me a major misrepresentation of adoption studies.)

Actual experts, in other words, will point out that E. D. Hirsch and all the pre-school advocates probably have it backwards, that vocabulary deficits don’t cause low cognitive ability, but that low cognitive ability is the source of vocabulary deficits. Knowing more vocabulary doesn’t make you smarter. Smarter people know more vocabulary.

But time and again, the world will be assured by some well-meaning elite that really—no, really—all IQ really measures is a person’s education. People with high IQs were given a good education, people with low IQs were not. Preschoolers with high vocabularies are just reflecting their superior education. But here’s a nice overview of three recent studies that specifically test whether education drives cognitive ability or the other way around. All three found that cognitive ability (IQ) drives education achievement to a great degree. (Richard Nisbett doesn’t mention those studies, either. But then, he also says that The Bell Curve was widely acclaimed by an uncritical press. Um. What?)

We don’t have a lot of research on IQ and specific educational outcomes—say, correlating reading ability or middle school algebra results with IQ. You’d think that the people who wince at the very mention of IQ would be pushing for unequivocal research on IQ and test scores of school age kids. After all, research would prove all these pernicious myths about IQ were wrong once and for all, right? Take, say, a longitudinal study of 10,000 children, from preschool to adulthood, of all incomes and races. Test their IQ, vocabulary word bank, and other cognitive markers as appropriate. Collect parental SES, parental education, parental marital status, parental behaviors (do they read to their kids? Do they beat their kids? Do they have drugs in the house? and so on), early education status, race, location….pick your demographic data. Then yearly collect their GPA and test scores, their transcripts as they move through high school. And see what pops up. How well did IQ predict test scores and GPA? How much did poverty impact the scores kids with high IQs? How much did parental wealth influence the outcomes of kids with low IQs?

But there won’t ever be that kind of study. Why?

Because poor white kids outscore non-poor black kids so consistently that it would make the news if they didn’t. Here’s a cite from 1991 test scores, back before the College Board stopped sorting by both income and race: satscoresbyraceincome91 (As well as my usual standby cite)

and here’s a recent study that establishes the SAT as a reliable IQ predictor.

But it’s not just the SAT; low income whites outperform “not-poor” blacks everywhere—the NAEP data ruthlessly collects this data every year:

2011naepreadingraceincome

2011naepraceincome

California’s CST scores show the same thing: economically disadvantaged whites outperform non-economically disadvantaged blacks and basically tie with non-economically disadvantaged Hispanics.

So no one in the educational policy business is in any hurry to call for long-term research on income, IQ, and test scores (state, SAT, AP, whatever). Much easier, really, to continue talking about poverty, environment and really crappy teachers, secure in the knowledge that anyone observing the naked emperor will be castigated as a racist.

But just suppose we completed this study I propose, and tracked school/NAEP/SAT test scores by IQ over a long period of time. Tracked from age 2 on, imagine the study shows that low-income kids with higher than average IQs have test scores and academic skills comparable, if not quite as high, as higher than average middle and high income kids. Likewise, high-income kids with low IQs have test scores and skills similar to low income kids with equivalent cognitive abilities. Imagine that we remove every shred of a reason to blame poverty for anything more than a high distribution of kids with low cognitive ability, thus making the schools hard to manage and blunting slightly the brightest kids’ ability to learn in such a loud environment.

In other words, imagine the unthinkable: the achievement “gap” is just an artifact of IQ distribution.

Do I hope this hypothetical study would result in this finding? No. I would, in fact, be pleased to learn that poor, high IQ kids faded due to lack of development and support in their schools, drowning in low ability kids, and that rich kids with low IQs do substantially better than poor kids with the same IQs. That’s a problem we could fix. But I worry that for the most part, such a study would end with the hypothetical results I propose, because based on available data, it seems the most likely finding.

But again, all I’m asking here is that you imagine this outcome. Here’s what I’m trying to get at: what conclusions would we be required to accept, however reluctantly?

If IQ is the root cause of the achievement gap, the vast majority of those low income children with vocabulary deficits have cognitive abilities much lower than average. It would also follow that blacks and Hispanics, on average, have cognitive abilities lower than whites and Asians. Coupling those facts with previous research, it would mean the achievement gap can’t be closed with the tools we have at this time.

It would not follow that all poor kids are unintelligent, that “blacks/Hispanics aren’t as smart as whites/Asians”, or that IQ is genetically linked to race.

Okay. So let’s continue through this hypothetical and posit that we accepted these conclusions. (ha ha! this is me, laughing at my hopeless optimism. But work with me.)

For starters, we could accept that academically speaking, the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment would not yield dramatically different outcomes and that preschool isn’t even a tiny bit of a magic learning pill. We might be satisfied with preschool that, as Charles Murray says, “buys some [low income children] a few hours a day in a safer, warmer and more nurturing environment than the one they have at home”. Maybe we’d stop holding preschool responsible for long-term academic outcomes and ask instead how it helps poor kids with unstable home environments and parents with varying degrees of competency, convincing these kids that their country and community cares about them and wants them to be safe.

Maybe we’d get to the point where we start exploring the best educational methods for kids with low cognitive ability. Sure, we’d start with Direct Instruction, although I can’t be the only teacher who doesn’t see a miracle at work in this old video. Show me the part where they remember it a month later and I’ll be impressed. And if you add “for kids of low to mid-cognitive ability” to the end of every E. D. Hirsch sentence, you’d have a perfect prescription for elementary and middle school education. The problem with Hirsch, as I mentioned to Robert Pondiscio in the comments of this post, lies in our “cultural diversity”—that is, teaching specific content leads to “cultural homogeneity” and no, no, no, that just won’t do. Better to not educate our low ability blacks and Hispanics at all then educate them in a useful content knowledge that wasn’t Afro or Latino-centric.

Someone’s going to chime in when I finally post this and say “But Ed, you don’t understand. If we teach them with Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge, the achievement gap will disappear! Look at KIPP’s results! Look at Rocketship Academy!” and I warn him to beware the false god of elementary school test scores. If the achievement gap is a function of IQ distribution, then effective education methods will not fix the gap, but rather help us educate low-IQ kids in a way they find meaningful and interesting, which will keep them invested in the process rather than giving up.

Let’s leave what to do about high school for a different post, because this one will be long enough.

What the results of such a study would do, I hope, is force everyone to stop thinking of low test scores as a missed opportunity to create more computer programmers or doctors but rather as a natural outcome of IQ distribution. With luck, well-meaning reformers will realize that they must stop looking at low test scores as an indictment of the educational system. Well-meaning progressives might cease their declarations that poverty and the evils of income inequality are stopping our poorest children from achieving college. Perhaps the results would stop educators from making low IQ kids feel utterly hopeless by declaring that more school, more learning, is their only possible chance for success, and end permanently the moralistic drumbeating for “lifelong learning”. Maybe we’d start using our considerable creativity to address the obvious pitfalls that could come about if we accepted the reality of low IQs. We don’t want to return to a educational world in which such kids are relegated to dreary, regimented education, because we must give all our kids as many skills and as much knowledge as they can absorb. Acceptance does not mean resignation and abandonment.

And most of all, I hope, any reasonable person who understood the impact of IQ on academic and life achievement would instantly realize that we must stop importing low-skilled competition to further reduce the opportunities for our own citizens. Once everyone stops fooling themselves about the quality of American education and realizes that we aren’t doing all that badly once we control for IQ, surely immigration enforcement and even reduction must follow. If enforcement means more illegal Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Chinese head on back home, then our own unskilled and low-skilled workers have more opportunities, even if it raises restaurant prices to pay for legal cooks and busboys, forces homeowners to take care of their own lawns, and makes farmers finally invest in mechanization, or whatever other dire outcome businesses currently predict. Reducing immigration flow means low ability children have less competition for funding, because lord knows our current generous immigration policies forces schools to channel a whole bunch of money into teaching low-IQ kids, both legal and illegal, who weren’t born here and to whom we owe allegiance only because of our own generosity. Maybe we’d even get toughminded enough to realize that the best DREAM Act legislation would send the well-educated undocumented kid back to their country of origin with a little note saying “Hey, this one’s really bright. Give him a job!”

But of course, I’m just positing a hypothetical. We don’t know that the bulk of our kids living in poverty have low test scores because they have low IQs. And we don’t want to find out. Instead, we’ll just refuse to believe in IQ and pray it goes away.


It’s the Tests, Zitbrains!

Minority Groups Remain Outnumbered at Teaching Programs, Study Reports

According to a study being released Wednesday by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which represents colleges and universities with teacher certification programs, 82 percent of candidates who received bachelor’s degrees in education in 2009-10 and 2010-11 were white.
….
Even in programs that award teaching certificates to candidates who do not obtain full education degrees, 76 percent of the students are white.

Dave Barry‘s parody of the Tobacco Institute’s research on the relationship between cigarettes and cancer:

FIRST SCIENTIST: Well, Ted, for the 13,758th consecutive experiment, all of the cigarette-smoking rats developed cancer! What do you make of it?

SECOND SCIENTIST: Beats me, Bob!

FIRST SCIENTIST: It`s a puzzle, all right! Hey, look at this: These rats have arranged their food pellets to form the words “CIGARETTES CAUSE CANCER, YOU ZITBRAINS.“ What could this possibly mean?

SECOND SCIENTIST: I`m totally stumped, Bob! Back to Square 1.

THIRD SCIENTIST (entering the room): Hey, can you two guys lend me a hand? I need to screw in a light bulb.

….and for, god, can it possibly be 25 years? this little passage has remained my gold standard for “f**ing duh”, regardless of whether or not cigarettes cause cancer.

The reporter, Mokoto Rich, obediently regurgitates the happy talk explanations:

“We’re finding that college-bound minority students have so many career options,” said Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the association. “We have to develop some specific recruitment strategies to attract our share of those students into those teacher education programs.”

Right. Sure. Here’s the unemployment rate for college graduates age 21-24, sorted by race:

Does this graph demonstrate an environment in which black college graduates have so many options that they’d turn down a teaching job?

Of course, Mokoto Rich doesn’t question this assertion, and moves on—perhaps because she has no background in education reporting or perhaps, like far too many education reporters, she shares the same biases as the experts she quotes. In support of the latter theory, she reported on the Mumford ring several times, which was all black teachers engaging in Praxis fraud, so you think just SIX WEEKS LATER SHE’D HAVE WONDERED IF MAYBE THE PRAXIS HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE LACK OF MINORITY TEACHERS.

That’s me, shouting.

And all she’d have to do is google. The Praxis owner, ETS, has researched at great length the lack of minority teachers. Of course, it hides the research under misleading titles like “Toward Increasing Teacher Diversity:
Targeting Support and Intervention for Teacher Licensure Candidates
” and “Performance and Passing Rate Differences of African American and White Prospective Teachers on Praxis Examinations. Here’s some useful data she might have found:




(Notice that the whites in the lowest category tie or outscore the blacks in the highest category–and so much for the theory that the strongest blacks aren’t becoming teachers)

And I’ll toss in some California data on Hispanic pass rates (Praxis doesn’t have enough Hispanic data yet):

Or Rich could have read the report she was summarizing, and looked at finding #9 on teacher diversity. No, finding #9 doesn’t mention the Praxis (haha! This is me, laughing.) but it doesn’t give a shout out to the MISTER Program at Clemson, which reaches out to black males specifically.
MisterProgram

She could have googled that program and discovered that the program wisely spends lots of money (much of it given by BMW) on Praxis preparation. And even with that Praxis preparation, 20% of the Mister candidates drop out because they can’t pass the Praxis.

Or she could have read this narrative on another Mister program, which talks about the bi-weekly Praxis preparation the candidates received, and then, when it was really time to study:

Simultaneously, as recruitment and interviewing efforts were concluded, the enrolled Call Me MISTER Scholars were being prepared to take the Praxis I in December. This preparation took place with a series of eight-hour workshops conducted by Mr. Jean and rigid Praxis I study schedules, mandated to follow. The students recruited from the summer of 2008 took the Praxis I Reading Section which resulted in a fifty-percent pass rate, with the remainder of students failing to pass by a combined total twenty-five points.

So with lots of practice, the candidates achieved a 50% pass rate—which is an improvement over the usual.

Incidentally, alternative teacher credential programs have a higher percentage of URMs, although I’ve never seen any study that breaks this down by type. I suspect that the programs that produce more URM teachers provide specific Praxis support. The ETS report I cite above mentions that historically black colleges provide Praxis coaching as part of the teaching program. Public universities generally require passing Praxis scores before candidates enter the program, a development that began in the late 90s to game a certain requirement and I can never remember what it is, only finding it by accident. Arggh. If someone knows what I’m talking about, put it in comments. In any event, alternative teaching programs that don’t require Praxis passage before entering the program and provide Praxis coaching will probably accept more URMs.

Teacher certification tests have gotten much, much harder for elementary school teachers, the primary source of URM teachers, since 2002 and No Child Left Behind, and the original certification tests (Praxis I and California’s CBEST) pre-2001, have sufficiently dismal URM pass rates without the added difficulty. In California, for example, elementary school teachers simply had to pass the CBEST before 2002. Now they have to pass the Multiple Subjects CSET as well.

So if I’m right, and blacks and Hispanic would be teachers are falling short because of the certification tests, then coaching and removing the certification test passing requirement might be a good plan? Maybe?

But to Mokoto and a whole host of other ignoramuses, the Clarence Mumford case is as unrelated to the problem of missing minority teachers as a generous immigration policy is to the lousy employment opportunities for high school dropouts. Oh, wait.

So at the same time we see these sincere pieces on the dearth of black and Hispanic teachers, CAEP, the ed school accrediting organization, proposes requiring SAT/ACT/GRE scores in the top third. Does Mokoto wonder if such requirements may drive down the supply of black and Hispanic teachers even further, given that only 6% of blacks and 10% of Hispanics are in the top third of SAT scores? Does she wonder why the Mumford scandal overwhelmingly involved teachers, not teacher candidates, many of whom became teachers before the higher standards kicked in, and why so many black teachers found it necessary to pay for passage? Does she even mention certification tests?

Of course not, because Mokoto’s a moron. Well, probably not. I just love the alliterative value of those double m’s. What she is, however, is a person who appears to have run after the education beat for its exposure, not any real knowledge of the issues involved.

Finally, please remember that teacher certification scores show no at a most generous reading, a weak relationship to student outcomes, and that the most optimistic results comparing teacher content knowledge to student outcomes reveal no impact on reading scores and a tiny improvement in results when comparing the top 5% of teachers to the bottom 2%.

Reformers will ignore this, because it’s politically important to bash teachers, a predominantly white, female group, for low ability, the better to blame them for “failing schools”, and politically impossible to bash blacks and Hispanics for low ability. Progressives will fail to point out reality to refute reformers, because it’s politically useful to blame poverty and, again, politically impossible to blame blacks and Hispanics for low ability. And so here we are.


Why Most of the Low Income “Strivers” are White

So I was reading David Leonhardt’s story on elite colleges and low income kids with high test scores—not news, since I’d read Steve Sailer’s post on the study earlier—and was pleased to see that the reporter had at least mentioned race: “Among high-achieving, low-income students, 6 percent were black, 8 percent Latino, 15 percent Asian-American and 69 percent white, the study found. “

Of course, while Leonhardt mentions race, he doesn’t mention that gosh by golly, those numbers are lopsided, aren’t they? and none of the posts or tweets I’ve read mention that tremendous imbalance (other than Steve Sailer, of course). Mokita–the truth we all know and agree not to talk about.

Steve said in his earlier post that he was “guessing” that the reserve of kids was white, and of course he was right. What I’d like to remind everyone, while they’re all ignoring the truth, is that Steve didn’t need to guess.

While Hoxby defined “high achieving” as 1300 SAT M-V, let’s be clear: no white or Asian kid without legacy parents or uncommon athletic or artistic ability has any shot at all at a top 20 school without a GPA of 4.0 or higher and SAT combined score over 1400.

According to the College Board, however, just 1500 African Americans scored 700 on either the Math or Reading SAT—which means almost certainly fewer than 1500 scored 700 on both.

The number of African Americans at the top 20 schools, using 2008 data (saved me looking up the individual common data sets), is 2,217.

Okay, a couple of the top 20 schools field football and basketball teams, but the steep SAT skews for athletes are usually found at the big public universites. So the entire reservoir of African Americans with genuinely competitive SAT scores (never mind grades) are taken up entirely by the top 20 schools and they’re already scooping into the scores below that marker. It goes down from there.

Hispanic admissions would tell a similar story, since only around 3000 Mexican, Puerto Rican, or other Hispanic students scored above 700 in either section (again, probably fewer achieved over 700 on both). Please don’t make me add up all twenty from the CDS—here’s six of the top 10 adding up to a bit over 1100 Hispanic admits in 2011 or thereabouts.

This article argues that elite schools recruit low income blacks and Hispanics as a two-fer—they are both poor and non-white, but it’s a mistake assume that the black and Hispanic admits are impoverished. Within races, SAT scores rise and fall with income, on average, and since so few blacks and Hispanics make top marks, it’s very unlikely that a noticeable percentage of low income blacks and Hispanics are hitting genuinely competitive scores (and I speak as someone who has coached low income black/Hispanic students in SAT/ACT, and even seen a few 600+ scores). Low income whites outscore high income blacks and tie high income Hispanics on every IQ-proxy test we have, and the SAT and ACT are no exception.

So no one needs to guess that the high scoring low income kids attending non-elite schools are a predominantly white population, and David Leonhardt didn’t need to mention it, although I’m pleased he did. The students in this category have to be predominantly white, as there aren’t enough high scoring blacks or Hispanics of any income level to fill the maw of top-50 universities desperate to pat themselves on the back for their “diverse” population; they are already granting a steep discount by the 20th school on the US News list.

Meanwhile, at 35th ranked NYU, 34-42% of their admits received 700 or higher on the Math or Reading SAT, while only 12-14% of the students were accepted with scores below 600 on either section. It’s probably just a coincidence that their Hispanic and black admits combined were 15%? So by 35th ranked NYU, they are reaching down into the 500s. Berkeley, at #21, accepts 3-5% of students with scores in the 400s, but then Cal has a football team.

None of this is news. But in presenting the problem as one of income, Leonhardt is coming perilously close to misrepresenting the story. It’s not gee whiz, how come poor kids are ending up at local community colleges and low-end state universities, but that poor white kids—and indeed, many middle class white kids—simply don’t have a chance at top-ranked schools because they are being actively discriminated against in favor of lower-scoring blacks and Hispanics of all income levels*. Most whites in both low and middle income categories know this full well, so they don’t bother applying—why waste the time or the application fee. Asians, of course, are also subject to discrimination, but as someone with seven years experience in the Asian test prep industry, I’m less bothered by the 100 point premium they pay against whites. Sounds about right, when compared to a white (or black or Hispanic, for that matter) kid of similar abilities who didn’t prep.

And as I’ve mentioned before now, the two tools the universities use to rationalize the discrimination are grades and course transcripts. Majority URM schools (both charter and comprehensive) can simply lie about their course content and grade based on effort. Unexpected consequence: Asians are overrepresented despite the discount, because white parents just don’t care as much about grades.

None of this will be resolved by the Supreme Court decision; universities have demonstrated unyielding allegiance to URM admissions and rich white legacy donors. But in my perfect world, college admissions would work something like this.

***************************************************
*I’m adding this later. Private schools are also discriminating against all non-legacy students in favor of “development” (wealthy or legacy or both) admits. I guess it’s too much to expect that, after their pursuit of money, their treatment of non-development candidates be even-handed.


On Graduation Rates and “Standards”

Stephanie Simon has a piece out on the increasing graduation rate (while I’m at it, mad props to Simon for the charter school piece, which probably did a lot to alert the general audience to charter selections), and various tweets are hailing the good news but—and this is the funny part—expressing concern that this increase rate might be due to schools lowering standards. Checker Finn has also written disapprovingly of credit recovery.

hahahahahaha. This is me, laughing.

Imagine you have forty 18 year olds, who all read and calculate at the 6th grade level, and another group of forty who all read and calculate at the 10th grade level. They are all high school seniors in a state that requires graduation competency tests. Of this overall collection of eighty, the following distribution is entirely unexceptional (and of course, not the only one possible):

  1. Fifteen screwed around from the moment they entered high school, have a GPA in the tenths, and are currently in alternative high school filling out worksheets. No reason to worry about high school graduation tests, though, because they passed them first time out.
  2. Fifteen are, on paper, identical to the previous group, except they haven’t passed any of their graduation tests and so some of their high school time is spent in test prep instead of worksheet completion.
  3. Fifteen are far behind because they went to a charter school that prided itself on making kids repeat grades, and after two years of failure they went back to public school. They’ve passed the high school graduation tests, and have been doing well since they left the charter, GPAs of 2.0 or so. But they’re far behind, so are taking two hours every day to do online credit recovery.
  4. Fifteen are at a charter school, where they have a 4.0 GPA with a bunch of AP courses on their transcripts, (thanks, Jay Mathews and your horrorshow of a Challenge Index) but haven’t passed the high school graduation tests.
  5. Ten recovered from an early bad start, have a solid 2.5 GPA, but haven’t passed their state graduation tests. Half of them have IEPs and official learning disabilities (which means, of course, they aren’t in charters), and so they’ll just waive the requirement. The others will keep plugging away.
  6. Ten have a solid 2.5 GPA after an early bad start and have passed their state graduation tests.

(Note: In case it’s not clear, the kids who can pass the state grad tests are the ones with tenth grade abilities, the ones who can’t are the ones with sixth grade abilities).

Any diverse high school district in the country, surveying its population in comprehensive, alternatives, online campuses, and charters, could assemble those eighty kids without breaking a sweat.

On the lower half of the ability spectrum, grades and credits are utterly pointless differentiators. Once you accept that we graduate thousands of kids who can’t read, write, or add, there’s no reason to cavil at the method we use to boot them out of the schoolhouse.

No, don’t yammer at me about persistence or compliance or god spare me “grit” of illiterates plugging away at school and therefore being more deserving of the diploma than the lazy but somewhat smarter kid. The concern about the increase was not about persistence or compliance or grit, but academic ability.

And so, rest easy, people. We are already graduating illiterates. The increased graduation rate is not achieved by teaching more kids more effectively, nor is it achieved by shovelling through the bottom feeders and thus devaluing high school diplomas. We are simply taking kids, whether near-illiterate or low but functional ability, who fell off the path that our other near-illiterate or low but functional ability kids stayed on, and putting them on a different conveyor belt.

How? As Simon’s article makes clear, by spending lots and lots of money:

* Launching new schools designed to train kids for booming career fields, so they can see a direct connection between math class and future earnings

* Offering flexible academic schedules and well-supervised online courses so students with jobs or babies can earn credits as their time permits

* Hiring counselors to review every student’s transcript, identify missing credits and get as many as possible back on track

* Improving reading instruction and requiring kids who struggle with comprehension to give up some electives for intensive tutoring

* Sending emissaries door-to-door to hound chronic truants into returning to class

Notice that only one of the techniques used actually involved teaching the kids more—not that I’m in favor of forcing kids to give up electives for intensive tutoring (I still have nightmares). But most of the money spent involved forcing or coaxing the kids back to school—and while the kids are mostly low ability, they are no less and often considerably more intellectually able than kids who just happened to jump through the right hoops.

How does this happen, you ask? As I’ve said many times: grades are a fraud.

Or you could put it another way: the increased graduation rate is a triumph of administrators over teachers. Teachers, except those in majority minority urban schools, are flunking kids with little regard to ability and a whole bunch of regard to compliance, with no regard to administrative or societal cost. Administrators are spending money to work around teacher grades.

In this context, bleats about academic standards do seem a bit….well, silly, don’t they?

And now someone is going to say, “You’re absolutely right. We should be failing kids who don’t or can’t do the work, put teeth into the Fs. That’s the only way to raise academic standards.”

Sorry, that fool’s wrong, too. Higher standards are impossible. No, really. Common Core advocates, much like Mark Wahlberg at the end of Boogie Nights, are parading their favorite toy in front of a mirror in the desperate hope they’ll convince themselves, if no one else. (What, too much? Yeah, it’s late. I’m feeling bleak.) I very much doubt Common Core will ever be implemented (no test, no curriculum, baby), but if it is, nothing will change.

People assume that kids in the bottom half of the ability barrel are there because they suffered a deficit in environment, in parental attention and expectations, in teacher quality. Would that this were so.

Given all the money we’re spending on truancy officers, online credit recovery, counsellors to spot missing transcripts just to push kids through to a diploma, we might just want to consider teaching low ability kids less at a slower pace and stop pretending that they have a “deficit” that can be addressed by college level work and high expectations. We could create a hell of a curriculum for high school kids using nothing more than 8th grade math and vocabulary.

But we won’t do that for the same reason we won’t track, and for the same reason that adminstrators are spending a fortune coaxing kids back to school: namely, the racial distribution would make everyone wince.


Acquiring Content Knowledge without Hirsch’s Help

I don’t remember not knowing how to read. My mother tells me that she’d first thought I memorized certain Dr. Seuss stories, and it took her a while to figure out that I could read independently. I was 3.

My father’s IQ is probably less than 100, but not much. He has exceptional conversational fluency in languages; put him anywhere in the world and he’s exchanging stories with cab drivers and waiters in less than a week. He’s an equally fluent and improvisational musician. When he learns something it stays learned: he spent two hours explaining to nine-year-old me how airplanes flew and to this day, that’s the best explanation I’ve ever gotten. Ask him about any major plane crash that occurred before 2000 (the year he retired after 45 years in airline operations) and he can tell you exactly who was at fault, why, and what changes were made to reduce the risk of reoccurrence. Unlike my highly concrete father, my mother is a better abstract thinker. She mastered technology easily, moving from shorthand secretary to working with faxes and computers in the 70s and 80s,and moved up the ladder from temp secretary to executive secretary for bigwigs at a major technology company, to network support technician for her last few years when she got tired of secretarying. She has a somewhat higher IQ but none of the improvisational fluency of my dad; you can see this best in their individual approaches to cooking, at which they both excel. Dad never uses recipes, Mom rarely ventures off without a cookbook, both of them produce meals you’ll remember forever. Dad’s second wife got a college degree in her 30s and made the Dean’s list but works as a skilled technician in the same job she had before college; Mom’s second husband has two doctorates from a top ten university, spent his life in a high-octane brain job, but his real love is carpentry and gardening, which he did as a side business before and during retirement. Politically, Dad is a blue-collar Democrat, Mom a hippie-dippie liberal.

At no point did my blue-collar parents take any steps to develop my intellect, even though they were fully aware that I was at or near genius IQ. My mother refused to allow me to move up a year in school because she’d been advanced and didn’t like it. My parents could have sent me to Phillips Academy, all expenses paid; they decided not to. They saw no difference between my going one of the top public universities schools in the country and a local state college except cost, although they did think I should “major in business” (hey, it was the early 80s). I went for cost and in those days, that was a terrible call. In my twenties and thirties, I resented their decisions which seem inexplicable today. However, two master’s degrees at top-tier universities (which took up a lot of my 40s) have convinced me that the only thing I would have gotten from a better education is more amusing stories about how much trouble I caused the schools and how glad they were to get rid of me.

Anyway. Up to a few years ago, I said I was a book and TV lover. Now I know I’m just an obsessive who needs to keep a busy brain. Regardless, I consumed information reflexively as a result of keeping my brain busy. I grew up overseas with no TV, but when we came home for summers I was literally glued to the set. I watched game shows, Bonanza, Medical Center, SWAT, and Scooby Doo until age 10, when I discovered movies and stayed up late to watch whatever was on. (I discovered Star Trek reruns at 12).

TV-watching never interfered with my reading; I read 2-3 books a day (1000 WPM, clocked and reclocked), before, during, and after TV. On weekends during the year when I had no TV, I’d easily go through 5-7 books. I quickly read through the school library. No public library overseas and no English bookstores in that country, and I could only talk my parents into buying me five or six books at airport bookstores, which I ran through in a couple days. I read the back of cereal boxes and Clorox bottles, which was convenient when my baby brother appeared to have taken a swig from the jug. (Unfortunately, we lived in a place that didn’t have ready access to milk, the recommended remedy. But he survived.) My grandfather, bless his heart, used to send me a huge box of paperbacks, picked at random from the general and genre fiction section, which took me a bit longer to run through than books for kids my age—and they had far more interesting plots. So when I ran through Gramps’ gift, I turned to my parents’ books; I know everything there is to know about the works of John D. McDonald, Agatha Christie, and Dick Francis. Just ask me.

Some early reading memories:

  • The Middle Sister, age 5—odd little book, but I’ve found that many remember the plot, if not the story. One of my earliest memories of a “chapter” book; an older cousin was reading it. Most of my reading at this age were junior high basal readers that I stole from school. I hadn’t figured out I could read my parents’ books, and everything else I’d ripped through a year or more earlier, apparently.
  • The Trojan War,age 6: Not until years later did I learn that The Iliad didn’t have the Trojan Horse scene in it, but ended with Hector’s death. I found parts of the story confusing. Not the gods, I figured out what was going on, there; the gods had magical powers and subdivided areas of interest. (An agnostic from birth, best I can tell, I had no bias for or against polytheism. The Greek pantheon seemed an entirely reasonable way of explaining things. But then, I wasn’t entirely clear on the difference between God and Santa Claus.) No, what confused me was why all these battles seem to happen one at a time. What was everyone else doing while Hector was killing Patroclus or Achilles was killing Hector? How did the Greeks have time to discuss who got Achilles’ armor? Where were the Trojans while the Greeks were building the horse? I developed this confused idea of an arena, with the kings watching each scheduled battle—I must have seen a gladiator fight on TV. One thing I was clear on, though: everything was Paris’s fault.
  • King of the Wind, age 7–I am the opposite of artistic, but this image fascinated me. I read every Marguerite Henry book I could find, but I only enjoyed Justin Morgan Had a Horse and Born To Trot.
  • Madame, Will You Talk?, age 7—we were in an isolated European village, and I’d run through my dozen books. Desperate for something to occupy my brain, I picked up this romance-thriller when my mother had finished, thus meeting my earliest genre title. I didn’t quite understand the plot, which had something to do with Nazis and Jews and getting revenge for a Jew that was killed—apparently, Nazis killed Jews? I looked it up later when I got home; it may have been my first intro to WW2 and the Holocaust, although I can’t be sure. I suddenly understood a lot more of Hogan’s Heroes, though. I read Airs Above the Ground a year later, because it had a teenage boy in it and not as much love stuff. Mary Stewart, by the way, is still with us at 96. Holla!
  • David Copperfield, age 7—Suddenly Dora’s gone. David’s sad. What the hell happened to Dora? I had barely figured out what happened to Emily. Something dire with Steerforth. But where did Dora go? I had to read “Another Retrospective” three times before I realized that “Do I know, now, that my child-wife will soon leave me?” meant Dora was dying and when Agnes was sad, she’d died. Wow. Couldn’t you be more specific? I read fast, I miss things.

    Years later, I was quizzing my son on A Tale of Two Cities, which I hadn’t read, and asked him what happened to Madame Defarge. “I don’t know; she just disappears.” “Naw, that can’t be true. I’d have heard if she just disappeared.” So I leaf back through the book. “Oh, here it is. Miss Pross kills her.” “What? Miss Pross? No way? How’d I miss that?” “The bastard buried it in the middle of a paragraph, like he always does.” “That’s annoying.” “Tell me.” (My son’s ACT reading score: 36.)

  • The Black Stallion, age 7—This was the kind of stuff I was looking for when I read all those Marguerite Henry books! Unfortunately, he just kept writing about the same damn horse. But the first one is an awesome read. Still. I tried nibbling seaweed a few times, but ick.
  • Oliver Twist, age 8—I figured out that Nancy died. In fact, I think this was the first time I saw the word “corpse”. But how? He just hit her. You could die from people just hitting you? It didn’t take a gun or a knife? Or a car? Or jumping off a cliff like in Snow White?
  • The Happy Hooker, age 8 or 9—She didn’t seem very happy. But I wasn’t clear what a hooker was. When I figured out it was linked to prostitution, I looked that word up. Still not entirely clear. I had a vague idea that Nancy in Oliver Twist did something like that, but again, not happy. Hmmm.
  • The Quick Red Fox, also age 8 or 9, after The Happy Hooker—ah. Some women don’t charge, some women do. I wasn’t quite sure for what, but McDonald was actually much more informative on this point than the Hooker lady. I wasn’t sure which McGee thought was preferable, although he never seemed to pay.
  • Nerve and Enquiry, age 9—I read Dick Francis books from 1971 until 1999 or 2000; I think the last one I read was To The Hilt. I have fonder memories of him than any other writer, and not just because of his unreasonably perfect heroes (which made much more sense when I learned that his wife wrote most of his books), but because he was a living writer in my life for nearly 30 years. From these first two books, I learned that horseracing wasn’t just about who ran the fastest, but about “steeplechasing”, which involved jumping over fences and mud pools. With the horse. I also learned that marrying first cousins was a bad thing, and that jockeys were a lower “class” than trainers. But I wasn’t sure what “class” was. Not the school kind.
  • Cards on the Table, age 9—I’m reasonably certain this was my first Christie novel. Death on the Nile was second. I didn’t realize it was a bad idea to peek at the end until I was 12, and by then I’d read the entire Christie canon. All those endings, spoiled. But I learned more about this “class” thing, which also had something to do with “titles” (not books). I thought “class” complaints were restricted to the English until a distressingly short time ago. I also became familiar with a number of poisons and confirmed that yes, just getting hit on the head could kill you.

Not a complete list. I know I read Madeleine L’Engle and Laura Ingalls Wilder during these years, and all the Hardy Boys canon. (The Twisted Claw was the bomb.) I read Little Men at 7 or 8, and eventually Little Women. I also read a lot of history books and almanacs. And some really strange books that I can’t remember clearly which is extremely annoying. But these are the memories that seem relevant.

What’s my point? As I’ve mentioned before, my measured vocabulary has spiked hard to the right side of the bell curve, leaving the 99th percentile in the dust since I was first tested at 8. And my vocabulary is far weaker than my analytical reading skills. While I scored a 730 on the SAT (which at that time was 99+ percentile), I scored an 800 on the English Lit Achievement Test (known now as the SAT subject test), which even now is a rare achievement, and much less frequent back then.

And yet, as I hope this little tale has revealed, I did not live the life of a middle class child with that literacy-rich environment that gives children the background content knowledge. Or, based solely on my story, E. D. Hirsch has it wrong:

[Students learn new vocabulary] by guessing new meanings within the overall gist of what they are hearing or reading. And understanding the gist requires background knowledge. If a child reads that “annual floods left the Nile delta rich and fertile for farming,” he is less likely to intuit the meaning of the unfamiliar words “annual” and “fertile” if he is unfamiliar with Egypt, agriculture, river deltas and other such bits of background knowledge.

I am living proof that “understanding the gist” does not require background knowledge, that some people, like me, acquire content knowledge through the books that they read and TV that they watch. In fact, it’s clear that I, god save me, constructed my knowledge of the world through the books that I read. If you were to go by me, the progressives have it exactly right—teach them to read, and knowledge will follow. But you know, progressives are never right about their idealism, so let’s laugh off that possibility and return to Hirsch, who is right, but for the wrong reason.

Hirsch isn’t the only one emphasizing the importance of specific instruction in content knowledge because of poor environment. Lately, advocates on all sides of the debate have been focused on Hirsch’s argument (aka the Core Knowledge solution) “knowledge-rich” environment of the middle class and higher kids, the “language deficient” environment of low income kids, and how the latter group is starting behind.

One might think that these guys think academic achievement is purely a matter of environment, that individual ability has nothing to do with it.

But then, this essay is long enough. More later.

Update: One of the more idiotic commenters I’ve ever run into on this site argues that what I describe is a typical, middle class knowledge-rich environment. Sigh. I called her an idiot. But I’ll update with a bit more information, just in case there’s other zealots who think they’ve got a point.

My reading was considered incredibly weird by everyone who knew me. I was teased constantly. I was “grounded” by losing access to any reading material; my father once upset me terribly by pretending to throw my book out the window of a Greek hotel room when I wasn’t in bed by 10:00. (He hadn’t, but he didn’t let me have it back for a day.) My parents did not have a lot of books, they bought books to read on planes when four kids allowed them the time. They did not read otherwise, but (like me) rarely threw things away, so there were ten years of books lying around the house. The Dickens books were from the library. I was far better-informed than my parents were in a distressing number of subjects, but granted them total expertise on cooking, music, sports, and airplanes—and would accept their knowledge of current and recent events as somewhat reliable but needing confirmation. I was, undoubtedly, incredibly annoying.

As for the traveling, we travelled on passes as an employee benefit. My parents were, and are, extremely adventurous (particularly my mother, who just came back from a month in South Africa). We traveled everywhere and saw everything on the cheap. I hated it a lot of the time, although I’m glad now I did it. I did not gain any content knowledge from the travel, although I learned flexibility and patience.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 852 other followers