Innate Intellectual Potential
"We are phobic about saying out loud that children differ in their ability to learn the things that schools teach. Not only do we hate to say it, but we also get angry with people who do. We insist that the emperor is wearing clothes, beautiful clothes and that those who say otherwise are bad people." (Charles Murray, Real Education) Thomas Sowell used this quote to open Chapter 9: Wealth, Poverty, and Politics.)
I think there is innate ability potential, such as academic ability, athletic ability, musical ability, artistic ability, and so on. And, you can measure ability only through specific accomplishments or achievements (i.e., performances). Most of our abilities come from DNA. They are innate. Still, some kids are better at math than others, and much of that is DNA. But, some kids study more at math than others, work harder at math than others, or get more help in math at home or from a tutor than others. These are environmental influences.
I think kids with higher IQs can have an advantage, but a high IQ means little unless the child wants to excel. Moreover, to be outstanding, the student must be motivated and persistent enough to practice a lot. In short, regardless of IQ, the student must work hard to achieve and excel.
"Monumental intelligence on its own is no guarantee of monumental achievement...Genetic potential alone does not predict actual accomplishment. It also takes nurture to grow a genius..."Most geniuses," says Plomin, "don't come from genius parents." (Note. Quotes in this paragraph are from National Geographic "Genius," May 2017; Robert Plomin, Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We are, 2018)
In addition to DNA, it takes nurture to grow an outstanding violinist at a young age. It requires hard work to get good at anything!
DNA Dominates School Achievement
"Performance on school tests of achievement is 60% heritable on average." asserts Robert Plomin (Blueprint). Although there may be other factors, it is still DNA (nature) over the environment (nurture) by a long shot in academics. School achievement is 60% genetics. Reasoning is 50% genetics and personality 40%, while spatial ability is 70%, and verbal ability is 60%, writes Robert Plomin (Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are). What this means is that "genetics contributes substantially to differences between people," including cognitive differences, even in children of the same family. It is called genetic variation. The percentages are what is and do not predict what could be, says Plomin. They are not deterministic. Plomin does not say that intelligence is genetically fixed. He writes, "Genetic influences are probabilistic propensities, not predetermined programming."
Environmental influences are "unsystematic, random experiences over which we have little control," says Plomin. They are broadly defined as "nongenetic" If the differences in school achievement are 60% genetic, then the remaining 40% of the variance is nongenetic (i.e., environmental influences). So, nurture is important, too, but not nearly as much as we used to think. In school, even if the inputs are the same, the outputs will be different because of genetic variation. Genetic variation also explains the reason that the achievement of children from the same family can vary substantially. "Equal opportunities do not create equal outcomes."
In Asian nations, home tutoring and intensive early training flourish. Asian parents prepare their children for 1st grade starting at age 3, especially in arithmetic. They believe that early math will give their children an advantage. Is it genius building? No, I think it is more genetics than nurture if a child learns Greek at age 3 and Latin at 8, like John Stuart Mill. Unlike Asian parents, most American parents don't push their preschool children. Perhaps, they should. "The bad news about helicopter parenting is that it works," writes Pamela Druckerman (The New York Times). "New research shows that hyper-involved parenting is the route to kids’ success in today’s unequal world."
"The most effective parents, according to the authors [Love, Money, and Parenting]," writes Druckerman, are authoritative [not authoritarian]. They use reasoning to persuade kids to do things that are good for them." Of course, you can't reason with a 2-year old, but you can plant the seeds. Children want to do things that are good for them. The future rewards are children with college and postgraduate degrees that have a "huge financial payoff." In short, the result is successful children in a competitive world. But, to get those degrees requires intelligence and ability, which come from DNA, along with lots of study, practice, effort, and persistence. Amy Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom) suggests that you don't get to Carnegie Hall without first-rate instruction, intellect and ability, motivation, and practice-practice-practice.
Too often, we have thought that "nurture" was the primary (only) cause of school success or failure. If we provide the right environment in school and at home, then the kids will be successful. But, as it turns out, it is mostly genetics, not nurture. It does not mean that children with lower aptitudes in math can't learn arithmetic and algebra at an acceptable level, but the learning requires proper instruction, hard work, effort, persistence, motivation, and lots of practice.
"I am sure that training can lead to some improvement," writes mathematician Ian Stewart (Letters to a Young Mathematician, 2006). But, Stewart's view is at odds with current education psychologists who think that practice is the cause of talent. It doesn't work that way because of genetic variation, which has been a thorn in education for decades. Genetic variation means that children do not have the same abilities to learn. It does not mean that children can't learn the basics of arithmetic and algebra. It means that some children learn math skills and knowledge faster than others.
"Children differ in their ability to learn the things that schools teach," observes Charles Murray. Educators know this, but seem to ignore it and treat all children the same as if they have the same academic ability in the name of equity, but Thomas Sowell calls it the "fallacy of fairness." Often, the best students are shortchanged and underfunded. Indeed, all learners are different in ability, skill, knowledge, motivation, persistence, and so on. But, they are not treated that way. For example, the best math students should be sorted to a math class that moves through content much deeper at a faster pace. The sorting for math class can begin in 1st grade, but sorting rarely happens in elementary schools.
Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive scientist, points out that "practice is crucial to long-term retention. There must be sufficient classroom time or homework devoted to the practice of skills or knowledge that must be remembered." Indeed, instructional programs should be built on the mastery of essential skills and knowledge, both in the classroom and at home. It requires strong teacher guidance, memorization, and a lot of practice-practice-practice, not group work or minimal guidance methods favored today, such as discovery learning. Without the basics of arithmetic, both factual and procedural knowledge, in long-term memory, students are blocked from further learning in math.
Zig Engelmann states, "Without a firm foundation in number facts [automated in long-term memory], children are held back from further learning. You learn only through mastery." Moreover, Daniel T. Willingham points out that "factual knowledge must precede thinking skill."
"Why do schools downplay the importance of memorization and practice to improve math skills and knowledge? Why don't schools teach for the mastery of essential factual and procedural knowledge? The first goal should be the mastery of basics, not state test-based "proficiency."
Children are novices and need to drill-to-develop skills and knowledge according to abilities. Even Chloe Chau is a novice when she learns a new piece of music. Practice is imperative to learn something!
Students must have the intellect and ability to do college-level work. They need to study and practice a lot to be successful. How many students have the motivation and self-discipline to study and practice, if it is not stressed at home?
DNA is what makes us who we are.
Many believe that if we change the school and home environments, then we can revamp and equalize student outcomes. Really? The idea is liberal nonsense. Yet, it governs school policy. Here is another bad idea: Every student gets the same instruction regardless of genetic variation (ability) In Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are, Robert Plomin asserts the opposite and makes a persuasive argument for the primacy of genes over the environment in shaping our intellectual abilities and personalities. Indeed, abilities vary. They vary a lot, as Charles Murray would say.
General intelligence, human motivation, school performance, traits, and abilities widely vary and are primarily influenced by your DNA. Children are different, not the same. Plomin writes, "Socioeconomic status of parents is a measure of their educational and occupational outcomes, which are both substantially heritable."
Nature, not nurture, is what makes us who we are.
The goal of education is to grow the abilities of students. Not all abilities or skills are the same due to genetic variation, and there is a limit to the abilities we do have. Moreover, a one-size-fits-all is not the best pedagogical paradigm because students are not the same in academic ability. A better, more practical model is to sort students to match their academic achievement, primarily for math class, starting in the 1st grade. With effort, hard work, and the proper instruction, most students in the average range can make adequate progress in arithmetic, but some students will be much better than others as all learners are different.
"In large groups of children, academic achievement is tied to academic ability. No pedagogical strategy, no improvement in teacher training, no increase in homework, no reduction in class size can break that connection," writes Charles Murray (Real Education, 2008). Murray advocated that K-8 Core Knowledge should be taught to students. Also, he pointed out that "children differ in their ability to learn the things that schools teach." Murray also says that educators tend to ignore the facts (e.g., genetic variation, IQ) when they get in the way of progressive ideology.
In education, we need to recognize genetic variation.
Due to genetic variation, I can't do physics like Richard Feynman, play the violin like Chloe Chua (click), write poems like Edgar Allan Poe, paint like Rembrandt, swim like Michael Phelps, create photos like Imogen Cunningham, and so on.
Practice makes improvement, but we cannot "practice" ourselves into superhuman beings due to genetic variation. A person's ability to do something has limits. Practice does not cause talent. The talent must already be there (DNA). Practice brings out the talent; it improves performance. And for a tiny few, the performance is truly remarkable, like 11-year old Chloe Chau. We are not all equally creative, musical, or athletic. Academic ability widely varies, too. We do not live in Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average and equal in intellect and abilities.
Note. A student with an IQ of 90 is not going to learn as fast or as much as a student with an IQ of 115.
Students can improve their IQ by scoring better on three subtests from the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), which are Information, Arithmetic, and Vocabulary. Unfortunately, these are not stressed in modern classrooms, so "academic learning has stalled," says Mark Bauerlein. He writes, "Why, we wonder, do so many high school students, college students, and younger workers seem so terribly deficient in basic knowledge and skills? Their reasoning abilities may have jumped forward, but their reading comprehension hasn't improved at all." Likewise, their mathematics achievement has flatlined, too.
High percentages of students (74% to 88% from nine school districts around Tucson) coming to community college are sorted into remedial math courses. The lack of vocabulary study makes it difficult to comprehend complex texts, so students are placed in remedial reading courses. One professor pointed out that many of her students had difficulty reading the chemistry textbook to learn chemistry. In short, many incoming college students are unprepared for college courses and end up in remedial math, reading, and writing classes.
"Intelligence is the capacity for abstraction."
2. Wrong Path: Strategies, not Knowledge
"Teaching strategies instead of knowledge has yielded only an enormous waste of school time," writes E. D. Hirsch Jr. "Strategies are empty" without the knowledge to back them up. Background Knowledge is essential. Hirsch writes, "The fact that critical thinking and problem-solving skills are not easily transferable from one situation to another (because one always needs background knowledge about the situation)--is a finding that is not widely known outside of cognitive psychology."
Critical thinking is domain-specific.
A student cannot solve a trig problem without knowing trig. In math, critical thinking is called problem-solving. A student can't translate Latin without knowing Latin. AI means, it is just common sense.
What kind of junk has been tossed into education by those who pretend to be experts? Education is loaded with bad ideas that slow learning and produce insignificant if any gains in academic achievement. One is critical thinking independent of content. Another is ignoring generic variation.
Note. The vast majority (82%) of the innovations funded by the U.S. Department of Education failed to show any gains in achievement.
There is no generalized thinking skill or strategy that is independent of content. Indeed, as Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote, "Thought without content is empty." Yet, schools of education continue to advocate "the popular falsehood that knowing how to think [strategies] is much more important than facts (Hirsch)." E. D. Hirsch Jr. points out, "Teaching strategies instead of knowledge has only yielded an enormous waste of school time." But, educators persist on "teaching kids to fish," when there are no fish in the pond. It is contrary to the cognitive science of learning and makes no sense for novices. "Learning how to learn" has been a failed pedagogy for decades, says Hirsch. Kids are novices and need to memorize stuff and practice a lot so that knowledge, both factual and procedural, sticks in long-term memory and is instantly available for problem-solving. In short, students need to accumulate a storehouse of knowledge in long-term memory to facilitate thinking.
Domain Specificity of [Thinking] Skills
E. D. Hirsch Jr. (Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories) writes, "Modern cognitive psychology holds that the skills that are to be imparted to a child by the school are intrinsically tied to particular content domains. Thinking skills cannot readily be separated from one subject matter and applied to other subject matters. The domain specificity of skills is one of the firmest and most important determinations of current cognitive science."
Hirsch continues, "Critical thinking does not exist as an independent skill. The domain specificity of skills is one of the most important scientific findings of our era for teachers and parents to know about, but it is not widely known in the school world." He says that thinking skills, such as critical and creative thinking and problem-solving, are not productive educational aims. "Thinking skills are rarely independent of specific expertise." Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool bluntly state, "There is no such thing as developing a general skill."
Note. Thinking skills are often called strategies, such as reading strategies. Strategies in math are often called "Standards for Mathematical Practice" in Common Core, state standards, and reform math.
3. Bad Policies
In education, it is anathema to sort kids according to their achievement, but the policy makes little sense in terms of genetic variation. Instead of sorting math students according to their academic ability (i.e., actual math achievement: below average, average, and above-average), progressive leaders have erected a stumbling block of fabricated equity and diversity ideologies using a one-size-fits-all concept that impedes learning.
The reality is that academic ability, like athletic ability, musical ability, and so on, "widely vary." They vary a lot, as Charles Murray (Real Education) would say. One cannot break the strong link between academic ability and achievement, such as in math or other academic subjects, explains Murray.
What progressive educators have done is to "equalize downward by lowering those at the top," observes Thomas Sowell (Dismantling America). It is especially evident in Common Core and state standards, and it is lousy policy, rotten to the core. Sowell calls it the "fallacy of fairness." Also, Sowell points out that we are distributing money from academics to social work (e.g., social-emotional learning or SEL is all the rage). SEL is the latest version of the failed self-esteem movement. It doesn't seem to matter that teachers aren't trained as psychologists.
Knowing something implies some level of understanding.
Educators should focus on knowledge, not understanding, which is ambiguous and difficult to measure. When we say a student's understanding is weak, what we mean is that his knowledge is inadequate and fragile.
Practice produces improvement in performance, which is measurable, but, on the other hand, understanding is ambiguous, implied, and difficult to quantify. It is the reason I use the word knowledge, not understanding.
Elementary school math predicts high-school math achievement, which, in turn, predicts college success. Knowing math content makes sense.
Note. For more Chloe Chua, click violin or here.
Last update: 2-1-19, 2-3-19, 2-5-19, 2-11-19, 3-9-19,
Some corrections were made on 4-3-19.
©2019 - 2020 LT/ThinkAlgebra