Reckoning focuses on the evidence that good teaching enables lower-IQ students to learn at grade level.
Low-IQ kids are not cognitively crippled. They just learn at a slower pace. They are capable of learning sophisticated, complex material at a grade level pace given adequate instruction. At least up to the K-12 level. But the fact of the matter is that these kids aren’t getting anything close to adequate instruction at the K-12 level. This instructional inadequacy taints Murray’s underlying premise and renders his conclusion spurious.
Had Murray qualified his argument by stating “It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity given the typically crappy instruction present in most schools,” he’d be much closer to the truth.
Gadfly doesn’t believe IQ tells us all we need to know about a student’s ability to learn, pointing to schools like Amistad Academy that succeed in educating low-income minority students.
It is notable, though, to see fatalism and educational determinism (and NCLB pessimism) emerging, for wholly different reasons, from both left and right.
I saw Fordham’s Checker Finn last night at a Koret Task Force debate at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He moderated a debate on whether improving curriculum or expanding school choice is most likely to advance school reform. E.D. Hirsch and Diane Ravitch argued for a common, coherent, content-rich core curriculum. Caroline Hoxby and Paul Peterson argued that choice is the mechanism to achieve better curriculum. Hoxby scored with me when she pointed out that Hirsch and Ravitch wouldn’t be, in all likelihood, the ones writing the core curriculum they advocate.
Ravitch and Hirsch capped their rebuttal with a rap — a very white rap — on the primacy of learning content: “Choice is cool but it’s not enough. We’ve got the stuff! We’ve got the stuff!”
Caught by surprise, Peterson bounced back by citing Sinatra’s ode to “love and marriage” which “go together like a horse and carriage.” According to the song, “you can’t have one without the other.” (Of course, you can, but never mind.)
Afterwards, the debaters were asked about Murray. Hoxby said the IQ evidence is a lot murkier than Murray thinks; Ravitch and Hirsch said IQ is influenced significantly by culture and education.
My book, Our School, which I urge all you new readers to buy, tells the story of a charter school that recruits disadvantaged Mexican-American students who’ve done poorly in school and tries to get them caught up academically and prepared for college. Most need to be taught basic skills they missed in the lower grades and lots of content — especially vocabulary — so they can boost their reading comprehension. Some have very short attention spans and huge gaps in background knowledge. Very few aren’t smart enough to do the work. I tutored some kids who were frustrating. But they weren’t dumb.
By the way, a lot of new readers are coming over from Salon’s Daou Report, which lists this blog as “from the right.” (There’s no “in the middle” category.) That’s why some new commenters assume the Murray posts are about the knuckle-dragging, Bible-thumping, knee-jerk right vs. the intellectual left. I think left-right arguments are irrelevant when it comes to how best to help low-income and minority students get a decent education.