Murray actually offers one simple truth, one tautology, and two opinions (one somewhat legitimate, one not). The one (very) simple truth is that â€œability varies,â€ by which Murray means intelligence, or I.Q. All reasonable people acknowledge this; the question is how it varies, and what that variance means. The tautology is that â€œhalf of the children are below average,â€ an odd statement to offer as evidence in support of Murrayâ€™s main subject: educability, which is an absolute quality â€” not, like below-averageness, a relative one. Basically, Murray believes that (coincidentally!) half of all children are more or less uneducable in the traditional sense and thus need to be identified as such via mandatory first grade I.Q. testing so they can be shunted off into vocational education programs for their own good.
Murray thinks that 10 to 20 percent of students have the ability to do college work.
Among the many problems with this line of reasoning is the fact that roughly 35 percent â€” not 10 percent â€” of young adults actually do earn bachelorâ€™s degrees. But Murray simply explains this away as prima facie evidence that academic standards in higher education are too low. Real Education is shot through with this kind of circular reasoning; once you decide that variance in cognitive ability = pervasive uneducability, everything else falls in line.
Murray argues that innate ability is destiny: Good schooling doesn’t help; by implication, bad schooling doesn’t hurt. One third of all children are â€œjust not smart enough to become literate or numerate in more than a rudimentary sense,â€ he writes.
If every child received a first-class education, then we’d know how many are incapable of learning. That day has not arrived.