Schooling Makes You Smarter, argues Richard E. Nisbett, a University of Michigan social psychology professor, in the new American Educator. Actually, lots of environmental influences make people smarter — or duller.
People’s intelligence is greatly affected by prenatal and immediate postnatal factors; by home environments; by education, inclding early childhood education; and by changes in the larger culture. How smart we and our children ae as individuals, and how smart we are as a society, is under our control to a marked degree.
As years of schooling rise — from eight years in 1910 to an average of 14 in 2010 — IQs rise too in what’s known as the “Flynn effect.”
. . . in nations that were fully modern and industrialized by the beginning of the 20th century, IQ has increased by about 3 points per decade from the end of World War II to the present.10 That amounts to a gain of 18 points, which is equivalent to moving from a 50th percentile score (IQ equal to 100) to a score at the 93rd percentile (IQ equal to 118). . . . Nations that have only recently begun to modernize, such as Kenya, Sudan, and the Caribbean nations, have begun to show extremely high rates of gain.
In addition to more years of schooling, curriculum asks more of students and society has become more complex, making greater demands on intelligence, Nisbett writes.
Culture matters. A study of high school graduates in 1966 found Asian Americans had slightly lower IQs than whites but scored 33 points higher on the SAT — they took more math in high school — and achieved more career success. “The picture that results is that Asian Americans capitalize on a given level of intellectual ability much better than do European Americans,” Nisbett writes.
Children from low-income families may not match the achievement of children with educated parents, but “most children in poverty aren’t living up to their genetic potential,” he writes. In experiments, “persuading minority students that their intelligence is substantially under their own control” can raise their academic performance.
“School affects intelligence,” Nisbett concludes. “Better schools produce better effects, and . . . the caliber of the individual teacher is of great importance.”