Upon occasion I run across a previous article that seems to have aged reasonably well and bears on a contemporary issue. For this week’s education article, gentle readers, I provide one from January of 2019. May I suggest you take the links therein—you’ll thank me–as well as read the whole thing?
Daniel Hannan is a British Member of the European Parliament. He’s a conservative, and he’s very smart indeed, which is why I found his recent essay on politics so interesting. He writes in The Washington Examiner:
I’ve worked out why we loathe each other so much—why democracy throughout the West, and especially in the United States, has become so partisan, so adversarial, so angry.
It’s because we’re getting stupider.
In their new book, Prius or Pickup, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler show that, in the 1980s, around 15 percent of Democrats and Republicans confessed to ‘hating’ their rivals. That figure drifted up to 20 percent by the end of the century, and then skyrocketed. By 2016, 48 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans admitted that they hated the other party.
I’m not sure about those numbers. I’ve yet to meet a conservative who thinks that way. They think their political opponents misinformed, sometimes malicious, even laughable, but hatred isn’t it. Of course, I may have run exclusively into the 50% that don’t hate their opponents. On the other hand, I certainly seem to run into almost nothing but liberals who do hate conservatives, often insanely so, and are more than willing to explain that to anyone they think they might hate, in red-faced, obscenity–laced, spittle-flinging glory.
I should also explain the “Prius or Pickup” allusion. The Toyota Prius is a small hybrid. Some buy it because it’s frugal, but many on the left see it as greenie–not quite as good as an electric vehicle– virtue signaling. Simultaneously, many on the Left cannot imagine why anyone would want a pickup truck, and think those that own them toothless, low IQ, and prone to procreation with close relatives.
Others point to social fragmentation. The mid-to-late twentieth century was a time of exceptional homogeneity in the United States. The imposition of immigration controls a generation earlier meant that the proportion of native-born citizens was uniquely high. Most people knew their neighbors and watched the same three TV networks.
As Ben Sasse points out in his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal, those social structures have fragmented. Rotary clubs and little leagues are disappearing, and political tribalism has taken their place.
Hannan also brings up social media and “screen addiction,” as causative. These factors are certainly at odds with scholarship, learning and intelligence. “Oh, but you can get e-books!” If one is not a reader, it doesn’t matter whether they don’t read books in print or on a Kindle. The intellectual and societal damage is the same.
But I do believe that social media may have contributed to the problem in a different way. Screen addiction is shortening our attention span and lowering our cognitive ability, thus making us less able to entertain the idea that people we dislike might nonetheless have useful things to say.
The fall in IQ scores in the West is perhaps the most under-reported story of our era. For most of the twentieth century, IQ rose by around three points per decade globally, probably because of better nutrition. But that trend has recently gone into reverse in developed countries.
You hadn’t heard? I’m not surprised. Journalists and politicians won’t go near the subject and you can see why.
Intelligence is an explosive topic. We recognize excellence in sports, and care not at all for the feelings of people that will never play on the varsity football team, but we shrink with horror at the idea that some people are smarter than others, despite knowing this to be true. Among other bits of lunacy, this compels some to demand K-12 schools do away with Gifted and Talented classes so those not so gifted or talented will not feel less intelligent. But poor Johnny, who at 5’4” and 120 pounds won’t be playing varsity football, isn’t an issue. After all, we’re talking about sports, and that’s really important. Who cares about Johnny!
Men born in 1991 score, on average, five points lower than men born in 1975. There must, in other words, be an environmental explanation, and the chronology throws up a clear suspect: the rise in screen-time.
You do, gentle readers, want to take the link and read Hannan’s entire article. Let us also consider my pal Bookworm’s reflections on Hannan’s essay:
I’m sure that Hannan is correct that screen time matters. It’s not just that people spend a lot of time playing mindless games. It’s also that answers are now at everyone’s fingertips. People no longer need to engage in the hard mental work of figuring out the right question, tracking down the data, and then, if the data doesn’t spell out the answer explicitly, reasoning through to a response to the question.
Bookworm narrows in on the issues:
Dumbed-down education. Beginning in the 1960s, the Western education system implemented a vast number of pedagogical changes that downplayed intellectual muscle work such as memorization and side-stepped critical thinking skills.
Some of these changes were in service to the post-WWII idea that “the new is always better than the old.” Many, though, were intended to create ideological change in the children and to address perceived social injustices.
Bookworm rightly criticizes the switch from phonics to “whole language,” which has produced a generation or more of marginally literate people who find reading too difficult. She also criticizes the trend away from spelling(?!). To which I would add a trend away from teaching vocabulary. I’ve actually had a principal tell me they saw no value in teaching vocabulary—in English classes(?!). Bookworm also took to task those that see math as a racist, social construct(?!).
In other words, you can just think about numbers and their relationship without having to calculate the numbers. I recognize that, in highly theoretical matters, thinking about numbers is hugely important and allows for cognitive leaps that change paradigms. In the fifth grade, though, it means kids no longer memorize their times tables.
The absence of standards and memorization from schools doesn’t just leave children with fewer skills. It also leaves them less able to engage in rigorous, logical thought – and that kind of thought is a large part of what IQ exams test. Today’s schools never demand that children exercise those mental muscles.
We require the study of math, English, history and other disciplines not only because it makes for “well rounded” people, but because the study of math–and the other disciplines–builds neural connections—bigger, better brains—in ways that the study of no other discipline does. Even though a student may never use algebra in a practical sense, their brains are more flexible, capable—better—for having wrestled with it. The same is true of every core discipline. Of course, if one can’t read, or doesn’t read, there will be no bigger, better brains.
Academia’s focus on indoctrination over academic rigor. The fact that the education establishment substitutes indoctrination for education, something that happens with ever greater intensity at every stage of education, and that culminates in colleges that too often substitute only propaganda in place of any learning is another reason people are dumber.
Propaganda requires no thought. You simply parrot ideology. Indeed, not only does propaganda not require thought, it is antithetical to thought.
Take just one example: Having students study Colonial-era America in depth, from the rumblings against Britain in the 1760s, through the Revolution, and into the post-Revolutionary period and the Constitution’s ratification, requires students to think deeply about the difference between rights and privileges, liberty and servitude, and, most especially, the reasons behind such core Rights as freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to worship freely, etc.
Rather than doing these in-depth dives into history, it’s easier to tell students that the founding fathers were all evil, white, misogynistic, racist, toxic males, who can be safely ignored. Instead, colleges help students focus on the ‘important’ stuff: Their feelings trump free speech, guns are bad because boys without fathers periodically shoot up white, middle-class schools, and the Judeo-Christian faiths are evil because they advance white privilege and toxic masculinity. Once the students absorb these shibboleths, they never need to think again.
This is indeed the nature of “higher” education in many of America’s colleges and universities.
Culture matters when it comes to education. There’s one more problem with educating American children in ways that raise IQs, and it’s a problem that, today, dare not speak its name: The West is being inundated by people who don’t value education. This is not the same as saying that the West is being inundated by ‘stupid races.’ For the most part, I would never say that (although see below for the exception to my unwillingness to label one group of people as ‘not so bright,’ rather than merely ‘not so educated’).
Bookworm deals with the problems of agrarian immigrants who don’t value education…
And then there are the Muslims who are immigrating in ever greater numbers throughout the Western world. Another unspeakable fact in the modern era is that Muslims have low IQs. This is where I take a dive, not into race, because Islam is a religion, not a race, but into the lifestyle habits that many Muslims practice. These habits do affect intelligence. Change the habits, change the intelligence.
This is unquestionably true for Islamist inclined Muslims. Women receive no formal education, and men learn primarily two things: memorization of the Koran and the manual of arms for various Russian-produced weapons.
By all means, take the link and read Bookworm’s entire article. As with all her work, it’s lucid, rational, and impeccably reasoned. In other words, it will make leftist heads explode.
One might also wish to spend a bit of time with Charles Murray’s 2007 AEI article, Intelligence in the Classroom. An excerpt:
Today’s simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.
Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.
We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.
Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort. Even if she is taught to read every bit as well as her intelligence permits, she still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that.
Murray’s article is also must reading, as he goes on to make the point that we do not have any sure fire ways to increase human intelligence, nor were there good old, Lake Woebegonian days when every child learned how to read, write and do math at even an average level. Some people simply aren’t smart enough—they don’t have the ability–and there is little, or nothing, we can do about that. If everyone is above average, there is no such thing as average.
This does not mean, for a moment, that we should think the less intelligent less human. They are, each and every one, deserving of all the rights and protections of the Constitution, a Constitution many on the Left see only as an outdated impediment to their progressive desires, a speed bump on the way to the inevitable leftist utopia to be brought about by the warping of the arc of history toward social justice.
Consider the plight of Asian students vs Harvard. Asian culture has always prized hard work and academic excellence, yet Harvard, in it’s mad leftist dash for diversity and inclusion, has long been denying Asian students entry in favor of far less academically capable students from favored minority tribes. This has, thankfully, resulted in a lawsuit on behalf of the undeniably highly intelligent and capable Asians denied admittance. One might argue that by admitting those not up to the highest academic standards, Harvard is systematically dumbing itself down—admitting it is no longer an upper tier educational establishment, hence damaging its own brand–but that’s a topic for another day.
Where intelligence is involved, culture matters, upbringing matters, parent’s attitudes toward education matter. Homes with two parents who read, who have many books and who demand academic excellence in their offspring, tend to produce much smarter and more capable children. Reading is fundamental. People who do not read, and here I speak to significant literature, not reading for mere entertainment, which contemporary kids rarely do either, are far less capable in every other discipline. They are less experienced in every discipline, and in the most important discipline: understanding human nature. Non readers, of course, generally don’t even read for entertainment–it’s too hard and takes too much time and attention.
I do not suggest that only the highly intelligent, as determined by IQ tests, be allowed to attend college. I’ve known many people that lacked the IQ to do well at college level work, but they managed to earn a degree through determination and good, old fashioned, hard work. As a result, they are better and more capable people. They probably won’t score higher on IQ tests, but they have developed skills, and the will to use them, that can, to some degree, compensate for a lack of innate intelligence.
Hannan and Bookworm are right. We are becoming, year after year, less intelligent, or at the very least, we are acting as if that were so. If we are unable to reason, to separate fact from fiction and desire, if we cannot infer future consequences from present policy, if we allow unreasoning hatred—as in Trump Derangement Syndrome—to drive our personal relationships and our politics, the dissolution of the republic is inevitable.
All cultures are not equal and equally valuable. It is on this foundation that western civilization was built. This lowered IQ trend can be reversed, but not if we refuse to acknowledge it exists, not if we exalt ignorance and rage for the sake of political advantage, and not if we don’t return to actual education, and valuing it for its sake, and ours.