[Update @ 0937 on 13 August: When we assume that someone we disagree with, or dismiss, is stupid, this is what happens.]
Recreationally this summer I’ve been watching Glee on Netflix and I’ve heard the comment that so many of the students are really stupid. I’ve take exception saying the kids are ignorant, an easily fixable condition.
Stupid, however, has become a minor theme in the show manifesting in one break-up and culminating in Born This Way where two of the students wear t-shirts that read: I’m With Stoopid, with the arrow pointing up; and I’m With Stupid, with the arrow pointing down for the episode’s big number.
I tell my students that I wake up every morning thankful for my vast ignorance because that means I get to learn that day. That’s how we fix ignorance, we learn. Stupid on the other hand is a pejorative hurled at people we don’t agree with—think of all the stupid jokes made about President George W. Bush or Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Neither man, by any stretch of the term, is stupid.
David Freedman, writing for The Atlantic takes the discussion to an even higher level in The War On Stupid People:
The 2010s…, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s?bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
This is a pejorative I hear in school and in adult conversations. Intelligence, as Freedman continues, has very real consequences in our world.
From 1979 to 2012, the median-income gap between a family headed by two earners with college degrees and two earners with high-school degrees grew by $30,000, in constant dollars. Studies have furthermore found that, compared with the intelligent, less intelligent people are more likely to suffer from some types of mental illness, become obese, develop heart disease, experience permanent brain damage from a traumatic injury, and end up in prison, where they are more likely than other inmates to be drawn to violence. They’re also likely to die sooner.
I honestly don’t recall what my SAT/ACT scores were, but I doubt they were very good. I took both tests the same day—one in the morning and then, after a quick lunch break, the other in the afternoon—with absolutely no preparation. My body and mind were toast by the end of the day but my scores must have been OK because I got into the one college I applied to, Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Personally I think both tests are bogus as hell, but that’s another post.
Students today taking the SAT work their way through three sections: reading, writing and math. The maximum score is 2,400 with 800 points possible in each of the three sections. Today, those scores not only influence, if not make or break, your college career, but also what jobs you may get hired for.
In addition, many employers now ask applicants for SAT scores (whose correlation with IQ is well established)
I was surprised by the parenthetical. A quick online check however, indicates that this actually true. So, what might my IQ be if I say, had a 1,499 SAT score? Pumpkin Person says 108, or slightly above average. (More on this below.)
“Every society through history has picked some trait that magnifies success for some,” says Robert Sternberg, a professor of human development at Cornell University and an expert on assessing students’ traits. “We’ve picked academic skills.”
Which lead Freedman to zero in on the problem.
…it might make more sense to acknowledge that most people don’t possess enough [intelligence] that’s required to thrive in today’s world.
The College Board has suggested a “college readiness benchmark” that works out to roughly 500 on each portion of the SAT [that 1,499 I mentioned above, JH] as a score below which students are not likely to achieve at least a B-minus average at “a four-year college”—presumably an average one.
…it seems safe to say that no more than one in three American high-school students is capable of hitting the College Board’s benchmark. Quibble with the details all you want, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that most Americans aren’t smart enough to do something we are told is an essential step toward succeeding in our new, brain-centric economy—namely, get through four years of college with moderately good grades.
For Baby Boomers that wasn’t fatal, but beginning in the ’70s, as the America economy began to shift and factory jobs were outsourced, the jobs not in Freedman’s brain-centric economy became scarcer and scarcer to the point that the destructive power of globalization has become a central theme of the 2016 presidential election.
What can we do?
A lot, says Freedman, but he isn’t hopeful that we will do what needs to be done.
He picks, however, the easiest target: get serious about early childhood education where children, beginning at age three or even earlier, receive early education done right by well trained teachers whose education has focused on the need of these young minds. The results can be epic.
…measures of virtually every desirable outcome typically correlated with high IQ remain elevated for years and even decades—including better school grades, higher achievement-test scores, higher income, crime avoidance, and better health.
Right now, we are not even coming close.
Unfortunately, Head Start and other public early-education programs rarely come close to this level of quality, and are nowhere near universal.
According to Freedman primary and secondary schools are getting some $607 billion a year from federal, state and local revenue sources, but he says:
…these efforts are too little, too late: If the cognitive and emotional deficits associated with poor school performance aren’t addressed in the earliest years of life, future efforts aren’t likely to succeed.
Confronted with evidence that our approach is failing—high-school seniors reading at the fifth-grade level, abysmal international rankings—we comfort ourselves with the idea that we’re taking steps to locate those underprivileged kids who are, against the odds, extremely intelligent. Finding this tiny minority of gifted poor children and providing them with exceptional educational opportunities allows us to conjure the evening-news-friendly fiction of an equal-opportunity system, as if the problematically ungifted majority were not as deserving of attention as the “overlooked gems.”
In his closing, Freedman turns to vocational programs that were once a staple in education. (We have a number of very good vocational programs here in Cuyahoga County and a number of my students spend half-days in them.) A national problem exists, however, that even these programs focus too greatly on science, technology, engineering and math, according to Freeman, catering to students:
…who want to burnish their already excellent college and career prospects. It would be far better to maintain a focus on food management, office administration, health technology, and, sure, the classic trades—all updated to incorporate computerized tools. We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority. We should instead begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity.
There are some advantages of being average that our present system which values academic skills over all others misses.
…the less brainy are, according to studies and some business experts, less likely to be oblivious of their own biases and flaws, to mistakenly assume that recent trends will continue into the future, to be anxiety-ridden, and to be arrogant.
Smart people should feel entitled to make the most of their gift. But they should not be permitted to reshape society so as to instate giftedness as a universal yardstick of human worth.