29 January 2012
In yesterday’s “Is intelligence inherited? Is the race to the swift?” (Jan. 28), I talked about Charles Murray’s essay, ”The New American Divide,” on the growing lifestyle gap between the middle class and the working class in America:
Working class communities in the United States are not clinging bitterly to guns and religion; quite the opposite. They are losing “religion and family values” far more decisively than middle class communities. (See, also, “The Parable of Belmont and Fishtown.”)
I took exception to Murray’s insistence that IQ is largely inherited. I also promised to tell you what happened when two girls, one from Belmont (Jane North) and one from Fishtown (Jane South), took the mandated state IQ test. They had scored equally at three years of age and both were considered by those who knew them to be of normal intelligence for ten years of age.
The actual results are confidential, so I must be content to tell you ten bits of background on each girl, true on the day they arrived at their schools to take the test.
Jane North: Her mother read to her long before she was born (a guided-reading program for expectant mothers).
Jane South: In her world, adults read landlord’s notices, bills, and sometimes the TV listings. No one reads for pleasure.
North: Jane’s parents choose educational TV programs and watch them with her in the family room in the evening. Jane North has no TV in her bedroom.
South: Daytime TV has been Jane South’s electronic babysitter for as long as she can remember. For her ninth birthday, her mom finally got her her own TV at a sheriff’s sale, so they could watch different programs without arguing.
North: She asks her father, an aerospace engineer, or her mother, a patent attorney, for help with her homework.
South: She doesn’t know much about her father, and her mother, who did not complete high school, is easily frustrated with book learning. So, Jane South just guesses when in doubt.
North: She converses easily with her teachers, who are a lot like her folks.
South: She has trouble understanding her teachers, or is intimidated by them.
North: She is encouraged to participate in discussions, and is praised for her intelligence.
South: She once tried offering a thoughtful opinion on the local “cat license” controversy. Her mother said, in front of visitors, “Oh my. The Big Brain has just spoken.”
North: She doesn’t know anyone who doesn’t expect to go to university; the only question is where.
South: She knows lots of kids whose older siblings quit high school; they have way more freedom and money to spend (from low-wage jobs).
North: Her class at the advanced prep school is studying “Unemployment: A Social Issue.” She has shown great skill in drawing charts.
North: Her father got up to cook her a power breakfast the day of the big test.
South: Her mother is always gone by 6:30 am for her 7:30 a.m. shift downtown. Jane has a Pop Tart and can of soda for breakfast that day, as always.
North: Her mother dropped her off at the school, as always, on the day of the big test.
South: As always, she ran the gauntlet of bullies, taunters, and randomly flopped winos.
North: She expects to score well on the big test.
South: She dreads her mother finding out her score. As with her report card, it could go badly either way.
Do you think these two girls will still score equally at ten years of age? Why should they? If they did, that would imply that Jane South is much more resiliently intelligent than Jane North. But why should we expect her to be?
The “it’s-in-the-genes” approach to genetic inheritance overlooks the fact that an inheritance of any kind is an opportunity, not a prophecy.
How the inheritance is treated matters. That is as true of IQ potential as of any other factor.
Next: Epigenetics: What the geneticist can’t tell you about your potential that you need to know.