Friday, April 17, 2009

Inequality, opportunity, and IQ

Email to Andrew Sullivan:

You wrote:

My point was that growing inequality will be very, very hard to prevent or restrain in the face of these factors.

Nice job of proving Doug's point. [Ed. note: Doug's post is here.]

Right now our educational system is, for the relatively affluent, mostly pretty good and in some places very good. For the poor, the average quality is lower, and in some places, the schools are a sad joke. And of course, a better basic education leads to the opportunities for better college education, etc.

When we're providing good-quality basic education across the board, and the reward structure in our society is less tilted toward "them that has, gets; them that hasn't gets left behind," maybe we can have the discussion about how much of the remaining inequality is unalterable.

But are you seriously suggesting that the current huge and widening inequality in our society is because the affluent are simply smarter than everyone else, without regard to anything else? My, how convenient. After all, if the problem is that the poor and unemployed are just stupid, well, what can you do?

Will there always be some inequality? Of course. But I'm not aware of any serious work on the issue suggesting that intelligence is "infinitely alterable." Stop knocking down straw men. Yes, we need to focus on education. Yes, we need better metrics than dollars spent per student and the perverse incentives of No Child Left Untested. Yes, absolutely. And we shouldn't expect better schools to bring about Utopia tomorrow. But if anything, a better focus on education, on bringing failing schools up to where they ought to be, would decrease inequality. Or at least make the face of success look a little less Anglo-Saxon.

I teach freshman-level courses at a public urban university, and my classes have too many smart students who can barely read, have never learned math, and have no idea what study habits are. They're going to school while also supporting themselves, and sometimes extended families, at low-wage jobs in crumbling neighborhoods. Oddly enough, they seem to have more problems than the students who come out of better school systems and are able to devote themselves to school full time. I've had more than one bright, promising student in my office explaining that they like being in school but can't afford it; or their child care fell through; or they have to care for an uninsured parent who fell ill.

When those students have the same opportunities and resources that you and I take for granted, we can talk about inequality due to differences in intelligence. Sure, there will always be some. But you cannot seriously believe that's what's causing the "growing inequality" of the last three decades.


Anonymous said...

Brim over I agree but I think the list inform should prepare more info then it has.

Anonymous said...

I wish not acquiesce in on it. I think nice post. Particularly the appellation attracted me to review the whole story.