No wonder the education system is fucked

Michael Gove held talks with a leading scientist who believes that genetics, not teaching, plays a major part in the intelligence of schoolchildren, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

That seems like a useful belief to have. Given that we usually define intelligence as that innate thing which is then educable.

Mr Gove’s policy adviser, Dominic Cummings, provoked outcry yesterday when it emerged he had backed Professor Plomin’s research that genes accounted for up to 70 per cent of a child’s cognitive abilities.

Outcry? What? For the various twins studies do show something along those lines. Intelligence is heritable: we wouldn’t be the human race if that were not true.

Note that saying that something is heritable does not at all mean that it is entirely or only so. But it is indeed heritable as is blond hair and blue yes. So why outrage?

The research is contentious because ministers and educationalists have long believed that any child, from whatever background, can achieve the highest academic ability.

You what? You mean the education system is based on a simple lie about the nature of human beings? No wonder it’s entirely fucked then, eh?

31 comments on “No wonder the education system is fucked

  1. Given intelligence is a product of evolution, something we have all been taught, then it must be genetic surely! That said, logic is never a problem for ‘right on’ thinkers.

  2. Sounds like an excuse. Yes–there certainly are genetic factors in how smart anyone is. But is it true that the British state education system is crashing up against the genetic limits of human intelligence on a daily basis?. The British state system?. If so, how come kids got better scores on harder tests in the past of a few decades ago?. They are looking for reasons to let the useless state system of the hook “Well these kids are innately thick. We couldn’t have helped anyway”.
    There does seem to be a hell of a lot of stupid people around tho’. But I think people must have been working on themselves to ensure they don’t feel like pariahs by being too smart.

  3. Interesting how the Left talk about evidence-led policy until they find some evidence that doesn’t fit their world-view.

  4. The left all believe in evolution and insult anyone who does not, then get all upset when you point out that individuals must be unequal a result, cos thats what natural selection works on.

  5. It’s not in the least controversial that IQ scores have quite high heritability.

    To prove this, you find the average difference in IQ between two identical twins. And the average difference in IQ between two non-identical twins of the same sex. It’s plausible to suppose that the environmental differences experienced are the same whether the twins are identical or not, but we find that identical twins are more alike in IQ than are non-identical twins. Therefore IQ is heritable. And you can put a number on that, 60% say. (For comparison, the heritability of height is about 80%.)

    BUT. This score tells us nothing at all about how much of the variation in the general population is genetic. Because it carries no information about what the variability of relevant genes is in the general population, and no information about what the variability of environment is.

    So what are the implications for education policy? None at all that I can think of.

  6. Mr Ecks – “If so, how come kids got better scores on harder tests in the past of a few decades ago?”

    Because the working and agricultural classes were denied the chance for a decent education in the decades before that. And the class system was not based on education but on past military service and/or being the King’s bastard. So when free, compulsory, selective education was introduced, a whole generation of worthy smart working class children were lifted out of poverty and into the middle classes.

    But they left behind a large number of people who could not be helped. Or at least that is how a genetic argument would run. The underclass are genetically unsuited to education. I would argue it is cultural but it may be genetic.

    “They are looking for reasons to let the useless state system of the hook “Well these kids are innately thick. We couldn’t have helped anyway”.”

    That may also be true.

    And remember that the population is changing. You let in a lot of people from low IQ countries and obviously the average IQ is going to go down. Especially if they have been marrying their cousins for the past 1500 years.

  7. The ‘outrage’ is because it is a core Leftie belief that there is a causal link between parental wealth and academic achievement. And this needs lots of taxpayer money chucked at it.

    Well I won’t rehearse the correlation/causality thing, but if there is a causal link there must be correlation.

    The Leftie bilge only stands up if they exclude all those little rich kids ( and we need go no further than the Royal Family, bless ‘em who have hardly an A Level between them) who are thick, then all those povs who ended up as lawyers, scientists, doctors, captains of industry, etc.

    So, no correlation.

    Plus of course since most people were ‘poor’ until the last four decades, a large slice of the brights and upwardly mobiles came from low income/low wealth backgrounds.

    Which left the dross. Poor parents are such because they cannot get well paid jobs, which in a society providing free education is only because they did not inherit the mental equipment, character traits which would make them more successful… and they pass these on.

    Inheritance is not quite so simple, gene mutation, characteristics which skip one or more generations, gene combinations play a part, but generally thick parents beget thick individuals and no amount of money, special needs teaching will ‘cure’ that.

  8. @Paul B – there is indeed an implication for policy; it’s in the measure of whether a particular policy seems to be working or not.

    If you begin – let’s exaggerate here – with a view of the mind as a tabula rasa, with all the little Sharons and Charlottes being in principle equally educable and intelligent then a subsequent group difference in class outcomes would persuade you there’s something wrong with your education system. On the other hand if you believe that at least part of the final outcome at 16 years old will be ascribable to innate differences (on average) then your immediate assumption will not be that your education policies are failing.

    This difference is important.

  9. SMFS–The underclass of today are, largely, the children of yesterdays working class–prev a hard-working, civil and generally decent group. Not enough time has passed for genetic degeneration, regardless of other genes being mixed in. This stuff about left behind members of the working class who are unsuited for education is bollocks. There were some thick kids among the ones I went to school (all of us working class) with and all of them got jobs. Even the thick had to feed themselves in days gone by and few did so by crime.

  10. Ecks-

    You have to remember that in SMFS’s world, there is no working class. There are middle class people, who are all wonderful, and an underclass, who are all scum, and that’s it. Anyone who fails to attain middle classness is doomed to be scum who steal his DVD player.

    To be fair, we are rapidly plunging into a two class state; the “middle” class living fat off State largesse, and a poor class sustained at subsistence by grudgingly given benefits- this true even if they work as their incomes steadily plunge below any reasonable subsistence due to the policies and kleptomania of the higher class.

    There has always been a consistent animus against the self-supporting, independent working class type of person by persons of privilege who fear the loss of control that such types represent. The policy of their eradication is nearing its completion. We truly are becoming two nations in one land.

  11. “Interesting how the Left talk about evidence-led policy until they find some evidence that doesn’t fit their world-view.”

    Like the known and demonstrable behavioural traits of different breeds of dogs?
    [sarc] But this simply can’t apply to humans.

    I recently saw part of a tv program which said (correctly or not) it took 7 generations to select a breed for certain traits. It was BBC I think as I recall their conclusion was that it was ‘healthier’ if all were mongrels (so maybe they meant it should apply to the English).

  12. Mr Ecks said “The underclass of today are, largely, the children of yesterdays working class–prev a hard-working, civil and generally decent group”

    I wonder how far that’s true.

    There’s always been an “underclass” – what if it’s just out-breeding the other groups (helped out by a bit of inappropriate immigration)?

    Charles Booth’s late Victorian “poverty maps” of London social classes has two groups out of 8 that would be described thus, in the sense that they would not support themselves properly by honest work even if it were available:

    A: “The lowest class which consists of some occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals. Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and their only luxury is drink”

    B: “Casual earnings, very poor. The labourers do not get as much as three days work a week, but it is doubtful if many could or would work full time for long together if they had the opportunity”

    I can’t find what percentage of the population they were, but they were large enough for him to categorise them.

    The 1929 Wood Committee said the underclass was about 10%, “insane persons, epileptics, paupers, criminals (especially recidivists), unemployables, habitual slum dwellers, prostitutes, inebriates and other social inefficients”

    Now, what if those groups have out-bred the “hard-working and generally decent” groups? Not impossible for the descendants of that 10% to be 20% or more today.

  13. Richard – re: “Not impossible for the descendants of that 10% to be 20% or more today.”

    Inevitable I would say if you create a benefits system that incentivises said fuckwhits to have loads of kids for financial gain.

    Look at the sad Hamzah Khan case. When that poor kiddie died his drunk mother tossed his body aside with the same regard she gave to an empty pizza box.

    It’s also why we’re losing the “war” on abused kids. We’ve incentivised the dumbest people to have lots of them not for love but for money.

  14. Yes, the Left has some strange attitudes to science. Sound and rational on so e areas (evolution, for example) but bonkers and raving on others (fracking, GM crops).

    I have a theory that their position is nothing to do with the science per se, as being mostly arts graduates they haven’t a fucking clue. Instead their position is to take the opposite position to what the ‘Right’ takes. I firmly believe that the hoohah over stem cell research only began when George W Bush publicly opposed it.

    Tongue in cheek a bit, but I think it is worth a punt.

  15. Richard-

    Yes, the terror of the underclass- known then as the “Residuum” goes back to the Victorian Era. See also, Mayhew and his London Labour And The London Poor. The whole terror of being outbred by the residuum is mainly a reflection of the pitifully low birth rate of the WASP middle class who have gradually moved to an extreme of spitting out one asthmatic aspie in their late 30s/early 40s after several rounds of IVF, and have thus long been terrified of being overwhelmed by the normal human breeding rates of everyone else. In America, that’s one reason they were obsessed with the reproductive rate of another underclass, immigrant Catholics.

    The actual residuum, then as now, consisted of people who were genuinely at the bottom end of utility to anyone else, and people whose lifestyles simply didn’t fit with WASP attitudes, such as prostitutes and costermongers. Being a barrow boy isn’t a proper job, you see, you should be in a nice organised factory run by a nice ruling class person. This continues to this day with the hatred of the Del Boy character/Essex Man/white van man who- despite being the very enterpreneurial spirits we ought to like- are despised both as borderline criminal, and vulgar with delusions of class- “I’m a yuppie!” says Del Boy, and we all laugh at his ideas above his station.

    Anyway, it’s really just a case that in any society some people are going to be at the bottom, and although the situation is much worsened by the woeful ineptitude of middle class social engineers, there is nothing really abnormal about it.

    Talking of which, good documentary here illustrating the additional ruin caused by letting the Anglo middle class anywhere near running things-

    http://youtu.be/fU6uvKixSro

  16. Rob you could be onto something.
    Labour oppose stuff because the Conservatives support it. The Conservatives oppose stuff because Labour support it. It becomes an issue of party lines rather than right or wrong. Even where at one time there was cross party support there can be differences open up because of party lines. HS2 anyone?

  17. Inevitable I would say if you create a benefits system that incentivises said fuckwhits to have loads of kids for financial gain. Look at the sad Hamzah Khan case. When that poor kiddie died his drunk mother tossed his body aside with the same regard she gave to an empty pizza box.

    Nothing new. Going through old births/marriages/deaths press clippings with my mum once, I turned one over to find a story on the back about a baby thrown out of a window and left to rot on a flat roof by a drunken father. Neighbours thought at first it was a doll. Liverpool, 1906.

    Difference is, in those days the story was of a magnitude sufficient that it fitted on the back of a birth announcement on an inside page of the newspaper, rather than being a national cause celebre. If you go through old newspapers you find all sorts of terrible things.

    In every society, in every age, there will be some small number of people who do awful things. It’s wrong to think they are some special feature of our own time and place.

  18. IanB, that is an astonishing story – I had no idea they had good enough sealant technology to make a flat roof in 1906.

  19. Mr Ecks – “The underclass of today are, largely, the children of yesterdays working class–prev a hard-working, civil and generally decent group.”

    Sure. More or less. But the claim would be that the previous working class was a mixed bag – the decent, hard working working class and the underclass all mixed in together. The Grammar schools and the Thather reforms lifted those decent members of the working class out into the middle class – what do you call a plumber who makes over £50,000 a year? Working class still? Leaving behind the underclass who were always there, but mixed in with everyone else.

    Now I am not convinced this is true because we can see that things like Methodism did an excellent job of turning the underclass into the middle class.

    “This stuff about left behind members of the working class who are unsuited for education is bollocks. There were some thick kids among the ones I went to school (all of us working class) with and all of them got jobs. Even the thick had to feed themselves in days gone by and few did so by crime.”

    I think in days gone by quite a lot of them fed themselves by crime. The fact someone got a job doesn’t mean that they are suited for education. It means they are not members of the underclass. If they were thick, they were likely not all that suited to education. So I am not sure what your claim is exactly.

    Ian B – “You have to remember that in SMFS’s world, there is no working class.”

    Ian if you’re going to make sh!t up, at least don’t make stupid sh!t up.

    “There are middle class people, who are all wonderful, and an underclass, who are all scum, and that’s it. Anyone who fails to attain middle classness is doomed to be scum who steal his DVD player.”

    That is pretty much the rule these days though. It is not what I think used to be the case, nor is it entirely true today but it is more and more true. When the religious restraints break down, those stupider members of the working class do not have far to fall. And they are breaking down so very thoroughly.

    “To be fair, we are rapidly plunging into a two class state; the “middle” class living fat off State largesse, and a poor class sustained at subsistence by grudgingly given benefits- this true even if they work as their incomes steadily plunge below any reasonable subsistence due to the policies and kleptomania of the higher class.”

    So we are basically in agreement. You just object to me pointing it out.

    “There has always been a consistent animus against the self-supporting, independent working class type of person by persons of privilege who fear the loss of control that such types represent. The policy of their eradication is nearing its completion. We truly are becoming two nations in one land.”

    Which is interesting but irrelevant. As I have nothing but praise for those people. As rare as they are becoming.

    The best book in recent times on this is Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. It is very impressive.

  20. The scientist thought that genetics contributed to the *intelligence* of schoolchildren, not the *success*.
    It is perfectly possible (unless you are someone like Polly Toynbee) to accept that intelligence is only one of the factors contributing to the outcome of attempts to educate a child. How about hard work, not being attacked in class, being allowed (or not) to do their homework, getting enough sleep, some approximation to proper nutrition (anything within shouting range will do), the quality of teaching (oh no, surely no-one can doubt that a NUT or NAS/UWT member is perfect in all respects), and decent textbooks/teaching materials?
    I can remember that some teachers were better (which does not mean I liked them more or that they liked me more) than others and I should be very surprised if each of you, apart from those who have chosen to forget their schooldays, could not do the same.
    The Indy is pretending that children are automatically condemned to second-class status if they are not academically brilliant. It just ain’t so. Judging from all appearances David Beckham is significantly less intelligent than I: is he condemned to a life as a second-class citizen?

  21. @Richard
    It’s astonishing you’ve never seen a pre 1906 house with a flat zinc roof. They are astonishingly common.

  22. Isn’t the belief not that any child from any background can attain equal achievements, but rather that no child, irrespective of ability, deserves extra education?

  23. SMFS–10-20% of the entire human race, including the middle class, are no damn good (on the basis that 10% of humanity are exemplars, 80% drones and 10% real scum–The 10% below and above the top/bottom 10%’ obviously aren’t as good/bad as the more extreme 10% but close enough to get the 20% no good figure-and 20% very nice if not the very,very nice of the top 10%). There is plenty of middle/upper middle class scum–the ranks of Blu/NuLabour draws from them. Your middle class buddies as just as far down the shitter as the underclass–it is just better hiden by the wealth they have–so far.

  24. john77,

    You’re spot on.

    Tim’s point about intelligence varying between individual members of the human race and being heritable is all very well, but there’s a huge gap between the level of intelligence humans are capable of and the level required to do well. Our best and brightest are capable of writing “La Grande Messe des Morts” and building the Large Hadron Collider (though not often both at once). If you’re at the dullard end of the spectrum, such things are totally beyond you, but you’re still capable of some of the most advanced pattern recognition in the animal kindgom, of abstraction, of hypothesisation, of understanding rather advanced concepts such as zero, and of course of speaking at least one language. The human race, at its least intelligent, is still extremely intelligent.

    In short, why worry about the genetic differences that mean some of us are only capable of (say) 50% of what our most intelligent members can do, when the 100% is so ridiculously bloody impressive that 50% is still something to be proud of and our education system only manages to drag people up to around 10%?

  25. Mr Ecks: Arguably the difference is that yesteryear’s working class children, while they might have been less intelligent on average, with a lower ‘future time horizon’, than their upper class counterparts, they didn’t have to cope with the social changes that said upper class and upper-middle class counterparts wrought on society so that they (with their own tendency to be more cognisant of the consequences of their actions) could party it up, and to hell with the social conventions that made it difficult for even the stupidest to truly fuck up their lives.

  26. I spent a gap year before they were called “gap years” working with seriously dim youngsters (IQ had to be 50-75 to be there) and half of them learned to read and write basic stuff as well as do useful stuff with numbers. The other half were aphasic, seriously autistic or had strange eponymous syndromes. Not everyone entering the school system has the genetic wherewithall to become a rocket scientist or educational theorist but the system is seriously failing when school leavers emerge functionally illiterate, inumerate and imbued with a sense of entitlement because of all the lefty crap they’ve absorbed.

  27. The research is contentious because ministers and educationalists have long believed that any child, from whatever background, can achieve the highest academic ability.

    That depends what you mean by “any child”. If you mean that knowing a child’s background doesn’t tell you whether they can reach the highest academic standards, then that’s true, and the data on heritability don’t contradict it. If you mean that a child capable of such achievement isn’t likely to be showing signs of it when they start school, then unless their home environment has been extremely unfavourable, that’s nonsense, and I doubt that any educationalist believes otherwise.

    David Jones:

    there is indeed an implication for policy; it’s in the measure of whether a particular policy seems to be working or not.

    It’s true that we would expect to see some correlation between social class and educational achievement, however fair the education system might be. But the heritability data give no indication whatever of how much correlation. So it’s sensible to compare social mobility between countries and try to understand the source of differences.

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