A New Role for Mensa in Education

Mensaby Bruce Price   12/12/13
Mensa is of course focused on intelligence. One of Mensa’s official goals is to “recognize and highlight the latest and best research into all aspects of intelligence and giftedness.” Scholarships for the gifted are a constant theme.

I’ve been in Mensa for 25 years. I got out of college with honors in English Literature; and I’ve been a writer and artist all my life. I call myself an intellectual. You might think I would be fully in sync with Mensa’s emphasis on human intelligence. For the most part I am. Recently something has troubled me. No, it’s not the presumed elitism that Mensa is often criticized for. My concern takes the form of a question: but what really is the best way to help gifted children, or intelligence generally?[pullquote]Do you love knowledge for its own sake, education for its own sake, the joys of reading, writing and thinking for their own sakes?[/pullquote]

Here’s my starting point. The more I studied education, the more I was fascinated by this intriguing phenomenon: smarter kids tend to escape from the intellectual barrenness of our public schools. They survive, they go on. (I particularly learned about this pattern in reading; so many experts mention the same thing in the same words, that the smarter children “eventually figure it out.”)

Mensa publications seem to suggest that gifted children will be damaged by the anti-intellectualism of our public schools. Well, they will be bored. They will see their time wasted. They may be slowed down. I don’t believe they are destroyed. Intelligence finds a way.

But what about the not-so-smart kids? This is where your heart breaks and your mind should grow fearful. These kids are destroyed. Whatever IQ they have, instead of being pushed to its limits, is systematically dumbed down and wasted. Almost half don’t become fluent readers or competent at math.

Ever since the time of John Dewey, our “progressive” educators have attacked the traditional purpose of having schools in the first place, which is to teach kids fundamental knowledge. In John Dewey’s world, the point of the school is to engage in social activities. What we’ve had for the last hundred years is a sustained attack on the scholarly, academic and intellectual aspects of education.

The quick way of summing up this sabotage is the phrase “dumbing down.” Education critics lament that the schools have been dumbed down, that the entire society has been dumbed down. All that is true, for everybody. But the smarter kids use their smartness to moderate the damage. The slower kids don’t have the intellectual resources to defend themselves. They’re just children. You can’t expect 12-year-old kids, captured by a stupid school, to come home to their parents and say, “Today I was a victim of Whole Word, Reform Math, Constructivism, and No Memorization.” No, these kids just get dumber, less communicative, more sullen, more restless, more likely to engage in juvenile delinquency, to the point where American schools make sure they have plenty of ritalin.

So here is my worry: intelligence at the higher levels will not be safe in a society that wages war against intelligence at the lower levels. Educated successful people think they can escape from the ravages of our mediocre schools. Mensa members may think that these dumb schools have no connection with them. I suspect it’s more helpful to recall John Donne’s “No man is an island,” more specifically, nobody is a mind in isolation. What our public schools are doing to the slower, simpler kids is going to kill us all, in some fashion or another. Those simpler kids become workers, parents, and voters.[pullquote]…intelligence at the higher levels will not be safe in a society that wages war against intelligence at the lower levels…What our public schools are doing to the slower, simpler kids is going to kill us all, in some fashion or another. Those simpler kids become workers, parents, and voters.[/pullquote]

I absolutely urge everyone to think about how they can help the public schools do a better job. The proper goal of our schools is very obvious to me. They should encourage each child to advance as far as each child can advance. Only then will we be safe, when there’s no wasted intellect anywhere in sight.

We want to foster and support intelligence at every level of society, not just the top level.

George Orwell wrote such wonderfully insightful stuff about totalitarianism, in particular Ignorance Is Strength. The relevant point, according to Orwell’s analysis, is that the people at the very top, the Party members, are not allowed to have private emotions or private thoughts. They may be smart but are in no way intellectuals. They are valuable to the Party only in so far as they enthusiastically carry out orders without any reflection whatsoever. If the Party says that 2 + 2 equals 5, you must believe it. Clearly, all intellectual activity has ceased in this world. Sadly, many intellectuals in the West work to bring about this world. They may call themselves Socialists, Communists, Marxists, totalitarians, or collectivists. Whatever the name, the common theme is that society must be organized, and even the people doing the organizing must be organized. So we see in “1984” the end of human civilization and human intelligence–the end of everything that Mensa values.

I wrote an essay about John Dewey which acknowledges he probably had an IQ of 200, and he said many wonderful things about education that we can all agree with. But finally John Dewey was a dangerous quack. The reason, at its heart, is he was obsessed with social engineering, social activities, social manipulations, in short, Socialism. To get this brave new world, he was willing to take a baseball bat to what we normally consider appropriate educational goals for children.

And that baseball bat, so to speak, continues to wail on the heads of today’s children. Many kids reach college knowing very little. It’s really a question we might have hoped was settled by the Enlightenment. Do you love knowledge for its own sake, education for its own sake, the joys of reading, writing and thinking for their own sakes? Genuine intellectuals say yes to all these questions.

Our education commissars, those dwarfs of the mind, say no, who cares?

QED: it’s not enough to be pro-intelligence. Rather we need to oppose anti-intelligence. We need to oppose all the things in public education that ignore intelligence, degrade intelligence, and prevent intelligence from being the central focus of the schools.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org • (1175 views)

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7 Responses to A New Role for Mensa in Education

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    A friend was (and maybe still is) a Mensa member (I gather I qualify on the basis of my final 1968 SAT score, 718 verbal/800 math). I once attended a meeting when they had a guy discussing Orwell, especially his concern for the concept of “the mutability of the past” (a concern that plays a major role in 1984 and a lesser one in Animal Farm, which I read — on my own — when I was in grade school).

    The important thing to remember about collectivism is that it inherently has no room for independent individual judgment, which can challenge the collective “wisdom”.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I don’t remember what my IQ is. I think it’s around 118. I don’t remember how I did on my SAT’s but I was third in my graduation class on some test. But that was never because I was smart. It’s because I worked hard.

      I’ve never put much stock in IQ. And now that I’ve read plenty of Thomas Sowell, it’s pretty clear now that the “smart” people are often the dumbest and most destructive people. In our culture we have mistaken the conceit of “smartness” for wisdom or even goodness. Nearly all the people on the “Progressive” side of the aisle think they are God’s gift to the enlightened.

      But a conceit is still a conceit. Conservatives ought to be humbled by the fact of just how much we don’t know. As they say, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. I think that is true.

      It has always been a human trait to want to be “better than thou.” The Nazi “Master Race” scheme is nothing new, and we see that same strain playing out in “Progressives” who are of the belief that their own excrement doesn’t stink.

      I enjoy reading and learning new things. But at the end of the day, facts are not the same as wisdom. But certainly without facts, you don’t have a prayer of being wise.

      Our president was elected on the groupthink conceit of him being the smartest person in the world. Obama fed into our bankrupt culture’s mad narcissistic desire for all of us to BE someone. We have increasingly become a brain-dead culture that has adopted celebrity as an identity and thus we are strangers to anything deeper.

      When I started this site, I assure you that I had no intention of wanting to BE someone. And I think I’ve lost a few people along the way because they perhaps had other goals. But I wanted to gather about this site the smartest people I could find (such as yourself) so that, perhaps with some magical bit of synergy or alchemy, we could change the world for the better. And that process still continues. We are probably destined to fail, but no one ever succeeds without trying and without a bit of stubbornness and perseverance.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I don’t recall ever taking an IQ test, though I did see it listed once when I talked with a VA counselor (I got VA money to go to college as a result of my father — commander of the 39th Engineer Battalion — having been killed in Vietnam) as 137 (though I also have no idea of the scale). A friend (not the same one I mentioned above) once noted that IQ measures ability to take IQ tests. The best that can be said, I think, is that it somewhat measures ability to think among people of comparable educational background and basic skills.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          137 is a darn nice IQ to have. To some extent, it is the ability to take tests, as you said. One can learn the types of questions that such tests are comprised of. That doesn’t necessarily give you the answers to some of those very difficult questions. But it helps.

          I don’t consider myself a high-IQ person because I’ve known those types of people. Math came very hard to me, for example, even though I generally got straight-A’s. But that’s because I put in a lot of work to master it. But many of my friends in high school grasped the concepts right away.

          I think, generally speaking, we are all high-IQ about something. The conceit regarding IQ has generally gone toward mathematics or mathematic-like puzzle solving. And that’s fine. But that is only a sliver of life. When I see the mastery that some “average” people show in doing tasks (maybe knitting, maybe metal work, maybe just raising their children), I realize how dumb I am.

          Whatever the case may be, our nation is being run into the ground by people of both parties (Barack Obama, Paul Ryan) who think they are the smartest people in the room. I don’t reject intelligence. But “intellectualism” is something to be highly suspicious of.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I think your take on IQ makes a lot of sense. I’m very good with numbers, though much less so with special problems. I also have a wide base of knowledge, for one reason or another (generally not hard work, more a fascination with many different subjects). I will admit that I was very proud that on the National Merit Scholarship test (I understand they use the PSATs today, but they had a separate test in my day) my percentile rankings on the 6 categories ranged from 94 (word usage) to 99, and I started out with 26 credit hours in 5 subjects (math, French, chemistry, physics, and English) at Purdue. My housemate once read a book detailing 6 (I believe) kinds of intelligence and was persuaded of its accuracy as a concept.

  2. Kurt NY says:

    I think raw intelligence is overrated. The ability to score well on an IQ test is not necessarily any indicator of anything other than you did well on the test. It is how well all the characteristics of your person are integrated into a coherent whole and directed to achieving a goal.

    In which self-confidence seems to be key. No, I am not arguing for that self-esteem crap, but regardless of right or wrong, wise or foolish, successful or disastrous, the ability to lead and achieve seems inextricably bound up with self-confidence. People will enter into the utmost folly behind leaders exuding self-assurance while eschewing the advice of wiser but less assertive individuals.

    So it seems to me that education must cultivate intellect but also value the whole individual while cultivating within him/her a proper appreciation for his strengths and weaknesses, to know what you don’t know but not to be cowed thereby.

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