by 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)