Liberals struggle with the idea that "inequality in the distribution of wealth, prestige, and
educational attainment is, in part, a consequence of unequal
distribution of the intellectual capacity needed for high levels of
Conservatives are more apt to accept the idea, a kind of original sin, and move on to things that lie more within the realm of what they can affect by their actions. They would probably say that one cannot deny the "unequal distribution of intellectual capacity," any more than one can deny the unequal distribution of athletic, chess, and musical abilities.
Conservatives might even say that abilities of the latter sort clearly do coordinate with racial and ethnic groupings. And furthermore, they might say, that if in fact Blacks, are better endowed with musical ability than native Americans, it wouldn't be a problem. For musical ability is not yet up there with cognitive capacity. Not to have it does not yet diminish us. Also our civilization does not (yet) give its highest rewards to more than a few musicians, athletes and chess players.
Intellectual capacity, however, coordinated with ethnic and/or racial groupings, would and should and probably does bother all of us, because our civilization most rewards across the board nearly all the individuals so endowed. The liberals are correct. It's not easy just to accept this and move on. For wouldn't it mean for those not so endowed the presence of an unbreakable glass ceiling severely limiting their life chances?
Arnold Kling in a TCS Daily article of 11/20/07, confronts the whole problem directly and lists four approaches for dealing with the difficult question concerning a possible linkage between race and innate cognitive ability.
His first approach, "segregationism," the view that IQ or cognitive ability differences across races justify segregation by race, he rejects out of hand. They don't, of course, that is, justify any separation by race.
Stephen Ceci, whom Kling cites at the top of his TCS Daily article, in a piece, Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, from the American Psychologist, of February of 1996, in which he and others, all members of a Task Force established by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association, were responding to Charles Murray's Bell Curve, makes it clear, not how much we know about the linkage between IQ and race, but about how much we don't know. (See below* for the principal conclusions of the Task Force.)
Kling also rejects the second of his four approaches, "denialism," the refusal to even admit that such differences might exist. Of the two remaining approaches he rejects the first, "compensationism," or affirmative action, that which would give preference to individuals based on their belonging to a racial group. This is the favorite approach of liberals, and perhaps even some conservatives.
Kling's favorite approach, number four, is what he calls "individualism,"meaning just that, "treating everyone as an individual." This makes sense, he says,
"because the variation in cognitive ability within racial groups is quite large. There are people of all races in all percentiles of the IQ distribution. Racial indicators are not very useful as predictors of any individual's IQ."
But, he reminds us, "individualism is difficult to practice in a world with strong ethnic group-identity."
Following a long illustrative example of FQ, or fishing quotient, in the place of IQ, Kling at the end of his piece moves on to educational policy. Education is of course the domain where unsettling questions concerning racial and ethnic groupings and innate cognitive abilities are most troubling.
Educators struggle with these questions on a daily basis. When the remedial algebra class is made up of all Black students is it segregationism or individualism that is at play?
According to Kling, neither.
"Education policy in the United States is based on a combination of denialism and compensationism. We throw the same instruction techniques at everyone. When we notice different outcomes by race, we look to compensate by using affirmative action."
Whereas educational policy, Kling affirms, ought to be based on "individualism."
I agree, as does most of my writing on this Blog during the past 12 months. His conclusion could very well have been my own.
"Overall," he says, "to do education properly, we need to take into account individual differences of ability. I do not think we should pay attention to race. Too much of our education policy seems to be driven by the opposite--we focus on outcomes in terms of race and leave the individual children behind."
*The following passages are taken from Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns
"It is customary to conclude surveys like this one with a summary of what has been established. Indeed, much is now known about intelligence. A near-century of research, most of it based on psychometric methods, has produced an impressive body of findings. Although we have tried to do justice to those findings in this report, it seems appropriate to conclude on a different note. In this contentious arena, our most useful role may be to remind our readers that many of the critical questions about intelligence are still unanswered. Here are a few of those questions:
1. Differences in genetic endowment contribute substantially to individual differences in (psychometric) intelligence, but the pathway by which genes produce their effects is still unknown. The impact of genetic differences appears to increase with age, but we do not know why.
2. Environmental factors also contribute substantially to the development of intelligence, but we do not clearly understand what those factors are or how they
work. Attendance at school is certainly important, for example, but we do not know what aspects of schooling are critical.
3. The role of nutrition in intelligence remains obscure. Severe childhood malnutrition has clear negative effects, but the hypothesis that particular “micro-
nutrients” may affect intelligence in otherwise adequately-fed populations has not yet been convincingly demonstrated.
4. There are significant correlations between measures of information-processing speed and psychometric intelligence, but the overall pattern of these findings yields no easy theoretical interpretation.
5. Mean scores on intelligence tests are rising steadily. They have gone up a full standard deviation in the last 50 years or so, and the rate of gain may be increasing.
No one is sure why these gains are happening or what they mean.
6. The differential between the mean intelligence test scores of Blacks and Whites (about one standard deviation, although it may be diminishing) does not result from
any obvious biases in test construction and administration, nor does it simply reflect differences in socioeconomic status. Explanations based on factors of caste and culture may be appropriate, but so far have little direct empirical support. There is certainly no such support for a genetic interpretation. At present, no one knows what causes this differential.
7. It is widely agreed that standardized tests do not sample all forms of intelligence. Obvious examples in- clude creativity, wisdom, practical sense, and social sensitivity; there are surely others. Despite the importance of these abilities we know very little about them: how they develop, what factors influence that development, how they are related to more traditional measures. In a field where so many issues are unresolved and so many questions unanswered, the confident tone that has characterized most of the debate on these topics is clearly out of place. The study of intelligence does not need politicized assertions and recriminations; it needs self-restraint, reflection, and a great deal more research.
The questions that remain are socially as well as scientifically important. There is no reason to think them unanswerable, but finding the answers will require a shared and sustained effort as well as the commitment of substantial scientific resources. Just such a commitment is what we strongly recommend."
From the Task Force established by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association in order to respond to Charles Murray's Bell Curve.