2006-01-22

In defense of gifted education

Let's start with a question: are we all created equal?

No.

Well, it really depends on what "born equal" means. If the meaning is taken to be "all men are born equal in dignity and rights" then it is yes. If the meaning is taken to be "all men are born with equal intellectual abilities" then the answer is a hard no. Some are offended by this, but let me pose some questions. Are we born equally tall? Physically strong? Beautiful? No of course, right? These are much less contentious. So why is intelligence so touchy? I think the answer is because in our society, intelligence is highly correlated with success.

The idea that some cannot achieve a high level of success almost regardless of how hard they try is denied by many. Yet studies show that this is very true. I'm not going to use footnotes since Wikipedia has already done that for us. Back on topic, studies show that IQ is the best predictor of future performance. Now this doesn't mean that IQ is a good indicator of future success, it just means it beats all the others. So before the smart ones start wearing a grin, remember that there is no substitute for hard work. Or is there?

Contrary to what most others may believe, I think there is a very good substitute for hard work, and I think that is high IQ (work is still needed, just not hard work). High IQ babies look at a novel object and get bored with a few glances, while average babies will be intrigued for much longer. Years later, the high IQ babies become schoolchildren and are bored with their lessons, their teachers, and probably their classmates as well. They'll think "d'oh, Mrs. Campbell is teaching that again for the 14th time" and begin daydreaming, doodling -- whatever relieves them of their boredom. If kept in such a stultifying environment, these minds will not attain their true potential. They will still do better on average than their peers but the point is that they do not reach their potential.

We want to nuture our bright minds, since it is known that a well-educated people fare better economically and hence we invest in education. So what's the best way to invest though? I think having a good gifted education program is essential to investing this money properly. Now, the main point coming from people that oppose gifted education is that it segregates the children, and violates the widely accepted clause of "all men are born equal." After all, why should these gifted children receive more resources (like better teachers) and therefore more investment money? This is where we go back to the question posed at the beginning of this post. Simply, we are not created equal when it comes to intelligence!

Here's a hastily thought-up analogy:

Basketball is what determines success and thus basketball teams, that of nations.
We want to invest in out nation's basketball team.
We want teach our children basketball, for a great team in the future.

Now, do we
  • spend equal resources on short children as very tall children? Illogical isn't it? The tall kids will be bored; they may start lifting the ball above their heads and grinning at the stunted kids frantically jumping. They tall ones will not develop their skills.
  • spend more resources on our very tall children? Logical isn't it? You know that the future all-stars will be tall. No, not all the tall kids will be excellent players, but the best players will be tall. In analogy with IQ, height isn't a great indicator of future basketball performance, but it is nevertheless the best indicator. Thus it is statistically wise to specially nuture our very tall children.
Sorry, this post is probably disorganized and unclear, but I don't feel like cleaning it up. =P
Time to sleep. Cha!

21 comments:

Kevin said...

Yup. But I'd pose that intellegence isn't so much an intellectual quality in life as it is a model of thinking. Even 'stupid' people can become 'smart' if they readjust their thinking habits more.

Look at the prime example of intelligence: learning. Learning is the absorption of knowledge after it is presented to you. IQ is not really a clear measure of this, but it is a measure because it is the measure of pattern recognition, which is a fundamental part of learning. The other part is memory, which can be trained.

Theoritically then, smart children and adults are not smart because they were born with it. Rather, when growing up, they developed a better model of thinking and recognizing patterns then their peers. Great minds think alike? That's probably the reason why.

So, all we need to do is for education majors to figure out how to shift our methods of thinking. However, only idiots go into education, so I think that it'll take a while. (that's a joke for those offended. THIS IS A JOKE! NO SUE!)

Jason Yu said...

I very much disagree with your sentiment that intelligence is a merely a model of thinking.

One of the most consistent findings in studies is that those with high intelligence can be trained and quickly, and that those with low intelligence cannot be trained, no matter how much effort is put in.

Simply put, people with low IQ are sadly stuck with being 'dumb' for life. You just can't teach them advanced stuff. Unfortunate.

Yes, a large part of IQ is pattern recognition. And no, IQ doesn't equal intelligence, but I'd say it's the closest thing we have, by far.

Pattern recog. is awesome. It's the primary factor in determining how quickly one learns. One of the most convenient uses I've found for it is doing exams with just cramming and improvising; although of course you won't get the best grades this way, it's acceptable since it's "good enough" and has an awesome results/effort ratio.

PS. Oh, and why do great minds end up developing the same model of thinking? I'd think they would develop different models... :P

Kagami said...

/signed

Those who preach intellectual equality are chumps.

Alan said...

Yeah, you've presented quite a convincing argument here Wen-Yuan. Although perhaps I would like to believe otherwise, it's hard to argue against the statistical data. I have a feeling that those preachers of intellectual equality, as Kag calls them, will just dismiss your points.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, I'm delighted with the point you brought up, and I tend to lean more towards what you said -- that intellegence can be a learned aspect -- than emphasizing that intellegence is primarily an inborn trait. (and for the record, EVEN IF the latter is more objectively true, I think it's beneficial to lean towards the former ANYWAYS.)

Too often you see students struggling, just because they have poor teachers. They haven't been taught HOW to think and HOW to learn. They themselves they're stupid ("I'm just not good at math"), but it's my strong conviction that things like math just aren't TAUGHT very well. I think a lot of people can be better at math than they think.

There's a lot to be said about what is environmental. My trait to not shy away from problem solving, I believe, finds its roots in my videogaming as a youngster; and now that I've been outside of a stimulating environment that encourages such thinking, I'm losing my trait of not fearing problem solving. Environmental factors play a role!

Same too with English: because of the first year Englihs course that I took, which taught me ways of reading, I am now realizing pleasures and ways of thinking that comes from reading fiction, that I never knew of before. I, in a sense, have become 'smarter' because of it.



Emphasizing inherent limitations will have the effect of ignoring non-inherent potentials. I think it's more productive to focus on what people are CAPABLE of, rather than dictating what they're INcapable of.


-- Silph

Anonymous said...

Oh, and also just for what it's worth, the way we think about this topic is influenced by how we define our terms. There are nuances to what "intellegence" means. You might think of such concept as being broad, involving many different types of intellegence. IQ tests only measure one kind; who says that this is the only kind worth investigating, in studies that correlate intellegence with quality of life?

The following quote spurred me to write this PS comment:

"High IQ babies look at a novel object and get bored with a few glances, while average babies will be intrigued for much longer."

Really? High IQ people are bored easier?
` That's funny.
` Because people with high artistic intellegence will be able to find interest in "normal" things which regular people merely look at and think in a simple abstracted, symbolic way. People with high artistic intellegence will be able to see deeper into it.

IQ tests routinely ignore these other intellegences. What about the intellegence that allows someone to adapt quickly? To think outside of the box, be creative? To see things in holistic, fuzzy ways, which algorithmic and symbolic thinking have trouble grasping? Are these not also types of intellegence?



To use language in such a way that defines intellegence as merely what IQ tests measure, is to create a discourse that inherently values such intellegence (without explicitly acknowledging that it does). I see this as a woefully narrow and constricted way of thinking, one that hardly honours the reality, nor one that offers much in terms of productivity.



But then again, this is just the postmodernist in me speaking, so don't be surprised that I'm being so challening! ^^

-- Silph

Kevin said...

True, there are instances that I will concede are pretty much dead-ends. People with ADD for example, are not caused by environmental factors, but rather chemical imbalances. However, that still states it is a trait that can be corrected by balancing chemicals. I know of a friend of a friend that takes pills to counteract her ADD and she's an very interesting person. I'd hesitate to call her 'dumb' at all.

But most people do not have a chemical imbalance. Their brains may differ by structure, but it is not a mysterious quality with no concrete backing. It may differ by the sturcture or by the number of neurons, but this means that it may be physically possible to increase one's intelligence.

Wouldn't that be something.

And people do have crappy models for thinking. I mean, some people still use their fingers for multiplication or addition. Or even a calculator.....seriously now. sigh.

Kevin said...

And gifted education isn't always great. It can leave the child sheltered and isolated from society. Of course, bullies can do the same thing.

What I really mean is that its meaningless to defend or offend gifted education.

Rick said...

I agree that people are not born equal. But how about artifically augment a person with MEMS implanted into the brain? Sure, this won't solve the problem of intelligence but we can try to increase a person's capacity to learn by hardware. In a recent IEEE EMBS journal, I read an article on designing nano wires that can be inserted into a person's brain via their arteries.

The article had some scary looking pictures (unsure if they're photos, tho) of a cranial x-ray with a crazy looking "tree" inside the skull. Let's just say that person will be an airport security nightmare with all that metal in his head.

Jason Yu said...

Rick, I love your comment. ;)

Anyhoo, I want to respond to Silph's comments...

Indeed, you can define intelligence in almost any way you want, since it is true that "intelligence" changes with which culture and period one lives in. What I'm talking about is intelligence as it applies to our modern society.

If you read up on the literature pertaining to this topic, you'll learn about the g factor (which I may post about in the future), and how IQ is the best predictor of future success (as I have stated in my post). Thus, while the artistic intelligence you mentioned is a perfectly valid type of intelligence, it is not a good predictor of success. Therefore it cannot be used in my basketball analogy, or in other words, it is not wise to use artistic int. as a criterion for selecting promising individuals. Defining intelligence in terms of IQ may seem circular and silly, but that is how it's used in the majority of studies on intelligence.

While it's entirely possible that a person with an average IQ and a high "artistic intelligence" can be a star, but statistically that chance will be far lower than those with high IQs. With limited resources to spend, you must spend wisely. Since statistically IQ is the best way to screen out individuals, IQ should be used to select promising individuals.

Once again, IQ is the best predictor of future success. As a surprising example, studies have shown that IQ is a better predictor of future job performance than resumes, interviews, and even past job performance (at the same company and doing the same job!!!).

To sum it all up,

L1: You have limited resources.
L2: You must train a top-notch team (small number of individuals, not everyone) to compete on the world stage.
L1 ==> L3: Spending equal resources on everyone will not produce the best team (inadequate resources spread evenly means detrimental effects for everyone, hence no great players for the team).
L3 ==> L4: You want to select the most promising candidates for a special training program that will feed the national team.
L5: The best selection criteria (by definition) will produce the best pool of candidates.
L6: The best predictor of future performance is intelligence as defined and/or measured by IQ, and thus IQ is the best selection criterion.
L4,L5,L6 ==> L7: You should select the candidates using IQ as the main criterion.

Logic is beautiful isn't it?

Feel free to flame/correct/comment/praise

Anonymous said...

lol, Rick, just like an electrical engineer to suggest that ^_^ ;-) I was like "whoa, that comment sure came from left field, wow!"

-- Silph

Anonymous said...

"Feel free to flame/correct/comment/praise
Indeed I intend to! Which and how much of each is still to be determined :-P

Let me see.. what might I respond with? I must say that I still have this uncomfortable reaction within my system to what you wrote, but I have yet to identify why. Maybe it's because of my general attitude of valuing more heavily the happiness for each member of a group, rather than aiming to maximize the "success" of a group as defined in narrow ways. (Are we talking "success" in terms of, for example, a nation being monetarily wealthy, for example? You see where bottom-line thinking in businesses lead to: the environment, social well-being of certain peoples, etc, do suffer).

Let me get back to you on this, Jason :-)

-- Silph

PS
I'm glad that people are discussing this. It's always more fun with other people on board!

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