A just condemnation

Chris Langan, who is a) a lot smarter than I am, b) definitely UHIQ, and c) may in fact qualify for an entirely different category of intelligence, rightly condemns the modern system of education as a massive waste. And worse, an institution literally designed to cripple the most intelligent students subjected to it.

Owing to the shape of a bell curve, the education system is geared to the mean. Unfortunately, that kind of education is virtually calculated to bore and alienate gifted minds. But instead of making exceptions where it would do the most good, the educational bureaucracy often prefers not to be bothered.

In my case, for example, much of the schooling to which I was subjected was probably worse than nothing. It consisted not of real education, but of repetition and oppressive socialization (entirely superfluous given the dose of oppression I was getting away from school). Had I been left alone, preferably with access to a good library and a minimal amount of high-quality instruction, I would at least have been free to learn without useless distractions and gratuitous indoctrination. But alas, no such luck.

While my own background is rather exceptional, it is far from unique. Many young people are affected by one or more of the same general problems experienced by my brothers and me. A rising number of families have severe financial problems, forcing educational concerns to take a back seat to food, shelter, and clothing on the list of priorities. Even in well-off families, children can be starved of parental guidance due to stress, distraction, or irresponsibility. If a mind is truly a terrible thing to waste, then the waste is proportional to mental potential; one might therefore expect that the education system would be quick to help extremely bright youngsters who have it rough at home. But if so, one would be wrong a good part of the time.

Let’s try to break the problem down a bit. The education system is subject to a psychometric paradox: on one hand, it relies by necessity on the standardized testing of intellectual achievement and potential, including general intelligence or IQ, while on the other hand, it is committed to a warm and fuzzy but scientifically counterfactual form of egalitarianism which attributes all intellectual differences to environmental factors rather than biology, implying that the so-called “gifted” are just pampered brats who, unless their parents can afford private schooling, should atone for their undeserved good fortune by staying behind and enriching the classroom environments of less privileged students.

This approach may appear admirable, but its effects on our educational and intellectual standards, and all that depends on them, have already proven to be overwhelmingly negative. This clearly betrays an ulterior motive, suggesting that it has more to do with social engineering than education. There is an obvious difference between saying that poor students have all of the human dignity and basic rights of better students, and saying that there are no inherent educationally and socially relevant differences among students. The first statement makes sense, while the second does not.

The gifted population accounts for a very large part of the world’s intellectual resources. As such, they can obviously be put to better use than smoothing the ruffled feathers of average or below-average students and their parents by decorating classroom environments which prevent the gifted from learning at their natural pace. The higher we go on the scale of intellectual brilliance – and we’re not necessarily talking just about IQ – the less support is offered by the education system, yet the more likely are conceptual syntheses and grand intellectual achievements of the kind seldom produced by any group of markedly less intelligent people. In some cases, the education system is discouraging or blocking such achievements, and thus cheating humanity of their benefits.

His experience in grade school was very similar to mine in fourth and fifth grades.

Kids who score that high on IQ tests tend to be so far ahead of their peers and teachers that they’re often bored out of their minds in school and thus, ironically, don’t tend to be considered great students by their teachers. Is this how it was for you?

Much of the time, yes. I had more than one teacher who considered me a let-down, and sometimes for what must have seemed good reason.

For example, I sometimes fell asleep in class. I can remember trying to resist it, but I wasn’t always successful. I was even known to fall asleep during tests, sometimes before completing them. And by “asleep”, I do mean “asleep”. It was once reported to me by one of my teachers that she had amused the entire class by repeatedly snapping her fingers in front of my face and eliciting no reaction whatsoever.

In fairness, this wasn’t always due to boredom alone. I was often tired and exhausted by distractions. For example, what pugnacious little thugs would be waiting in ambush as I left the school grounds at the end of the day? How many friends and helpers would this or that bully bring with him to the after-school fight for which I had been reluctantly scheduled? Would my stepfather be in his typical punitive mood when I got home? And so on.

Sometimes, I had trouble paying attention even when I wasn’t asleep. I had a habit of partially withdrawing from the class discussion and writing down my own thoughts in my notebook; this made me appear to be attentively taking notes. However, when the teacher would sneak up on me from behind or demand to see what I was writing, the truth would out, and one can imagine the consequences.

As time passed, I would have to say that I grew increasingly resistant and unresponsive to the Pavlovian conditioning on which much educational methodology is based. I suspect that between home and school, there had been a certain amount of cumulative desensitization.

These problems eventually got me stationed nearly full-time in the school library, where I greatly preferred to be anyway. Later, I was finally excused from attendance except as required in order to collect and turn in my weekly assignments.

I wasn’t beaten at home and I didn’t fall asleep in class, though. I simply read books while the teacher was talking. I’d read the textbook until I finished it, usually by the end of the first week, then whatever novel I was reading at the time. My fourth-grade teacher initially let me do that after I correctly answered the questions she directed at me during her lectures, but as my reading eventually proved distracting and even offensive to the other students, they finally just sent me to the library with the understanding that I would only be allowed to skip my classes as long as I turned in the assigned papers and did well on the class tests. They didn’t even make me do any homework, which was nice. As a result, I didn’t attend many classes for those two years, with the exception of science class, if I recall correctly.


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