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Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times that although poor people have significantly lower IQ’s than rich people, it is not wholly a function of genetics.
If intelligence were simply encoded in our genes, that would lead to depressing conclusions: neither schooling nor antipoverty programs could accomplish much.
But evidence is growing that this is not true. Kristof cites the work of Richard Nisbitt, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan.
Nisbett has just demolished this view in a superb new book, “Intelligence and How to Get it.”
And Nisbitt also provides suggestions for transforming your little ones into geniuses: praise effort more than achievement, teach delayed gratification, limit reprimands and use praise to stimulate curiosity.
Nisbitt focuses on how to raise America’s collective IQ. That’s important because IQ doesn’t measure pure intellect (they’re not certain exactly what it does measure). The fact is, differences matter, and a higher IQ correlates too greater success in life.
Some background: intelligence does seem to be highly inherited in middle-class household. The findings of the separated identical twin studies showed that they were remarkably similar in IQ.
But there were very few impoverished families in those studies.
Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia has conducted further research demonstrating that in poor and chaotic households, IQ is minimally the result of genetics — because everybody is held back.
“Bad environments supress children’s IQ’s,” says Turkheimer.
One gauge of that: when poor children are adopted into upper-middle-class households, their IQs rise by 12 to 18 points, depending on the study.
A French study showed that children from poor households adopted into upper-middle-class homes averaged an IQ of 107 by one test and 111 by another.
Their siblings who were not adopted averaged 95 on both tests.
Another indication of malleablity: IQ has risen sharply over time. The average IQ of a person in 1917 would amount to only 73 on today’s IQ measurements. Half the population of 1917 would be considered mentally slow by today’s measurements, says Nisbitt.
Correlating closely to higher IQs is good schooling. An indication of school’s importance: children’s IQs drop or stagnate over the summer months when they are on vacation (particularly those kids whose parents don’t push them to read or attend summer programs).
Professor Nisbitt strongly recommends intensive early childhood education, which has been proven to raise IQ and improve long-term outcomes.
The Milwaukee Project is an example. It took African-American children considered at risk for mental retardation and assigned them randomly either to a control group that received no help or to a group that enjoyed intensive day care and education from 6 months of age until they entered first grade.
By age 5, the children in the program averaged an IQ of 110, compared with 83 for the control group kids. And even in adolescence, years later, those children were still 10 points higher in IQ.
Nisbitt notes that schools in the Knowledge Is Power Program (known as KIPP) have tested exceptionally well; he favors experiements to see if they can be scaled up.
Another proven intervention: when junior-high-school students are told that IQ is expandable, and that their intelligence is something they can help shape, they have worked harder and gotten better grades. (This seems to be particularly true of girls and math — girls assume they are genetically disadvantaged at numbers; when they don’t have that excuse, they excel.)
Some of the things that work are very cheap. Convincing high-school kids that intelligence is under their control — you could argue that that should be in the junior high curriculum right now.
What is the implication of this new research? The economic stimulus package should also be an intellectual-stimulus program, writes Kristof.
sole source:Nichols D Kristof’s article in the NY Times on 4/17?/09. www.nytimes.com “Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Culture Count,” by Richard E Nisbitt is published by WW Norton, 2009. ISBN 0393065057; 9780393065053; 304 pages. $26.95
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