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Archive for January 29th, 2010

I came across this article on the phenomenon of polymathy:

http://polymathica.com/Prelim/ThePolymath.htm

While still in my teenage years, I posited a theory that  educational success is linked with a student’s intelligence up to a certain level, but after that point starts to trail off. Beyond that point, the mismatch between what the person was capable of and what the education system provided widened and widened. Instead of increasingly super-bright people being commensurately rewarded educationally up into infinity, rather they were subject to a law of diminishing returns. I didn’t have the maturity or life experience at the time to put meat on the bones of my theory, and needless to say, my parents were unimpressed.

My extensive reading on the issues facing persons of high ability seems to have resoundingly validated my early postulate. From the second paragraph of the article: “Numerous studies have shown that the elite professions such as Physician, Attorney, Professor or Executive are populated by people with a mean IQ around 126…through statistical inference we can determine the probability of entering one of these elite professions peaks around an IQ of 133 and then begins to fall rapidly. By an IQ of 140 it has fallen by 1/3.  By 150 IQ it has fallen 97%.  By 160 IQ it has become statistically insignificant.”

The problem is, because colleges and employers equate academic success with intellectual ability, the assumption is that if you have no or few qualifications, or your grades do not make you stand out from the crowd, then either (a) you cannot be a high-ability person, or (b) you are a high-ability person but to perform so badly/averagely at school you must be lazy. Neither assumption is likely to result in being offered a top job or college place.

Once so labelled/channelled, certainly in the UK where I live, it can be very difficult to repair the situation. Courses are expensive, and time consuming when one is already out working, and if one is unlucky enough to have few qualifications to start with, then this and that prerequisite qualification in order to get onto the programme of study all adds more time and expense to the venture.

Perhaps at this point I should beg the question: why should a person be subjected to this, in order to repair a situation created by the fact that his/her educational needs were not provided for?

The article continues: “As the IQ of a child increases, the probability that he or she has already learned something by the time the educational system teaches it increases.  The more frequently this happens, the more inclined the child is to satisfy his or her curiosity outside of the curriculum.”

As a youngster, I had a multitude of interests, none of which were satisfied by the school curriculum. I remember my mother complaining that the standard of work I produced for my own pleasure at home way outstripped anything attempted in class. However, when you consider some of my personal projects included things such as the design of a gymnastic training programme drawn up in the form of wall charts, a huge paper frieze of the solar system and constellations carefully mapped out on the ceiling in luminous stars, and a couple of years later a blockbuster-length novel full of philosophical musings complete with its own song soundtrack, it is difficult to see how any typical/average school assignment could have given me the same creative or intellectual scope.

I was, and remain, an autodidact. I still find it much easier to learn by myself, and on my own initiative. Self-education remains stubbornly unrewarded, however, by the education system and by potential employers.

Yet the people who are on the receiving end of this huge disservice are the very people who get accused of wasting their potential when they end up working as a night-club bouncer.

Imagine taking a student of average ability, and sending him to a school for children with severe learning difficulties, and only ever being given tasks that the other children were doing. Do you think he would achieve up to his ability? Would it be right to punish him for not so achieving? How would you feel about the fact that he never got offered jobs or further education available to average people, because of his lack of educational opportunity?

That is precisely what society is doing to exceptionally bright students, under the guise of some sort of misconceived idea of equality. Yet a student that bright has special educational needs of their own. When these can’t or won’t be met, equality goes out of the window, because the student is being prevented from achieving what he otherwise could achieve in a way that the average student would never be.

When push comes to shove, it’s the brightest of the bunch who will be looked to by society for solutions. So why are we wasting the world’s most brilliant minds by not nurturing them?

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