IQ – a short and (over)simple FAQ for parents and teachers

There is something distasteful about IQ. Leaving aside the fact that it is often used by those who want to make race-based claims about merit, it reduces the educational project to the merely quantitative, crowding out other virtues. However, these objections should not mean that IQ be buried – as it has been largely since the publication of The Bell Curve in the 1980s. Educationalists seem increasingly to be taking an interest in the subject, and this piece seeks to answer a few of the most basic questions.

 

What is IQ? How is it tested? Does it really exist? Does it change over your life?

IQ stands for “intelligence quotient”, and is a total score derived from several standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence. IQ tests (example on this blog) tend to measure skills like speed of cognitive processing, pattern recognition, problem solving and memory. People who do well at one aspect on an intelligence test, tend to do well at all aspects.

Despite the many attempts by politicians, sociologists and educationalists to wish it way (e.g. Prospect, Claxton, Gladwell), that IQ describes something real is one of the most well-attested facts in the scientific community, not to mention a commonly-held belief by the general public.

As to whether it changes, the consensus seems to be that your IQ might go up or down a few points over your life, but does not change meaningfully.

 

Do children inherit IQ from their parents?

As with the question of whether intelligence exists, the answer to this question divides mainstream common sense opinion from many experts. The man on the street will tell you that intelligent parents tend to have intelligent children, although the implications for this position (see below) are so troubling for social policy interventions that it is an unpopular position within the education establishment.

From my cursory reading on the subject, IQ is, in the jargon, highly “heritable”, which is proved by the use of identical twin and adoption studies. Plomin is one of the most highly respected scientists on the issue; he lays out the heritability question well here.

Other important points:

  • Genes seem account for 50%-60% of a child’s IQ; the rest is made up by one’s home environment (NB also subject to parental influence of course) and factors called “the non-shared environment”, which relates to a child’s peer group, individual teachers, interests in, say, reading or memory games etc.

 

  • Because of these facts, intelligence is more impervious to adaptable environmental influences than many people think, or that many social policy people / teachers would like to think.

 

  • The genetic influence emerges more and more as a child grows older. This stands to reason because as we wield more agency over our lives as we grow older and environmental influence decrease, the more we choose a lifestyle (e.g. friends, extracurricular activities, schools and universities) that is in line with our IQ.

 

  • NB Dominic Cummings on individuals and heritability: “everything about heritability involves population statistics, not individuals – to put the point crudely, if you smash an individual over the head with a bat, the effect of genes on performance will fall to zero, hence the unsurprising but important finding that heritability estimates are lower for very deprived children.”

 

Why does IQ matter? What are the implications of having a particular IQ score? Does IQ = destiny?

High IQ scores correlate to all sorts of widely-agreed and somewhat unexpected benefits: examination success of course, but also a longer life, higher wages, weight, lower divorce rate etc. This blogpost goes into more detail.

Importantly, IQ is a measure that is more accurate the more people we are looking at. To predict one child’s life, it is only marginally helpful to know their IQ score. However, a school district, a school, even a class can be much better predicted by looking at average IQ scores.

How predictive is IQ for an individual child? Although children should always be encouraged to push themselves beyond any abstract numerical limitation, it is true that IQ is something of a minimum requirement in certain pursuits. As Charles Murray points out, it plays the same role that weight done is rugby pack as a forward. It’s not everything, but you need a minimum amount to do certain jobs, e.g. high level mathematics, astrophysics, etc.

As to IQ and destiny, the “Flynn effect” shows that IQ scores have been going up throughout the past century, giving hope that the non-heritable environment can be sufficiently manipulated to lead to changes in IQ. More on this here. It is nonetheless worth remembering that benefits of a high IQ are really the benefits of a higher IQ – i.e. relative to others in a given population rather than absolute.

 

For teachers – should an understanding of IQ affect my teaching?

Apart from being sensitive to the realities of intelligence and to the need for some individualised treatment, knowledge of IQ shouldn’t affect a classroom or school too much. As David Didau writes,.

“In a school with a well-designed curriculum and where children are well taught, all pupils will learn more (although some will, of course, learn more than others) whereas in a school with little in the way of curricular provision and where most of the teachers are bumbling loons, all pupils will learn less (although some will, of course, learn less than others).”

 

For parents – should an understanding of IQ affect my parenting?

I hope I have written enough about the importance of environments – both home and particularly school – to suggest that IQ does not absolve parents of their role as parents. (Though do read this provocative piece to the contrary!) It also seems likely that factors unrelated to IQ such as conscientiousness, motivation, perseverance and self-control are involved in educational success. And beyond educational success, establishing a happy home is of course a good in itself – rooting children hopefully to a place of love, security and happy memories.

 

Further reading:

Poetry and Memory

Somewhat stating the obvious but good to read nonetheless:

The emerging findings point strongly towards memorised poetry being a resource with the potential to enrich lives in different ways over many years. Knowing a poem by heart appears to support a very distinctive quality of attention and connection which in turn fosters a rich and lasting relationship with that poem. Such a relationship is not antithetical to the kinds of understanding produced by literary analysis and close reading, but has the potential to work in synergy with it. Equally, for many people, the memorised poem plays a valuable role in making meaning from life’s experiences, and to give expression to meaning in language.

(University of Cambridge Poetry and Memory – Project Report)

Don’t blame “factory education”

[P]hrases like “the industrial model of education,” “the factory model of education,” and “the Prussian model of education” are used as a “rhetorical foil” in order make a particular political point – not so much to explain the history of education, as to try to shape its future.

Much enjoyed this revisionist piece on the so-called factory model of state schooling – written about the US but with much to say to the UK too:

http://hackeducation.com/2015/04/25/factory-model

History of Prep Education Podcast # 3 – Interview with Mark Johnson

In Episode 3 of my History of Prep Education project, I interview Mark Johnson.

Mark (known to all his pupils as MRJ) attended prep boarding school himself aged 6 (!). As a teacher, he taught at Summer Fields for 17 years, becoming Deputy Headmaster, before becoming Headmaster of Cheam in 1998 – a post he held for 18 years, growing the school from 120 boys to 420 boys & girls and winning much acclaim in the process.

In this interview, we talk about:

  • Mark’s own (Dickensian!) prep school days
  • The story of Mark’s entrance into teaching
  • What makes an outstanding prep school teacher, and head
  • The magic and eccentricity of prep schools, and how these can be preserved in the 21st Century.

We also touch on a near-death experience Mark had, and the difficulty of growing up with his father serving in the Army on the other side of the world.

Listen on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/willorrewing/will-orr-ewing-interviews-mark-johnson 

Or YouTube below

My visit to Michaela Community School (MCS Brent)

Given the criticism that the school has received from many quarters (such that staff have even received death threats), I was fortunate enough to be allowed to visit Michaela at the end of the summer term. I spent a remarkable few hours there, and sent the following email to the headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh afterwards:

Dear Katharine,

Thank you very much for having me to Michaela yesterday. I really enjoyed my visit – and the school is an inspiration. I was only sorry I couldn’t stay longer.

In ten years of visiting schools, Michaela was something of a singular experience – so I thought I’d note the features that particularly surprised me. Few will surprise you, I’m sure!

  • Culture – even without MCS’ unique features, the commitment and professionalism of the teachers mark it out. Extraordinary attention to detail and teamwork, with maximum buy-in to the school’s mission. No sense of putting on a front for the benefit of the students.
  • Oracy – such a neglected feature in schools today. Loved seeing the emphasis put on helping students to find their voice. Regular practice required from all students, if not in class then at lunch – so no sense of embarrassment or being picked on.
  • Chanting of beautiful literature – genuinely moving. Lia Martin choreographed Charge of the Light Brigade with great deftness, and I especially enjoyed one chap at the back’s fist-pumping as the poem paced along. i.e. no joy sacrificed.
  • Knowledge – as others have commented, not just pleasingly enthroned but regularly tested so easily memorised. Knowledge Organisers are an inspired idea. (*See below for a follow up thought.)
  • Candour – esp with respect to whether an answer was right/wrong, good enough / not good enough. I didn’t realise until yesterday just how absent this is in other schools – and how motivating (or certainly unstressful) it is for students. (**See below for follow up thought)

What did I think could be done better? After what I had heard in the morning, I was expecting a more lively discussion at lunch. I think I had quite a tentative group, who didn’t really engage with the ‘set questions’ and seemed overly reliant on the prompts. From what other guests said, I was alone in this though.

Sorry for sending such a long email, and hope we can stay in touch,

Kind regards,

Will

*PS I thought you’d enjoy reading this quote from Charlotte Mason who, like MCS, took the measure of an education by the number of ‘substantive nouns’ were mentioned by her students in exams.

“In the course of an examination they deal freely with a great number of substantives, including many proper names; (I once had the names used by a child of ten in an examination paper counted; there were well over a hundred, of which these are the “a’s”:—Africa, Alsace-Lorraine, Antigonous, Abdomen, Antennae, Aphis, Antwerp, Alder, America, Amsterdam, Austria-Hungary, Ann Boleyn, Antarctic, Atlantic; and these are the “m’s”:—Megalopolis, Maximilian, Milan, Martin Luther, Mary of the Netherlands, Messina, Macedonia, Magna Charta, Magnet, Malta, Metz, Mediterranean, Mary Queen of Scots, Treaty of Madrid: upon all these subjects the children wrote as freely and fully as if they were writing to an absent sister about a new family of kittens!”

(http://charlottemasonpoetry.org/a-liberal-education-for-all/)

**PPS Charlotte Mason is also instructive in giving evidence of what poor Victorian kids were capable of in the 1890s: here’s an excerpt from a 10 y/o essay (https://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/vol3complete.html#282) and here a 14 y/o (https://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/vol3complete.html#288)

History of Prep Education # 2 – Interview with Rory Darling

In my second interview of my Captain Raindrop project, I interview Rory Darling.

Rory taught Maths and History at many of the top boarding boys preparatory schools in the country, including Summer Fields, Cothill, Ludgrove, Aysgarth and Elstree.

You can listen here: https://soundcloud.com/willorrewing/will-orr-ewing-interviews-rory-darling

Or I have embedded the YouTube link below.

Please bear with me as I learn more about interviewing, editing, etc etc etc!

The Great Conversation (I’m looking for a pupil!)

I am looking for a school-age student who has the time and inclination to read a Great Book with me online via Skype. Please leave a comment or email me if of interest.

The idea is expanded in this link, which begins as follows…

“The Good Books are food for a wholesome imagination. They are well-written. They introduce young people to characters they will never forget. They soar beyond easy cynicism or nihilism. They soar beyond the sweaty halls of politics. They may well have villains in them, there may be warfare, but there will not be the creepy relish for bloodshed—no itch for the base, the sick, the bizarre, the filthy, the evil. We know where to find these Good Books. They are everywhere, or they used to be. It almost does not matter in what order the children read them, and many of them can be read again and again, and are as satisfying for grownups as they are for the wide-eyed little ones.”

Professor Anthony Esolen

 

Certain books are as pertinent to our day as they were to the day in which they were written. They are so significant that their influence continues to be felt in our writing, thought and conversation today. Reading these books brings great joy and wisdom, but being part of this “great conversation through the ages” also gives a tremendous cultural leg-up. And for one of the first times in history… most of these books are free!

Inspired by the work of  E D Hirsch, which shows not only the great cultural benefit of the knowledge contained in such works but also the cultural deficit suffered by those who remain ignorant of them, we feel there is an opportunity to bring these books to children – especially to those who might not otherwise encounter them – in a considered sequence. We have chosen 56 books – an achievable 4 per year for children from the ages of 5 – 18 – and arranged them in a rough age order below. A link to a free version of the book is also included.

Such selections are necessarily arbitrary and are further compromised by their inevitable Western and English-language bias. It is important to note that, for the reasons noted above, they have been chosen for their cultural, more than their literary, significance. They can be read independently or – especially with the younger ages in mind – with the aid of a tutor, teacher or parent.

Read the selection here.