The problem with the commentary from Charles Murray, is it makes the mistake that many make concerning IQ. IQ, as it is currently measured, is an measure of "intelligence" as defined by: your fund of knowledge, verbal fluency, processing speed, ability to see abstract concepts, and others. These domain areas are certainly not the only form of intelligence. Tom alluded to this fact when he stated that there were guys in our schools who were poor students but could take a part an engine. These are actually two forms of intelligence, academic and mechanical.
Dee Dickson said it best on her website when she quoted my personal favorite cognitive psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner
Dr. Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind and co-director of Project Zero at Harvard University, has created a Theory of Multiple Intelligences. He points out that school systems often focus on a narrow range of intelligence that involves primarily verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical skills. While knowledge and skills in these areas are essential for surviving and thriving in the world, he suggests that there are at least six other kinds of intelligence that are important to fuller human development and that almost everyone has available to develop. They include, visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, naturalist and intrapersonal intelligence.
The strongest skills of many children lie in these six areas, which are frequently undervalued in some traditional schools. The fact is that when children have an opportunity to learn through their strengths, they may become more successful at learning all subjects--including the "basic skills."
Gardner believes that the eight intelligences he has identified are independent, in that they develop at different times and to different degrees in different individuals. They are, however, closely related, and many teachers and parents are finding that when an individual becomes more proficient in one area, the whole constellation of intelligence may be enhanced.
For this reason, we believe that it is important to encourage children to explore and exercise all of their intelligences. Creating a rich, nurturing, and stimulating environment filled with interesting materials, toys, games, and books lays the foundation for healthier, happier, brighter children! Students who have these kinds of experiences know many ways to learn almost anything!
Following are some characteristics of the different intelligences, along with ways to exercise and develop them:
Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence Involves reading, writing, speaking, and conversing in one's own or foreign languages. It may be exercised through reading interesting books, playing word board or card games, listening to recordings, using various kinds of computer technology, and participating in conversation and discussions. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence Involves number and computing skills, recognizing patterns and relationships, timeliness and order, and the ability to solve different kinds of problems through logic. It may be exercised through classifying and sequencing activities, playing number and logic games, and solving various kinds of puzzles. Visual/Spatial Intelligence Involves visual perception of the environment, the ability to create and manipulate mental images, and the orientation of the body in space. It may be developed through experiences in the graphic and plastic arts, sharpening observation skills, solving mazes and other spatial tasks, and exercises in imagery and active imagination. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence Involves physical coordination and dexterity, using fine and gross motor skills, and expressing oneself or learning through physical activities. It may be exercised by playing with blocks and other construction materials, dancing, playing various active sports and games, participating in plays or make-believe, and using various kinds of manipulatives to solve problems or to learn. Musical Intelligence Involves understanding and expressing oneself through music and rhythmic movements or dance, or composing, playing, or conducting music. It may be exercised by listening to a variety of recordings, engaging in rhythmic games and activities, and singing, dancing, or playing various instruments. Interpersonal Intelligence Involves understanding how to communicate with and understand other people and how to work collaboratively. It may be exercised through cooperative games, group projects and discussions, multicultural books and materials, and dramatic activities or role-playing. Intrapersonal Intelligence Involves understanding one's inner world of emotions and thoughts, and growing in the ability to control them and work with them consciously. It may be exercised through participating in independent projects, reading illuminating books, journal-writing, imaginative activities and games, and finding quiet places for reflection. Naturalist Intelligence Involves understanding the natural world of plants and animals, noticing their characteristics, and categorizing them; it generally involves keen observation and the ability to classify other things as well. It may be exercised by exploring nature, making collections of objects, studying them, and grouping them.
So given that one accepts this as "true" then what is the value of "no child left behind" or other kinds of educational initiatives? Basically it goes back to social engineering. Politicians use the public school system to achieve their own agenda regarding their own beliefs. This is of course true for both sides. I don't believe anyone really cares about Johnny's ability to read. As long as he pays taxes.
I for one think "interpersonal intelligence" is the most important. I've seen this time and again. A very nice person, with limited academic intelligence, succeeds in the world simply because he understands intuitively how human systems work. In other words, he's charming. Charming people are enjoyable to be around. This is actually the form of intelligence we should teach more to our children but no one hears about these abilities. William Bennett attempted to discuss them in his "Book of Virtues" but it didn't quite hit this nail squarely on the head.
Further complicating the issues is learning styles. People learn in very different ways. Although traditional public schools have attempted to adapt to this phenomena in recent years by the implementation of "charter schools", mostly they simply teach the old fashioned way: rows of desks, books, teachers lecture. I for one am a auditory learner. I learn by listening and watching. Even though I can learn by reading a book, or writing, I still have to stop and visualize a concept in order to understand it. I was a poor high school student for this reason. But when I got into college, I did an experiment, I stopped taking notes in a semester of classes. I simply watched and listened to the class room instruction then read the text. I made A's that year. Other people must learn by doing or learn by watching alone or learn by reading only, or any combination of these and others I haven't mentioned.
Additionally, It's been my experience that people find their natural niche in any culture or subculture. My speciality intelligence is interpersonal, which is why I believe I naturally gravitated to a life in psychology. But what would a person like me have done 10,000 years ago when we were hunter-gatherers? Probably Shaman or tribal comedian. A psychologist wrote a book a few years ago (the title escapes me at present) about what shapes a child's personality. His studies concluded that peer influence and a child seeking a social ecological niche is what makes the personality. We all have our niche in the world. The key is knowing what it is and knowing how to profit from it. That is the true key to success and not leaving any child behind.