Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Education and Environment

I have decided I have been projecting in trying to understand the resistance many people have to the high-heritability, low environmental influence on adult abilities. I will set forth our story, but I want to read what others think.

I don't think Tracy and I had more than an informal consensus when we married of how much of children's intelligence, determination, reading skill, charm ( hundred other abilities) is due to genetics .  I think we would have acknowledged that there was some. Yet it was an era when all psychology, psychology, anthropology, and educational theory insisted that environment was nearly everything, and we absorbed the lessons of our times.  Our behavior right from the outset illustrates our belief that environmental factors are enormous and critical.  We started teaching Sunday School and taking in foster children within a few months of marriage; she was reliably The Book Aunt right out of the gate. We read to Jonathan the first day he was born, and did not miss many days even when he was well into school. Family devotions, expressions of affection, arts, history, science were creatively attacked year upon year.  It spilled out to our friends' children and we eventually adopted a few.  We stopped at every historical marker and chatted about it afterward; we went to medieval events in costume, with instruction on the way there and the way back.  As the twig is bent...

We were pretty much nuts, but mostly joyfully so and it mostly (not always) worked, for our family and those we were in contact with. We embraced and tried to put into play all the child-raising knowledge we could get our hands on: critical periods and the other Montessori tropes; learning styles; careful expositions of how one taught repentance and forgiveness; multisensory instruction; something pretty close to a homeschooling curriculum on top of sending them to private Christian schools; preserving independent learning and autodidacticism. Even as I began learning in the 1980's how much is hardwired, there was significant inertia for...well, we've still got Kyle, who is 20, and we still discuss exactly how we are going to present certain ideas, undermine others, and create an environment for him to learn his next life lessons.

From this all of you can make some good guesses why I would resist that idea that this was mostly extraneous effort.  I am also deeply moved by the unfairness of a world where a great deal of child's outcome is ranged even before she is born.  I believe that mild alterations in environment can create large differences, in that you might grow up in Michigan instead of New Mexico, or marry a woman who develops a terrible illness, or hear a particular preacher on a particular day.  And differences might of course lead to diverse outcomes. Yet I am also aware that you might be a shy chemical engineer with a worrisome attraction to children but no expression of that no matter where you ended up living, and end you life with one of ten very similar biographies. (There does seem to be a nonenvironmental, likely random element that may explain as much as 50% of the variance on some traits. That's a little different.)

Twice over at Maggie's in the past day or so there has been discussion of women in math and science, and the usefulness of pre-K.  Greg Cochran has just yesterday gone over some of the standard data about group differences, with specific references to famous academics who seem unable to absorb even the simplest parts of it. There is this persistence, a stubbornness, in clinging to the idea that so many pathologies are fixable if we just make the proper changes in the environment.  I have mostly assumed that I understand this reluctance to accept genetic explanations, because I read my own feelings into it.  Yet my feelings may not be at all representative.

We accept that height is largely heritable, but weight...not so much. We see that a musical knack and sometimes genius seems to be "just there," and not teachable, yet we still focus on the 10,000 hours of hard work as the key. For schools especially, liberals and conservatives have visions of how things should be organised, and we get very upset about the cultural discussions.

Yet, why? There is this idea that we just don't want to believe, no matter the evicence.

Those who have some insight into how abilities and education are viewed in other countries, especially non-Anglospheric, non NW European countries are encouraged to weigh in on that as well.

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