Murray on Education

When I stumble upon something that clearly expresses how I feel about a subject, it is a sheer delight to read. Brain candy to be enjoyed and hoarded. I immediately thank the god of the world wide web (aside: I think I will nominate Ganesha as the ruling deity of the www as he represents wisdom and learning) and kiss the LCD display with gratitude. I carefully save a copy on my laptop and email a dozen people hoping they would drop everything and read the gem I discovered. The great thing about brain candy — as opposed to regular candy — is that it is a public good — you can distribute them to everyone without ever diminishing the amount available to anyone.

Anyway, here is something that I enjoyed and wish to share with you. Charles Murray concludes his three part essay in the WSJ editorial pages (Jan 2007) with these words:

The aim here is not to complete an argument but to begin a discussion; not to present policy prescriptions, but to plead for greater realism in our outlook on education. Accept that some children will be left behind other children because of intellectual limitations, and think about what kind of education will give them the greatest chance for a fulfilling life nonetheless. Stop telling children that they need to go to college to be successful, and take advantage of the other, often better ways in which people can develop their talents. Acknowledge the existence and importance of high intellectual ability, and think about how best to nurture the children who possess it.

There are lots of quotable lines in there but it is best read in context.

Intelligence in the Classroom — Half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them.

What’s Wrong With Vocational School? — Too many Americans are going to college.

Aztecs vs. Greeks — Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise.

Author: Atanu Dey


6 thoughts on “Murray on Education”

  1. Brain Candy, True. Good readings on the wwww inspires feelings similar to what you have described in the first paragraph (a friend of mine likes to call it as an ‘intellectual orgasm’!).
    The third piece is especially pertinent and Murray writes so brilliantly about this oft ignored subject that its difficult to say more.Also, IQ is a limiting factor in learning something or becoming an expert in something. I dont think practice alone can make anyone an expert. (
    Even people with very high IQ are prone to suspension of thought but this is something where right education might help. Btw, do you know about Germany’s education system?


  2. Absolutely wonderful set of articles. I’d also say that these questions and discussions are very relevant from an Indian context as well.

    Many of our IIT-ians, for instance, go on to take up jobs and professions completely unrelated to their disciplines in college. What’s really happened is that the entrance test seems to do the job of filtering the high-IQ types who then go through the charade of engineering at an IIT, after which the badge can be used to open a lot of doors. That’s the way it is. And there are many such parallels we can draw from an Indian context in these articles.

    Education is something that has to play a pivotal role in determining how well our country will do in terms of development and progress over the next few decades. My only caveat is that we should start to think ‘training’, along with ‘education’, because the former is a very focused subset of the latter, and is a very direct enabler towards productivity. And a targeted approach towards industrializing training in our country will begin to have immediate and direct benefits!


  3. The author claims that a person without a degree from a top university can walk into Google or Microsoft, show their prowess, and get a job. However, he does not explain his sources on this conclusion, and hence leaving me to wonder if this was just his hypothesis.

    Just take a look at the rank and file of these companies, and you will notice how selective these places are. Most employees at these places are from the top 20 universities with advanced degrees.

    BTW, the author’s “Bell Curve” book was quite controversial when it came out.

    Thanks for posting the links.


  4. An excellent collection of essays. Truly worth the term brain candy. However, just to play devil’s advocate, Murray’s fundamental premise is intelligence as established by IQ. I cannot bring myself to agree to the fact that IQ is a complete, immutable and 100% accurately measurable characteristic. Given the inherent imperfection in this characteristic, it would be hazardous to segregate developing children into buckets especially since large numbers would be on cusps. Having said that, I do agree with the general sentiments of the essay and it really brings out the advantages of recognizing the public good that can be effected (and *is* generally effected) by the highest IQ individuals in any society and even more by recognizing the need for these individuals to be, above all, wise instead of smug victors in an imagined contest (as the competitive Indian society encourages these achievers to feel).


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