February 17, 2009


This coming Wednesday night, February 18th, we are going to have our first Disputation. The subject will be this winter’s featured book, The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. One of the most interesting sections of the book is Bauerlein’s discussion of the Flynn Effect. James Flynn is a political scientist from New Zealand who has pointed out that IQ scores have been climbing consistently over the last seventy years. So, Bauerlein asks, why haven’t we arrived in “an era of genius”?

His answer is, in part, that IQ tests focus primarily on “abstract problem-solving ability” and not on “learned content” such as “vocabulary, math techniques, and cultural knowledge”, and we are thus not actually getting any smarter. However, I got a completely different perspective when I read Neil Postman’s book Technopoly (it was a Christmas present). Postman has this to say about intelligence testing:
After a lifetime of working in the field of intelligence measurement, EL Thorndike observed that intelligence tests suffer from three small defects: “Just what they measure is not know; how far it is proper to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and compute ratios with the measures obtained is not known; just what the measures obtained signify is not known”. In other words, those who administer intelligence tests quite literally do not know what they are doing.

Bauerlein admits that “IQ tests are controversial”, and his discussion of the Flynn Effect is reserved and appropriately skeptical—and, as I noted, he doesn’t buy into it anyway. But Postman’s outright rejection of such testing has left me thinking about the assumptions that our culture makes and how much work it is to continually counter those assumptions.

But work is easier in groups, and that’s why we are going to have our Disputation. I hope many of you can join us.

fr. aidan

No comments: