Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The True Defeatists

vonzastrowc's picture

Last week, I took a couple of swipes at Charles Murray's fatalistic, offensive, and oddly persistent claim that many children (by which he generally means poor children and children of color) are largely ineducable.

Richard Nisbett does a much better job of tackling Murray's arguments in his recent book, Intelligence and How to Get It. (The New York Times reviewed Nisbett's book on Sunday.) IQ is malleable, he argues, so it makes all the sense in the world to help struggling students excel academically.

Any educator worth his or her salt subscribes to this view. Still, Murray's work lives on. It earns respectful reviews even from people who generally know better.

Murray's persistence should focus the mind of anyone interested in improving the lot of children. Overblown media reports of battles between school reformers and those who believe schools alone cannot easliy close achievement gaps are distracting attention from the true enemies of improvement.

Some commentators have compounded the confusion by lumping Charles Murray and major proponents of the schools-plus Approach together in the same "defeatist" camp. The latter argue that schools cannot close achievement gaps without strong community and political supports. The former argues that neither schools nor communities--nor anyone else--can close achievement gaps, because those gaps reflect students' immutable intellectual abilities.

In fact, the true defeatists abhor both in-school and out-of-school strategies to close achievement gaps and promote equal opportunity. And they're not going away any time soon.