I really do not know where to start this post and it seems strange to have to write it. There are too many issues to go into in one blog so I will keep this one focussed on what I see to be a highly problematic statement from an influential educator.
David seems to have become an expert on genetics of late and a few of his blog posts have sought to bring this knowledge directly to bear on his views on education. In a recent post, David suggested that parenting has little effect on adult behaviour. He was asked the following question and responded to it in the comments section.
The key thing here is what the comment does not say. The statement does not mention why there is a difference in observed IQ scores and as a result, it transmits a view, intended or not, that ‘race’, with all the negative and historical associations with the term, is the key determinant of IQ.
There was one other issue and it was the use of ‘racial difference’. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Genetically, ‘race’ has no basis. The observed characteristics, the phenotype, that seem to signify ‘race’ are selective. We usually associate skin colour with this but it could easily be on the size of feet or the length of the nose. However, a phenotype is an expression of the genetic code (genotype) and environment. To give you one example of how fluid the notion of ‘race’ is, since adulthood I have been allocated to a variety of groups based on my physical appearance (and funnily enough, my geographic location at the time):
- Egyptian/North African
- Puerto Rican
- A Moor
If you want more historical examples of the fluidity of ‘race’ (before the advent of genetics), please see some of the suggested reading below. The point is that the term ‘race’ is a social construction (which does not mean that there is no social power to the term). What about the genetic code or genotype? This passage explains it better than I can:
Accumulating evidence since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 suggests that genetically determined race differences in IQ are a priori unlikely, rather than likely. We now know that there are approximately three billion nucleotide base pairs in the haploid human genome, and direct assessment of genetic variation has revealed that the average proportion of these bases that differ between a human being and a chimpanzee is less than 2%; that the difference between a randomly chosen pair of human beings is approximately 0.1%; and that only 10% of that 0.1%, hence 0.01% of human DNA, differs between European, African, and Asian populations—far less than had previously been assumed. Race differences in IQ: Hans Eysenck’s contribution to the debate in the light of subsequent research, 2016.
The paper is also interesting in that it covers other research which contrasts the view of ‘race’= IQ (see the reference below).
The statement made by David organised people into ‘races’, making those categories seem real and associating particular social/intellectual/genetic characteristics to groups. That is why I said it was scientific racism; a pseudoscientific belief that evidence exists to classify groups into races and denote superior/inferior performance based on the classification. How does this translate into a classroom? Well, at its worst, it reinforces and creates stereotypes which can limit children. Watching older family members being pushed into sports rather than being encouraged to focus on academic courses due to the colour of their skin has left a lasting impression. And ultimately, it is precisely this sort of worst case scenario that this sort of thinking can lead to.
Is David a racist? I don’t know and I was deliberate in saying that the comment was an example of scientific racism. What I do know is that the reply smacks of arrogance and laziness. It is lazy because David has not simply done the work on the subject. If he had, I like to believe that he would have not written the statement and would have couched it much more carefully. It is arrogant because David appears to be an expert on ‘race’, IQ and the history behind it, which he is clearly not. David’s ‘expertise’ seems to change on a monthly basis. I worry what September will bring.
I’m not interested in punishing David or removing him from positions; that is not my style at all. What I would ask anyone interested in this issue is to read as much as you can, question as much as you can and support the young people in front of you as much as you can. Knowledge is a liberator but you have to seek it out.
Some reading to get you started.
- The Real Problem with Charles Murray and “The Bell Curve” https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-real-problem-with-charles-murray-and-the-bell-curve/
- Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows https://partners.nytimes.com/library/national/science/082200sci-genetics-race.html
- Race differences in IQ: Hans Eysenck’s contribution to the debate in the light of subsequent research https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/npb/people/amc/articles-pdfs/racediff
- “Scientific racism” is on the rise on the right. But it’s been lurking there for years. https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/3/28/15078400/scientific-racism-murray-alt-right-black-muslim-culture-trump
- The Meaning of Race by Kenan Malik
- Oxford Readings in Philosophy: Race and Racism edited by Bernard Boxill
- Oxford Readers: Racism edited by Martin Bulmer and John Solomos