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A Cure for Low IQs

February 10, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

There’s a particularly interesting researcher at the University of Otago called Jim Flynn. He’s a Mac user so I have helped him with his computer a few times and he’s quite a character, but more importantly, he is one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject of IQ. He even has an effect named after him: the Flynn Effect, which is the observation that IQ scores have been steadily increasing over the last few decades (specifically, he found that IQs of children aged between 5 and 10 years increased at up to half a point a year over the last 28 years).

But his latest research contradicts his own effect! He found that teenagers in England are less intelligent than a generation ago. There are some issues here. First, what does IQ actually measure? Its not a perfect indicator of intelligence, whatever that is. Also, this study is specifically about teenagers in England so it might not apply to other groups.

But if we ignore these problems what is the explanation? He suggested that the reduction could be because of lifestyle changes, including more time spent watching television and playing video games. He also suggested that schools now tend to “teach to the test” which didn’t encourage logical or creative thinking.

He thought that children have had their cognitive environment improved by their parents before they reach their teens but after that they become more self sufficient and their IQ suffers as a result (I must mention this point to my teenage daughter!)

I am not a teacher myself, but I have a teenage daughter and a younger son at school, plus my wife is a teacher, so I think I have a reasonable idea of how teaching is done. I don’t see many signs of school teaching their students how to think, how to study, or teaching much in the general area of philosophy or logic. OK, so these topics might seem a bit dry at first glance, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think philosophical discussions could be made relevant and interesting by the right teachers.

I blogged about this in an entry titled “Dogmatism vs Relativism” on 2009-01-23. On that occasion I had listened to a podcast which included school lessons asking kids some deeply philosophical questions. They never got a good answer to those questions, but that’s not what philosophy is really about anyway (has any deep philosophical question ever really been answered by philosophers? I don’t think so, although some have been answered by scientists). Its the actual discussion of the questions, the understanding of the complexity of the questions, and the way the discussions proceed which are important.

So maybe there should be a compulsory philosophy component in every year of school. I think many school students would actually enjoy it, I’m sure many teachers would also enjoy teaching it (they would have to be the right sort of person) and it might just help to offset the mind numbing effects of watching the average TV program!

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  1. Jacqui
    February 10, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Spot on about the ‘teach to test’ theory. People are not given the freedom to think freely at school. Opinions are punished and anyone who thinks out side the square and asks questions or wants a good debate is considered a pain.

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