30 June 2019

Financing special education

From Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man:
The difference between strict hereditarians and their opponents is not, as some caricatures suggest, the belief that a child’s performance is all inborn or all a function of environment and learning. [...] The differences are more a matter of social policy and educational practice.

Hereditarians view their measures of intelligence as markers of permanent, inborn limits. Children, so labelled, should be sorted, trained according to their inheritance and channelled into professions appropriate for their biology. Mental testing becomes a theory of limits.

Antihereditarians [...] test in order to identify and help. Without denying the evident fact that not all children, whatever their training, will enter the company of Newton and Einstein, they emphasize the power of creative education to increase the achievements of all children, often in extensive and unanticipated ways. [...]

A partially inherited low IQ might be subject to extensive improvement through proper education. And it might not. The mere fact of its heritability permits no conclusion. *
The debate about heritability of IQ has become less about the science of whether, and to what extent, intelligence is inherited; and more about the politics of whether resources should be devoted to helping those with a relatively low measured IQ to ‘catch up’.

What Gould, and others, tend to omit from their discussions is the question of whether ‘should’ in this context means voluntary or compulsory contributions.

It might mean that people should be encouraged to donate to voluntary organisations who would then provide what Gould refers to above as ‘proper education’. In practice, however, it usually means that the government should devote tax revenue to the problem, implying that the ‘contributions’ are to be collected coercively.

* Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, Penguin 1997, pp.182-183, 186.