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COLUMNIST: Higher IQ's cluster at the upper end

I've been reading a book called "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life." Whew, which is what you should be thinking, along with "what's wrong with him, can't he find a nice mystery or biography to read?"

This book is the one that lit up the world about 10 years ago when the Harvard authors came out and speculated that there is a difference between people, and a difference between races, when it comes to IQ, or intelligence.

It doesn't take an IQ test to differentiate higher levels of intelligence from lower, they said on about page 180; if the reader got this far, they're in the upper half. If you're reading this, and you read newspapers, you're also likely in the upper half of the bell curve, which is actually shaped like a bell which represents the distribution of people and their intelligence, with the majority of people clustered around the top part of the bell, and the downslopes both ways show a decreasing number of people who are more--and less--intelligent.

Basically what this book is saying is several things, but mainly that higher intelligent people are clustering at the upper end of American life, due to several factors, which we'll run through shortly. This clustering, the authors believe, will end up badly for our country if we cannot find some way to reduce the effects of two groups of people, one group being the "haves," the other the "have-nots."

The word "egalitarian" means equal. Quite often it is applied to democracy, which we mostly believe was created because all men--and women, now--are also equal. However, hang onto your thinking cap, the authors say: "People who are free to behave differently from one another (as in a democracy) in the important affairs of daily life inevitably generate the social and economic inequalities that egalitarianism (as in equal in a democracy) seeks to suppress."

By this last part, they're saying that people in a democracy, by its vary nature, meaning we're all equal, are also free to pursue different goals within that democracy, which will result in us not being equal in yearly income.

Thomas Jefferson believed that the purpose of education was to prepare the natural aristocracy (meaning the more intelligent) to govern. He said: "The best geniuses should be 'raked from the rubbish' annually by competitive grading and examinations." He did believe also that this "aristocracy" of leaders should be mixed in with the general population to do the most good. He didn't foresee, for example, career politicians.

The American founders saw that making government stable would be difficult because citizens were unequal in every respect except for their right to pursue their own interests.

Let's take a quick look at how these authors believe American society is dividing itself top from bottom.

In 1950, we went from one in fifty going to college to one in three, and we became much more efficient at getting the top students of that bunch into college. How? By giving them intelligence tests in the form of SATs and ACTs. In 1964, outright IQ tests were banned as the basis for selecting people for whatever positions by the Supreme Court, but that doesn't affect the college entry tests listed above, in which the higher IQs do better. Now that the higher intelligences are going to college, they're going to make more money, and they're going to be able to buy things that the other two-thirds cannot.

If they can do that, then the differences between these two groups of people will show up in what is called socioeconomic status, or SES. This higher earning group will be better able to send their kids to better colleges, which will accentuate further the divide between the two groups.

This higher earning group will also distinguish itself from the lower earning group in several other ways:

1. It will tend to live in neighborhoods with others of its group, which means their schools will tend to be paid more attention to by the parents, which will result in better schools, and better preparation for college.

2. Higher IQ raises the probability of marriage for this group, while lower IQ raises the probability of having children out of wedlock.

3. Higher IQ women have a tendency to have fewer children; lower have more.

4. Higher IQ women won't have their first of fewer children until average age of 30; lower IQ women will have their first child at the age of 20. Right here is where the real divide begins, according to these authors. Now we have a group that is below average intelligence having more children sooner, which they speculate will aggravate the already definable split in American society.

5. The prison population will continue to explode, as continued analysis of inmates' IQs shows a below average intelligence. For this study, they used as a factor whether a huge sample group had ever even been questioned by police in regard to behavior, not just whether or not they were behind bars.

6. Poverty will continue to be unsolvable, not because we're not trying, but because that group's socioeconomic status will be self perpetuating, based on intelligence.

7. People with education (which means cognitively above average) will vote more, likely for their interests. Lower SESs will not.

8. All attempts at raising IQs have been unsuccessful. All follow-up data show that any effects of such attempts with the young were not permanent.

So, what to do? This book caused a lot of folks to become extremely upset. The big questions revolve around affirmative action efforts: Do we let people into Princeton and Harvard and other colleges on intelligence? Or on need? SES? Race? Income? Religion? Motivation? Which?

In Minnesota, in MnSCU, we have what is called "open enrollment." Is that the answer? Look at the college graduation statistics and see the drop-out rate. Did we do right by those students by giving them something to fail at right out of high school?

The questions raised by this book are fiercely attention getting.

It's just that the answers are, too.