Richard Nisbett has written what seems like a must-read for educators and, more specifically, education leaders titled Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count.
In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof talks about Nisbett’s book and what it might mean for our education system.
These three groups (Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks) may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories. In the debate over nature and nurture, they suggest the importance of improved nurture — which, from a public policy perspective, means a focus on education. Their success may also offer some lessons for you, me, our children — and for the broader effort to chip away at poverty in this country.
Richard Nisbett cites each of these groups in his superb recent book, “Intelligence and How to Get It.” Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that what we think of as intelligence is quite malleable and owes little or nothing to genetics.
Kristof talks about Nisbett’s research and agrees with Nisbett’s argument that perhaps intelligence is less dependent on genetics and more dependent on culture and hard work.
. . . the evidence is overwhelming that what is distinctive about these three groups is not innate advantage but rather a tendency to get the most out of the firepower they have.
This seems to support some of what Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers. It’s an interesting concept and one that we as educators need to pay more attention to. If it’s not so much about genetics and more about environment / culture, then we as educators (and society) have a responsibility that goes beyond just filling our students heads with content.
It’s that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren’t transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children.
The next step is intensive early childhood programs, followed by improved elementary and high schools and programs to defray college costs.
Perhaps the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive. As Professor Nisbett puts it, “Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control.”
One more book added to the summer reading list!