This week, a student in Sacramento made international headlines when he put up a science fair project on “Race and IQ.”
The high school sophomore’s presentation hypothesized that perhaps the lack of black, Southeast Asian and Hispanic students in the school’s magnet program could be blamed on IQ differentials among various races. To support that hypothesis, the student had his peers take an online IQ test, and then reported that “non-Hispanic whites and Northeast Asians have an IQ advantage of fifteen points over blacks and Southwest Asians, and 10 points over nonwhite Hispanics.”
This is idiotic.
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Pernicious views don’t disappear through censorship. They disappear when those who hold them are taught actual facts.
Not because the kid was right: The project seems silly, at best. If, for example, the student wanted to prove that his magnet school class was representative of the people who passed a particular IQ threshold, he could have judged admittees and non-admittees as individuals, rather than by race. He could have shown that the people who were in the program had higher IQs than the people outside the program, and that no bias was in evidence.
Instead, the kid decided to suggest that the lack of black students in the magnet program, for example, was a result of lower general black IQ. That’s misreading the data. The general black IQ says nothing about whether a particular black person should be admitted to the magnet program.
Now, it is true that there are observed differences in virtually every study ever done between average IQ of racial groups. But the biological barriers between racial groups are somewhat (but not entirely) fluid, there is high variation of IQ within groups, and there has been significant movement in IQ scores over time within groups as well. (For example, the so-called Flynn Effect shows consistently that more recently born members of groups who take IQ tests score higher than their older forebears.)
It is also unclear to what extent genetics determine average group IQ, and to what extent culture does – so, for example, if culture shaped IQ, the counter-case could be made that schools should work to enrich lower-IQ students in order to close the supposed IQ gap.
And herein lies the problem. The kid in question has been shellacked for his politically incorrect opinions – The Sacramento Bee reports that other students find his opinions obnoxious. But isn’t it the responsibility of teachers and administrators to teach rather than stigmatize?
Pernicious views don’t disappear through censorship. They disappear when those who hold them are taught actual facts. Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker presented the problem well in a recent lecture: “The politically correct Left is doing itself an enormous disservice when it renders certain topics undiscussable, especially when the facts are clearly behind them because they leave people defenseless the first time they hear them against the most extreme and indefensible conclusions possible.” It’s the job of our schools to ensure that students hear the facts – all of them.
Instead, we’re hiding uncomfortable facts from students. And that prompts some curious students to draw the most extreme conclusions, even if those conclusions are incorrect.
If the school district’s idea here was to convince the student in question that he was wrong about his take on race and IQ, they’ve failed: Instead, they’ve convinced the student that he was right, and that he’s being silenced on a district-wide level.
That’s foolhardy. Schools are places for learning, even if that learning forces teachers out of their comfort zones.
The student should have gotten a C on his project. The school system should get an F for its response.
Ben Shapiro is a Los Angeles-based political columnist and editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, a conservative news and opinion website. He can be reached at @BenShapiro.