Saturday, May 24, 2003

Nothing is decreed by fate

Philippine Commentary has been encouraging support for the Books for the Barrios program, which is a systematic effort largely by Filipino-Americans, to improve the quality of education in the Philippines.  The Spectator pointed to research by Ulster-based academic Richard Lynn showing a strong correlation between Intelligence Quotients (IQ) and economic development.

"right at the bottom of the heap are the impoverished sub-Saharan countries with average IQs of about 60 or 70 (15 or more points lower than the average for blacks in Western countries). Then come the slightly richer but still poor north African and Arab countries, with average IQs of about 80 or 90. Next are the European countries, the West in general, with Britain standing quite high up in that bunch (102). Finally, and predictably, come the top IQ countries: the high-tech or high-growth Asian countries: Japan, Korea, China."

In order to achieve national progress, building minds is often more important than building roads. But concrete and steel can be indisputably poured. Can minds be developed so easily? The factors underlying intelligence are far from understood. The American Psychological Association says some people are more intelligent than others, but we still don't know why.

Some comfort may be derived from the Flynn Effect, the observation by New Zealand academic James R. Flynn that IQs have been rising over time despite a relatively stable genetic pool. While we don't understand exactly why, something is happening which is truly,  not spuriously increasing the cognitive ability of people all over the world -- at least those who do not live dysfunctional societies.

Flynn now believes that changes in the environment which encourage learning, which challenge thinking and which provide a positive peer feedback for learning help increase intelligence. The greatest contribution of programs like Books for the Barrios is to make being smart cool again. Jose Rizal knew 22 languages. Heber Bartolome only wanted to learn one.

Mayrong isang aso, daig pa ang ulol
Siya'y ngumingiyaw, hindi tumatahol
Katulad ng iba, painglis-inglis pa
Na kung pakikinggan, mali-mali naman
Wag na lang.

(Translation by Wretchard)

There was a stupid dog, who did not know his place.
It mewled just like a cat, oblivious of it's race.
Like some I know, who leak English from their face,
all their pretensions just leave them in disgrace.
Leave me where I am.