THE BELL CURVE Goes to College: Charles Murray’s REAL EDUCATION, pt 1

1. Why Am I Blogging this Book?

Over the break, I purchased Charles Murray’s Real Education, along with several other higher-ed related books.  I’ve read through RE once already, and will be blogging some of the chapters as I reread them.

In case your memory is short (or wikipedia is unavailable), Charles Murray is a conservative social scientist, best known for his book The Bell Curve.  There he and Richard Herrnstein argue that intelligence is the factor most central to determining success in life (as broadly defined), and that intelligence is heavily influenced by environmental and “inherited” factors.  

(I say “inherited,” because, while Herrnstein and Murray tried to leave the question of a genetic [thus racial] factor open, their critics seized upon that aspect and read the book through it.  In other words, their critics accused H&M of saying that some races were less intelligent than others, and that this disparity was the reason for inequality, etc.–something H&M were NOT saying.)

I am interested in this book for three main reasons:

  1. I have eight years of experience in the college classroom, teaching core classes to a broad cross-section of undergraduates, plus four years of experience in higher education administration.  In those years, I have done my best to help my students succeed.  I hope this book will help me better understand some of the factors that facilitate success.
  2. I am the father of three college-aged students (one a recent graduate.)  My children are brilliant (of course), but they differ in their brilliance.  My eldest daughter is effortlessly intelligent at a broad variety of topics, and can without much effort learn and do anything she wants to learn / do.  My middle daughter’s intelligence is more focused on the humanities (language, literature, theology), and she works diligently to achieve.  My son (the youngest) is an amazing writer and reader, but has little interest in other areas of learning.  I want to understand how my own son and daughters differ academically, so that I can give them better counsel regarding their ongoing educational pursuits.
  3. One of my observations over my years in higher education is that students are regressing cognitively.  What I mean is: in terms of reasoning, self-management, and higher-level learning, the college freshmen of 2014 are not as mature as the college freshmen of 2004 were.  This is borne out by research done at Lubbock Christian University, which showed that college freshman of 2005 were reasoning at the level that high school freshmen reasoned at in 1994.  One of Murray’s complaints is that college today must do what high schools did in decades previous.  As an educator, I want to understand this dynamic better and to shape the curriculum, policies, and processes of my school–Dallas Christian College–in light of it.  “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” as someone once said.

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