Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Bell Curve author Charles Murray plumped for the related ideas that "Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited" and that "too many Americans are going to college."
At TCS Daily today, Arnold Kling responds thus:
Historically, European and Japanese youth were subjected to very severe tracking. An exam taken in one's early teens would determine whether the person is destined for higher education or for trade school. What Murray is suggesting strikes me as similar.
Formal tracking is distasteful, for a number of reasons. First, I believe that it is better to have multiple, competing elites than to go the route of having an "upper class" and a "lower class." Disparate elites are more easily penetrated by outsiders, which is important. Disparate elites also provide natural checks and balances. A unified elite would be a frightening proposition.
Second, the American narrative rests on equal opportunity. We know that people are born with advantages and disadvantages, but we like to think that we provide reasonable chances for people to overcome disadvantages and move up the social and economic ladder. Making college accessible to as many people as possible may represent a misguided attempt to err on the side of providing opportunities for upward mobility that are not realistic. However, formal tracking policies err in the other direction, by restricting opportunity. As an American, I see holding someone down with an artificial ceiling as a much more serious offense than extending a futile helping hand that fails to lift someone up….
I do not know what education models would emerge in a dynamic market. However, unless human ability is as rigid and one-dimensional as Charles Murray presumes, a dynamic market would produce diverse educational methods and opportunities rather than tracking into an educational hierarchy.
Whole response, well worth reading, here. It's worth underscoring what Kling says above: Murray's bits in the WSJ do not explicitly argue in favor of increased tracking, though that's a clear implication.
Future Nobel laureate James Heckman exhaustive critiqued The Bell Curve for Reason here.
Ronald Bailey and I interviewed Murray about a more recent book, 2003's Human Accomplishment, here.
Brian Doherty looked at the not-so-secret history of the SAT here.