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Actually, It's 'E' Before 'I'

by Sean Gonsalves

"If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women. If much depends...on the early education of youth and the first principles which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women." - Abigail Adams

Thanks to my family support network, I never fully internalized the idea that most, if any, of my private-school peers were more intelligent than me. But, I did assume that everyone outside my family did.

That's why I never asked for help in school. I wrongly thought that asking for help amounted to an admission that black people were, in fact, inferior, as was periodically pronounced from the ivory towers of academia and other corners of the race-conscious IQ industry.

Fortunately, I was able to flip that negativity into motivation. But when I read about the remarks made recently by the esteemed biologist James Watson, I winced at the thought of how many black youngsters might continue to internalize the destructive but persistent message that they are inherently less intelligent. And I wonder if they too will turn that negativity into motivation.

Far from the modern conservative utopia of a "color-blind society," Euro-centric racial chauvinism seems to rear its ugly head in the popular press every few years or so - from the eugenics of Arthur Jensen to Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's Bell Curve to Dr. Watson, renowned for his role in describing the double-helix structure of DNA and for representing America on the international Human Genome Project.

Watson told the London Sunday Times he's "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."

He expressed a hope for human equality but added that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true." And here we go again.

But did you hear about the recent work of African-American economist Roland Fryer of Harvard University and University of Chicago economist Steve Leavitt, who co-authored the popular book Freakonomics?

Fryer and Leavitt responded to Watson's scientifically-unfounded claims by pointing to Department of Education research that includes test data of the mental abilities of one-year-olds.

"While you might think it would be impossible to capture anything meaningful at such a young age," Leavitt writes, "it turns out that these measures of one-year-olds' intelligence are somewhat highly correlated with IQ scores at later ages, as well as with parental IQ scores."

They found "no racial differences in mental functioning at age one, although a racial gap begins to emerge over the next few years of life....The observed patterns are broadly consistent with large racial differences in environmental factors that grow in importance as children age."

"We cannot rule out the possibility that intelligence has multiple dimensions and racial differences are present only in those dimensions that emerge later in life."

Their paper was rejected in the second round of reviews for publication in the American Economic Review. But, these findings do seem to dovetail with insights coming from cognitive scientists.

"The sort of learning a child acquires in kindergarten and the early grades is not the true foundation of her education," leading cognitive researcher Dr. Stanley Greenspan notes. "The 'three R's' and all that follows - symbolic and increasingly abstract academic knowledge - cannot be understood by a person who has not grasped the sequence of skills that make learning possible."

Greenspan is talking about the pre-school emotional roots of cognitive development. But, the trend in education, especially under No Child Left Behind, is to focus on external carrots and sticks when its internal emotive experience that primarily shapes the way brains grow and think.

If we were serious about increasing student academic achievement, we would see to it that all women get top-rate pre-natal and post-natal care, especially single-mothers of future students. Instead, legislation that would increase the number of children with access to health care - indispensable for physical and emotional health - gets vetoed in order to appease the private insurance industry.

If we were serious about ed reform, we would put a policy-emphasis on early childhood development, based on what science is telling us about the need for creating learning environments that have nothing to do with the "factory" test-taking model that typifies American public schools.

In the meantime, I've got to build up my three year-old son's EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) to counter the likelihood that his IQ will be questioned someday simply because of his skin color.

Sean Gonsalves is an assistant news editor for the Cape Cod Times and a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

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