Genes and education

‘Genetics outweighs teaching, Gove adviser tells his boss’, ran the Guardian headline.

Clearly, though, his boss isn’t listening.

Yes, there’s pretty good evidence of a sizeable genetic component in people’s ability to score well in IQ tests.  Do you know what that means?

It means people are different.

It means that pupils in our schools differ fundamentally, and not just because of the relative fecklessness of their parents, or the relative laziness of their teachers.

It means that if you insist on one narrow set of measures of success (and I don’t just mean IQ tests), you will inevitably be condemning many pupils to failure however nastily you berate their parents, however much you undermine the morale of their teachers.

We know increasing amounts about the ways in which genes influence people’s medical history.  That is making us realise that no ‘one size fits all’ prescription will do; that we’re going to need to go further in the direction of personalised, customised interventions to help people be as healthy as they can be.

So, if we’re discovering increasing amounts about the ways in which genes influence people’s educational history…

4 Thoughts on “Genes and education

  1. In medicine they are discovering that genetics are much more complex in their out-working than one might think. A single genetic marker (let us, to speak personally, say a mutation that causes an inherited cardiomyopathy) can have quite a divergent impact in terms of disease on different subjects depending on its interaction with other genetic, environmental, and ‘we don’t always know quite what’ factors.

    Thus a move towards a genetic reductionism in education, or anything else, isn’t just ideologically horrible. It might well be bad science.

  2. Mike Higton on October 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm said:

    Yes, I should perhaps clarify that I find most of what Gove’s adviser actually said to be pernicious, and don’t think he’s drawing anything remotely like the right conclusions from the evidence he cites. And, yes, the possibilities of genetic reductionism in education are deeply frightening. Nevertheless, I don’t want to fight those dangerous possibilities by denying that there’s a sizeable genetic component in these things – but by drawing different conclusions from that fact.

  3. Conrad Brunstrom on October 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm said:

    Here’s the inspiring thing. My understanding is that the capacity of of every single human on this planet – given the number of combinations of brain-cell interaction available – is as close to infinite as we can imagine. The human brain – that’s every human brain – can come up with endless sequences of ideas. Do we all develop to our full potential? No – none of us do. To fulfil our true potential – we’d have to be infinitely duller organisms than we actually are.

    If we’re to “reduce” everything to biology – we shouldn’t miss out on the inspiring aspects of biology. To suggest that biology sets deterministic limits on our educative capacity is not just morally and politically wrong – it’s also bad science.

  4. Sureka on October 18, 2013 at 2:17 pm said:

    Our local primary school head showed this to parents (well, the interested ones who came to his talk).

    Perhaps if we insistent on educating all government advisors on understanding statistics and the interpretation of data….

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