Book Alert: Intelligence and How to Get It

NisbettIntelligenceThere is no end to the debate over intelligence: how to define and measure it, how much of it is hereditary versus environmentally determined, and the extent to which it can be altered via purposeful interventions. The latest book-length entry into this debate is University of Michigan psychology professor Richard Nisbett’s rebuttal of Charles Murray, Richard Herrnstein, Arthur Jensen, and other “hereditarians,” entitled Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. The volume also serves as a partial, if unintended, rebuttal of today’s “broader, bolder” crowd and their assertion that schools cannot boost the life prospects of poor children. With Howard Gardner and others, Nisbett contends that intelligence takes multiple forms; that traditional IQ (and achievement) tests fail to capture this rich variety; that environment and education play larger roles than genetics; and that a handful of purposeful schoolcentric interventions (e.g., KIPP, Reading Recovery, Perry Preschool) have shown promise in boosting the intelligence of poor and minority youngsters. He acknowledges, though, that home, family, and culture matter enormously, and that a major source of today’s gaps is the extraordinarily discrepant experiences that children have outside of school. This leads to advice for parents “to increase the intelligence of your child and yourself,” though Nisbett focuses on such “21st-century” skills as “problem-solving” rather than reading books, acquiring knowledge, and gaining understanding. Of course, the parents most apt to follow his recommendations already have kids on the upside of the learning gap.

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