The concept of innate ability

The concept of innate ability

Ever more horrific expressions of educational policy appear in the Press. Now there are even those who say that Firsts should not be given for a certain level of marks in an exam, since that might be the result of innate ability, but should be awarded for exceptionally hard work by a person of average ability, regardless of the actual outcome. But a person of exceptional ability is usually to some extent disadvantaged by taking the exam at too late an age, and it is easy for the disadvantage to be increased by the years in which his education was at the mercy of other people, who, as we know, accept no responsibility whatever for making arrangements that are suited to the individual.

People talk very unsympathetically about ‘chips on the shoulder’. Someone writing about Mensa recently said that many of the members ‘have a deep-rooted anger that is quite terrifying’. But I am sure they don’t really know what hit them and take it out on each other rather than forming any realistic co-operative enterprise to get themselves into the sorts of positions in life in which they should be.

And it is pretty clear that they are not campaigning for anything that might be in the interests of high IQs, such as the abolition of state education or at least an awareness of its dangers on the part of the parents of high IQ children. A mother sued an education authority for not recognising the special needs of her daughter; the judgement given was that, although she had dyslexia, since her high IQ had enabled her to keep up to the average standard for her chronological, although not mental, age, the authority had been under no obligation to recognise or provide for her special needs.

I had extraordinary difficulty in obtaining a transcript of the case, but did succeed in obtaining a copy of the judgement before confused excuses for not providing the rest began to be given. It existed, it did not exist, the transcript had been made by someone who had left and taken it away with him, nobody knew where a copy was, nobody knew his address. Eventually it was stated that transcripts of cases of this type were not made. I wrote to the mother, care of Mensa, asking for any notes she had on what had gone on, but (presumably because my intentions were clearly polemical) she did not reply.

Discussing the attitudes expressed in the Press with someone recently, I mentioned the case of Sir Edward Marshall Hall, the barrister. As an undergraduate, he paid another to write his essays for him. At the last moment he crammed continuously, and having a high IQ and phenomenal memory, got a First. An equally good First might have been achieved by someone with a lower IQ who had worked continuously, but it was the ability which enabled him to get a First in Law with a few weeks of intensive work which led to his eminent success in his profession, with his rapid grasp of all the details of a case and brilliantly unpredictable cross-examinations. A person with a lower IQ but an equally good First would probably have been less good at the career for which the degree was a qualification.

Which is another illustration of the fact that the obtaining of qualifications by examination should be completely decoupled from periods of supposed preparation under supervision, whereas the current deplorable trend is in the direction of increasingly oppressive amalgamation of the two.