Thereís a bit of a brouhaha going on just now. Has to do with some comments made by a local official regarding genetics, intelligence, and race. Weíll get back to that. First, however, some thoughts on ability and intelligence.
As a young man in college, I realized that Iíd reached my zenith (and it wasnít particularly high) in mathematics somewhere in trigonometry and, even there, I was struggling. Unfortunately, the requirements for my college graduation included several courses in calculus and other arcane branches of the subject.
I scraped through only because my roommate - a math jock - tutored me and my professors gave me a bucket load of credit for effort.
I have a daughter who has an artistic streak thatís a mile wide, but who canít seem to learn a foreign language no matter the effort she puts into it. Her brain just isnít wired that way.
Too, I used to hunt with a surgeon who could wander through a personís innards without missing a beat. In the area of organization, however, he couldnít manage a one-car funeral if you spotted him the car and put him in a tunnel with the cemetery at the end.
Would such show that either of these individuals were less intelligent? Than what?
And then we come to variables.
If youíve read this column for any length of time, you know that Iíve been around firearms since Moses wore short pants. Recently, I decided to begin reloading my own ammunition for better accuracy. Itís humbled me.
Looks simple, doesnít it? A cartridge is simply a bullet, a case, some powder and a primer. Put them together and accuracy beats a path to your door. At least, thatís what you think until you start dealing with the variables.
How much of what type powder do you stuff into the case? Whatís the bulletís weight? How deeply do you set it in the cartridge? How long is the barrel? Is it worn or new? Was it warm or cold when you loaded the cartridge? Will it be that temperature when you hunt?
It all matters because itís all interrelated and the results can vary in the extreme. And thatís just for a four-part cartridge. When you look at humans, intelligence, and learning, the variables increase by orders of magnitude.
What are someoneís strengths? Where are they weak? Was their family interested in education or did they care not a whit? Were they pushed and prodded and encouraged or were they told all along that they were dumb? Was their school comfortable and safe or was it a war zone? Did they have good teachers? Did they stay in one school or did they frequently move from one place to another?
How were they raised? Did they have a stable family? Were they loved when they were young or were they ignored or, worse, abused? Did they eat well as a child or did proper nutrition pass them by? Were they healthy? Could they see the blackboard clearly or hear distinctly?
I could go on, but I think you get the drift.
Are there individuals who are more adept at learning and understanding certain things? Obviously, but even the smartest amongst us have limitations. I doubt that William Shakespeare could have explained planetary motion and Iíd bet that Albert Einstein couldnít have churned out ďThe Merchant of VeniceĒ on his best day.
Trying to sort out the basis of intelligence and ability in individuals is tough enough because of all of the overlapping variables. Further complicating things is the fact that, at the genetic level, weíre all a lot more alike than we are different. Iíd also offer that discussions of racially based intelligence are just plain dumb - if only because the first reaction of most will be to form battle lines with flags flying.
Since this all came up in a local educational arena, Iíd say that our time would be better spent figuring out how to give our kids the best education possible and working to improve societal influences (which seem to have passed awful some time back) in order to point them in the right direction rather than placing them on a downward spiral into a moral sewer.