It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity
This is the problem when you deal with IQ abstractly and make value judgments without taking into account the failings of our horrendous education system. It may be true that the typical low-IQ student with a typical K-12 education exhibits the behaviors consistent with Murray's observations. But, that is as much an indictment of how that child was educated as much as the child's diminished cognitive ability.
In Murray's view, these low-IQ kids are cognitively crippled and incapable of higher learning. This is the conventional wisdom. It is also flatly wrong.
The false belief that characterizes the conventional wisdom about teaching is that lower performers learn in generically different ways from higher performers and should be held to a lower or looser standard. Evidence of this belief is that teachers frequently have different “expectations” for higher and lower performers. They expect higher performers to learn the material; they excuse lower performers from achieving the same standard of performance. Many teachers believe that lower performers are something like crippled children. They can walk the same route that the higher performers walk, but they need more help in walking.
These teachers often drag students through the lesson and provide a lot of additional prompting. They have to drag students because the students are making a very high percentage of first-time errors. In fact, the students make so many mistakes that it is very clear that they are not placed appropriately in the sequence and could not achieve mastery on the material in a reasonable amount of time. The teachers may correct the mistakes, and may even repeat some parts that had errors; however, at the end of the exercise, the students are clearly not near 100% firm on anything. Furthermore, the teacher most probably does not provide delayed tests to assess the extent to which these students have retained what had been presented earlier.
The information these teachers receive about low performers is that they do not retain information, that they need lots and lots of practice, and that they don’t seem to have strategies for learning new material. Ironically, however, all these outcomes are predictable for students who receive the kind of instruction these students have received. High performers receiving instruction of the same relative difficulty or unfamiliarity would perform the same way. Let’s say the lower performers typically have a first-time-correct percentage of 40%. If higher performers were placed in material that resulted in a 40% first-time-correct performance, their behavior would be like that of lower performers. They would fail to retain the material, rely on the teacher for help, not exhibit self-confidence, and continue to make the same sorts of mistakes again.
The primary differences between low-IQ kids and high-IQ kids is that the high-IQ kids learn faster and need less rehearsals (practice) to master the material taught. Low-IQ kids are capable of learning the same material, they just need more time and practice to learn it. The problem is that our schools were not designed to teach low-IQ children. Rosy progressive rhetoric notwithstanding, the song remains the same today.
Murray's observations are inaccurate because he's viewing the cognitive ability of low IQ kids through a filter of poor instruction. He should know better. He should know that you shouldn't draw conclusions from a failed experiment (other than it failed), in this case the failed experiment is the education of low-IQ kids. Let's look at the behaviors exhibited by low IQ kids when they have been successfully educated.
A good example comes from educator Jerry Silbert who wrote the following in response to Murray's article:
When the authors of Reasoning and Writing C and Reasoning Writing D were trying out the programs during their development, we found something very interesting. Reasoning and Writing C is a program that focuses mainly on teaching narrative writing. Reasoning and Writing D is a program that focuses on critical thinking and writing on exercises involving critical thinking. As we looked at the try out feedback for Reasoning and Writing C with second and third grades, we saw significant differences in the paper's of students from more high income populations and those of kids from lower income populations. The differences were in the vocabulary used and sentence structures used by the kids.
This is known as the vocabulary deficit. Low IQ kids know less vocabulary and background knowledge because they learn slower. To compound the problem, these kids typically get far less exposure to language at home (low IQ parents) so it is a bit of a double whammy for them. A deadly combination of both a nature (genetic) and a nurture shortcoming. Ultimately, this vocabulary and background deficit will result in diminished reading comprehension which will do these kids in in the later grades. It's not that these kids are incapable of learning vocabulary and the underlying concepts; it's that such learning is not easily accelerated. And, slow learners need to have their learning accelerated to keep pace with the higher-IQ kids.
Silbert's observations were predictable. The higher IQ kids had picked up significantly more background knowledge, vocabulary, and language familiarity in the five years before they started formal education and the four years of formal education. It was these skills that were being relied upon in the narrative writing exercises. Predictably, they performed better.
But let's see what happened when the playing field was leveled and skills were taught that were new to both the high IQ kids and the low IQ kids.
When we did the try outs of the Reasoning and Writing D programs we saw much less difference between the performance of the kids.
The more advantaged kids initially had a good deal of difficulty writing about the problems involving faulty arguments, misleading statements and advertisements, contradictions and directions that were too general or inaccurate. The kids from more advantaged homes and less-advantaged homes both had little idea of how to clearly express themselves when it came to critical thinking. When we looked at the kids' papers from the tryout, kids from lower income schools learned the content as quickly as kids from higher income schools.
The most important factor seemed to be the quality of teaching. The point here is that though some kids come into school with much more vocabulary and background knowledge than other kids, that good instruction can bring most of the kids who come in behind to high levels of performance on important skills. In the Reasoning and Writing C program, we also saw great and rapid growth of narrative writing skills in low-income schools when the teaching was solid.
I am familiar with level D of Reasoning and Writing. It teaches difficult reasoning and argument making skills that are rarely taught at the undergraduate level, much less at that K-12 level. Certainly, these skills are not taught to young children in the homes of the affluent. So, for these skills, the playing field was leveled and both the low and high IQ kids were capable of learning at a sufficient pace with good instruction. Which is not to say that the performance of the high-IQ kids couldn't have been further accelerated. It most likely could have, but now we are talking at a faster than grade level pace which is outside the bounds of Murray's argument.
Low-IQ kids are not cognitively crippled. They just learn at a slower pace. They are capable of learning sophisticated, complex material at a grade level pace given adequate instruction. At least up to the K-12 level. But the fact of the matter is that these kids aren't getting anything close to adequate instruction at the K-12 level. This instructional inadequacy taints Murray's underlying premise and renders his conclusion spurious.
Had Murray qualified his argument by stating "It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity given the typically crappy instruction present in most schools," he'd be much closer to the truth. But, then it would be obvious that the defect lies as much in the schools as it does with the cognitive ability of the students. Thus exposing the flaws in Murray's conclusions.