Aztecs vs. Greeks (Murray part 3)
Today, Charles Murray turns his attention to the intellectually gifted, which he defines rather broadly as those with IQs over about 120. It turns out these articles are available online, so you can read today's installment here.
Basically, in this installment, Murray calls for the gifted to be given a challenging, classical education. He further states that we need to encourage gifted kids not to become just smart but wise. "The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities -- in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them."
I totally agree with this, just as I agree that gifted kids need to learn grammar and logic. There's no point telling kids just to be creative and express themselves without giving them the tools to do so in a coherent fashion. As an art, music and history junkie myself, I also think it would be great to make sure children have a classical education, which Murray calls for (full of ethics, study of the Greeks rather than the Aztecs, which is how this essay gets its title, and so on).
Unfortunately, for all his lauding of a classical education, Murray fails to tie the knot demonstrating why studying the Greeks makes anyone good and wise. He repeats William Buckley's joke that it would be better to be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard, but it must be pointed out that the vast majority of Harvard faculty have studied the Greeks and art and ethics, while the first 2,000 people in the Boston phone book have not. If the Harvard faculty have not become wise (defined, here, I suspect, as envisioning a society with rules similar to ones Murray and Buckley would design) than we have a logical problem. Unfortunately, this essay doesn't address that. I guess Murray simply had to crank out a part 3 of a 3-part series.
But if anyone reads Aztecs vs. Greeks and decides to push for education that holds gifted kids' feet to the fire, intellectually, than I'll be happy. There is great satisfaction that comes from trying something difficult and achieving it. This is one of the reasons Jan and Bob Davidson give their fellowship awards every year; the projects kids undertake go far beyond what is ever assigned in school. The results are rarely easy to come across, and the projects rarely easy to produce -- at least if you're going to win. Likewise, it wasn't until I got to the Indiana Academy that I discovered how hard I was capable of working. I decided I wanted to take AP Biology and Chemistry simultaneously during the fall of my senior year, and I wanted to get As in both. That required not only doing well, but according to our grading system, doing a full standard deviation better than my very intellectually gifted classmates on each test. I struggled -- writing up lab reports at 2am -- but I did it. It's a lesson of perseverance and being in control of one's life I've since taken to book writing and other long, difficult projects. It's a lesson I worry too few gifted kids learn. No one should expect life to be easy, at least not if you're going to enjoy it.