Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Great Charles Murray Debate -- Round Two

The NW has another long piece on Johnson/Murray. There's a lot to unpack, but one angle that I find particularly odd is Johnson's apparent complete misreading of Murray's book. Here a passage from the NW:

Johnson said he believes that concern stems from a misinterpretation of the book’s message. As a business leader, Johnson said he focused on the book’s argument that every student does not need to go to college to be successful.

“I don”t believe there's a first and second class way to realize your full potential. I think all efforts have value, all professions,” he said.

In fact, Murray very explicitly advocates for a first and second class way to realize one's full potential. Here's a review from the Chronicle of Higher Education Inside Higher Ed that summarizes the book rather succinctly:
The book has many flaws, like the fact that the "four simple truths" descriptor is inaccurate. Murray actually offers one simple truth, one tautology, and two opinions (one somewhat legitimate, one not). The one (very) simple truth is that "ability varies," by which Murray means intelligence, or I.Q. All reasonable people acknowledge this; the question is how it varies, and what that variance means. The tautology is that "half of the children are below average," an odd statement to offer as evidence in support of Murray's main subject: educability, which is an absolute quality -- not, like below-averageness, a relative one. Basically, Murray believes that (coincidentally!) half of all children are more or less uneducable in the traditional sense and thus need to be identified as such via mandatory first grade I.Q. testing so they can be shunted off into vocational education programs for their own good. This is absurd and immoral, for reasons too numerous to recount here.
I recommend reading the whole piece. The author is positively exasperated by the fact that he has to take the time to swat down Murray unspeakably facile arguments.

That's not how Johnson read the book:
The message Johnson said he took from “Real Education,” and wanted to share with Oshkosh, was that vocational training and skilled work through local manufacturers are no less important than university-track careers.

“We need to stop denigrating the trades,” he said.

I don't think anyone would disagree with this last line, but that's exactly what would happen if Murray had his way. Colleges would be reserved for students who are deemed intellectually capable while trade schools would be left as places where people go to learn the menial skills they will spend the rest of their lives using. The social ramifications of this hierarchy are repugnant.

You can read excerpts of the book here, if you'd like. To Murray's credit, he is not a vague, cryptic or evasive writer whatsoever. In fact, his bluntness is one of the reasons his work is as widely known and controversial as it is. It's extremely difficult to "misinterpret" Charles Murray's work.

But let's take a step back and look at Murray's big picture argument. Nearly every argument Murray has made ends the same way: government would be better off not being involved in activity X. In fact, Murray's song and dance is so routine it's almost like he starts with a conclusion and merely finds evidence, however scant, to support it.

"Real Education" is no different. Murray wants government out of the education business and he's constructed an elaborate argument that conveniently points to that conclusion. That's the real objective of Murray's work. This isn't how education policy should be conducted.


Anonymous said...

It would seem that Julie PUNGGGGGG Leschke now has the Johnsonian taint on her forevermore.
Hope that works out for her.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping an eye on the ONW and for your consistent and very insightful analysis of whatever topic your beady eyes gaze upon.

We also enjoy the swears, mockery and insults to a level that probably isn't healthy, but we're trying to have a high-class minute here...

Anonymous said...