Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Race and Intelligence, Part III

August 15th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

Acting White blogger James Collier believes that African Americans need to take a greater interest in addressing the I.Q. test scoring gap between Black and non-Black ethnic groups. This is one point on which I agree with Collier, and for two reasons.

1. Some I.Q. fundamentalists (those who believe that intelligence is genetically determined) would like to see governments and other institutions revise and limit social programs and outreach initiatives based on their beliefs. If most Black people are genetically incapable of improving their academic performance, the thinking goes, then why should colleges practice affirmative action, and why should governments fund Head Start and other targeted enrichment programs? This particular set of beliefs may seem extreme, but even seemingly outrageous notions can quickly gain traction under the right conditions, especially during times of economic strife. Black people need to become active participants in the race and intelligence debate, before the I.Q. fundamentalist agenda becomes mainstream. See for a discussion of I.Q. and I.Q. fundamentalists.

2. The low average I.Q. scores of Black children do not indicate fixed genetic differences between Black and non-Black people. They do, however, indicating key gaps in Black children’s education. The Black/non-Black scoring gap is a red flag indicating crucial disparities that must be addressed in order to provide our children with the greatest possible opportunities for advancement, self-determination, and success.

The conclusion that I draw from the scoring gap between Black students and their non-Black counterparts is that there are crucial gaps in the early childhood education of many children of African descent, particular in the development of abstract thinking skills, particularly those nurtured and developed during the first 4 years of life, before a child enters school. In order to address this deficit, I recommend the following:

  • · Black parents must reward and encourage their children’s curiosity. Remember that asking questions is not “uppity.” Rather, it is a sign of engagement and awareness. Reward children for noticing the details of the world around them, and answer all of their questions to the best of your ability. If they ask for information that you cannot provide, then make a trip to the library or the encyclopedia, and look up the answer together.
  • · Load your brain. The higher their parents’ education level, the higher the children’s performance on standardized tests and in the classroom. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, cousin, aunt or uncle, if you are part of a child’s life, then grow your knowledge base. Whether you have no college degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a doctorate, there is always more to learn. Take a class or simply read a few books on a subject that excites you. The mental workout will increase your own cognitive abilities, and you will pass your skills, your knowledge, and your enthusiasm for learning onto the children you care about.
  • · Talk to children. Engage them in conversation. Ask questions that invite them to share whatever knowledge they have acquired, and ask them questions that give them space to imagine. Does one of the kids in your life have invisible/imaginary friends? Then ask him or her to describe them. Does he or she have a favorite doll or action figure? Ask the doll’s name and then invite the child to tell you a little bit about its personality, the things the things they like to do together, or the types of places they like to go. There is a strong suggestion that listening to and speaking with adults builds both language and thinking skills, and some have gone so far as to suggest that the more common single-parent homes in which Black children are raised may have a bearing on the acquisition and development of certain forms of language- and thought-based abilities. This is where our tendency toward strong extended family bonds can have a wonderful effect. If a single mom or dad is “burning the candle at both ends” just to meet basic expenses, then grandparents, aunts, uncles, and trusted family friends can step in to help fill the gap.
  • · Read, read, read. Read aloud to the kids in your life; and it is not much of an exaggeration to say that if a child is out of the womb, then her or she is old enough to be read to. If a child is old enough to read for himself, then allow yourself to be read to, or read a story together. For older kids, dedicate an afternoon or evening to silent reading in a beautiful and relaxed setting, like a park or a stately library.
  • · Turn off the T.V. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children watch no more and one or two hours of television a day, and that children under the age of two not watch television at all. T.V. watching is, for too many children, a wholly passive experience, requiring little of the active mental engagement associate with listening to stories or music. In addition, television can increase the prevalence of at least one type of learning disability which, for students at all I.Q. levels, can decrease the likelihood of academic success. A study published in 2004 has suggested that there is a strong correlation between the amount of T.V. watched by very young children and the development of Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D). In a 2004 BBC article, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who led this study, explains that, “The newborn brain develops very rapidly during the first two to three years of life,” and “TV can cause the developing mind to experience unnatural levels of stimulation.”

The I.Q. fundamentalists are wrong. Our children are not born underachievers. We know how to prepare subsequent generations to do better than we have. Indeed, it has been only our knowledge of how to prepare our young people for upward mobility and greater success that has brought us as far as we have come today. Still, there are children who fall between the cracks. We must now reach beyond our front doors to those kids in our communities whose parents are ill or incarcerated, overworked or absent, and do what we can to make sure that from their earliest moments, their brains are stimulated and engaged, challenged and cherished.

We, as a people, tend to emphasize the obedience of our children over virtually any other quality. This is understandable because, for all of our history in this country, to disobey or disrespect the wrong person might mean severe and violent punishment or even death. We tell our children to be quiet when adults are speaking, to use only the most deferential tones when speaking to their parents, and to address grown-ups by title and surname only (aunt, uncle, Mr. Ms., etc).

The effect is to teach children to know their place within the community, because the failure of Black people to “know their place” in relationships with the white majority did, in the past, carry heavy penalties (from beatings to rape to lynchings to arson, and more). Unfortunately, if not counterbalanced by strong affirmation of their growing and curious minds, these teachings can have the effect of stifling children’s natural desire to investigate and learn.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in African Americans, Current Events, I.Q. fundamentalists, IQ, James Flynn, Malcolm Gladwell, race, Race and Intelligence, Race and IQ

2 Responses

  1. Jeff Atkinson

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

  2. Clnmike

    I never did like the discription acting white when describing kids who to there studies seriously. The funny thing is that I never heard the term till I went to a school that had white kids in it.

    The black schools I went to never made this an issue a smart kid was just that a smart kid.

    I agree there is more emphasis on obedience when it comes to black kids but I do not see that as a road bump in education.

    True over emphasis on it at an early age, can turn off the curiosity, and confidence to explore and ask questions outside a class room, but in a class room setting obedience I think is a plus. Trying to teach a class with one unruly kid can distract the other kids and hold every ones learning back.

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