2013 July 18 Thursday
Everybody Agrees Great Teachers Are Key?

Yet another manifestation of the Blank Slate ideology: The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Everybody agrees: a great teacher is the difference between success and failure, for a school, a class, and a student.

I've begun reading newspapers looking for manifestations of our era's mythologies. This story about great teachers serves as an example of the romanticized humanity genre. In this case great teacher are imagined to have magical powers to give children innate abilities that they lack as an accident of birth.

Some people really want to believe the myth of super high potential in everyone just waiting to be unlocked by a super environment. Believers embrace the story that dumb people have high potential which remains blocked for want of a great teacher or because of oppressive environment. In reality only a very small fraction of children have the spatial reasoning ability needed to excel in STEM subjects. It is possible to identify most of them when they are 13 years old. In reality no teacher has the magic power to boost innate ability. Therefore no teacher can transform the vast majority of children into great scientists, engineers, inventors, and business leaders.

Reality: Students need physical safety and quiet classrooms with the worst students removed from the rooms with well-behaved students. Students need books. Students need okay teachers. Given an okay environment for learning the biggest determinants of a student's success are innate talents and innate drives.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 July 18 09:24 PM 

SOBL1 said at July 18, 2013 10:19 PM:

Every single movie involving a hero that is a teen centers on the hero having hidden powers that are only drawn out and perfected through another, older guide.

This myth also serves a great function by allowing people to delude themselves that they are not average or worse. They just needed a great teacher to be successful.

Florida resident said at July 19, 2013 4:43 AM:

See Robert Weissberg "Bad Students, not Bad Schools", $12.75 + $3.99 S&H,
Charles Murray, with his 2009 book "Real Education", $2.26 + $3.99 S&H,
Charles Murray has just mentioned this work at Vanderbilt University, that Parapundit is talking about, on AEI Blog:

Respectfully submitted by F.r

asdf said at July 19, 2013 9:58 AM:

In the supreme mediocrity that is public schooling, I can count a few excellent teachers that kept me from sinking into utter despair. I could easily see myself going down a very different path if they weren't around.

Of course, a lot of them got denied tenure.

Check it out said at July 19, 2013 2:39 PM:

Two of the best teachers I had did not hold a master's or even a B.A. or a teaching degree, but they were people who knew a lot and understood a lot on a variety of topics. They were cultured, had common sense and a thinking of their own. They were authorities not for their degrees, but for who they were. They liked what they did and they were respected and valued by their students.

destructure said at July 19, 2013 6:58 PM:

This is the kind of teacher our public schools need.


Randall Parker said at July 20, 2013 8:29 PM:


I think you are right about the motive of self delusion. I think that market forces (e.g. politicians telling people what they want to hear) have gotten so good at helping people delude themselves that part of the problem is that self delusion is encouraged.

James Bowery said at July 20, 2013 10:35 PM:

The real source of gene denial is the horror of actually confronting the responsibility of being human:

It is up to humans what direction human evolution takes.

No one is serious about this responsibility because they see if they become serious they'll end up as a social pariah and be, themselves, selected out of the gene pool.

By "serious" I don't mean merely pussy footing around margins with things like economic incentives for intelligent people to reproduce. Nor do I mean "transhumanist" wishful thinking about how we're going to engineer smarter, more athletic, more attractive, better "behaved" offspring.

The only guy in the mainstream that is even close to addressing the topic -- although he does swerve to miss it at the last second -- is E. O. Wilson in "The Social Conquest of Earth".

Watch his talk by that name at The Long Now.

Matt W. said at July 21, 2013 1:03 PM:

Good teachers can help a student find his/her passion, but they won't make an average kid smart.

WJ said at July 21, 2013 7:17 PM:

Great teachers certainly can make a difference. There are too many examples of teaching environments that produced multiple success stories.

The problem is that exceptional teachers are, by definition, the exception; and that each person has genetic limits to what he can accomplish.

Matt W. said at July 22, 2013 6:16 AM:

I believe that good teachers are important. I think the h-bd blogosphere can get too caught up in IQ. While I believe that IQ is extremely important, it's not the end all and be all. A good teacher may not help make a poor Hispanic kid a physicist (though he may in a few cases), but he could help that kid be a better worker and citizen, and perhaps more importantly, a happier person. Maybe that teacher could give a kid a reason to believe there's more to the world than banging and smoking weed (and ultimately, meth).

Kudzu Bob said at July 22, 2013 10:50 AM:

James Bowery: Speaking of pussyfooting around, instead of telling us what you don't mean, wouldn't your time--not to mention ours--be better spent telling us what you do mean? Yes, I know that one of the 48 Laws of Power is always to say less than necessary, but at least throw us a bone.

J. said at July 22, 2013 11:54 AM:

A lot of separate ideas are being expressed here, and all of them may be true in their contexts.

The central fact in public education is the Gap. Teachers are being tasked to close the Gap. They can't do it. Nothing can. Some teachers may truly think they can, some may use the promise of closing the gap as a bargaining chip, etc., but these are details.

Certainly some teachers may be able to intervene with some students to prevent them from wasting whatever talents they have. But that's so contextual that it can't be made into policy, and it will not close the Gap.

WJ said at July 22, 2013 7:08 PM:

"Certainly some teachers may be able to intervene with some students to prevent them from wasting whatever talents they have."

Exactly. It's too easy to get caught up in arguing for the importance of IQ that you lose sight of the fact that good teachers, good parents, etc., can make a difference. They can't turn people with car mechanic IQs into Nobel laureates, but they can help keep those car mechanics from going off the rails and becoming unemployed drug addicts.

We have schools, colleges, summer camps, scout troops, and all the rest because we understand that great and/or good people aren't just born - they have to be shaped.

We HBDers argue for the importance of IQ because everyone else denies it. Don't let that turn into an obsession, though.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2013 9:56 PM:


Environment matters but less than you think. Read the 2 Judith Rich Harris books about child development, especially The Nurture Assumption.


The left's response to the Gap has deeply corrupted American intellectual discourse.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright