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This contribution to the environment-versus-heredity sweepstakes, designed for a general audience, is bound to be quoted by opponents of R.J. Herrnstein (I.Q. in the Meritocracy, 1973), Arthur Jensen (who taught Whimbey at Berkeley), and the egregious William Shockley. Whimbey adopts a purely educational viewpoint: intelligence, no matter what it intrinsically ""is,"" may most profitably be thought of as a set of learned skills in the perception and systematic appraisal of relationships (e.g., analogy, cause and effect, premise and conclusion), not as innate aptitude of any sort. By choosing not to discuss genetics, Whimbey avoids meeting Jensen and Herrnstein on at least part of their own ground. Some people will find this a less than thorough scientific refutation. Others will be disappointed that he has chosen not to discuss education in terms of national priorities or traumatization of the young. But on the narrow, impersonal ground that he does choose, Whimbey is eminently sensible and convincing. His data confirm the empirical observations of John Holt in How Children Fail and How Children Learn -- i.e., that the mental conditions under which learning takes place consist not of grabbing for ""answers"" but of a continuous process of selective observations and a series of confident, finely graded, self-correcting comparisons and combinations -- so as to bring separate facts into intelligible relationships. In Whimbey's view these mental conditions constitute intelligence, and they should not be confused with a supposedly natural propensity for reasoning or memorizing, any more than playing baseball should be confused with an inborn aptitude for running or throwing. He argues that the tools of intelligence can be taught to the ""unintelligent"" as systematically as the skills involved in swimming or tennis, Whimbey's cleanly impersonal approach is, paradoxically, probably more humane and less stultifying than the one which noisily reminds the backward child that he is a human being and thus inadvertently makes a spelling lesson into a test of individual worth.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1975
Publisher: Dutton