Q&A with the Author
Q- You take fairly strong objection to many of the most prominent writers in the nature-nurture field. What is you main criticism?
A- The complaint I have with most of the experts in the field is that they take only one part of the equation and blow it up out of proportion. They argue over whether a new-born babe is a blank slate or not, or whether human nature predetermines our every move. One of them even argues that parents have little effect on kids because it is the peer group that shapes them! It is hard to find a balanced explanation covering all the different influences that shape the growing child.
Q- But don’t you think genes play a big part--that each of us is for the most part “pre-determined” at birth?
A- We are to some extent formed at birth but we have the power to modify and improve everything about that initial foundation. Most writers stress how “personality” and IQ are inherited, which is only partly true, but I demonstrate that those characteristics are not the most important things about a human being and, in any case, they are both subject to modification—both for the better and worse! The fantastic thing about children is their extraordinary diversity, their huge potential for growth, and the opportunity each one has to reach their highest potential.
Q-- The most recent school reform bill is based on the need to improve schooling by requiring testing for all students. And yet you seem to oppose tests?
A- I’m not against all tests. They play a useful role in finding out which students are learning the basics about reading, writing, and arithmetic. And, they are essential to find out who needs special help to master those basic skills. The point is that they should be used more to measure the teacher’s effectiveness than the student’s worth.
Q- But IQ and
A- Yes and that
has done great injustice to many deserving students who were not good at test
taking. The great majority of entrepreneurs, who create all the jobs in
Q- But there is a direct correlation between IQ scores and success. Everywhere in the world the upper economic classes have higher IQ’s than the lower classes.
A- Of course they do! IQ scores measure a person’s accumulated skills and knowledge which develop from birth through early adulthood. Because upper class families provide a richer environment for their kids, they score higher than kids from poor or broken homes. It’s a meaningless correlation, a self-perpetuating fallacy, and an unfair discrimination.
Q- So a person’s family background determines their success?
A- Nothing determines human destiny. We are much too complex for any absolutes. But families do have a major influence.
Q- Ok. But you are saying that family background is important?
A- Every new born babe is subject to a dual birth lottery—where on earth he or she is born, and in what kind of family they are born into. Just being born in a democratic free country is a big win because the child gains so many opportunities. Any American who complains about his condition should try going elsewhere. And, of course, the family matters. Many American children in dysfunctional homes might have been better off if born into a positive family environment anywhere else on earth! As JFK said, “Life is not fair!”
Q- Why is the family environment so important?
A- A developing child needs security, love, a
positive and stimulating environment, and the gradual assimilation and
acquisition of numerous good habits. It is a long hard road from infancy to
becoming a mature emotionally sound adult—and too many never get there.
Q- You criticize single parent homes. Is that realistic in view of the huge changes we have seen in the country’s demographics?
A- It is always reasonable to criticize harmful change. Everyone talks about how to improve schools, but they ignore the bigger fact that almost half of our kids, at least in the cities, drop out and never finish high school. Most of those drop-outs are from single parent homes. They are born out of wed-lock, see little of their biological fathers, become involved in gangs, drugs, and street violence, and have bleak futures. They are primarily illegitimate babies that grow up in dysfunctional households. They are losers in the birth lottery, doomed by their zip codes, and have little chance of acquiring the empowering traits explored in this book. They represent the real challenge for our educational establishment which is too busy fine-tuning the multi-million dollar suburban schools.
Q- Would you agree that your theories on schooling support Affirmative Action programs?
A- In a way they do. We owe a lot to the Civil
Rights Movement because it highlighted the fact that kids from good family
environments get better scores on
Q- You mention that there are minimum intelligence “thresholds” for some vocations. Isn’t that an admission that test scores do matter?
A- Well, it is true that to become a brain surgeon or rocket scientist you probably need a lot of the IQ type of memory and algorithmic skills. Some experts suggest an IQ of 110 or better is necessary. But among all the students above that level, success will be determined by the amount of their other competencies.
Q- What are those other things that make a person more or less capable?
A- I outline all those other competencies in the book. They have been ignored by academics because they seem to be just personal habits and because they are difficult to measure. Educators love tests because they are easy to prepare, easy to grade, and give the illusion of scientific precision. But the other forms of intelligence are in the aggregate more important than “school book smarts.”
Q- Why do you make so many references to sports teams, coaches, and athletic accomplishments in a book mostly aimed at academic and parenting topics?
A- Because our best coaches and the best teams rely on a few fundamental principles that govern human behavior—principles that have been forgotten by many teachers and parents. Winning coaches have a great insight into human motivation, individual aspirations, team play, and the need for a profound respect for the dignity and success of each person. They have a lot to tell us about how to bring up kids. I believe that their wisdom trumps all the educational theory courses offered in our teachers’ colleges.
Q- Can you explain more about your belief that
A- Well, humans are quite different from animals and plants. There is strong scientific evidence that human beings as we know them appeared suddenly on earth somewhere between 60 and 100 thousand years ago and have not changed appreciably since then. Those first humans had an almost Divine Distinction that separated them from all other creatures—the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, to reason logically, to band together and show empathy and compassion for others, exercise their individual free will, and to almost infinitely develop their skills. The human brain is unique in that its myelin develops after birth as needed to face any contingency.
Q- But what about survival of the fittest?
A- Our ancestors had fire, clothing, and tools which made them relatively immune to the laws of the jungle. Biological changes for humans over the past few tens of thousands of years have been limited to superficial characteristics like height, skin color, and medical immunities. There may have been a slight selection for individuals with practical skills because such people were able to raise more children than less capable people. But, today, with extensive social safety nets, even the least competent individuals can survive and thrive.
Q- One of the more interesting observations I found in your book was about monogamy, and the “honey-do factor.”
A- Yes, that came to me as a result of thinking about why and how humans improved their lifestyle so significantly. W. Cleon Skousen writes about the “5,000 Year Leap” which was based on developing some 28 principles that underlay free societies. But, to me, it was monogamy and its impact on both genetics and human behavior that allowed those principles to be developed, and I explain how that venerable matrimonial institution helped advance mankind so rapidly.
Q- You refer to Jared Diamond’s assertion that Yali, an
uneducated boy in
A- Not only that, but Yali is probably smarter than all the members of our Federal Reserve System. Professor Diamond in effect supports my point that our extended school years and today’s comfy and artificial classroom environment actually hold our kids back. The great scientific and engineering advances of the Industrial Revolution were made by young people who had been apprenticed out at the age of 12-15 with limited schooling to learn a useful trade. But in today’s culture, the honors go to the high IQ soft-science Ivy League graduates--they have peopled the government, Wall Street, foundations, and think tanks, and given us the huge mortgage financial crisis that destroyed the savings of millions of thrifty Americans. Even Yali, with no formal education, would know enough not to guarantee bad loans.
Q- In Wasted Genius you suggest that there were certain characteristics of the early Americans that may have made them more capable than others?
A- Yes, that is possible, and it reinforces my belief in the
importance of the non-IQ forms of competency. Those individuals who had the
gumption to pick up stakes and take their families across the
Q- How does that relate to today’s immigration debate, with hordes of illegals coming into the country?
A- All migrants aspire to a better life so God bless them! The problem is not with immigration, but with our welfare system. If the immigrants had to rely on themselves, their churches, and friends to support their families, as all our own immigrant-ancestors did, they would be no burden to the country. Instead, they would be a positive addition to our workforce. And if the enticement of liberal free benefits was removed, future immigrants would be coming here for opportunity, not handouts. We would screen out the opportunists and gain the well-motivated.
Q_ There is a frightening section in your book about negative evolution—that our population is getting less competent?
A- That has to do with birth rates and family structure. Our governing elites have taken those people in the country who have demonstrated the least ability to support themselves and given them money in almost direct proportion to how many children they have. Now, I believe that many members of the lower economic class are there, not because of a lower IQ, but because they have less of the other attributes of what I call total competency. And we are paying them to out-reproduce those parts of the population that have the most of those essential capabilities. When that distortion in birth rates is combined with a growing number of illegitimate births, less parental oversight, and an increasingly gang and drug related culture, we are creating more dysfunctional citizens—sort of a survival of the unfittest.
Q- So you are pessimistic about our future ?
is very hard to reverse the downward spiral once it has started. A failing of
democracies is that they are so tolerant and compassionate that their people
resist the tough choices--especially if most of them are affluent and
comfortable, and made to feel guilty about that. But, I’m an optimist by both
nature and training--the reason I write is to spell out what made
and save our children and grand-children from the privations of a tired and bankrupt nation.
Q- So what has been your reaction to President Obama’s message of hope and change?
A- No practical mind ever relied on “hope.” It’s a catchy abstraction that appeals to fuzzy minded people. And any “hope” that relies on changing things so that the least successful amongst us have an absolute right to live off the most successful is a recipe for disaster. There are lessons of history that I enumerate in these books, they establish very clear economic principles, and they are recognized as well in most child-rearing manuals—It is a profound mistake for both families and nations to reward poor behavior while punishing good behavior.