Lecture 5 - Social Sphere of Influence

We spoke in this lecture about:

The Genetic Component on Intelligence

Really we presented this research in order to show that the greatest influence over which we have control is still the social sphere - even when the most extreme findings are taken to be true and the use of an IQ test is considered to be a valid use of intelligence.

We did this in the lecture by firstly pointing out what the research that favours the genetic component actually says. In effect, trying to teach 'dumb' children was worthless; resources should go to the 'smart' children and the rest should be 'amused' to keep them occupied. Taken to it's extreme, various flavours of eugenics programmes would be subsequently favoured - encourage the 'smart' folks to breed more children and sterlise the 'dumb' ones. The same argument (I'm sorry to say) has been used in the allocation of resources to 'race', particularly in the USA. The Bell Curve folks, effectively are saying that it's not 'personal' but scientific fact that African Americans score on average about 0.5 standard deviations below that of their white counterparts. It's the same old rubbish that places race in a hierarchy with the nordics (blond blue eyes) at the top and the African at the bottom. They throw a 'crumb' to the Asians who are better in mathematics (but overall they don't do as well with all intellectual capabilities combined). I reviewed this research almost 15 years ago, which you can download here. There is a rebuttal to the 'attacks' on the Bell Curve book first published in the Wall Street Journal in 1997, which you can download from here.

This research is mostly founded on so called 'twin studies' & adoption studies. These are studies that can measure the degree of genetic similarity and the correlate this with a number of personality attributes including 'intelligence' as measured by IQ scores. For the moment, let's not consider how valid the IQ test is in measuring a person's 'real' intelligence.

Two points to notice. The first is that the nature nurture debate should have died a few decades ago. It is worthless to speak of one or the other. Even if behaviour is completely genetically determined - behaviour can only be expressed in an environment. The genes would look pretty silly sitting in a test tube in a sterile environment, regardless of how 'smart' the genes are. I don't mean this to be a 'silly' argument but rather there's clearly differences between a child with (say) great genes that is brought up in an impoverished environment (sterile test tube) compared to an environment full of rich resources and opportunities to meet different people and have varied experiences. The second point to note is that the heritability is 'not' perfect, it is, at best, 0.8 (80%), suggesting that at least 0.2 (20%) is attributed to the environment. 20% is still a lot to move.

Either way, I believe that your role as teachers remains critical. You are directly responsible for creating a learning environment for a significant proportion of a child's formal schooling.

Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky's famous theory that gives an account of when a child is ready to learn a particular topic, or thing, or subject. Often this theory is compared to that of Jean Piaget's theory of intellectual development.

Communities of Practice

We spoke about an extension of ZPD called 'Communities of Practice' which was first developed to account for the learning that takes place in apprenticeships. However, it can be extended to cover a number of different areas including 'traditional' academic schooling. A brief introduction to the theory by Wenger can be found here.


The notes for lecture 5 can be found here.

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