I recently read “Intelligence and How to Get It” by Richard E. Nesbitt, after reading an article written by Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times. Mr. Nesbitt argues, and I believe successfully, that over all genes are not what makes people smarter. Nesbitt goes into some detail explaining the statistics that support his contention that intelligence is far more determined by family life and teachers than genetics. In addition he reviews a variety of programs aimed at improving student performance (intelligence) and discusses why they succeeded or failed and why many studies aren’t sufficiently rigorous to use in determining what works and what doesn’t.
Nesbitt also looks at some very effective and low cost ways to improve student performance including things like small group sessions with at-risk high school students explaining to them how our brains work and that they are truly in control of how smart they become. Nesbitt also points to studies that show that while these simple things can be quite effective they are often offset by lack of employment opportunity for minority workers because when businesses are given two equally qualified applicants one a white male high school graduate with a felony conviction and the other a black male high school graduate with a clean record they will most often hire the white male felon.
The last chapter of Nesbitt’s book entitled “Raising Your Child’s Intelligence … and Your Own” discusses steps that parents can take to improve the intelligence of their children. I found this especially valuable as a parent of a 10 year old child. His recommendations include some that may be obvious but aren’t often followed in low income families like talking to the child using high level vocabulary and reading to the child. Another recommendation is avoiding undue stress because it results in poor learning ability and reduces the ability to solve novel problems. Teaching your child self control and the value of delayed gratification correlate with higher test scores. One of his final recommendations is to avoid rookie teachers for your child and having experienced one with my daughter I can’t say he’s wrong on that one.
Overall for a good review of educational program effectiveness and debunking of the myth of genetics being the key to intelligence I found this book very worthwhile.