Thursday, 21 April 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: genes are destiny excuse

Journalist Jennifer Oriel in The Australian on 11 April 2016, putting the case for a two-tiered national education system where public schools and their 'dumb' students living in comparative poverty are offered less opportunity because genetics are allegedly destiny:

More punitive taxes and big spender social programs in education and health are central pillars of ALP plans for fiscal repair. The former is aimed at reducing the deficit Labor increased by squandering the proceeds of the mining boom. It wasted billions on cash splashes and social programs that have failed to achieve stated policy goals in improving educational and social outcomes. Now the party needs a scapegoat. The politics of envy provides an endless supply…..

Whether the object of envy is intelligence, talent, beauty, status or wealth, there is always a group that feels entitled to what nature or nurture did not provide. If they cannot take the envied trait or property by force, the envious seek to deride those who bear it.

As a unifying political device, the emotion of envy has few equals. In Australia, it finds social form in the tall poppy syndrome. Visitors to Australia long have remarked upon the darker side envy amplifies in our national character.….

Modern Labor began its campaign against Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by sowing envy about his wealth and international investments. But the collective envy required to justify a circular regimen of Keynesian redistribution demands a collective target and policy goals that are always just out of reach, either because they are unattainable or conveniently unquantifiable. Equality of outcome is the substantive socialist solution.

While liberals support equal opportunity and formal equality, socialists engineer equality of outcome through policy prescriptions increasingly at odds with science. Labor’s education policy is a case in point. In a letter to school principals last week, Bill Shorten committed to redressing inequality by promising money the government doesn’t have to fund Gonski education reforms. Despite the sound aim of improving the educational outcomes of all children, at a cost of $37.3 billion, delivering the Gonksi policy through government inflicts a heavy toll on the taxpayer with doubtful return on investment. Numerous private companies provide high efficacy literacy and numeracy programs while decades of government-run interventions have had little impact in levelling educational outcomes. And recent research indicates the Gonski reform package, like numerous social programs before it, is unlikely to succeed.

Despite Labor’s education revolution and promises of substantive equality, vast differences in educational outcomes continue. The most recent research suggests a reason for inequality of educational attainment that should provoke a rethink of social and economic policy. Speaking on SBS’s Insight program, Brian Byrne of the University of New England revealed findings of soon to be published research with colleagues at the Centre of Excellence for Cognition and its Disorders. It indicates that genes are the most important determinant of maths and reading skills among schoolchildren. Their study of twins’ NAPLAN performance apparently found that maths, reading and spelling skills are up to 75 per cent genetic and writing skills are about 50 per cent genetic. The influence of schools and teachers, the focus of Labor’s policies, accounts for only about 5 per cent of performance.

Social psychologist Richard Nisbett was more hopeful in his assessment of the nature versus nurture debate in education. In Intelligence and How to Get It, he analyses research on various interventions to improve the educational outcomes of children from poor backgrounds. Some appeared promising, but many had only a modest impact whose effect diminished.
Recent research suggesting academic performance is substantially heritable challenges existing literature in which academics and politicians extol the benefits of government interventions to redress educational inequality. But it could be used constructively to drive policy reforms that provide greater choice in school and university education to cater to inborn differences…… [my red bolding]

There we have it in a nutshell - genes are destiny, a second-tier education system is advisable and anyone who suggests otherwise is suffering from pathological envy.

However, the journalist wasn't being as honest as possible concerning the views of Emeritus Professor Brian Byrne.

Here are two quotes from the answers he gave the Insight program moderator when questioned about that international twin study, which included twins from the Sydney area:

JENNY BROCKIE: This is what's genetic, what's inherited? 
PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: What's genetic, for the NAPLAN varies between about 50 and 75 percent of the differences amongst children's performance can be traced back to genetic differences which leaves a fair bit for the environment…..

JENNY BROCKIE: And genes aren't destiny Bryan we need to make that very clear? 

Nor does the journalist specifically mention that Professor Dr. Richard Nisbett has formed a view that genetics matters less than differences in family environment and culture when it comes to intelligence and educational outcomes.

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