Mom was right: School makes you smarter

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“Even at the time the book was published, many cognitive scientists believed that some of [its] conclusions were erroneous. Now we know that all of them are,” Nisbett notes in an article called “Schooling Makes You Smarter,” published in the spring issue of American Educator, a quarterly research journal of the American Federation of Teachers.

According to Nisbett, recent research shows that intelligence is shaped not only by one’s genetic code, but also by dozens of other factors, ranging from whether you were breastfed as an infant (which can improve IQ by six points) to whether you had a caring, experienced kindergarten teacher with a small number of students, who saw you not as a number on a long list of pupils, but as an individual, with individual educational needs.

There is no doubt that each of us is born with a certain innate intelligence. No matter the IQ we enter this world with, though, it can always be enhanced by the environment in which we are raised –– and, in fact, the environment in which we live throughout our lives. Contrary to popular belief, intelligence can and does grow as we age –– even into old age, according to Nisbett. The more we remain intellectually active, the better off we are.

Linda Gottfredson, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Delaware, defines intelligence as “the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience.”

I like that definition. It suggests that IQ is malleable, particularly because it gives weight to experiential learning. We all become smarter simply by living. The richer our experiences, the smarter we become.

That is not to say that we don’t have our IQ limits. But too many children, especially kids growing up in poor neighborhoods, never reach their full IQ potential because their learning environments are less than optimal.

Particularly in impoverished districts, schools, if properly funded, can and do play a critical role in helping children achieve their academic –– and life –– potential. The tax cap, however, is forcing many, if not most, districts to scale back the very programs that support and enrich children’s learning experiences.
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