Monday, June 2, 2008

What does it take to be smart?

I was just about to blog about the extensive discussions I had over the weekend on disciplinary boundaries and the role of philosophy in social sciences, when I read an article in the newspaper about Alia Sabur. University professor at 19, clarinet prodigy at 10, BA in applied mathematics, doctor in materials sciences and engineering, and black belt in tae kwon do.If you search for her online, there's plenty of media stuff out there celebrating her as a woman or as a Muslim.

For myself, I'm just amazed at this human being's accomplishments, it makes me think of how much we could do if we wanted to. I know, you'll say that she's a prodigy and therefore she doesn't count as one of us, the regular John Doe's without our regular IQ levels. And I agree, to a point. But from that point on, I'm rather a believer in the social processes that shape us.

I've recently learned about
Susan Polgar from the documentary My Brilliant Brain. She's a wonderful example - at least for me - that we can all reach the levels that we want to reach, if we only have the social support for it.
It made me think of Basil Bernstein's work on education and class ( The Structuring of Pedagogic Discourse, 1990); Bernstein puts forward a complex (and eclectic) argument on how pedagogic strategies, knowledge framing and transmission, and class are inter-related. His core argument is that education is permeated by power from the ways in which we classify something as knowledge (e.g. logic as knowledge), to the ways in which a child gains the ability to recognize the rules of classification and apply them. Thus, education is a social process through which the child is taught, if you want, the rules of the game from the day one of her existence. Middle-class children are able to recognize various classification systems, which are primarily class-rooted: the mundane one (e.g. this is food), but also the more 'scientific' one (e.g. this is an apple; an apple is a fruit; a fruit is a plant a.s.o). As our society is dominated by a middle-class, bourgeois power structure, education systems are modeled after its values, and consequently pupils who have been socialized within those values have higher success rates. Or at the least that's how I imagine the whole thing to be.

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