Does America Hate Bright Kids?

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Brooklyn’s Public School 139 recently shuttered its gifted program for lack of diversity, prodding Jerry Pournelle to ask, does America hate bright kids?

Either one believes, as we all used to believe, that the world is sustained by about 20% of the population — which generally controls 80% of the property, the so-called Pareto distribution, or one must come up with an alternate theory. Marx so little understood technology and industrialization that he presumed that anyone could be trained to do any job; management was easy if everyone cooperated, and sustaining the industrial civilization would be simple. Ownership was not important. Others thought differently, and all the data seems to indicate that the great advances have been sparked by a rather small number of people. It isn’t that only Shockley could have discovered the transistor, but it does seem likely that only someone with Shockley’s smarts could have done so. I knew Shockley. My very conservative friend Peter De Lucca thought him a civilization monster after a couple of dinners with him; he was certainly a good example of C P Snow’s “Two Societies”. But no one could doubt his intelligence and his — stamina? Fortitude? Determination? — which kept him working on the transistor principle once he had a hint of it from his observations.

I discovered science fiction in the 1940’s when I was in high school. In particular I discovered John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog), and I wrote Campbell a letter about one of his editorials. He answered it with two pages of comment on my comments. Needless to say I took him seriously after that; and one of Campbell’s principles was that the human race was sustained by its top 20% and advanced by its top 10%. There were exceptions, but not many. My reading of history as well as the newspapers seemed to confirm those beliefs, and when I discovered Pareto I was more confirmed in those views. Galton’s Genetic Studies of Genius came to an interesting conclusion: while “Great Men” were far more likely to sire a “Great Man,” most Great Men were not descendants of Great Men. This led me to the conclusion that the most important resource of a society was the undiscovered potential great men, who might be educated to a level as to allow them to reach their potential. I must have concluded this in 1948 or thereabouts. I have never found any good reason to abandon this view.

But of course the United States hates the gifted kids who are not descended from the 20% who control 80% of the resources. We do not say that, of course, but were it true it would be hard to show a more efficient system for keeping those upstarts — potential great men and women not born to the rich — down where they belong. We have a system whereby they are sent to inferior schools and kept there since their parents can’t afford to get them out. Once through 12 years of mostly inferior education they are invited to go to universities: but unlike the system that allowed my wife (11th child of a coal miner) and I to get through college, we have devised a system that allows them through only if they owe the establishment a great sum which is unlikely ever to be paid. I do not expect that the children of Bill and Melissa Gates will have any lifelong debts due to the cost of their education — whether they are potentially Great or not.

The result of the efforts to “equalize” education in the public schools is obvious. No child left behind is easy to accomplish if no child is allowed to get ahead. Of course that does no apply to the children of the 10% wealthiest, and even less to those of the 5%.

And they never catch wise.

The lights we see in this educational darkness come from technology which makes it possible for the best and brightest to acquire an actual education without incurring a monstrous burden of debt; Alas, we also have “equal opportunity” employment laws which make it almost certain that personnel departments — excuse me, Human Resources — will hire only those with credentials, and the credentials are far more important than actual abilities. (We have already outlawed the use of IQ tests in employment.) The results would be predictable if they were not already known. Couple this with regulations that make it very difficult to start new businesses — particularly those which require high technology investments — and you will find that the phrase “You can’t keep a good man or woman down” proves to be objectively false.

The ruling class may repeatedly state that they do not hate bright kids (other than their own) but it would be difficult to prove that from their actions.


  1. Lucklucky says:

    Every “Public Education” system hates bright kids. First lets start with the name which is a lie to start with. It is much more “Totalitarian Education” than “Public Education”.

    And that is the whole objective: normalization, equality. Bright kids are to be destroyed in whole process.

  2. Dan Kurt says:

    re: “… does America hate bright kids?@Jerry Pournelle & Every “Public Education” system hates bright kids.@lucklucky

    There is irony here. Over the years I have read a lot about the development of Public Education in the USA. As I am recovering from major surgery, I have no access to my library so let me write from memory a summary.

    At some point in the 1800s American academics imported the Prussian model of schooling to the USA where 1) good obedient workers were produced, 2) patriotism was instilled in the students, and 3) immigrants (virtually all Whites) were assimilated into the fabric of the American population. Apparently that system is believed to have worked well until the Democrats invited the brown, black, and yellow world to replace the Whites and the Democrats and Republicans attempted to integrate the Blacks with their mean IQ of circa 80 to 85 with the Whites of mean IQ of 100. Public education has been collapsing since the 1960s when those political decisions were implemented.

    What I find ironic was that the academics who used the Prussian model of public education in the USA did not implant one important aspect of that model. These were brilliant men and their NOT adding that part had to have been intentional. My guess is that they did not want the BRILLIANT sons of the lower classes and immigrants to have an easy chance to rise up and challenge the scions of their own station.

    The part of the Prussian educational system not imported to the USA, but which BTW spread all over Central Europe and beyond, was the Gymnasium. This was were the bright were schooled. One could get into a Gymnasium after four years of primary school and then spend 8 or 9 years there. The university would be next or the military generally. Only a small proportion of the students would be selected for the Gymnasium which was open to all levels of society. If the boy was bright, he usually could attend. With the coming of the NAZIs and then the Allied victors in WW2 the Gymnasium system has been watered down, girls included and standards lowered but it has not been eliminated.

    Dan Kurt

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