Why did I suddenly become unintelligent

Inheritance or training : Nobody is born stupid

Of course, parents in Brandenburg or Bremen ask themselves why the schools in their countries are less efficient, because their children are definitely no dumber than those in other parts of the republic. ”That said Federal Education Minister Annette Schavan on the occasion of the last nationwide educational comparison in June Interview with the "Rheinische Post". The comparison showed once again that students in the south and southwest do better than those in the north. The educational gap from south to north was confirmed.

"Your children are definitely not more stupid": What if Schavan is wrong? What if the children in the south are actually more intelligent, at least on average? The fact that they do better on performance tests at least makes that seem possible. The minister praised the educational policy of the southern countries. They have invested in the quality of teaching and teacher training. This makes the buck with the mostly “red” education ministers of the north. You just have to do the right thing and Berlin, Brandenburg and Co. would catch up with the south. Really?

Schavan's words speak of a rather unconservative way of thinking. The mental abilities of the students can therefore be shaped as required. A few ministerial measures are sufficient - “teaching quality”, “teacher training” - and intellectual power is already transferred from the big wheel of the cultural bureaucracy to the smaller cogwheels of schools and teachers, in order to finally penetrate the brains of children and here intelligence, motivation and creativity increase. The child, the smallest wheel in the gearbox. A blank sheet of paper just waiting to be written on.

The idea that man is a spiritually flexible being, his soul can be kneaded like clay, is one of the great guiding principles of modernity. And actually something that CDU politicians like Schavan should see critically. At any rate, people used to be more skeptical. Even in the 1950s, the conservative image of man - and that of education policy - was more determined by what could be described positively as being fixated on talent. People are the way they are, "attempts at improvement" come up against natural limits.

The 1960s saw the breakthrough of an optimism in education that was mainly fed by behaviorism. It seemed to make it possible to “condition” people, to program their thinking as desired. "Give me a child and I will shape it as you wish," is a famous quote attributed to Burrhus Frederic Skinner. Skinner was the creator of radical behaviorism and a learning machine with the meaningful name of the Skinner Box. Suddenly talent was no longer interpreted as a prerequisite, but as a result of learning, as in a report for the Education Council from 1969. It was also about tearing down the walls between social classes and creating absolute equality of opportunity. Equality was wrongly interpreted as human identity and knowledge about biologically based differences was ignored or downplayed.

The idea of ​​the fundamental intellectual equality of all people has made its way into bourgeois educational policy. And it is still a dominant motif in the social sciences. According to this, it is almost exclusively the social milieu that creates inequality. In every new educational study it is therefore critically pointed out to what extent school success depends on the social origin of the parents. “Only six out of 100 working-class children begin university studies, while 49 out of 100 high school students from high-income families attend a university,” complains Berlin social scientist Jutta Allmendinger.

It is an absolutely desirable goal to increase the university rate of working-class children. But is it really only because of the parents' income that the children of high-income earners often have higher chances of studying? Could it not also be that intelligent parents not only earn more on average, but also have intelligent children again more often?

New findings from psychology and brain research paint a different picture of humans than that of an arbitrarily changeable individual, a tabula rasa. Man has not shed his natural roots, he is not a cultural being floating through the world free of all biology. The brain, as an organ of thought, is a product of evolution, owes itself to the chance of genetic changes as well as to anything but random natural selection. This means that mental performance is also a result of evolution. A not insignificant part of intelligence is inherited.

The mind is not free, it is a product of the brain. Every thought, every knowledge, every sentence arises in networks of billions of nerve cells and billions of connections. In the meantime it is possible to trace the origin of thought down to the molecular details and to understand it in the very first stages. A gene called "creb" plays an important role in the development of long-term memory. The hereditary trait FoxP2 is closely linked to the ability to speak and speak. Many genes are probably involved in the development of intelligence. And we now know around 300 hereditary factors whose malfunction can lead to intellectual disability.

But that does not make humans a marionette that only hangs by a thread of genetic information. The genes are not gods of fate. They don't primarily prohibit, they open the horizon. That is why they do not diminish the importance of education, on the contrary: they make education possible in the first place

A good example of the relationship between nature and the environment is body size. How tall a person grows is largely genetically determined. The actual size, however, is determined by the circumstances. Times of want cause people to care; times of plenty thrive.

The ability to speak and speak is also innate. The environment, on the other hand, determines whether someone speaks German, English or French. It is similar with special skills. They are biologically determined to a significant degree. But the milieu and the cultural background determine whether a talent can be realized. Beethoven's musical genius would certainly have come into its own in a Stone Age horde. But the time was not yet ripe for symphonies.

The system and the environment flow together in personality and together shape people. “Nature versus environment is dead,” writes American science journalist Matt Ridley in his book “The Movable Gene”. "Long live nature through the environment!" Interesting new research areas have emerged at the transition between the two. Neuroscientists try to understand the "plasticity" of the brain, that is, the ability of our thinking organ to change due to environmental stimuli. And epigeneticists are studying how the environment influences the activity of genes.

The opponents of yore - talent versus upbringing - have become a successful team. Matt Ridley explains this using the example of fear of snakes, spiders and other nasty animals. "Respect" for them is conveyed to children in an urgent way. But this learning is genetically engineered. Man is particularly afraid of those things that rightly scared the Stone Age man: dangerous animals, darkness, abysses, deep water, narrow spaces. Only those who were wary of these dangers survived in the past. Your caution has carved its way into the genome. For Ridley a clear case of “nature through environment”. Learning is an instinct in itself.

Findings from experimental psychology and neurobiology are increasingly being taken seriously in education. Nevertheless: To this day, the “fundamental optimism for change” has not disappeared from educational and political circles, laments brain researcher Roth. It actually got worse. Now it is not just the young who are waxed in the hands of the elderly. The elderly should also learn for a lifetime, be flexible and effective into old age - “without any scientific justification,” as Roth thinks.

Belief in education and upbringing gives hope, makes us optimistic. Conversely, it is hard to bear the idea that human nature has limits to learning. This is easily linked to arrogance, fatalism and pessimism. It hurts not to be free in everything, not to be able to develop as one would like to at any time.

But those who recognize that some students are naturally more gifted in math or music are not making a value judgment. Above all, it does not mean to put your hands on your lap because nature supposedly has already given everything. Rather, it is about developing the potential of every person as much as possible.

The interplay of system and environment in the intellectual development of humans makes Annette Schavan's thesis of the omnipotence of the cultural bureaucracy appear doubtful. Does the substantial educational gap in Germany's schools have other causes? Perhaps the poorer performance of the students in the north is just an indication.

Of course, that's just an assumption, nothing more. After all: it is supported by the fact that conscripts from Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony perform better in tests by the Bundeswehr than those from federal states such as Bremen, Brandenburg or Saxony-Anhalt. It is conceivable that the south is more intelligent than the north - of course only on a statistical average. Nothing is said about the individual.

Regional differences in intelligence, often linked to different performance in IQ tests, are a common phenomenon. The causes are hotly debated. Most recently, Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico caused a stir when he suggested a link between lower IQs in warmer countries and the incidence of serious infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Perhaps children in tropical regions have to “divert” some of their precious resources from brain development into the defense against malaria, Thornhill speculated. In a nutshell: the immune system instead of intelligence.

Malaria is not a problem in Germany. But could it not be that the different economic and social developments can at least partially explain the phenomenon of differently distributed intelligence?

The history of Berlin makes this clear. The rise to metropolis was followed by decline. Dictatorship, war and the cold war let the city fall back. When the Wall fell, most of the big companies had long left Berlin, even if West Berlin had been fed with billions in taxes as a showcase for democracy. East Berlin, like the entire GDR, had seen an exodus of capable specialists.

In contrast, the south of Germany was able to show a track record of success. It has prospered in the last few decades, becoming a magnet for talent from the poorer regions of the north, which offered people fewer opportunities for development and career.

Perhaps the educational gap in such processes has one of its many causes. At the same time, it shows that the path from nature to culture is not a one-way street. In this case, historical and economic developments have led to many gifted people settling in one region of the country. Culture shaped nature, and now this in turn shapes culture - a close interdependence.

For a city like Berlin, this means that it cannot catch up overnight in the educational competition. Intelligence is not an unlimited resource and cannot be produced at will. But it is optimistic that the city has become a magnet for bright minds again. Berlin is definitely not getting dumber.

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