December 15, 2017

On cognitive privilege and other animals

Don’t even try to look for the definition of cognitive privilege in the dictionaries, it is too new. There is a definition of cognitive elite, though, that brings us close to the subject.

The cognitive elite of a society, according to Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, are those having higher intelligence levels and thus better prospects for success in life.

This definition brings you close to the steps needed for definition of cognitive privilege. Once defined, you can start happily operating this excellent tool for naming and shaming a new category of the privileged people.

The story started for me a few weeks ago, when the parents of my grandson met the teacher of his first school year. It so happened that the youngster was sent to a few private lessons to prepare him to school, for reasons not having to do with the story. He has some rudimentary reading and writing skills, nothing to brag about, but still. When the teacher heard about it, she went kind of pale. The reason, as she explained, was that she is used to receiving a bunch of schoolchildren from one single kindergarten, uniformly unable to read or write, so there was no need for her to treat anyone differently…

Of course, in this case the advantage of the boy is temporary, to disappear in a few weeks with the other kids learning and catching up. And, of course, as it is customary in schools, applying the famous peer pressure to those who dare to be different. Anyhow, the lesson here is that our schools are built for uniformity, one size fits all is the motto.

It so happened that in a few days after this meeting with the schoolteacher, I have stumbled on this disturbing discovery, made, most probably, by a millennial:

WHAT IS PRIVILEGE AND WHAT DO WE DO WITH IT?

There are many kinds of privilege besides white privilege: cognitive privilege, for example. We now know that intelligence is not something we have significant control over but is something we are born with. We are living in a society in which success is increasingly linked to one’s intelligence. This is not to say that intelligence is the only factor that is important. All that is implied is that below a certain threshold of intelligence, there are fewer and fewer opportunities. These opportunities are being shifted upward to jobs that require heavier cognitive lifting or else are being replaced by robots. Thus, the accident of having been born smart enough to be able to be successful is a great benefit that you did absolutely nothing to earn. Consequently, you have nothing to be proud of for being smart.

Of course, the author, Dan Williams, doesn’t have in mind any malevolent actions against the cognitively privileged folks. His goals are, for now, somewhat more relaxed:

But when doing so, we must also bear in mind the purpose of drawing attention to privileges. The purpose is not to instill a sort of Catholic guilt in someone’s psyche, nor is it an excuse to make oneself feel better by demonizing another. The purpose of pointing out someone’s privilege is to remind them of the infinite number of experiences that are possible and the very large number of experiences that are actual that they know very little about. The purpose is to enlarge their moral consciousness, to make them more sympathetic to people who are less fortunate than they are.

Not that I understand the items listed under “the purpose”, but at least there is no reason for alarm. I think so. The whole “cognitive privilege” idea so far hasn’t put roots among the other “privileges”, like “white privilege”, “cis gender privilege”, “male privilege” etc. Hopefully it will remain dormant, at least for a while.

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Taken together, the case of my grandson and the (so far) abortive attempt on raising the specter of “cognitive privilege” brought me to check the situation in schools with regard of treatment the bright children receive.

Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden: the results are similar and disturbing. A few quotes from the three sources sum up the situation pretty well:

For ordinary families with academically able children in the inner city or small town Canada, the everyday reality is bored kids seeking outside outlets for their creative or higher intellectual pursuits.

“The attitude at the moment is that you either fit in or go,” says Clare Lorenz, the chairman of the support society, Children of High Intelligence (CHI). “It isn’t how things should be.”

Results show cause for concern. In particular, primary school appeared to be a hostile environment [for gifted kids].

It definitely doesn’t look like the school system, at least the public one, is geared and ready to foster excellence and provide the necessary support to gifted kids, who are our hope and our future.

The only ray of light so far comes from Finland:

“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education.

Otherwise it is no surprise that private schools, that promise all kinds of special education treats (and frequently don’t deliver), tend to proliferate and take the money off many credulous parents. Some are, of course, quite good, but why shouldn’t the respective states invest more in their most precious resource?

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Instead we are facing the rising waves of idiotic identity politics nitpicking and creation of harmful buzzwords like “cognitive privilege” and similar. Like this product of some festering minds*:

Standing Up to Pee Gives Boys an Unfair Advantage in Physics

In the latest example of identity politics taken to its absurd end, three Australian college professors believe that “playful urination practices – from seeing how high you can pee to games such as Peeball (where men compete using their urine to destroy a ball placed in a urinal) – may give boys an advantage over girls when it comes to physics.”

Mind boggling? Not nowadays, I am afraid.

And, meanwhile, we are inexorably moving to the era of The Marching Morons.

Too bad.

(*) I am still willing to learn that the peeing advantage story is an elaborate spoof, but after reading the original article I am not so sure.

About Snoopy 18 Articles

Snoopy the Goon grew up in the Soviet Union, and now lives in Israel. He blogs at Simply Jews