How DNA Tests for IQ Threaten the Future of Education

If you could spend $50 on a test that would reveal just how smart and successful your toddler will be when they’re older, would you?

Twelve months ago, that was a hypothetical question. Today, that’s changed. After decades of unsuccessful studies into the link between DNA and IQ, revolutionary new tests have uncovered 500 genetic markers that geneticists say indicates a connection.

Although the predictive modelling that analyses this connection is still in its infancy, several online services already offer the tests. Many more are set to join them. As the modelling improves, the technology expands, and the costs lessen, companies will undoubtedly rise to serve a demanding audience of millions of parents desperate to know if their child is a future genius.

It might seem a novel gimmick, akin to online IQ tests or filling out a MENSA quiz book, but the social implications of such tests, should they prove successful, would be severe.

Take the case of The New Genetics of Intelligence, a report by psychologists Robert Plomin and Sophie von Strumm published earlier this year. In it, the researchers detail how their studies into the heritability of intelligence could inform an education system that seeks to deliver customised learning to students based on their results.

Individualised learning is likely to prove a critical step on the path towards a more effective future for students, but to structure it around IQ is to ignore the numerous other elements that determine success. Intelligence may be the best predictor for life outcomes, but it is only that: a predictor. To dismiss such traits as willpower, creativity, resilience and discipline is to declare that everyone learns in the same way, and that those whose genes suggest they will be the ‘best’ learners should be prioritised.

Those with lower IQs will be subsequently informed that their potential is not as great as their peers’, and that they should set their goals accordingly.

“A world where people are slotted according to their inborn ability—well, that is Gattaca, sociologist Catherine Bliss told MIT Technology Review.

“That is eugenics.”

Indeed, such a system would necessitate the question of how to deal with children who don’t show the markers of optimal intelligence. There already exist companies looking at how to predict the traits of IVF embryos before they leave the petri dish; would such an extreme focus on intelligence require prospective parents to consider such options if they want their children to get the most out of life?

These are questions that must be asked if we do not turn our attention to what really matters. And what really matters isn’t recognising people’s ability to learn, but instead recognising how each person can put that ability to use.

Doing so means looking at people not as test subjects, but as individuals. It means finding out what makes people engaged, what keeps them engaged, and how to accommodate that to ensure they get the most out of their education.

Oprah Winfrey. Albert Einstein. John Lennon. Walt Disney. These are just are few examples of people who were told, during some stage of their learning process, that they would never find success. Ultimately, they did. Not because their IQ meant they had a high chance of doing so. But because they wanted it. They faced huge challenges, but they did the work, and overcame.

Allowing everyone similar opportunity to achieve greatness is the foundation of education. In a time when we have the potential to know so much about someone before they are even born, we must not forget that, lest we quench the human spirit that drives us to seek our futures, our way.

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