Prairie Home Companion and “all the kids are a little above average”

| January 17, 2007 | 7 Replies

I think I’ve seen one of the top ten stupidest headlines ever created (although I probably should reserve judgment, no doubt humans have not yet reached the zenith of stupidity). It is authored by someone named Charles Murray and in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

The headline that caught my eye:

Intelligence in the Classroom:  Half of all children are below average and teachers can only do so much for them.

With a headline like that, I didn’t even bother reading the article.  It reminds me of the saying they have about Lake Wobegone on the Prairie Home Companion, “where all the kids are a little above average.”  I always got a chuckle with that, but I knew it was a joke.  This guy is dead serious. 

I have another headline for him: 

Half the people in the U.S. have IQs below 100.

How’s that for a scoop. Erich, did you learn about this at the Media Conference? 

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Category: Education, Psychology Cognition, Whimsy

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My life's goal is to make a difference; to help those stuck in the mire of poverty and ignorance. I am an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves, whether from ignorance, from lack of eloquence or simple lack of opportunity.

Comments (7)

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  1. TMOL says:

    “Half the people in the U.S. have IQs below 100.”

    I believe that is not a correct statement. The average IQ is above 100. Check it out before posting.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Devi: About half of the time, I don’t pay as much attention to such headlines.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to tmol’s comment: the IQ score in America is *defined* so that 100 is the median. (See, http://sq.4mg.com/IQbasics.htm/.) However, *other countries* can have median IQ scores above or below 100 (on the US scale), though it is unclear to what extent the data for other countries represent a random sample of the population. (See, http://sq.4mg.com/NationIQ.htm/.) In any case, a range of a few points isn’t statistically significant: anyone with an IQ in the range of 90-110 is considered “average.”

  4. scholar says:

    You probably should read the article, Devi. The author indeed cites the famous radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”.

    *Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average*

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrison_Keillor)

    In fact, the author uses this as part of his argument that improving the education system will not necessarily “leave no children behind”. His reasoning being that the kids with lower intelligence will continue to have trouble learning.

    Quote from article…

    “Today’s simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake *Wobegon*.”

    The author clearly understands the faulty logic in lake *Wobegon*, which he is poking fun at in his Headline.

    The article is actually not bad, if you get past the headline. However, I do take issue with one of the author’s assumptions. He claims that the IQ that you have when you are in kindergarten is the same IQ you will always have. In my experience, IQ can be trained. One girl in particular, who I went to elementary school with, was below average in kindergarten and even up through primary school. She was a hard worker though, and eventually, she was right up there near the top of the class. I guess one could argue that she had the aptitude all along, or that she was a late bloomer, etc. It may take a few years to become obvious, but I believe that “dumb” kids can get smarter, especially if they aren’t placed in the “slow” class.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Deb. It's a good thing you didn't read that Murray article, or you would have jumped right through your screen in anger. It's the fatalism that one should expect from the author of "The Bell Curve." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Murray_%28au

    Consider this gem: "Even a perfect education system is not going to make much difference in the performance of children in the lower half of the distribution."

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    Remember that "average" is a slippery vernacular term that can be applied to three distinct statistical values: The mean (sum of values divided by the number of values), the median (the value at which there are as many samples higher as there are lower), or the mode (the value at which there are the most samples, the peak of the curve).

    For a perfectly random distribution (a "Normal" distribution), these three types of average are the same. However, most real-life statistics are not "normal".

    <img src="http://dangerousintersection.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/MeanMedianMode.gif&quot; />

  7. Pete Hawser says:

    And half the writers for the WSJ are below average! :-)

    Devi, this may seem silly, but on another page you say your avatar is Bear Butte. I have been to Bear Butte three times and that picture is some place different. However, it is beautiful. Can you please tell us where that is?

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