The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a set of intelligence surveys which, when taken together, make a powerful argument that smart kids are smart kids out of the womb, that they stay smarter than other kids throughout school, and that less-bright kids don't catch up, even in old age. For example:

On June 1, 1932, Scotland had all children born in 1921 and attending school -- 87,498 11-year-olds -- take a 75-question test on analogies, reading, arithmetic and the like. The goal was to determine the distribution of intellectual ability. In 1998, scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen tracked down 101 of those students, then 77 years old, and administered the same test. The correlation between scores 66 years apart was a striking .73. (A correlation of 1 would mean no change in rankings; a correlation of .73 is very high.) There is "remarkable stability in individual differences in human intelligence" from childhood to old age, the scientists concluded in a 2000 paper.

Similar studies have been done in this country of kids tested several grades apart. Those studies may lead you to the conclusion that it's tracking and expectations, not innate intelligence, that keeps early high-scorers at a higher level. But then there's this:

Developmental psychologist Marc Bornstein of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and colleagues followed children for four years, starting in infancy with 564 four-month olds. Babies' ability to process information can be tested in a so-called habituation test. They look at a black-on-white pattern until their attention wanes and they look away, or habituate. Later, they're shown the pattern again. How quickly they sense they've seen the image long enough, or have seen it before, is a measure of how quickly, accurately and completely they pick up, assimilate and recall information. The scientists evaluated the children again at six months, 18 months, 24 months and 49 months. In every case, performance mirrored the relative rankings on the infant test, Dr. Bornstein and colleagues reported this year in the journal Psychological Science.

Bornstein, however, was quick to add that while hiw own results may "entice" people to believe that inborn factors determine adult intelligence, he warns that his study did not measure for such important factors as creativity, character, or gumption. Taking up Bornstein's gauntlet, we've applied for an NIH grant to perform a comprehensive study of spunk in preschool children.


A new study from England found that eight weeks after the birth of a child, 10 percent of moms -- and a surprisingly high 4 percent of dads -- showed signs of major depressive illness. Slate considers the study, and others like it, to be a wake-up call for pediatricians and other practitiotners. In fact, we'd bring the new data over to our primary-care doctor personally, if only we could motivate ourselves to get off the couch.

[Note: Scroll down on the Slate page to find the depression study, but while you do, take a peek at the ominous news on high-soy diets. Loyal readers know that FD has always been dubious about soy as a staple for children; sounds like the science to back it up is starting to trickle in.]


Buckleycandide Longtime readers know that FD is a Comics Guy, and not just a fan of the long-underwear crime-fightiung brigade, either; we feel like we've been on or ahead of the curve on most of the great graphic novelists of the past 20 years. But the ongoing canonization of Chris Ware continues to baffle us. Recently, Penguin hired Ware, along with other comic artists like Charles Burns and Seth, to illustrate a new set of covers for its Penguin Classics series. Ware did Candide (left), and the result speaks (and speaks and speaks) for itself.

In other bad Chris Ware-related news, the Masters of American Comics exhibit, which we caught in the Hammer Museum in LA earlier this year, has come to the New York City area, but the curators have sadly put the earlier, much more interesting half of the show -- Winsor McCay, Lionel Feininger, George Herriman, Charles M. Schulz, etc. -- in the Newark Museum in NJ. The second half of the show -- Ware (sigh), Kurtzman, R. Crumb, etc. -- is in the more easily accessible Jewish Museum in Manhattan. It's still worth a visit, and the kids should enjoy Jack Kirby, at least. But it's a shame that many youngsters will miss the chance to see the original illustrations of McCay, Herriman, and even Schultz. That's the kind of show that can make a kid like going to the museum.


Slate test-drives nine prepackaged processed kids lunches, finds them all disgusting. On an average day, Fellow packs a hummus sandwich with a cup of corn-syrup-free apple sauce and an organic "fruit bar." God help us if he ever finds out about Lunchables, or its out-of-control Web site.


The debate over the validity and efficacy of homework is all over the headlines this fall, with the release of at least three new books arguing the pros and, mostly, cons of nightly homework for all elementary-school kids. (Emily Bazelon summarized the arguments in Slate.)

There is a strong case to be made against homework, and it's been well argued for years: Schools should get their teaching in on their own time, during the school day; kids should be free for creative play in the evenings; rote work turns kids off; parents don't have the time to commit to homework-monitoring, etc.

But right now, where we sit, in first grade, we believe homework is helping Fellow. His writing has improved greatly since the beginning of school a month ago, and we're prepared to credit his homework assignments and the time it demands that he and we spend together on the challenges of writing. He's more successfully executing the physical act of putting words to page neatly, and he's improved on the technical challenge of spelling properly, which has led to more ambitious attempts to write original sentences.

The downside is that his homework, at least for now, takes more than the 10-20 minutes it's intended to (and that's not including time we need to budget for him to read aloud to us, and vice versa) and it leaves precious little time to play chess, Sorry, Trouble, Jenga, or any of the other  games which filled our evenings during the off-season. So we can certainly see a time in the very near future where the volume of homework begins to trouble us; we can also easily see how some of our fellow first-grade parents might already be there.

Looking at the homework debate from a more global perspective, there's this argument, summed up by Bazelon below, which should give all of us pause:

. . . . the argument that homework is a net benefit for most kids has a big weakness. When homework boosts achievement, it mostly boosts the achievement of affluent students. They're the ones whose parents are most likely to make them do the assignments, and who have the education to explain and help. "If we sat around and deliberately tried to come up with a way to further enlarge the achievement gap, we might just invent homework," New York educator Deborah Meier told Kohn.

Well, sure. That's a good point. It isn't acknowledged enough, and not enough is being done to solve it. On the other hand, homework does help Fellow, in large part because he does have (relatively) affluent parents educated enough to explain and help with homework. (Full disclosure: Fellow has perhaps an even more heightened advantage by virtue of having a Dad who works in education.) But the fact that homework doesn't work for everyone -- that in its current form, it can't work for everyone -- doesn't necessarily mean it should be scrapped.

One solution might be limiting homework (not including pure reading assignments) to three nights a week instead of five (our vote: Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday). Another might be to mix up the homework routine more. Fellow has so far had some interesting assignments, but mostly in the same subject areas and in the same formats. Perhaps tecahers should be directed to hand out assignments that target all seven kinds of intelligence: more artwork, more problem-solving, more purely creative writing, maybe even more intrapersonal prompts.

As you read the cases for and against homework, as Bazelon also notes, you see that while there's little evidence that nightly homework in the early grades improves a child's performance in school, there's also little evidence to prove it doesn't. Inertia and tradition are strongly on the side of homework and that's likely where schools will stay.


Just in time for the Halloween season comes proof that when it comes to throwing eggs, someone could in fact lose an eye:


A new study reports that when the eggs strike people in the face, they can cause eye damage, sometimes permanent. The study, led by researchers at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital in England, appears in The Emergency Medicine Journal. . . . ''Aside from the dry cleaning bills,'' the authors write, ''a raw egg can lead to severe ocular injury.''

The Royal Liverpool team has returned to the lab to continue their investigation of such questions as, Can you go swimming a half-hour after eating, and, Will your face really freeze like that. We'll keep you posted on their results.


In case you missed it: Glamour magazine (UK edition) outraged military-family groups when a writer for the magazine contacted Military Families Against the War seeking sources for an article on young war widows, but felt obligated to add this:

"Glamour magazine is very looks-conscious, so, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, they need to be photogenic, or at least comfortable in front of a camera! The editor likes to approve each case history, so when I send her a short bio ('X is aged X and lost her husband in the war X') she likes to see a jpeg pic too. I know this is a big ask, but it's something she demands! Hey ho!"

October 13, 2006 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS


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