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Articles > February, 16, 2010

Intelligence: The New Race Card?

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The US has everything. Even, believe it or not, a society called the United Fools of America.

This group aims to eliminate “discrimination based on intelligence, merits and ability” and thinks that “affirmative actions for disadvantaged people due to low intelligence are badly needed”. They want to end intelligence-based discrimination, and, in a society where we’re all supposed to get equal opportunities, should this apply to universities?  Should we create a situation in which universities are forced to accept more applicants?

The government has recently announced £400 million in efficiency savings (on top of cuts last year) that universities  in the UK will have to make, and at least 28,000 applicants are predicted to be refused a place at university this academic year,  guaranteed to lead to huge disappointment. Competition is more intense than ever before (applications are up by a quarter this year), meaning that many people who in the ‘noughties’ may have been accepted are likely to be denied a place this summer (in the ‘tenies’?). Is this situation fair?

OK, while my views don’t correlate exactly with those of the ‘United Fools of America’ (one of their more absurd arguments being “Putting fools at the position of leadership actually has great benefits” as “ Fools obey the rules and cannot figure out evil plans,” although you have to admire their creativity), I would argue that anyone who has put in enough effort towards their A-levels/ relative qualifications and really wants to go should at least have the opportunity of a university education. The experiences/ prospects it offers are fantastic; typically graduates earn 35 per cent more than the average wage, students get financial help to leave home for adventures in big cities (or small ones if that’s  their thing), and of course there’s that inimitable social life full of cheap alcohol/ fancy-dress opportunities.

However, I guess what the real issue is here is where do we draw the line: what exactly is ‘negative’ discrimination? As humans we discriminate all the time; between foods, books, prospective partners, newspapers, clothes. Not all discrimination is bad, just as a certain level of intelligence-based discrimination seems necessary for running a society. If Gordon Brown or David Cameron came across as stupid, the majority of people would probably vote for the more intelligent-sounding one, because it’s nice to know that the person running the country can string a sentence together, and voters probably assume that the more intelligent the person, the better equipped they are to tackle such a difficult job (something US voters apparently neglected to consider in the 2000/ 2004 presidential elections). This is why charisma is so important in our leaders: we support the person who is best at convincing us of his/ her ability. However, while intelligence-based discrimination may not be as serious/ as much of a problem as the racial or sexual kind, do we really have the right to deny people such a brilliant, not to mention useful, life-experience on the basis of a grade?

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to education and to have access to vocational and continuing training,” suggesting that unrestrained access to educational facilities like universities is a basic human right. They do not say “Everyone who gets A*s has a right to education, but Human Rights don’t apply to students who get Ds”, and in an ideal world I suppose everyone would be guaranteed the education and training they want/ need.

With limited resources and the UK’s enormous debts this is realistically probably never going to happen, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone at least got the chance to try?

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  1. Gabby

    I am not a citizen of the US but I fully understand what is taking place here. In my country the demand for students to acquire straight A’s is highly depressing to us students, as some of us may tend to fall short. In most cases our country fails us, as those of us who are not straight A students do not stand a chance of fulfilling dreams as it has become a highly competitive event. Everybody deserves a shot at their dreams whether straight A students or not. Good luck those of us who endure these struggles.