What I stand for

One of the great problems of philosophy, is the relationship between the realm of knowledge and the realm of values. Knowledge is what is; values are what ought to be. I would say that all traditional philosophies up to and including Marxism have tried to derive the ‘ought’ from the ‘is.’ My point of view is that this is impossible, this is a farce. 

Jacques Monod

Having been forced into the position of fighting a rear guard action of trying to explain what I’m against, it’s seems past time to set out what I am for.

First, here is a list of things I believe to be both important and true:

  1. Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests predicts educational outcomes, health (both physical and mental, safety, happiness, creativity, conscientiousness and longevity.
  2. The kind of abstract and hypothetical reasoning measured by IQ tests is associated with improved moral reasoning.
  3. Although we’re born with much of what makes up our intelligence, all children, no matter their starting points, can become cleverer.
  4. The more we know, the greater our capacity to reason, the less we know, the more constrained our thinking will be.
  5. Teaching children a curriculum made up of the most powerful, culturally rich concepts and information provides the raw material to both enrich their own lives and improve society.
  6. Explicit instruction is the most effective method of teaching such a curriculum.

Now, obviously you might disagree with any or all of these statements, but they are all – to differing degrees – empirical. I accept that some of these statements are far easier to test than others (although curiously, the ones that generate the most controversy are also those that are the best supported) but they can be subjected to scrutiny, tested and, if wrong, demonstrated to be such. If any are found to be false, I will immediately review my beliefs and, I hope, change my opinions.

At no point did I sit down and decide I would like any of these things to be true and then look for evidence to confirm my biases. In fact, for the most part I believed the exact opposite a few short years ago. All are based on reading, thinking about and discussing education research and scientific literature. I have been persuaded by the available evidence that this is how the world is.

Now to how I think the world ought to be. Here are some things I would like to see based on what I believe to be true:

  1. No group of people should oppress any other group for any reason.
  2. Trivial and superficial physical differences should have no bearing on how anyone is treated.
  3. All children should have the same opportunity to access an education that allows them to fully participate in society.
  4. No one should be able to deny anyone else any of these things because of their ideological beliefs.
  5. We should strenuously resist attempts to substitute the ability of science to answer empirical questions with identity politics, postmodernism and a culture of victimhood.
  6. When we disagree with others we should do so respectfully, seeking out points of consensus and resisting the temptation to use logical fallacies when arguing our case.*

Again, you might disagree with any or all of these statements. That is your right. No amount of evidence or research could hope to prove them right or wrong. These are my values and science has precious little to say on what we should value.

The Nobel Prize winning French biochemist, Jacques Monod thought it farcical to try to “derive the ought from the is,” but as I argued here, education is a project built on what ought to be; I think there’s much more danger in trying to derive the is from the ought. No one is immune from blurring knowledge and values, the best we can do is to try to explore our biases rather than to simply confirm them.

I can be very poor at this and am striving to be better. I find Rapoport’s Rules to be an excellent starting place for those wishing to improve their ability to debate ideas:

1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

30 Responses to What I stand for

  1. Could you post sources for your first list? I’m trying to dig more into educational research. I’ve read the Kirschner et al article on minimally-guided instruction, but would appreciate other reading recommendations.

  2. tonyparkin says:

    … and in particular, I would love the reading recommendations that led you to the conclusion that “The kind of abstract and hypothetical reasoning measured by IQ tests is associated with improved moral reasoning.”?

    • David Didau says:

      Easily done: I recommend reading Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature

      • I haven’t read Pinker, though I’ve heard Jordan Peterson say the opposite, that there is no evidence that there’s a relationship between intelligence and moral wisdom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moNKFJk2ZDw
        “If you’re corrupt and smart, you’re way more treacherous”

        I suspect Pinker’s evidence is compelling enough to make you believe the correlation?

        • David Didau says:

          There’s no evidence I know of to suggest intelligence makes people better or more likely to behave well, but the evidence that IQ is strongly negatively correlated with the probability of committing violent crime or being the victim of violence. Pinker also suggests that the better you are at thinking hypothetically, the more likely you are to empathise with others.

  3. monkrob says:

    Didau is putting his head where angles fear to tread. Intelligence is bad enough but mix it with race and it will explode in your face.
    Intelligence is not a popular construct with many teachers. When asked the question “Why does Billy do so much better at school than Betty?” I sometimes put the hypothesis “Billy is more intelligent than Betty. He should do better if they are equally well taught and work equally hard “. This is a discussion stopper and teachers for some reason don’t like it. But it’s true.
    And race. Don’t go there. You’ll bring on a shit storm that will stink up the place for years.
    There is a fine line between courage and folly and I think you crossed it there.
    Everything you have said in this post I agree with. “We should strenuously resist attempts to substitute the ability of science to answer empirical questions with identity politics, postmodernism and a culture of victimhood.”
    My example above using the hypothetical Billy and Betty will lead to claims of sexism and as a white male in a position of power and privledge I will be accused of oppressing someone. Billy happens to do better on his essays and maths tests than Betty. It has nothing to do with gender or oppression.

    Thanks for your writing.

    For everyone’s sake I think you need pull your head in before it gets kicked off. I fear for your intellectual safety.

    Twitter gets a bit Mayweather vs McGregor when Didau starts talking intelligence and race.

    • David Didau says:

      I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t say what ever you want and that some ideas cannot be publicly explored. Postmodernism is on the rise.

      • Jenny says:

        Me too. Some ideas can cause more than just controversy. Btw I am a teacher, and I have never had a problem with Billy doing better because he is more intelligent – but probably don’t say it too loudly these days.

      • stan says:

        This is not postmodernism on the rise. This is the world as it is, not as we might like it to be. I think you ask others to accept that and you should not object to it applying to your results.

        In this case neither should you feel too sorry for yourself. The examples of well intentioned and intelligent people who have tripped over race or gender are too many to claim: wow I never could have predicted that. I don’t think you would accept that good intentions are sufficient excuse either.

        There are two good reasons why you should avoid this topic. One you can clearly see. It does more harm than good for a white guy to write about this.

        The second issue is that there are people out there who do abuse this stuff and they will use what you write to encourage some really ugly stuff. I hope you saw that with the human biodiversity site you had a link to for a short time. There are people out there who will actively create a thin layer of legitimacy over the ugliest ideas about race and gender. You might consider that those that over-react to your writing by calling you a racist are at least doing you a service in highlighting that your words will likely be repurposed by actual racists. I think the article linked below on the google guy best articulates why you should not just worry about those who overact against your writing but those that overreact for it. He gets to that point towards the end.


        I suggest reading Jon Ronson on how bad the online mob can be. It is not post modernism it is an ugly side of people that they would rather see you shamed than change your mind.


        • thinklish says:

          Really interesting and clear distinction in the article and excellent links on Stan’s comment above too – I liked the part about concentrating on the balance of internal qualities – cooperation vs. competition, for example, in shaping a workplace – rather than any external appearances – gender, race etc – the former are emergent and require us to think more carefully and fairly based on behaviours. Plus, they unify the discussion so people in different groups can all contribute without tension. The latter are shortcuts to packages of assumptions (whether well-meaning or not) and tend to set groups of people in opposition / antagonism to each other. The tendency for us to make snap judgements (in effect, PREjudices) are well-documented in Kahnemann, Gladwell et al.

  4. Good explanation in the article cited by stan, to explain events at Google. It looks deeply as if this man not only linked his comments to gender (which he need not have done, co-operation and compliance are not solely traits of women and nor is stress), but seems to have been criticising Google’s recruitment policies. Not surprising he lost his job.

  5. But Stan, it is post modernism. That there is no absolute truth including scientific truth is a tenet of post modernism. Postmodernism is also the philosophy backing identity politics, which themselves cause not only fragmentation of the body politic (divide and conquer – groups which share interests may never realise this) but also makes it impossible to articulate some truths.

  6. Michael Pye says:

    Stan is right James. Better to stick to science denial or even just a reluctance to trust more empirical approaches due to their limitations. Postmodern is really poorly defined at the best
    of times. I think David used it as an insult to describe a frustrating tendency to irrefutable, circular reasoning that is immune to analysis or contradiction.

    • stan says:

      Yes you don’t want to sound like those yelling scientism. It is easy to enjoy calling someone out using a favorite label. I’ve enjoyed it. But we do it because we feel good being the smart ones not because we are successfully convincing anyone who doesn’t already agree with us.

      There is a place for satire and even ridicule but you have to be good at it. Otherwise you’re the guy Monty Python is making fun of yelling at the People’s Front of Judea while feeling smug with your Judean People’s Front pals.

    • David Didau says:

      You might think that Michael, but you’d be wrong. Postmodernism – certainly in the sense I’m using it – is the denial of truth and promotion of the belief that all opinions and ideas have equal validity. Once we accept that there’s not such ting as truth we can convince ourselves of anything.

  7. Michael pye says:

    LORETTA: The People’s Front of Judea. Splitters.

    REG: We’re the People’s Front of Judea!

    LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.

  8. Tempe says:

    Everyone’s a Neo-Nazi racist in the eyes of the regressive Left. I wish the “old Left” would reemerge in greater numbers to claim back liberalistic/enlightenment values.

    I don’t understand why someone like David can’t discuss this topic. He may not be an expert in this field but I don’t think he claimed to be. He’s done some research and wished to share it on his blog in relation to it’s implications to education. I don’t think that’s remotely racist.

    You shouldn’t have to be a professor or equivalent to be given the right to express your views/ideas/thoughts in a particular area. David might be right and he might be wrong or he might be a little bit of both but he is allowed to say what he wants without being shut down by claims of racism! It’s simply a form of censorship.

  9. I am beginning to wonder what is being discussed here! The 6 truths Didau puts forward are indeed truths (though not everyone may accept them – some people don’t accept evolution or that the sun is a star). His 6 ‘ouhgts’ are worthy to be worked for. What is the problem? I cannot see where the generation of the term racism comes from with this particular article. Someone explain, please.

  10. So saying some people are more intelligent than others plays into racist agendas. Only if you go round saying that some ‘races’ are more intelligent – and that is clearly not the case, bell curves have different centres from people from different places, but, hell, these are studies in America where disadvantage for some groups is chronic, endemic and not ameliorated by any social systems that might help – which would explain most of the findings. It’s clear from David Didau’s other postings that he believes that giving all children, from all groups (if you want to persist in identity politics with this – which is a divide and rule strategy), should receive an education that transmits ‘powerful, culturally rich concepts’ – sometimes explained as the best that has been done, said and written – and that if all receive this then levels of intelligence will rise for all. He further suggests that everyone be treated fairly, which is not the same as equally. I would not accept that any of that can be part of a racist agenda, for such an agenda would discriminate between different groups on surface grounds with the intention of disadvantaging some people (and I always suspect people who talk about ‘relevance’ and say Shakespeare or Renaissance Art, or classical music etc, are irrelevant for certain groups – because by that belief they discriminate and deprive certain groups, and, hey, those groups are always the already disadvantaged!). That is quite clearly not David Didau’s agenda, as he states it.

    • stan says:


      But David saying that is what started the problem. If you talk about intelligence as that which is measured by IQ tests then saying it creates a huge distraction. It also provides actual racists with another source they can use to support their message. However, wrong they may be in misrepresenting the issue.

      The whole point is that not everyone is as careful and rational as you so you can’t use your views of David’s writing as a basis for whether it can create a problem or be misused by others.

  11. Michael pye says:

    Your preaching to the converted! I might not agree with the arguments used against David (I don’t even think they are well structured or reasonable) but I do understand where they are coming from. I was replying to Tempe as well as yourself because I wanted to stop the dismissive approach to arguments we don’t like or agree with. I figure you already understand this but have just got frustrated by the illogical nature of some arguments.

    Some people will read these comments and not agree with us. I don’t want them to fixate on points which are not relevant to the main argument.

    • Yes. Frustrated that so many continue to be deprived not just by racists or others, but by well meaning people who buy into ‘solutions’ that do harm in the name of good, and don’t realise whose hands they’re playing into.

  12. Michael Pye says:

    That doesn’t help.

  13. Elizabeth Nonweiler says:

    I like Rapoport’s Rules that you quoted, especially, “You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” I intend to try to do that, but I don’t think it will be easy.

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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