An Uneducated Guess

Posted on: July 11, 2013

I’m not exactly raising any eyebrows when I say the Herald Sun is an easy target. But even today’s front page gave me a sore neck as I strained to read the front page headline.

BORN TO RULE: Report say rich kids do better because of ‘inherited abilities’

A 246 page report by the Australian Government Productivity Commission, released publicly today, outlines the myriad factors that determine the academic and employment trajectory of a child. The Herald Sun ran a front page article (an exclusive one no less) on one factor, based not on its importance and relevance, but on what would turn heads.

Which inherited abilities? Educational assets such as ‘parents’ cognitive abilities and inherited genes,’ as the report quotes, or the family’s bank balance? Is a financially stable environment genetically inherited? Anyone reading this would know someone flush with funds due to their parents’ hard work and good luck whilst being a bun or two short of a burger. Will their children inherit their abilities?

The report outlines in great detail the factors that go to explain the multidimensional concept of disadvantage, not just in the financial sense but in the context of a lack of opportunities and their effects longitudinally on the ongoing academic and employment performance of a child.

To quote two key points from the report:

Disadvantage has its roots in a complex interplay of factors. Many of these factors, when combined, can have a compounding effect. The probability that any one person will experience disadvantage is influenced by: their personal capabilities and  family circumstances; the support they receive; the community where they live (and  the opportunities it offers); life events; and the broader economic and social

A child’s earliest years fundamentally shape their life chances. Gaps in capabilities  between children from socio-economically disadvantaged families and their more  advantaged peers appear early in life. Starting school ‘behind the eight ball’ can  begin a cycle of disadvantage that sets a trajectory for poorer outcomes later in life.

The amount of print dedicated to the impact of genetics is proportionally small in the report,.I finally found a mention of genetics on page 93:

While inherited genes influence their development, the quality of family environments, and the availability of appropriate experiences at various stages of development, are crucial for building capabilities.

The report confirms what we all know. A child in a financially stable home will have a leg up in many respects. It also says that children subjected to deep levels of social exclusion and disadvantage will likely remain in that state. Yet children do surpass what their financially restricted environments should in theory allow, just as children in financially stable households disappoint with easy access to tutors and significant resources. There must be many well off parents who wring their hands, asking”‘where did we go wrong?”

The child must want to achieve. You know, like from within.

I can only speak from my own experience in terms of academic and employment trajectory. Genetics are important, but the brain is so infinitely plastic that experience upon experience and encouragement to try, fail and learn are essential. These are not factors that are purely down to money. How many migrant parents created, at great cost, the environment for their children to have access to as many of these interactions as possible? Many.

My main beefs with the article are that it (a) cherry picked a mere paragraph from a 246 page report to fill a void when there are so many factors at play, and (b) confused (or rather likened) financial inheritance with genetic inheritance.

Papers of all persuasions cherry pick, and papers of all persuasions are becoming increasingly irrelevant, lazy and ho-hum in what they spit out.

Mike Woods, the Deputy Chairman of the Productivity Commission, said this morning that “it was unfortunate” that the paper had decided to run with this aspect of the report given its overall significance and multi factorial nature.

A diplomatic understatement if there was ever one.







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