A widely-praised new book by David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong attempts to “debunk the long-standing notion of genetic ‘giftedness.’” Instead, it manages to unconsciously exemplify how political correctness paradoxically rationalizes the growing elitism and dynasticism in American life.
One hero of The Genius in All of Us is Mozart. Not Wolfgang Amadeus, but Leopold, the composer’s father, who chose to “shift his ambitions away from his own unsatisfying career and onto his children.” Leopold made sure little Wolfie “had an entire family driving him to excel with a powerful blend of instruction, encouragement, and constant practice.”
The Genius in All of Us serves as a quasi-scientific pep talk for upper-middle class stage moms and sideline dads. Even the most ambitious modern parents sometimes doubt whether their precious progeny have what it takes genetically. Shenk reassures them, however, that new discoveries have disproved all that Bell Curve stuff. What matters instead is implacable willpower.
Besides, Shenk implies, you are not only pestering your kid so he can get a college scholarship, you are simultaneously fighting racism, genetic determinism, and eugenics! Heck, you’re being Green: “… human talent and intelligence are not permanently in short supply like fossil fuel, but potentially plentiful like wind power.”
Shenk endorses a rule of thumb that has become popular among political pundits such as David Brooks and motivational speakers such as Malcolm Gladwell: innate talent matters far less than putting in 10,000 hours of practice.
Indeed, in one sense, the 10,000-hour idea is empirically reasonable. In most highly competitive, highly compensated fields, vanishingly few make it to the top with less than the equivalent of five solid years learning their crafts.
Shenk admits that just because everybody who is a winner puts in 10,000 hours doesn’t mean everybody who puts in 10,000 hours will be a winner: see, your kid also has to practice the right way, making “continual skill improvement.”
That is a wonderfully unfalsifiable notion.
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