Perhaps the single most damaging and insidious belief in education over the course of the last century is the notion that any ability (and intelligence in particular) is hereditary. You either have 'it' or you don't. To this day, teachers, students and the general public take it for granted that intelligence is somehow genetically encoded – like curly hair or blue eyes. It is an ingrained belief that your IQ is somehow naturally determined, and this in turn sets a course for your life. This kind of Social Darwinism has no doubt resulted in the waste of enormous amounts of human potential, innumerable wilted dreams and many, many muted lives.
But none of it is true. We now know that genetics plays the smallest role in determining intelligence.
And then we write student reports or comments that include a phrase that goes something like this:
“Johnny has achieved to his potential this semester.”
The only thing this does is reinforce the tired and silly notion that Johnny has some kind of limited range within which he is capable of operating. The underlying notion being that Johnny's genes have determined that this is as well as he can possibly do.
I've said this kind of nonsense to students and parents before. And apologise sincerely to those who believed me.
From now on I am only telling Johnny that his results are commensurate with his level of effort. To improve, he need simply work harder. Any other limitations he experiences academically are entirely of his own making.