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Thread: The Genetics of Staying in School

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    The Genetics of Staying in School

    Why do some people sail through college while others drop out during high school? There are many obvious reasons, ranging from intelligence to motivation, social privilege to caring parents, great teachers to disruptive classmates. But one neglected factor—our genes—plays a small but significant role.

    We know that because identical twins, who share all their DNA, peak at closer levels of education than non-identical twins, who share just half their genes. And now, in a study of almost 294,000 people, an international team led by Daniel Benjamin, David Cesarini, and Philipp Koellinger has identified variants in 74 genes that are associated with educational attainment. In other words, those who carry more of these variants, on average, complete more years of formal schooling.

    You can almost hear the tsunami of misinterpreted takes cresting the horizon.

    Anticipating the deluge, the team have released a long FAQ explaining what they did not find. First and foremost, “there are no ‘genes for education’,” says Benjamin. Genes don’t affect education directly. Instead, many of these 74 seemed to be switched on in the brains of fetuses and are involved in creating neurons, guiding their movements, and wiring them together. Those biological influences could then affect psychological traits, which then influence social ones.

    But “these genes are not deterministic,” adds Benjamin. There’s a common myth that our traits can be divided into a fixed portion that’s “in our genes” and pre-destined from conception, and a flexible portion that depends on the environment and is under our control. That’s wrong. Nature and nurture are not opposed; they go hand in hand. The environment sets the stage upon which genes act out their roles.

    For example, the team found that their 74 variants has a much stronger effect on educational attainment among Swedes born in the 1930s than those born in the late 1950s. Between those years, Sweden introduced reforms that extended mandatory schooling by two years, and improved access to schools and universities. The weakening influence of genetic factors over the same timeframe “is consistent with the possibility that the reforms equalized educational outcomes,” says Benjamin.

    So, educational success is not “in the genes”, nor can you “blame your genes” if you flunk out. That’s especially true because each of the team’s 74 variants had a tiny effect, equivalent to just 3 to 9 weeks of extra schooling. And collectively, they explained just 3 percent of the differences in education levels across the whole population. “For comparison, professional weather forecasts correctly predict about 95 percent of the variation in day-to-day temperatures,” the team writes in their FAQ. “Weather forecasters are vastly more accurate forecasters than social science geneticists will ever be.”

    For that reason, you can’t reliably use these 74 variants to predict how long a child will stay in education, or to stratify children according to how much support they’ll need. “It’s not a smart way to use the score,” says Benjamin. The same applies to any unwarranted talk of eugenics—of selecting for embryos with particular genes, or even using gene-editing technologies to alter said genes. These would be dumb ways of ensuring smarts; if you’re really that concerned, you’re better off just dating someone clever.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/science/a...school/482052/

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    Ultimately, 90% of human behavior has a genetic basis. Sorry, there are genes which will correlate with education achievement like there are genes which correlate with everything else.

    What should be done in the USA is early childhood genetic testing so that we stop wasting billions of dollars trying to force black kids to graduate from high school when they don't want to do so.

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