Are black people stupid?
Each of us knows black people who are not stupid—possibly even two or three. But what about all those black people we do not know? Those skinny men with the big asses, whose fashionable clothes are stained with grease. Those tired women who move their legs as though they were shifting the trunks of trees. The kids in torn sneakers with radios three times the size of their brains. The young women whose stiff hair has been bleached to the color of copper, who can barely walk in their tight jeans and high heels, whose tight T-shirts are likely to say something mildly obscene. We—we white people, we rich people, we middle-class people—see them on the street and on the el. We watch them sometimes. Sometimes (the cleaning lady on her way from Evanston home to someplace we have never been) we pity them. When they annoy us (when they play their radios too loudly on the el), we despise them. Are they stupid?
That is what we are here to find out. Here in this high-ceilinged courtroom, where the light seems to come from everywhere, so that there are no shadows. The walls and benches are reddish, polished wood. The floor is covered in sound-muffling, neutral-colored, no-nap carpeting. The heavy double doors also keep out sound. No windows let in noise or daylight. At the back of the room, raised above the other people present, is a federal judge—a man in early middle age, with dark, unruly hair, dressed like the Angel of Death.
Facing him, seated on the benches near the doors, are Barbara Jean Browley and her mother, Lue. They are black. Lue always wears a light blue pantsuit made of an inexpensive synthetic. She has glossy, straight hair that may be a wig. Barbara, who is 18, is less than five feet tall and chubby. She always wears dingy colors, and she sits with her hands folded in her lap, her head slightly bowed. Her forehead is furrowed and her lips are pursed as though she were concentrating on something that makes her unhappy. One of the lawyers in this case, one of her lawyers, said that she spends her time “wondering what went wrong.”
In a room full of reading materials—notes, documents, books, newspapers—Barbara and her mother are empty-handed and never glance at a piece of paper. Neither Barbara nor her mother knows how to read.
In 1972, when she was ten, Barbara was not doing well in school. A stranger came to her classroom and took her to another room, where she was given a test. It was a varied test. She probably was asked to define some words, to answer some questions. She may have been shown pictures—a table with only three legs, for example—and asked what was “wrong” with the picture. She probably was given some puzzles to solve and some number problems, such as being asked to remember a long list of numbers. She may have been asked what she would do in a particular situation or to explain the meaning of a sentence or paragraph or to draw a picture of a human being. When it was over, she was returned to her classroom.
Some time later, another stranger came and took Barbara to another classroom and told her that she should remain there. Barbara was given a note to take home to her mother. Even if Lue Browley had been able to read the note, however, it would have told her only that Barbara had been assigned to a special classroom. Some parents who received such notes thought their children were attending reading clinics.
No one from the school tried to make sure that Lue knew her daughter had been assigned to a class for the “educable mentally handicapped”—the school system’s euphemism for mentally retarded, which is a euphemism for stupid.
The other children in Barbara’s new class told her that she should not let anyone else find out she was in this room. She didn’t understand, but she copied the other children, who would wait in the hallways until all the other schoolchildren were in their classrooms. Then they would dive into the EMH classroom, hoping that no one had seen them.
Eventually the other children did find out, and they started calling Barbara “dummy” and “retardo,” and someone—apparently another child—explained to her that she was in the “dummy room.” Barbara came home crying one day and said to her mother, “Why did you do this to me?”
Lue tried to see the principal at Barbara’s school, but she wasn’t allowed past school security. When she finally obtained an interview with the school counselor, the counselor refused to believe that Barbara is not stupid. “She just needs a little push,” Lue said, and is still saying, eight years later.
Barbara spent the rest of her school career in a class in which her only academic subjects were a little simple reading and math, her only classmates and playmates were fellow “dummies.” She was supposed to receive “occupational” training, but this consisted of running errands and doing easy office work for school officials. She graduated from high school with an EMH diploma, awarded to any EMH student who sits in the classroom enough years.
Barbara can’t read, make a bank deposit, fill out a job application, or count change. She and her mother and Barbara’s baby daughter live together, supported by welfare. Lue and Barbara have to help each other pay a bill. Finding a street address is a challenge. Reading the directions on a can is impossible. Barbara says, very quietly, that her ambition is to work in a bank. Her dream is that a bank would train her for a desk job. But, even if a bank were inclined to undertake that awesome task, she believes that they’d drop the project when they saw her high school diploma. She’s EMH. Stupid. Right?
Barbara scored in the 70s on a standardized IQ test. And that, with average intelligence pegged at 100 through 109, is a very dim bulb indeed.
But if Barbara is stupid, so are a lot of other black people. All black people score 12 to 15 points lower on IQ tests than all white people do. Even middle-class black people. Not just IQ tests, either. Black people have trouble with all major tests. Personnel tests. College boards. Law school admission tests. Scholastic aptitude tests. You name it; they flunk it more than white people do.
In almost every school system in the United States, including Chicago, black children are statistically more likely than white children to be placed in classes for the mentally retarded. There are 11,000 such children in Chicago alone. And Barbara Browley stands for all of them. In this class-action suit against the Chicago public schools, Barbara and another black girl, Angela Johnson, are the “named plaintiffs”—the stand-ins for 10,998 other Chicago black children in classes for the mentally retarded. Indirectly, they stand for all black people everywhere.
They say they are not stupid. The schools say they are. We are here to find out who’s right. It is about halfway through the trial—which is a bench trial. There is no jury, so the judge will decide. Linda Lipton, the lawyer from the Better Government Association, stands at the podium in the middle of the room, almost gaping at the judge. At the plaintiff’s table on the judge’s right, her colleagues, who represent most of Chicago’s reform-minded public interest organizations, look either shocked or crestfallen. At the defendant’s table, on the judge’s left, even the lawyers for the Chicago Board of Education, two young women, seem surprised.
Only one lawyer seems happy. Young Patrick Halligan is square-jawed, with the beginning of Irish jowls, and sallow-skinned; his hair is limp and straight and a little long; his suits don’t fit well; his favorite expletive is “jeepers.” He represents the Board of Education’s position in this trial, and he and his fellow defense lawyers went into it the obvious underdogs; they seemed doomed to lose. Now Halligan seems ready to leap out of his chair and kiss the judge.
Look, Judge John F. Grady says—though not quite in these words—I haven’t spent my whole life in judge’s chambers. I have walked down State Street. I may even have ridden an el. I have seen black people before. The plaintiffs have come to this court to complain that black people flunk IQ tests. And because of that, I am supposed to rule that there is something wrong with the tests. I am supposed to tell the schools that they can’t use these tests anymore. And everybody, everybody in this courtroom, is so horsewhipped, so scared of being called a racist, that nobody, not even the defense, is willing to suggest that the IQ tests might not be the problem. Maybe the IQ tests are doing what they’re supposed to do, which is measure intelligence. Maybe black people are the problem.
Nobody here is willing to say it, he said. But I am. Maybe black people are stupid.
Over 90 years, our ideologies about black people have changed drastically from time to time, but our ideas have not. We have always assumed that blacks are dumb.
For 40 years, until the 1930s, we blamed genes. We thought that intelligence—along with many other characteristics, such as criminality—was inherited and thus fixed from birth. We also assumed that these characteristics were linked to race. We spent a lot of time in those days worrying about how to stop stupid black genes from “tainting” our smart white genes.
Sometimes this ideology is called scientific racism.
IQ tests arrived in the U.S. from France during this period. They did not make anyone a racist, because everyone already was. The French creator of the IQ test, Alfred Binet, did not even believe in the inheritability of intelligence. But the IQ test as made to serve the ideology of the time.
In the 1920s, the first IQ test in English, the Standford-Binet, was administered for the first time to large numbers of Americans, World War I draftees. Blacks scored lower than whites. Poor people scored lower than rich people. Rural people scored lower than urban people. Urban blacks scored higher than rural whites from some states. People from families that had only been in the United States for a few generations did less well on the test than people whose families had been in the U.S. many generations, and recent immigrants were found to be “feebleminded” at an alarming rate. But scientists of the day explained all of this by means of genetics.
In the 1930s, it became unfashionable to say that any human characteristic is genetically linked. The psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists who now were molding public opinion held that every human being is born a blank, and that the environment in which the child is raised stamps it smart or dumb, criminal or saint.
Now blacks were said to come from a deprived environment. But they were still dumb. We invented words like “disadvantaged” and “underprivileged” for use in connection with black people, because we didn’t want to call them poor and dumb. But still we did not want our smart white environment tainted by their stupid black one.
This attitude, typical of liberals, sometimes is called cultural racism.
Nor did black people disabuse us of these notions. When, rarely, black children were admitted to schools with white children, they were likely to sink rapidly to the academic bottom. Their scores compared unfavorably with those of white children on national achievement tests. And, in case anyone needed further proof that blacks are dumb, their scores on IQ tests continued to be lower than those of whites.
The IQ tests played an important role. Unlike other tests, IQ tests were and are thought to measure not how much a child has learned but rather whether a child is capable of learning. Blacks’ low IQ scores supported the common assumption—now explained by “cultural deprivation”—that black children cannot learn academic subjects as well as white children can. The low IQ scores justified channeling black children into various forms of “occupational,” or nonacademic, training and steering them away from college and any careers that were thought to require high intelligence. This, in turn, became the basis for much de facto segregation—white children sent to schools designed to groom them for college, black children sent to learn carpentry, auto mechanics, and shop.
In the late 1960s, there arose a new ideology, called egalitarianism, sometimes called black power. The egalitarians said that the black environment—which they now call black culture—is different from white culture but in all ways equal to it. They said that the difference between black culture and white culture places black children at a disadvantage in “white” schools and on “white” tests —including the IQ tests. IQ tests are no different from any other test of achievement, they said. They are a measure of how much the person taking the test knows about white culture. They said that white people have no right to ask black children to pass white tests or succeed in white schools. In fact, they seemed to say that white people could not expect anything whatever from black people; if they wanted to rape and murder each other and have one another for lunch, we were not supposed to “criticize their culture.”
“Black” blacks are still dumb. Not even blacks assume that black children can’t learn the academic subjects taught in American schools as well as white children can. Only the reason has changed. Egalitarianism even reinforced the idea that black children ought to be educated separately from white.
For every ideology, there is an equally extreme, opposing ideology. In 1969, Arthur R. Jensen—a professor at University of California, Berkeley, with excellent credentials—published an article in Harvard Educational Review in which he resurrected scientific racism. He said that blacks fail academically not because of any difference between black culture and white culture, but because blacks are genetically inferior. Like it or not, he said, IQ tests measure the ability to excel at academic work. This ability, he said, is transmitted genetically. Blacks, he said, have stupid genes. And the IQ tests prove it.
The egalitarians reacted as though this were the 16th century and Jensen had attacked the Holy Mother Church. Hurling the word “racist” the way the church fathers must once have used “heretic” and “infidel,” they suggested that First Amendment rights to free speech ought to be abridged in Jensen’s case.
Since 1969, the egalitarians have been eager to discredit IQ tests. But Jensen has been at work. He recently delivered the latest punch in a ferocious battle. His new book, Bias in Mental Testing, is more than 750 pages long. It purports to prove that black people are as exposed to white culture as white people are. But they don’t profit from the exposure because they’re not able to.
Jensen cites a study in which recent immigrant Chinese children from Hong Kong—who scored much lower than native-born “Orientals” on IQ tests requiring knowledge of English—were given a “figure-copying test.” The children were scored according to how well they copied a geometric object. The recent immigrants, he says, scored as well as native Orientals and slighter better than whites on this test. (Orientals score better than whites on all IQ tests unless language is a barrier.) But, when the figure-copying test was administered to students attending integrated elementary schools, Jensen says, fourth-grade black children performed about as well as first-grade Oriental children and second-grade white children.
Jensen says that black children will do badly on any standardized intelligence test, regardless of the experiences required to do well on the test. He says that attempts to devise a useful test of ability to profit from experience, on which blacks will perform as well as whites, have failed. He says blacks even do less well than whites on a test that only requires them to push buttons in response to flashing lights. He says that the more complicated the pattern of lights becomes, the worse blacks do relative to whites. He says the only pattern of differences between black and white performance on all tests is that blacks fall behind whites as the test becomes more complicated—just as they tend to fall behind whites in school, as the academic curriculum becomes more complicated. The more complicated the demand made on a black person, Jensen says, the less able the black person will be to convert experience into something that will help him or her to meet the demand.
He says black people are stupid.
But Jensen has backed off from the position that the ability to learn is genetically transmitted. In his book, he doesn’t address the question. In an interview with the New York Times, he said that he ability to learn is partly transmitted genetically and is partly a product of the environment.
The egalitarians are not going to hate Jensen any less for this shift. But he’s made himself more palatable to liberals, who have been on the defensive for a decade now and have needed a champion to help them prove blacks are stupid—though for environmental reasons. The liberals tend to genuflect in terror and cross themselves at the mention of Jensen’s name, so greatly do they fear being called racists, but Jensen is all they’ve got.
Many Americans are growing tired of conflicting ideologies about black people, and they have lapsed into a kind of stubborn passivity where black people are concerned. They are tired of egalitarians, of liberals, and of the people who—they think—steal their cars and smoke cigarettes on the el, who overpopulate the planet and live on other people’s tax money and (at the same time) take jobs for which they aren’t as qualified as white people are. We know blacks are stupid, but it’s not our fault, they say. Let black people sink or swim, love it or leave it. We earned our bungalows and that recreational vehicle with the CB radio that’s sitting on the front lawn. Let them do the same. Passive racism is the order of the day.
And that’s a shame. Because quite a lot is known about the ability to learn, which most people call intelligence, and about IQ tests as well. Enough is known for us to make reasonable, if cautious, statements about what IQ is and isn’t and what intelligence is and isn’t. And one thing we know about both of them is that they are subject to chance. It is even possible to come to a tentative conclusion about whether black people are or are not stupid. But reason and thoughtfulness and tentative conclusions are no picnic, not like the fun of burning other people at the stake.
In one of Chicago’s many all-black schools, a child spends the days curled up in a fetal position, asleep on his desk. Another child is in school for the first time this month. Another child, 13 years old, has brought her baby daughter to class. Of an entire class of eighth-graders, not one can read at grade level, and many cannot read at all. These children are in regular classrooms, not classes for the mentally retarded.
Over 40 years, our ideologies about black people have not changed, but the status quo has not. And you never will understand how irrelevant ideologies can be unless you also take a good, hard look at the status quo.
For black children, the status quo is poverty and racial segregation. For the schools, the status quo is millions of dollars spent, property owners bled, to provide jobs for bureaucrats, while black children who spend a dozen years in school learn nothing at all.
In Chicago, the story of the status quo has been spelled out for anyone who cared to listen, and a few did. A year ago last April, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s Office of Civil Rights sent a letter with an appendix to the then superintendent of schools, Joseph Hannon. The Chicago Sun-Times barely reported the contents of that appendix. The Chicago Tribune reported it, but the next day, Tribune editorial writers joined Hannon and other city officials in labeling the document a lie. The Tribune‘s editorial campaign against HEW lasted for months, while the story appeared only once. To read both was to wonder, not for the first time, if Tribune editorial writers bother to read their own newspaper.
The appendix showed that for 40 years the Chicago school system deliberately and systematically separated black children from white. Maps and statistics showed that the system has regularly overcrowded black children in black schools, even when classrooms were available in nearby white schools. Where overcrowding became too severe, the system used mobile units as classrooms or even, at great expense, build new schools, rather than let black children use available space in white schools.
“Board segregative site selections for new schools frequently were made in conjunction with the Chicago Housing Authority, whose discriminatory selection of sites for public housing projects has already been established in court,” said HEW. That is, CHA built the “projects” and the school system built the schools so that black children could be born and go to school and live and presumably die in the ghetto.
If all else failed, the school system would redistrict. As black housing patterns changed, school attendance boundaries did too. No matter where their parents moved, black children ended up in black schools. Boundaries were drawn so that black children sometimes were forbidden to go to a white school a block away and were forced to ride buses to get to a black school.
“Chicago school officials have intentionally created and maintained a racially discriminatory dual school system,” said HEW. According to an HEW assessment, Chicago’s school system is very nearly completely segregated. HEW calls it the most segregated school system outside of the south.
When the reasons were genetic, when the reasons were environmental, the Chicago school system struggled to keep white students separate from black. The system struggled so hard that it went bankrupt. For the cost of building two school systems, one for whites and one for blacks, is one of the main, if least publicized, reasons for the present financial crisis. And today, when we aren’t even sure what the reasons are anymore, the school system continues to struggle. George Schmidt, a substitute teacher who is president of an organization called Substitutes United for Better Schools, reports that the school system is still building new schools to contain minorities, while space is available in nearby white schools, even though the system is bankrupt.
Even when told that it must desegregate, the school system has refused. Last September, HEW rejected Hannon’s “desegregation plan”—called, with the school system’s usual attention to euphemism, Access to Excellence. HEW said Hannon’s figures for the number of children who would be desegregated under the plan were “significantly inflated,” but the agency’s language was as understated as the school bureaucracy’s typically is excessive. Among other maneuvers, Hannon had labeled desegregated schools that are 80 to 90 percent white—in districts that are only 20 percent white. He claimed to be placing thousands of children in “desegregated settings.” But in thousands of cases, this meant sending a black child one afternoon a week to a museum or a zoo. The city’s pet newspapers reacted to the HEW letter to Hannon by attacking HEW.
This too is the status quo: “These children lead a hellish life,” says a teacher in one of the all-black schools. “It’s vicious, tough, crazy. They have no books, no food, no money. They wear tennis shoes when it’s five below zero. They fight all the time, over everything. The weak ones are beaten all the time. Their mothers are prostitutes and winos. Twelve-year-olds come to class with babies and get pregnant again within the year. A 13-year-old girl may have been raised by five sets of people. School is nothing to them but a quiet place where they can get some sleep. They have no idea of what they’re supposed to be doing in school. Nobody they know has ever benefited from an education.”
We have always assumed that blacks are stupid. And so we custom-built ghettos and provided each with its own schools. We were not surprised when life in those ghettos deteriorated, becoming ever more hopeless and violent. We were not surprised when black children from those ghettos did not do well in school.
When Chicago black children flunked national reading tests, we were embarrassed. But we did not double our efforts to teach black children how to read. What good would that do? Instead, the school bureaucracy and the egalitarians in the black community agreed that the thing to do was to change the tests.
Jo Baum has taught in the Chicago Public Schools for 18 years. She now teaches eighth-graders in the Donoghue School, near the Madden projects on South Ellis in Oakland. She is one of the few teachers who will allow a reporter to quote her and use her name. Many teachers are afraid that if they publicly criticize the schools they will lose their jobs.
Baum says that her eighth-graders can barely write. “When I can decipher their writing,” she says, “I can decipher that they know how to fuck. That seems to be all they know.” They also can barely read. This year she gave them the Metropolitan Reading Test, a national test. “Not one came even close to a fifth-grade score.”
Several years ago, with the approval and even the encouragement of the black community, the Chicago schools abolished “the Met” and its embarrassing scores. “White people don’t want black people to know that black people can’t read,” says Baum. “And black people don’t want to admit it.”
The Met was replaced by the Iowa Basic, another national test. Baum says that the Iowa Basic is “the trick bag of the black community” because test questions can be changed to help children improve their score. “You can fiddle it,” she says. “You can make them look better.”
Baum gave the Iowa Basic to her students this year too. She gives them the Iowa Basic over and over, all the while coaching the students in an effort to improve their scores. She says that, in one class of 34 regular eighth-graders, only two will be able to make a passing score of 6.5 this year. The rest will score as low as 1.8.
Baum says that school officials now want to do away with the Iowa Basic, in fact with all tests in which Chicago schoolchildren will be compared to national averages. The schools are implementing their own system. The bureaucracy’s writing elves must have worked all night on the name for this one, “Continuous Progress.” Under Continuous Progress, students are supposed to master certain “skills” as they moved from grade to grade. In order to keep moving through the system, they are supposed to pass tests on those skills. And, in theory, the program allows each student to move at his or her own speed. Unfortunately, none of the skills being tested for is reading or writing.
According to Baum and the other teachers, Continuous Progress finished off an already crumbling academic program. Teachers abandoned teaching academic subjects in order to “teach the tests.”
But black students still can’t pass.
Baum says—and said on a recent Channel Two documentary, Give Us the Keys—that her students reach the eighth grade only because teachers have faked test results. The teachers fake the results because it’s the only way to get the kids to pass.
By the time she sees them, Baum told Channel Two, these children didn’t know north from south. They can’t spell the days of the week. Her full-time job at Donoghue is to coach eighth-graders so they can pass Continuous Progress exams—which she does by administering the Continuous Progress test over and over. Yet, she says, most of her students cannot pass the tests.
“Employers [who hire Chicago Public School graduates] are getting third-grade readers,” she says. Channel Two showed film of a young black woman who graduated with honors from Chicago schools and now, attending a Loop college, is in a remedial reading program. That is, the schools have deteriorated so much that not even children who obviously do have the ability to learn are managing to learn anything.
Baum told Channel Two that she is under pressure from school officials to pass children who cannot even satisfy Continuous Progress requirements. She says she has been given a quota of children who must pass, but she doesn’t know how to meet this quota without faking the results.
“I’m teaching my goddamned head off, but it does no good,” she says. “I am failing. We have failed. We’re finished.
“If I had any moral fiber left, I’d quit,” she says. “But I’m a widow and I have only a few years left until I can retire. Who would hire me now? I’d stay forever if there were any hope.”
A school system is like a pipe. Black children do not pass smoothly through that pipe. They stall. The pipe becomes clogged. Movement slows and threatens to stop. School officials make it easier for children to get through the pipe. But the pipe is still clogged. Easier still. Still it’s not easy enough.
There are two ways to ease the pressure in the pipe. One, says Baum, is to graduate all children who reach a certain age, regardless of how they perform on tests. That is done, she says, but that is not enough.
Another way is to give children IQ tests.
The school bureaucracy may have been willing to get rid of other national tests. But there is one test the bureaucracy does not want to get rid of—and that is the test that black people hate the most. The school system loves the IQ test because the IQ test confirms what the school system has always assumed—that blacks are dumb.
A child who has flunked a national reading test is a child who cannot read. But a child who has flunked an IQ test can be classified mentally retarded, EMH, stupid, impossible to teach. There need be no embarrassing questions about why that child can’t read because the answer is obvious. The child is dumb.
A child who has been designated EMH may receive a good education or a bad one. Teachers say that there are as many good teachers and bad in the EMH classrooms as there are in regular classrooms. But the school system doesn’t care. The EMH child is out of the pipe. There will be no more tests to pass. The child will graduate automatically, which a special EMH diploma, and the school system can wash its hands of this child for good.
In Chicago, blacks constitute 61 percent of the student population but 81 percent of the EMH population. The proportion of black students in EMH classrooms has risen steadily since at least 1970, the first year for which data have been analyzed. In 1970-’71, 2.8 percent of black children in the system were classified mentally retarded. By 1978-’79, the figure was up to 3.6 percent.
Baum and other dedicated teachers actually like the EMH designation. And they think even more black children should be in EMH classes. One teacher says that “almost all” the children in his all-back school would be in EMH if they were evaluated by school psychologists. Baum says that many of the children in her regular classroom are “interchangeable” with EMH students. She says that at Donoghue—where there already are five EMH classes containing roughly 10 percent of the student body—there would be “dozens” of EMH classes if teachers had their way. But the extensive paperwork required, she says, discourages teachers from referring children for evaluation. If there were a dozen EMH classes at Donoghue, one-fourth of the students would be in EMH.
Baum and the other teachers do not think these children are born dumb, and they don’t even think the children need to be this way. They blame the environment—the crazy, chaotic, violent, poverty-stricken, hopeless environment in which these children live. They admit that the EMH classes are, in a sense, a “dumping ground” for children with a wide variety of problems—emotional, physical, mental, and environmental. But they like to think that, for those children whose problems are overwhelming them, the EMH classes, with their smaller class size and freedom from competition with other children who are better able to cope, are at least some sort of help.
The reasons don’t matter, these teachers say. Whatever the reasons, these children cannot be taught. And there are more of them every year. “We have one huge EMH population,” Jo Baum says.
Imagine a group of people astride white horses. As they approach, you see that they are still young, though they are aging fast. If they’re male, they are wearing suits, though some of them may look a little rumpled, and their hair is likely to be a little too long. If they’re female (and there are fewer women in the group), they are likely to be wearing dresses and have hair that is either too short or much too long. These women haven’t learned how to look like lawyers yet. Now forget about the horses.
The group you see is society’s small crowd of reform-minded lawyers. There aren’t many of them, but they get around. Whenever society needs to be reformed—and when doesn’t it need to be reformed?⁸they are likely to turn up. Chicago has a lot of reform lawyers, working for public interest organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Better Government Association, Business and professional People for the Public Interest, and Legal Assistance Foundation, and so on.
In the late 1970s, reform-minded lawyers such as these had a novel idea. It occurred to them that schools should be required to teach.
After all, we force children to go to school. Maybe we should try to do something for them while they’re there.
We have always tended to think that a child who doesn’t profit from school is stupid—incapable of being taught—rather than that the school is not doing its job. We have always been particularly willing to assume this of black children, because we’ve always assumed that black children are dumb.
But the reform lawyers must have been out to lunch when someone called and left that message. Somehow they never learned that blacks are dumb.
It seemed to them that, if the schools aren’t teaching black children, there must be something wrong with the schools. They considered filing suits against the schools on civil liberties grounds. They even considered filing malpractice suits against the schools.
A few such suits were tried, but the lawyers were thrown out of court. The very disorganization of the schools, the chaos they now are in, actually helped to protect the schools from legal challenge. Courts found that there is no way to tell the difference between good teaching and bad. There’s no way even to tell the difference between teaching and no teaching at all.
If people can’t agree that schools should teach reading and English grammar, if nobody can agree on a test to determine whether anything has been taught—how is a court to decide whether a school is doing its job? Forget it, said the courts. Get out of here. Go find something else to reform.
The egalitarians are at least partially to thank for this impasse. It was they, after all, who removed the last shreds of standards by which school systems might once have been judged.
The reform lawyers, however, are not egalitarians. Actually, they’re left-over liberals from the 60s. There aren’t many places left where such liberals can flourish, but the law is one—because a lot of law happens to have been written in the 60s, and Congress and the courts have not yet had a chance to dismantle much of it.
In the 60s, people actually, briefly, assumed that blacks are smart. White liberals and black civil-rights activists alike made the innocent, almost sweet, assumption that black people are just as capable of learning as white people are, and that all we have to do is let black people have equal access to schools and jobs and everything else white people have and in no time at all black people will be just like white people. Won’t that be nice? Of course it will, they said.
The reform lawyers came from those sweet, innocent times. They only wanted to schools to teach black children how to read and write.
They reasoned, however, that the schools will never take up this job—still less will the schools be willing to integrate black children with white—as long as everyone still believes that blacks are dumb. Why does everyone believe that blacks are dumb? The IQ test.
They reasoned that, as long as black children do less well on IQ tests than white children do, and as long as people believe that IQ tests measure the ability to learn, no one will be surprised when black children do badly in school. No one will be surprised when thousands of black children are shunted into special classes, where they are given a few blocks to play with and labeled to themselves and to the rest of the world mentally retarded. No one will be surprised, and no one will blame the schools.
But if we can provide in court that IQ tests do not measure black children’s ability to learn, they reasoned, we will have to take away the schools’ excuse. The schools and the public will have to recognize that, when black children cannot pass academic tests, the schools—not the children—have failed.
It seemed like a very important and worthwhile cause. Better yet, it seemed to be a fight they couldn’t lose. Because federal law—that 60s federal law—is completely on the lawyers’ side. Federal law—like the lawyers, although like almost no one else today—assumes that blacks are just as able to learn as whites are. Thus, if blacks do less well on IQ tests than white people do, federal law takes this as prima facie evidence that IQ tests are, in some way that need not even be explained, unfair to blacks. And federal law says the schools are not allowed to be unfair to blacks.
It is left to the schools to prove, if they can, that the tests are fair.
So it should have been a very easy case to win. But it wasn’t just any case, to be won or lost and that’s it. This case was also a public relations campaign—designed to show not just a judge but also the public that blacks are not, repeat not, dumb. In order to get that point across, you have to do more than show that IQ tests violate some 60s federal law that nobody believes in any more—if they ever did. You have to discredit IQ tests once and for all.
That’s how the lawyers messed themselves up.
The lawyers are not egalitarians. But the egalitarians are their obvious allies—to a point. In California—where the first “IQ case,” called Larry P. v. Riles, was tried—the liberal lawyers ran the case but the witnesses almost all were egalitarians, who took the stand to testify that IQ tests were unfair to blacks. Members of the press attended the trial and listened to the testimony and wrote stories—in which they hopelessly confused the liberal lawyers’ position with that of the egalitarians. The lawyers, after all, contend that white schools ought to be forced to teach black children. Egalitarians, on the other hand, contend that white schools do not have the right to teach black children—which is a rather different position.
The California schools, meanwhile, were having a hard time. To satisfy federal law, they were obligated to explain why—if IQ tests are fair to blacks—so many blacks flunk them.
They tried to argue that blacks are environmentally deprived. But the plaintiffs brought on expert witnesses, big guns, who testified that socio-economics alone will not explain the difference between black and white IQs.
That left three choices. They could say that blacks are born dumb.
And be burned at the stake? Scratch that.
They could agree that the tests are unfair to blacks.
That left one maneuver, a brilliant one. They threw the egalitarians’ argument back at them. They did that by subtly, slightly, almost imperceptibly narrowing the definition of intelligence.
They said that intelligence is, not the ability to profit from experience, but the ability to profit from white experience.
They said to the egalitarians: Everyone agrees that black children can’t handle the white curriculum. Isn’t that what you’ve been saying all along? Of course black kids flunk IQ tests.
The egalitarians said, that’s not fair.
The schools said, sure it is. White people have a right to impose white standards on black people. (You’re not living in Africa anymore, you know.) And it is the responsibility of the schools to uphold these standards. So there.
This line of defense appears ludicrous to anyone who knows anything about American schools—who knows that the average urban school bureaucrat wouldn’t recognize a standard if it stood on a street corner and whistled “Nearer My God to Thee.”
But the maneuver worked. Larry P. made the national press time and time again, as expert witnesses haggled back and forth. Generally, as depicted in the press, Larry P. was a battle between dashiki-clad, spear-bearing black warriors who want to tear down Our Schools and those high-minded standard-bearers of Meritocracy, the school bureaucrats.
And everyone went right on assuming that blacks are dumb.
While the California IQ case moved toward completion—a process that took several years—Chicago’s own IQ case waited in the wings. Waiting also were so many of the expert witnesses who already had testified in Larry P.
Several months ago, the circus came to town.
The “PASE case,” named for an organization called Parents in Action on Special Education, arrived in a dimly lit, windowless courtroom in the Dirksen Building 19 floors above Dearborn Street, where the double doors keep out the city noise and grime. It’s a room that might as well be floating in outer space for all the relation it bears to the black ghetto or to the status quo of the Chicago Public Schools.
The schools were crumbling. Hannon had resigned. The financial chaos had been revealed. The school board met day after day and got nothing done.
The brunt of the burden of representing the plaintiffs was borne by the most litigious of the reform-lawyer groups, the Legal Assistance Foundation. Other bodies of kindred spirits lent a hand—the ACLU, the BGA, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. The lawyers brought to the stand Leon Kamin, who is a professor of sociology at Princeton and the author of a 1974 book called The Science and Politics of IQ, and was one of the witnesses who had testified in Larry P.
Kamin testified that there is no way to measure “innate intelligence,” or capacity to learn. The IQ test, like all other tests, he said, tests how much a person knows. Nothing more.
But Kamin’s real job, as the first witness in this trial, was to link the IQ test with the scientific racism of Jensen in 1969 and of the first half of the century. This was not hard to do.
There is, for example, the story of Henry Goddard of Vineland Training School, who worked for the Public Health Service on Ellis Island in 1912. He used IQ tests to determine that 83 percent of the Jews, 97 percent of Russians, 79 percent of Poles, and 87 percent of Hungarians are “feeble-minded.”
Kamin also told the story of Robert Yerkes of Harvard—who, in 1921, decided that, among the World War I draftees he tested, the “most intelligent” were of English stock, while the “least intelligent” were Polish, who happened to be about as “intelligent” as blacks. Yerkes was instrumental in getting Congress to pass, in 1924, legislation creating immigration quotas based on the 1890 census.
According to Karmin, test makers in the 1930s, acting on the assumption that men and women are equally intelligent, eliminated all the questions on IQ tests on which either men or women perform significantly better than members of the opposite sex. (Thus, he said, they permanently biased IQ tests against women, who still tend to outperform men.) Nobody ever bothered to do the same thing for blacks and whites, he said, because no one was surprised when blacks performed poorly on IQ tests.
These stories were supposed to impress Judge Grady. They were also supposed to impress the reporters who were supposed to be attending the trial. Unfortunately, the reporters were all off watching the school system fall apart.
Grady was not impressed. He wanted to know if the lawyers could prove that IQ tests were unfair to blacks. The lawyers were unhappy about that. They complained that Grady had not “read the law”—the 60s law that puts the burden of proof on the schools to show that IQ tests are fair to blacks.
But Grady is a tough judge. He seemed to think, now that the liberal lawyers had raised this issue in his court, that it was his job—like it or not—to decide whether IQ tests fairly measure intelligence in blacks. If the reform lawyers wanted a ruling on the IQ test, Grady would later tell them in court, he would give it to them. And it would be the best, most thorough, ruling he could make, not just some technical knockout on the basis of prima facie evidence. And, he told them, they would just have to live with the consequences.
Kamin, as people who call themselves experts are likely to do, was inclined to make assertions based on his own authority and very little else. This, it later turned out, was annoying the judge.
Kamin stated, for example, that there is no evidence that intelligence is genetically transmitted. Actually, that’s not true. There is some evidence that intelligence is, to some extent, genetically transmitted, but the influence of environment on the development of intelligence appears to be so great that it all but wipes out the influence of genes. Also, there is no evidence that the aspect of intelligence that is transmitted through genes is in any way linked to race.
Kamin also stated that IQ test scores do not “correlate well” with grades, and this precipitated a struggle, which would last through the whole trial, between plaintiffs and defendants over whether IQ scores “predict” grades. Even at this early stage, however, Grady managed to see that this argument is almost irrelevant. IQ scores are supposed to be a measure of ability, not achievement. Although a low IQ score could be expected to predict low grades, a high or average IQ score might not predict grades at all. After all, IQ tests often are administered to find out whether a child’s poor performance in school results from lack of ability or some other factor, such as lack of motivation.
The plaintiffs and the defense fought this out, however—not only here but in Larry P. as well. At times, in that whole courtroom, there didn’t seem to be enough intelligence to power a mentally retarded child of any race, or even one small cat.
One interesting fact did emerge from this debate—that IQ scores predict the grades of black children less well than they predict the grades of white children—but this fact was almost obscured by the surrounding argument.
Grady listened to all of it patiently, in a characteristic posture, his head in his hand and his dark hair falling in his face. Finally, he asked Kamin if some of the questions on the IQ test are more difficult for black children than others are.
“It [the difficulty] tends to be across the board,” said Kamin, “but with very different magnitude across the board.” In one large study sponsored by HEW—one of the few studies of this type, Kamin said—blacks had most trouble with vocabulary questions, on which the difference between their scores and those of whites amounted to about 12 IQ points. But blacks also fared worse on all of the other parts of the test. Even when black children only had to draw a picture of a human being, Kamin said, they still did not do as well as white children. The difference in these scores was the equivalent of about one IQ point.
Kamin said that differences between black and white performances on IQ tests form “a strange pattern.”
Why would black children have trouble drawing a picture or working a puzzle or remembering a list of numbers that has just been read to them—all of which are possible problems on IQ tests? Kamin said, “The experience of blacks and whites in this country differs a great deal in ways which we know very little about.”
You could almost hear Grady think: If I believe that, tomorrow you’ll offer me a good deal on a bridge.
The next witness was Robert Williams, a black PhD who is the head of the Minority Mental Health Program in Saint Louis. Williams explained that IQ scores were assigned according to how well an individual performs in comparison with a sample group of his or her age. The average score is taken to be “average” intelligence for people of that age—thus, IQ 100. Today, this sample group probably does contain blacks in proportion to their representation in the population. But, Williams said, the representation of blacks at each age level is so small that anyone who takes the test is still being compared to a white population.
Williams testified that the vocabulary in which IQ tests are written, to say nothing of questions on the test that actually require children to use or define words, are unfair to blacks because blacks do not speak so-called standard English. “Black English,” he insisted, is not inferior to “white English,” but it is different enough so that black children are not able to understand or answer test questions as easily as white children can.
In an article published in Psychology Today in 1974, Williams said, he reported the results of a study in which he “translated” test questions into black English. Thus, “Point to the toy that is behind the sofa” became “Point to the toy that is in back of the couch.” “Point to the squirrel that is about to run up the tree” became “Point to the squirrel that is fixing to run up the tree.” He said that black children performed significantly better on the translated version of the test.
Williams also said that questions about so-called general knowledge are unfair to black children. One IQ test question, he said, is “What is the color of rubies?”
He said a black child is likely to answer, “Ruby is black.”
Another question is “Where is Chile?”
He said a black child will answer, “It’s on the shelf.”
Another type of question asks the child to look at a picture and say what’s wrong with it. According to Williams, a black ghetto child may see nothing wrong with a picture of a three-legged table, because such tables are common in the ghetto.
Some IQ tests ask children to interpret proverbs. But Williams said his studies show that black children can interpret an African proverb—”The monkey, watching the man shave, one day slit his own throat”—when they cannot interpret the comparable “white” proverb—that is, “Don’t throw pearls before swine.”
Even asking a child to estimate quantities can be unfair, Williams said. He said that black children do better on such tests if they’re allowed to work with RC bottles instead of the laboratory beakers that usually are used.
The IQ test questions that IQ test critics most dislike are those that ask children to make judgments about what they would do in different situations. These questions can hardly even be said to have “correct” answers, because the acceptable answers, according to IQ test makers, are those that would be given by most people. In other words, as Williams said, “The test rewards for thinking like everybody else.”
One question of this type is “What would you do if you were sent to buy a loaf of bread and the grocer said he did not have any more?” The acceptable answer is that you would go to another store. But Williams says that a ghetto child should go straight home, not wander around the ghetto looking for bread.
Another such question is “What would you do if you lost one of your friend’s balls?” The acceptable answer is that you would replace the loss. Williams caused a small commotion in the courtroom by stating, matter-of-factly, that a black child is likely to answer, “I’d take him to the hospital.”
The most famous of these questions is the “fight item”—IQ test critics’ favorite example of “cultural bias” in the tests. The test asks, “What is the thing to do if a fellow (girl) much smaller than yourself starts to fight with you?” The acceptable answer is that you wouldn’t fight back. But critics say this answer reflects “white” values, that in the ghetto black children learn to fight back when attacked. Black children aged six and seven “miss” this question more than twice as often as white children do.
Unfortunately, the plaintiffs had not managed to come to grips with a slippery, but essential, concept—intelligence.
Their own witness, Kamin, had testified that it is impossible to measure “innate intelligence,” or capacity to learn. And that’s the case. If you want to measure ability at all, you have to measure the ability to learn something. To put it another way, you can’t measure the ability to profit from environment. You have to measure the ability to profit from an environment.
Williams testified, in fact, that “intelligence is one’s ability to cope with one’s environment—whatever that environment is.”
The egalitarians say that black ability should be measured according to how blacks perform in the black environment. And that is perfectly fair, if you are an egalitarian, if you assume that the black and white environments are equally complex.
But say you are not an egalitarian. And this judge was not. Most people are not.
Ask yourself what you think of an environment in which, for example, big children are encouraged to beat little children to pulps.
Patrick Halligan had been setting at the defense table, looking, as usual, as though he was about to jump out of his chair. Now, he leaped, having found his chance to drive even deeper the wedge between the plaintiffs and the judge.
Halligan, the rumpled young Irishman, asked Williams, the self-possessed black man, if IQ scores are “correlated” with the ability to “function in larger society.”
Williams said, “I think too many educators feel that they’re educating kids for the mainstream before the kids even get out of the first or second grade. I’ve never seen a first- or second-grade kid go to look for a job.” Then he added that the tests do measure “how well the child compares with some normative groups out there.” And he proceeded to explain that he doesn’t consider it important to compare black children to such normative groups. For example, he said, it was silly for the Chicago press several years ago to raise a “hullabaloo” just because black children were flunking national reading tests.
Perfect, Halligan said. “It’s of some value to know something about the current functional ability of a minority student to compete with members of the dominant culture. . . . Is that correct, sir?”
Williams: “Well, you know, what is ‘functional ability’?”
Halligan: “Let me drop that question. Would it be valuable for us to have some idea how well a boy or girl would do in competing on academic tasks with classmates from groups other than his group?”
Williams said he thinks the schools are too competitive. Then, trying to struggle with Halligan, he said, “There’s a difference between not having mastered skills and not having the ability to master those skills.” He said that the IQ tests “underpredict” the ability of black children to perform in school. He added that this is harmful to the children, who are told that they can’t do well and thus become discouraged and turn IQ scores into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If Williams had talked this way all along, the plaintiffs might have had a case. But Williams is an egalitarian. And Halligan knew it. Halligan also knew that if he pushed Williams hard enough, Williams would say that black children are not able to perform well in school and that the IQ tests measure that inability.
And that, Halligan old boy, is like getting him to say that black children are dumb.
Halligan now read a quotation from something Williams had written and published, which said “The [IQ] tests are basically mini-classrooms” and went on to say that both the IQ tests and the curriculum of the schools are culturally biased against blacks. Williams wrote that “the lockstep” of the tests with the curriculum must be “broken.”
Halligan said, “Would it be fair to say that at the bottom of your criticism of tests there’s a more profound criticism of the curriculum of the public schools?”
Williams said, “It’s related, but it’s not at the bottom. . . . Once we get rid of the test I think we can begin to hear the situation, because the tail is wagging the dog. . . . The tests are shaping what’s going on in the classroom.”
Williams had just (a) contradicted his earlier testimony, and (b) said he’d like to dismantle the school curriculum.
Halligan said, almost sweetly now, “But doesn’t the curriculum of the schools reflect the larger American culture?”
“No,” said Williams, not as unruffled as he had been before. “It doesn’t reflect minorities. It reflects a monolithic society.”
Halligan took his seat.
Had the judge been willing to accept that IQ tests are unfair to blacks, the next witness would have brought the plaintiffs’ case near to perfection. Richard Berk, a professor of sociology at the University of California, was another of the expert witnesses who had testified in the Larry P. case. Berk had conducted a statistical analysis of data supplied to the plaintiffs by the Chicago Board of Education under a court order.
He testified, first, to the single most important fact in this case—that “disproportionately high” numbers of black children are enrolled in EMH—prima facie evidence of racial discrimination, under federal law. Berk then testified that, statistically, children appear to be assigned to EMH almost entirely on the basis of IQ scores. The official cutoff for a designation of mental retardation is an IQ of 70. Among students with IQs between 65 and 69, Berk said, 88 percent were recommended for EMH placement, although fewer than that actually were placed. Among students with IQs between 80 and 84, only 7 percent were recommended for EMH.
Berk testified also that children in EMH are all but trapped—and more so if they are black. Once a child is in EMH, the child’s chance of being reassigned to EMH the following year is 50 percent better than when the child was first recommended for placement—if the child is white. The chance for a black child’s being reassigned to EMH is 70 percent better. Berk said that a black child would have to score 12 to 15 points higher on an IQ test than a white child would in order to escape from EMH, even though, statistically, black children score 12 to 15 points lower than white children do.
Berk was testifying on a minor point—that the difference in EMH placements of children scoring above and below 80 on IQ tests is not attributable to chance—when Judge Grady, who had been listening to Berk with his head resting on his hand, first let it be known that he was unhappy with the plaintiff’s case.
Grady interrupted to say, “Talking about chance in this context makes no sense to me at all. . . . These children are not sent in there by chance.”
Jerry Oppenheim, one of the lawyers the Legal Assistance Foundation had assigned to this case, was taking Berk’s testimony. “Well, that is actually the point,” he said. “That is the point we are trying to make.”
Grady said, “It is not a point worth making in my view.”
“Very well,” said Oppenheim, who must have been gripped by sudden panic.
Grady said, “We may be doing something that is altogether wrong [that is, assigning children to EMH on the basis of IQ tests], but it seems to me that you are starting from that assumption rather than ending with that conclusion.”
You haven’t convinced me that there is anything wrong with IQ tests.
The plaintiffs then brought out the best witnesses of all, the plaintiffs themselves. Quiet, pudgy Barbara Browley, who had been sitting in the courtroom for days waiting for her chance, came to the stand. In a barely audible voice, she told her sad tale. She was followed by Angela Johnson, with a similar story to tell. Then the mothers took the stand. And then the experts, who testified that neither Angela Johnson nor Barbara Browley is mentally retarded. Barbara, the experts said, is suffering from a learning disability; that is, she is not incapable of learning, she merely suffers from a common, remediable disability. Her brain transposes letters when she tries to read.
She just needed a little push.
The judge listened sympathetically, and he allowed that in the cases of Angela and Barbara the school system probably had made mistakes. But he wasn’t ready to agree that 10,000-some-odd other black children also had been incorrectly placed in EMH.
The plaintiffs were not quite finished with their case. But their last witness, another of the expert witnesses who had testified in the Larry P. case, was not yet available to testify in Chicago. Halligan was ready with the defense, so he went ahead.
Halligan had emerged as the lead lawyer on the defense side of the case—almost the only lawyer. The two women, one black and one white, were so unenthusiastic about the defense case, their cross-examinations of plaintiffs’ witnesses were so soporific, that even the plaintiffs’ lawyers seemed relieved when Halligan went into action. When Halligan jumped up and down and ran back and forth and said “jeepers” to the judge—activities that won him the name “the leprechaun” among the lawyers on the plaintiffs’ side of the case—at least nobody was likely to fall asleep in court.
The Board of Education had no money with which to bring a parade of expert witnesses, as the California schools had done in Larry P. But Halligan made the best of that. He presented a parade of school bureaucrats—all of whom, black or white, were very much alike.
They were not accustomed to being on the witness stand. They made little nervous jokes at which nobody laughed. If they were asked a question they couldn’t answer, they looked hurt and confused and explained that they were only poor bureaucrats, doing the best they could. They were alike too, in their cheerful mangling of the English language. William Canning, director of the Bureau of Child Studies, had said in a deposition that someone “wasn’t a stigma”—and this set the grammatical tone for the testimony that ensued. By their demeanor and their testimony, the bureaucrats managed to project their belief that they are good-hearted, well-meaning people, doing a hard job, who have been unjustly accused. How could someone be so cold-blooded to suggest that they, who have worked all their lives to help children, would do anything to hurt a child?
Watching them, it was easy to forget. It was easy to forget that the school bureaucracy built a segregated school system stone by stone and brick by brick, that the bureaucracy struggles to this day to hold segregation in place. But remembering our segregated schools, remembering also teachers’ descriptions of students’ “hellish” lives, the bureaucrats suddenly seemed to fit that famed phrase of Hannah Arendt’s, coined during a different trail—her comment about the “banality of evil.”
Halligan’s witnesses contrasted with the cool, experienced experts put up by the plaintiffs. He made that work for him. The plaintiff’s witnesses are nothing but hired guns, he seemed to say to the judge. But this—this, your honor—is the home team.
Alice Zimmerman was typical of the defense witnesses. A motherly looking middle-aged white woman who’s director of the Board of Education’s Bureau of Mentally Handicapped Children, Zimmerman was nervous on the stand. Early in her testimony she explained that some section of the school system “compromises” ten districts. “My own maps that I use in my work,” she said, show that “EMH occurs in poverty areas, with all that connotes.” Looking pained, she testified to a long list of deprivations—poverty, broken homes, lack of early stimulation, malnutrition, low birth weights, teenaged mothers—that, she said, make poor black children “not ready” to achieve in the Chicago schools.
This was the “environmental” defense, of course—the defense that blacks are stupid because their environment is bad. Halligan had his witnesses veritably ooze their sympathy for the poor, disadvantaged black children—so much so that Grady finally broke in and said, “Are English, math, and chemistry middle-class as opposed to lower-class?” Nobody answered him.
Halligan’s strategy essentially was the same as that used in California, but with some uniquely Chicago flourishes. At least it seemed uniquely Chicago, somehow, that the defense witnesses never had to tell a lie—because they were able to make such creative use of the truth. One of the plaintiff’s contentions in this case was that it is unfair to assign black children to classes for the mentally retarded—where they will be denied an education—on the basis of IQ tests. This contention was based on the plaintiff’s theory—which seems naive, in retrospect—that the school system could be obliged to teach something to children who are not in EMH.
The truth is that black children in Chicago schools are unlikely to get an education whether they’re in EMH or not—or, as Jo Baum put it, the whole school system is a huge EMH.
This is how Alice Zimmerman expressed roughly the same idea. She testified that EMH classes have “paralleled the curriculum” since 1970, when the Continuous Progress system was instituted. EMH children, she said, are “a part of, not apart from” the Continuous Progress program, which allows each and every child to move through the school system at his or her own speed—a speed, Jo Baum might say, that ranges all the way from very slow to zero.
According to Zimmerman and other defense witnesses, the IQ test is an important tool used by the school system to create an “individualized” educational program for each student. And just because low-IQ students tend to be assigned to EMH classes, this doesn’t meant that the school system would ever call any child stupid, or impossible to teach. Goodness, no. It’s just that their “intellectual development is markedly delayed.” They need time, she said, in which “to progress at their own rate.”
Which, put in slightly different terms, means that the kids are sitting in class, waiting until they get old enough to graduate.
But Grady seemed to have been doing some work on his own, out of court, and now he asked Alice Zimmerman about “early stimulation.” Zimmerman had used the expression in passing, but she didn’t seem to know very much about it.
“Early stimulation” is a code, a reference to a wide range of relatively new studies—the earliest dating from the 1950s. These studies show that, though people may be born with greater or lesser predisposition toward high IQ, early environment to a great extent determines how high someone’s IQ ultimately will be.
The key, researchers say, is “early stimulation.” For the very young child, this means lights, pictures, music, physical affection, changes in scenery, and being talked to—but not chaos. Children raised in confusing homes, where there are many people and much random noise and activity, tend not to develop high IQs. Most important of all for your young child, researchers find, is a mother who is responsive, verbal, affectionate, and happy, and free enough to be willing to spend time alone with her child.
As the child grows somewhat older, language becomes the essential ingredient in raising IQ scores. We have always known that people with high IQs tend to learn to read as early as age two. Researchers now speculate that early reading is a “triggering mechanism” that releases the brain to take over its own development. Early reading causes high IQ, not the other way around.
Basing their conclusions on experiments with rats, researchers say that the brain changes in response to stimulation. The cerebral cortex thickens, neurons proliferate, and certain neurotransmitters become more abundant when the appropriate external triggering mechanisms are provided. If those triggers are not available at the right time, the brain may atrophy.
According to authorities such as J. McVicker Hunt, the first four years of life are crucial to the development of high IQ. Hunt says that the most important period in life is from birth to 18 months. Possibly there are later “sensitive periods,” when the effect of insufficient stimulation early in life can be corrected, IQ scores raised to what they would have been. But if this is possible, researchers don’t know how to go about it yet. They do know this—at present, roughly 70 percent of adult IQ is determined by the age of four.
The researchers do not think that white, middle-class child-rearing techniques are optimum for the development of high IQ. On the other hand, they tend to assume that the lower-class, poor, nonwhite environment is even further from what they would call ideal. In a dramatic study called the Milwaukee Project, children of black ghetto mothers who had scored in the 70s on IQ tests were given “intense stimulation” by researchers from birth on. After several years, the children were attaining IQ scores in the 120s.
In Ohio, a student of Hunt’s has started a program in which black mothers, while still pregnant, are taught to provide their children with a varied, stimulating, responsive, orderly environment. They are taught to play games with their children—games, devised by Hunt, that are built on words. These games lead the children almost effortlessly into reading. These children’s IQs too have soared. But if their mothers for any reason turn them over to other caretakers, the IQ scores almost immediately drop.
Through all of these studies—and there are many, many of them—researchers have assumed that IQ is largely, if not exclusively, a measure of intelligence—of the ability to learn, the ability to profit from experience.
The plaintiffs now were ready to bring on the witness who was supposed to seal their case. The case, of course, had already sprung several leaks. And this witness, Dr. Gloria Powell, was due to break it wide open.
Powell is a black woman with a list of publications so long they must fill several filing cabinets. She is a member of the staff of UCLA’s Division of Mental Retardation and Child Psychiatry, which is the largest child psychiatry program in the United States and possibly the world. She has worked in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda as well as in the American school system, where she became an authority on the psychological effects on black children of school desegregation. She has been a consultant to the Head Start program and to the President’s Commission on Mental Retardation.
Powell was supposed to perform a number of tasks, but the most important was to counter the school system’s “environmental” defense—that is, the thesis that environmental deprivation explains the relatively low IQs of black children. She ended up doing the opposite.
Powell did testify that certain forms of environmental deprivation do not cause low IQ. Brandishing a thick government tome, the Collaborative Perinatal Study, she testified that new findings provide that many environmental factors once thought to influence IQ—such as prematurity, other birth traumas, low birth weight, and even malnutrition—actually do not cause low IQ. Powell had delivered almost this identical testimony in California, where apparently her testimony was instrumental in defeating the school board’s “environmental” defense.
But Powell then went on to testify, quite blithely—in fact, BGA attorney Linda Lipton blithely led her into this testimony—that “lack of early stimulation”—for instance, “maternal-child interaction”—”is more predictive of performance in the classroom than any medical variable.” Powell testified that Head Start, an “early intervention” program in which black children were taught to read at an early age, has been shown to have significantly affected the success of these children now that they are in junior high school. They show “less failure, less retention in grade, less dropout,” she said.
She testified that the Collaborative Perinatal Study, which she clutched throughout her testimony, had found a “highly statistically significant correlation between cognitive functioning at age four and age seven and socioeconomic status and maternal education.” She even volunteered that an undernourished, depressed mother would be unlikely to give her child adequate stimulation.
Gloria Powell seemed to be saying that environment—an environment that sounds remarkably like the one in which poor black children are raised—causes, not just low IQ scores, but even reduced “cognitive functioning.”
But Powell and Lipton sped past this aspect of her testimony. Lipton asked Powell, “Does socioeconomic status, nutrition, health, reproductive risk account for the disproportion in mental retardation diagnosis among poor blacks?”
Powell said, “Emphatically no.”
“How do you account for it?”
“Misassessment,” Powell said. “Failure of the school to adequately assess the intellectual function of children who are culturally different.”
Grady now interrupted. “Are you saying,” he said, “that there is just as much intellectual stimulation in the environment of a child in a poor black household as there is in, say, an average white household?”
Powell replied that studies show that educated parents tend to talk more to their children. But, she said, “It is not correct to say that kind of verbal interaction will not occur in a lower-socioeconomic-status family.”
Grady said, “Do black children in Chicago get as much early stimulation as white children? If they do, why did we institute Head Start?”
Powell replied that the amount of early stimulation black children receive varies from family to family.
Grady was not going to let her go that easily. “If one kid is doing well in school and the other not,” he said “what [difference] would you expect to find [between the kids]?”
Powell said, “If [one is] a low-socioeconomic child, [I would expect to find] lack of attention to learning paths. Not enough stimulation.”
Grady asked her if that wouldn’t tend to be more common among poor blacks.
Powell replied, “School culture is middle-class white culture.” Black children have trouble in school, she said, because “the school curriculum is not geared to meet their needs.” She said that these children “can survive in their own environment, but are not adapted to the schools. When the school environment . . . provides the [right] kind of learning environment for the child . . . the children do well.”
Grady asked, “There is nothing deficient [about the black environment]?”
No, said Powell.
Then Powell testified that “placing blacks in classes for the mentally retarded is directly correlated with misuse of IQ tests.”
Powell’s direct testimony complete, Halligan stood up and said, “Your honor, the defense has decided to waive cross-examination.”
So Grady decided to go on questioning Powell. “Are you saying that the only reasonable explanation of the fact that more black children than white are placed in EMH classes in Chicago is that they get lower IQ scores?” he said.
Powell said, “Evidence shows that many more black children who are tested on IQ tests will fall into the area of scores in the 70s and 80s, a difficult area in terms of determining whether a child is actually mentally retarded as a medical diagnosis. We find many more false positive results. It’s pseudoretardation.” Alas, almost all her answers were about this long-winded.
Grady, asking his questions very slowly and with great care now, said, “How is ‘pseudoretardation’ manifested other than in IQ scores?”
Powell said that one way to see if a child is genuinely retarded is to check for neurological—that is, organic—problems. But the most important way is to use “Adaptive Behavior Scales,” which are designed to measure how well a child performs in his or own own—read black—environment. “Adaptive Behavior Scales,” she said, “more nearly approximate [than IQ scores] innate capacities.”
Her testimony seemed to be a reprise of the old egalitarian argument: black children can’t learn academic subjects. Black children have trouble on IQ tests. But you are not allowed to say that they are stupid—that is, unable to learn, unable to profit from experience—as long as they can manage in the black environment.
But what if there’s something wrong with the black environment? What if, for example, the black environment is less stimulating, more chaotic, less responsive, less highly skilled at using words than the white environment?
Egalitarian answer: But it isn’t.
Grady said, “It’s an apple-and-orange situation. I am putting it right over the plate here, and I just don’t think I can do it any better. I understand why the defense has waived cross-examination.
“If you are going to try your case along political lines,” he said, “you might get a political result.”
Without raising his voice, with scarcely a change in his demeanor, Grady managed to convey that he was pretty damned mad. The plaintiffs’ whole case seemed to him to rest on the flat, unsupported egalitarian assertion that black culture is just as good as white culture is, because we say it is.
“Garbage in, garbage out,” said Grady, shaking his head slightly from side to side. “I can only work with what I have. I am not indicating that I am leaning one way or the other. I do think that there are ideological and philosophical predilections that are handicapping presentation of the plaintiffs’ case.”
Everyone in the courtroom was stunned almost into immobility. Federal judges don’t often stop a trial to explain to lawyers on either team that they have screwed up their case.
Lipton unfroze herself and tried emergency measures. “Your honor, if I could just have a few minutes to put our rationale out on the table . . . In other words, your honor, let me, most of the way through this trial, in the middle of testimony, try to explain our case. It was a little late for that, even if Grady did misunderstand the case.
Grady said, “Excuse me. We are not communicating. You can’t really assume in this day and age that any judge in the U.S. is a complete tabula rasa on the subject matter that is being presented here.
“First of all, most of us have gone to college, and in college we have been exposed to classes in psychology, sociology, all sorts of things that bear upon the issues presented here. We don’t stop reading when we leave college, ether. Once in a while we read a book that pertains to something other than the rules against perpetuity, and anyone who is a knowledgeable citizen in the state of Illinois knows that there are certain statistical data which characterize so-called black families, or so-called ghetto families, in the black community. One knows, for instance, statistically, that in the city of Chicago last year, more black children were born out of wedlock than were born in wedlock. The average age of black mothers is far lower than the average age of white mothers. There are disruptive factors that intervene in the relationship between any parent and these young children. It would not take a superhuman feat of cognition,” he said, raising his voice slightly now, “to see a relationship between the kinds of factors that I have just mentioned and poor performance on an IQ test.
“What is happening here,” Grady said, “is that, as a matter of ideology, no one is willing to say that there is anything deficient about black culture. It’s wonderful. It’s just different, and the reason a black kid doesn’t deal with the information on the IQ test as well as the white kid is solely because he comes from a different stimulating learning experience. It’s not that he has lacked stimulation. It’s not that he lacks motivation. It’s simply that his stimulation has been along different lines, his motivation has been along different lines.”
Grady said that he had not yet made up his mind about the IQ test, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for him to do so. Deciding whether the test is fair, he said, would require him to decide what black children’s “storehouse of information is, and you can have a white child who is as ignorant as a black child.” He said he was going to review the tests item by item and try to decide of the questions are fair. There might be some questions he would decide were unfair. “There may be other questions that I will conclude can be answered by anyone who has had an adequate diet of culturally relevant information. I don’t care what subculture you are talking about. These people are not living on a different planet.” Grady also was not prepared to accept the egalitarian thesis that black culture is so pervasively different from white culture that it affects every aspect of a black child’s performance on an IQ test. “I am not going to accept something as true simply because somebody says it is.
“If you want to narrow the case down to the question of whether these IQ tests cannot be dealt with adequately by a black child in the year 1980 who comes out of a very good and stimulating, and in all respects, adequate environment in the city of Chicago,” Grady said, “then that’s the way I’ve got to decide the case. That’s the issue I will have to answer . . .
“I am pointing out to you that you are taking a risk in letting everything ride on the IQ tests.”
Grady did not seem happy, with the plaintiffs or with this case or with being the judge and getting stuck with having to decide the case. He leaned forward on the bench and told the plaintiffs, “There is more at stake here than the vindication of some political ideology. What’s at stake here is the fate of thousands of children in the school system.”
In the recess that followed, Gloria Powell said that Grady obviously is a racist.
Halligan had one more witness to present—Elmer Smith, a short, gray-headed, paunchy man who seemed to be an elder from the tribe of leprechauns to which Halligan belongs. Smith, the administrator of the Board of Education’s child-study programs for ten years, had attended the trial almost every day, and now he testified at length.
His testimony was of a piece with that of Halligan’s other witnesses—though he did take bureaucratic language-mangling to hitherto unscaled heights. Do IQ tests correlate with performance in school? he was asked. “I think you will find the variability in terms of the sample involved to the extent that they were applied to a cultural matrix that was constant with curriculum,” he managed to reply.
Smith dismissed Powell’s testimony that, before a child can be “diagnosed” mentally retarded, the child must show “deficits in adaptive behavior”—that is, inability to cope with the home as well as the school environment. That, he said, is a “medical model” of mental retardation, and the schools are not interested in “medical models.” Anyway, the schools don’t use the phrase “mental retardation” anymore. “The cultural, socioeconomic, and affiliated focus allied with such data [on the black environment] could well cause what I prefer to call educational retardation,” Smith testified. The schools don’t think EMH children are stupid, either. They’re just slow. “To me, retardation is a term meaning slowdown,” Smith said. According to Smith, EMH classes are designed to help children who are “negotiating the transcultural passage.”
Of course, it might be more accurate to say that they are drowning in it.
The plaintiffs had to try to recoup a lot of ground. So they turned the cross-examination of Smith over to Jim Pittman, a tall, imposing black lawyer from the firm of Fohrman, Lurie, Holstein, Sklar, & Cottle, who was appearing on behalf of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Of all the lawyers on the plaintiffs’ side, Pittman was the only trial lawyer; the rest were legal desk jockeys, not that special blend of orator and beast who performs well in any court.
Pittman first took Elmer Smith on a journey through the law. The law says that EMH classes are for the mentally retarded—that is, for people who are impossible to teach. Furthermore, the law—written, as it happens, under pressure from egalitarians—says that “impossible to teach” means “unable to cope in the black environment”—as well as in the white.
Is there any classification in the school code or in any statute for “educationally retarded”?
No, Elmer Smith had to admit. No, there is not.
Grady asked if the school code contains any provision for special classes specifically for the child who, “because of early learning opportunity, is less able to deal with the school curriculum than a normal child”?
Well, yes. There is such a provision in the school code. But the schools never have bothered to do much with such classes, especially for black children. After all, if you put children in a class designated “remedial,” somebody might actually expect you to remediate. Even teach.
Pittman asked Smith if he was aware that blacks are 21 percent “over-included” in EMH classes.
But they are 3 percent underincluded in classes for the physically handicapped.
And they are 5 percent underincluded in classes for the “learning disabled.”
They are 7 percent underincluded in classes for the speech impaired.
They are 14 percent underincluded in classes for the deaf, blind, and hard of hearing.
They are only 5 percent overincluded in classes for those with behavior disorders.
They are only 16 percent overincluded in he relatively few classes for the “educationally handicapped.”
No, Smith was not familiar with those statistics.
Over the plaintiffs’ strenuous objections, Halligan had gotten Grady to accept into evidence a “blue book.” The “book” consisted of photocopies, collected by Smith, of pages taken from book and articles on IQ testing. Halligan and Smith had put these photocopied pages between blue covers.
Once they realized that Grady would let Halligan introduce the book, the plaintiffs’ lawyers spent several days finding almost every article and book from which Smith had taken a quote. Now Pittman began to read Smith quotes from the same books an articles Smith had quoted.
“Working on a Head Start project,” Pitman read, “Rosenberg, Rosenberg, and Strough of 1966 found that ‘test responses of children from socioeconomic groups different from those on whom the tests had usually been standardized cannot be considered valid. It is not just a matter of whether books have been available or whether an individual has been brought up with a TV set or played in Little League. They way individuals in different cultures respond to symmetry, for instance, or think about enclosed space, or evaluate time and distances, or their familiarity or lack of familiarity with certain forms of comparison, are also significant.’
“Do you agree with that?”
Smith said that, although he agreed with the portion of the book that he had quoted in the “blue book,” he did not agree with the quote Pittman had just read.
How about this one? “‘Some psychological tests are more culture fair than others. At this point we recall again Binet’s principle that a test of intelligence should be constant with the milieu of those who are measured by it.’
“Do you agree with that?”
“Yes,” said Smith. “Every individual has got to adapt to the culture and the environment in which they find themselves.”
“Is that what that means to you?”
Now Pittman smiled and relaxed and announced to Smith, but also to the courtroom at large, that he was about to give Smith “your chance to shine.”
Pittman said, “Tell ’em any place, anywhere, by the Board of Education of the city of Chicago, the test makers themselves, or any place else, that standardized IQ tests have been validated for cross-cultural assessment. Can you prove that IQ tests aren’t unfair to blacks?
“Because that, buddy boy, is what the law says you have to do.”
Smith replied that in recent years some of the test makers have attempted “to go cross-cultural.”
Pittman asked Smith if he had heard Powell’s testimony that environmental deprivation does not account for black children’s low IQ scores. Then he asked Smith if he had been listening when experts testified that Barbara Browley suffers from learning disabilities.
Smith said, “I thought she was diagnosed as educationally handicapped.”
Pittman said, “If a firmly held belief does not give way to scientifically sound refutation, what is that firmly held belief normally called?”
Smith said, “Oh, rigidly might be one.”
“Prejudice?” said Pittman.
“Prejudice,” said Smith.
“Bias?” said Pittman.
“I’m not sure that the Christians being martyred had anything to do with prejudice or bias,” said Smith.
Are black people stupid?
This trial went on for weeks, but nobody managed to answer that question. It can be answered. But to answer it, we have to try to determine what IQ tests measure, and that requires us to make fine distinctions.
Fine distinctions are dull. They survive in courtrooms and in the press about as well as a shy 13-year old does at a big literary bash. It is your broad generalization, not your fine distinction, that can always be counted on to be the life of those parties. Certainly, no fine distinctions seem to have survived the IQ controversy.
But, here we are. It’s midnight, the club car is closed, and we’re still 50 miles from New York. Let’s make some dull distinctions.
“Intelligence is what’s measured by IQ tests,” testified Leon Kamin. He meant to disparage intelligence, but he spoke the truth. IQ scores do seem to be a pretty good measure of whatever it is that most of us—white people, if you like—call intelligence. Barbara Clark, an authority on intelligence, says this about the IQ test in her book Growing Up Gifted: “It gained wide acceptance because it did just what was expected of it. Those judged intuitively to be highly intelligent did well on the test, while those who exhibited subnormal ability did, in fact, do poorly on the tests.”
She adds, however, that “The test was never based on an exact definition of intelligence, nor did it reflect any commitment to a rationale for how we develop intelligence.”
But we don’t need a test to tell us whether someone seems intelligent or not. We have each other for that. When people talk about IQ tests, we tend to assume that the test is doing more than that. Is it?
Take a look at a question, almost any question. Say that you are asked what the word protreptic means. What does your ability or inability to define that word reveal?
It can reveal how able you are to learn new vocabulary words. Call that “ability.”
It can reveal whether you ever have heard the word before and, if so, how often. If you’ve never heard it before, you won’t know it. The more often you’ve heard it, the more likely you are to know it. Call that “experience.” But that isn’t quite good enough. This question doesn’t just measure “experience.” It measures “the right experience.”
Nor is “experience” only passively inflicted. Studies show that babies manipulate their own experience from birth. Some babies, for example, are novelty seekers, while others are not. So whether or not you can answer this simple question—what does protreptic mean?—indicates also whether you’ve sought out new experiences—and not just any experiences, either, but the right experiences. Call that “curiosity directed toward the right experiences”—curiosity for short.
In addition, your ability to answer a question reveals something about the question. It reveals, to an expert, how “hard” the question is. Presumably, if fewer people can define protreptic than ball, that may be partly because protreptic is a harder word to remember than ball. So the question also is measuring something that can be called “difficulty.”
All of that goes into making the answer to one question, and into making the answers to all the questions that appear on all tests—or that we ask each other at cocktail parties, for that matter.
To make matters more complicated, however, three of these factors—ability, the right experience, and curiosity—interact. For example, a baby who is more curious will seek out experience. The right experience produces high ability. Thus, if the experience turns out to be the right experience, ability and curiosity both will prosper, in turn stimulating better and more curiosity, thus more experience, thus higher ability and so on. But if the experience puts a damper on curiosity—the child is slapped for being a nuisance, for example—curiosity may decline, taking with it experience, which in turn will affect ability, and so on. When all the elements that make up intelligence are present and working properly, they reinforce one another, and intelligence soars. But if any part of the mix is absent or wrong, and whole package tends to decline.
The schools primarily use IQ tests as a measure of ability and curiosity. These two are so intimately related that we can take the word ability to refer to both of them.
Here’s another complexity: There may be different abilities, different ways of learning, of profiting from experience. But, in Western culture, we seem to understand and use only one.
Westerners—white, middle-class people, if you like—tend to profit from experience through the manipulation of word and numbers. Are there other ways to profit from experience? If there are, we’re not at all sure what they are. But let’s say that other abilities, largely unexplored by us, do exist.
Sometimes the ability to learn by manipulating words and numbers is called the g factor in an effort to distinguish it from the broader, much more subjective term intelligence. But here’s another complexity: there may be different gs. There may be more than one way to manipulate words and numbers. In Western culture, we emphasize one way—sometimes called linear, sometimes called logical. Call that Lg.
Most researchers and others who write on intelligence agree that the questions found on IQ tests, with their emphasis on the ability to manipulate words and numbers, test for g more than for other mental abilities. The IQ tests probably test for Lg more than for other forms of g. Indeed, the tests are designed to be “g (and Lg) loaded.”
What makes us think that IQ tests are a measure of ability, especially g, especially Lg, as opposed to the other elements in the mix?
Remember that the tests measure relative ability, by comparing scores to a national “norm.” So far we have said that IQ is a relative measure and ability and the right experience and the difficulty of the test itself.
If we test two children on exactly the same material, we can eliminate the impact on IQ of the difficulty of the test. IQ test makers emphasize the need to make sure that IQ tests are always identical and are always administered identically.
IQ test maker also try to ask questions about experiences that are equally within the domain of all children taking the test. In other words, the tests are designed also to minimize the impact of relative experience.
But it is easier to minimize that impact among children who are all urban, white, and middle-class than to minimize it among children from widely varying environments. Test makers themselves—Alfred Binet, for example, and more recently David Weschler, the creator of the Weschler scales—have said that the test scores do not minimize the impact of relative experience across cultures as well as they do within one culture. In other words, the more unalike the experiences of two children have been, the more the IQ test will measure the relative extent to which each child has been exposed to the right experiences—the experiences necessary to answer the questions on the IQ test.
But the IQ test also measures relative ability—especially g, especially Lg. That should not be forgotten.
None of this is very hard to figure out. In fact, this process—the manipulation of the symbols ability, curiosity, difficulty, experience, g, and Lg—is an example of how g, especially Lg, works. Sometimes we call g thought, while Lg is called logical thought.
As is often the case in ideological battles, the partisans in the IQ controversy agree far more than any of them cares to admit. Nobody would be likely to dispute, for example, the sure analysis of what IQ tests measure. There is also widespread agreement that people in general do not understand what IQ tests measure or how they measure it and that, as a result, IQ scores are notoriously subject to misinterpretation and abuse.
No partisans disagree that IQ scores are at best crude measurements of everything they try to measure. If we use them it’s because nobody has been able to come up with anything that works better. Yet people generally tend to believe that IQ test are “scientific,” that they are accurate in the way that thermometers are accurate, when they are not.
Possibly because of the ideas that were prevalent in this country at the time IQ tests were introduced, many people, black and white, tend to believe that IQ is primarily a product of genetic inheritance. It is not.
They also tend to believe that IQ remains constant throughout life, which it does not. IQ—as the tests themselves show—is subject to drastic change early in life and remains at least somewhat changeable throughout life. We may find ways to change it drastically later in life.
People tend to believe that IQ tests are not like other tests. But the difference between IQ tests and other tests is only a difference of degree, not of kind. IQ tests are standardized; the questions are more varied; the questions tend to be g-loaded. This makes them different from the tests usually given in school, but still quite like national standardized achievement tests. In fact, IQ scores tend to correlate well with scores on achievement tests, although not well with school grades.
People also tend to believe that children with low IQs cannot be taught. That isn’t quite true either. For one thing, IQ can be changed. Also, our teaching methods today are very limited. Traditionally, our schools have tried to teach only the children who arrived in school at the age of six already equipped with average and high IQs. Since then the schools have sought to foster only the abilities that directly improve IQ scores.
If there are ways to learn other than by manipulation of symbols, and ways to manipulate symbols other than in the logical fashion the Western mind affects, there may well also be other ways to teach. We have hardly begun to explore these methods, but researchers already are turning up promising results. For example, as Robert Williams testified, some studies indicate that children with IQs as low as 20 can be taught to read, using methods other than those we traditionally use in our schools.
Researchers also are discovering that stimulation of parts of the brain other than those directly involved in g—the musical “right brain,” for example, as opposed to the word-oriented “left brain”—improves the functioning of the whole brain. Because mental abilities reinforce one another, the brain’s total ability makes a geometric, not an additive, leap every time a new ability is stimulated and fostered. some researchers think that, for all of us, black and white, the abilities of the brain remain largely untapped.
IQ scores have been abused by people who think and act as though the ability measured by the IQ tests were the only important human ability. We tend to forget that IQ is not directly a measure of such qualities as creativity, intuition, morality, stamina, empathy, and motivation. We tend to forget also that g is not the only way to learn, and that Lg is not the only way to think.
The egalitarians are making an important and valid criticism of our schools when they say that our national obsession with the IQ test and with IQ scores has made the schools neglect all attributes other than those that weigh heavily in IQ. And that’s a shame, because schools could teach in more ways—and not give up so easily on so many children—and could stimulate more abilities. But this truth belongs to all of us. It is not just a truth for blacks. By making it appear that the IQ test is a black problem and not a white one, the egalitarians have obscured the common interest that all of us have in “breaking” the “lockstep” of IQ tests with the school curriculum.
Finally, IQ tests are unfair to blacks. But this truth, like the other, has been obscured by an ideological debate.
The debate centers on whether it’s proper to measure the ability to profit from environment as the ability to profit from the white environment or from any environment in which the person being measured happens to live. The confusion arises because people arguing the point forget, or don’t want to remember, that the brain has many abilities.
It is, in fact, ridiculous to say that all environments are alike. My cat profits well from her environment, but I would not send her to college.
If every time you spoke, I hit you, you would soon learn to be quiet. And if I did not have to hit you very often, I might well say that you were “intelligent,” as a result of your ability to profit from the environment I put you in.
Scientists talk about rats that way. They talk about a genetically “bright” strain of mice—which only has to have its paws shocked a few times before it learns to run a maze—and a genetically “dull” strain of mice—which has to be shocked repeatedly before it learns its lesson for the day.
Even in mice, however, the influence of the environment is of major importance. A “dull” mouse that is handled from birth will end up smarter than a “bright” mouse that is neglected from birth.
When white people talk about ability, however, they are not usually talking about the abilities possessed by “smart” rats and cats. They are talking about the ability called g.
Apparently, the ability to profit from white experience requires a hefty dose of g.
It is not obvious that the ability to profit from black experience also requires a hefty dose of g. The abilities required could be g-loaded abilities, or they might be other abilities. They might be Lg-loaded abilities, or they might be other forms of g. Then again, black culture might be comparable to the maze with an electrified grid under it that some laboratory rats live in. We don’t know.
We do know that, when we want to test for g, we seem to use a test—the IQ test—that is based on white, not black, culture.
In the struggle over this, we seem to have lost sight of something more important—the apparent deficiencies of the poor black environment.
If teachers are to be believed, the environment of many black children is hell. It’s chaotic, poverty stricken, and hopeless. Their mothers are likely to be illiterate, undernourished, and depressed—if they are available at all.
We know that even rats in laboratories need a responsive, orderly, stimulating environment if their brains are to develop properly. Is it too daring to suggest that the environment of many black children is not likely to stimulate the development of the brain?
We also know that verbal skills—ergo, a verbal mother—are an important step in the development of high IQ, which is a measure of ability, especially g, especially Lg. It makes some sense to assume that word manipulation is a “trigger mechanism” for the development of g. Reading may be a “trigger mechanism” specifically for Lg.
Is it too daring to suggest that widespread illiteracy is not conducive to the development of g, especially Lg?
Egalitarians like to deprecate the symbol manipulations, the logical rules, that characterize white middle-class thought. That deprecation may play an important role in the development of black price, but it does little for the development of black intellect.
Symbolic manipulation is a pretty important skill. Consciousness rests on it, at any rate. It is not the only skill, but trying to do without it is like trying to swim without arms and legs. Logical thought may not be as important as whites like to think it is, but no one has come up with any other set of rules about how to think that work anywhere near so well.
If the poor black environment is illiterate, black children may be growing up with deficits in their ability to think logically.
If the black environment is chaotic, unresponsive, and unstimulating, black children may be growing up unable to think at all. And other mental skills may also be deficient.
If that’s the case, the IQ tests are measuring these deficiencies, especially the deficiencies in g, especially the deficiencies in Lg. But the deficiencies are not as severe as IQ tests make them appear to be.
An IQ test is not only a measure of relative ability but also a measure of relative exposure to the white environment. Black people don’t live in the white environment, and they never have. We made sure of that. Thus IQ tests are unfair to blacks because the tests are measuring not only the ability of blacks relative to whites but also the exposure of blacks to white culture relative to the exposure of whites to white culture. That isn’t fair.
Also, the IQ tests are unfair to blacks because, in being g loaded, especially Lg loaded, the tests give black children no credit for any other abilities they may have developed as a result of their exposure to a nonwhite environment.
But the intransigence of the ideologue turns every question into a matter of either/or, when reality more often is not only that but also. The egalitarians are more right than wrong. But when they deny that IQ test measure any deficits whatever in black children and that the black environment is in any way deficient, they make themselves ludicrous.
They also make the “IQ debate” seem, though it’s not, impossible to solve. To the public, it appears that each side can present unending studies, charges and countercharges, and arguments to “prove” its case. Each side can because each side is right.
The egalitarians also have played into the hands of the school bureaucrats, who would rather not be forced to teach. Out of price, because it is more difficult for black children to meet white standards than it is for white children, and out of anger, because black children who did not meet our standards were being consigned to the garbage heap—the egalitarians discredited our standards. Those standards were far from perfect, but they were all we had.
When we had standards, the bureaucrats needed the IQ test. When we all agreed, for example, that children ought to learn how to read standard English, the bureaucrats used the IQ test as an excuse for the schools’ failure to teach black children this skill. They can’t learn to read because they’re dumb, the bureaucrats said.
Without standards, though they haven’t quite realized it yet, the bureaucrats don’t even need the IQ test. They have instead the myth of the “individualized program.” In the language of the bureaucrat, “the schools are meeting each child’s special needs”—which can mean, and sometimes does, that the schools are providing the child with a quiet place to sleep.
The bureaucrats no longer have to say that blacks are dumb. They can even deny—in keeping with the latest educational fashion—that any child is impossible to teach. Look, we’re teaching, say the bureaucrats. You don’t notice it, of course, but that’s because it’s . . . slow. Which is rather like saying that the cat isn’t dead. It has just stopped breathing.
With or without IQ tests, with or without EMH, if the school bureaucrats have their way black children will remain dumb.
The liberal lawyers knew that. In private they even would admit that they had known it all along. They hoped not so much to change the bureaucrats, who are unchanging, but to change us. They hoped to persuade us not to sit back and watch while black children sink in that “transcultural passage” Elmer Smith talked about—sink and drown. There are life rafts, there are buoys. Those children can be saved, they were saying to us.
Don’t even ask if blacks are stupid.
The point is that they don’t have to be.
In closing argument, Wally Winter, from the Legal Assistance Foundation, who had been the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, tried hard to straighten the tangled threads, and Halligan did his best to cross them up again.
As Halligan jumped up and down and darted back and forth, telling the judge that the benevolent Chicago schools are under attack by a bunch of black hired guns, Barbara Browley sat in the courtroom, muttering and arguing with him under her breath.
After he’d finished, someone asked her what she’d thought of Halligan’s speech, and she said, with anger, “He’s saying that I belonged in that class.”
Succinctly put, Barbara Browley.
Then the United States Department of Justice read Grady the law. Having gained permission to enter the case as a friend of the court, the Justice Department filed a brief and offered oral argument. Both were simple and to the point. “It is simply much too late in the day for the State to ‘justify’ its conduct by advancing spurious sociological arguments for racial differences,” wrote a Justice Department lawyer who also had argued that the department’s position in the Larry P. case. The law does not admit that there is any deficiency in blacks, and that’s it.
Grady has little legal room in which to rule other than as Judge Peckham did in the Larry P. case. Peckham told the schools to stop using IQ tests.
In view of the abuse to which the tests are subject, in view of their many imperfections, this is a wise decision. Unfortunately, as Peckham recognized in his 100-page decision, getting rid of the IQ test will do little to reform the schools.
Picking his way through the ideologies that had battled each other throughout Larry P., Peckham passed the IQ debate and found his way to the more important aspect of the case—that the schools are, in his words, “a setting of educational failure.” In closing his decision, Peckham told the schools that they have to learn to teach black children.
We have always given up on blacks too easily, wrote Peckham. We have always assumed that they are dumb. That has to stop.
We are still waiting for Grady to reach a conclusion.
One of the most notorious acts of destruction in the history of the West was the invasion and conquest of the city of Carthage by the Romans in 146 BC. The Romans so hated the Carthaginians that they dismantled the city stone by stone and sowed salt into the earth, so that nothing would grow on the land again.
In the last year, a University of Chicago archaeologist named Lawrence Stager returned to Chicago after six years in Carthage and said he had found out why the Romans hated to Carthaginians so much.
Roman writers claimed that Carthage practiced child sacrifice. But archaeologists never believed it, because propaganda is not a modern device.
But when Stager found thousands of tiny bones, he changed his mind. According to Stager, the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice for at least seven centuries on a basis neither casual nor sporadic. Most of the children were between the ages of one and three.
The Carthaginians said they were doing it in honor of the goddess Tanit and her consort, Ba’al Hamon. But Stager concluded that the sacrifice also helped the Carthaginians. “By limiting the number of inheritors of the wealth,” said the University of Chicago press release on this subject, “the elite could maintain their proprietary wealth and power, and still receive the blessings and favor of the gods.”
They rolled the children off the palms of a bronze god into a pit of fire.
We lock them up. We put blacks in ghettos, and we build every ghetto its very own schools, and if any black child tries to escape we change the district boundaries or build more schools to keep that child in place. we lock them up and we cut them off from money, from jobs, from the hope of a different life. The schools tell them go back, go stay, stay in the ghetto. You’ll never make it outside anyway.
The children’s environment has done what any closed system does. It feeds on itself. Gradually at first, and then more and more rapidly, it becomes more and more disordered, less and less able to provide the skills children need just to be able to cope. That causes the environment to become still more disordered. The schools have done nothing to stop this. The schools just say, you’d never make it outside anyway.
Jo Baum remembers a time ten years ago when black parents cared about whether their children learned anything in school, and black church groups were still active in the community, when she could safely walk into the projects alone and have dinner at a student’s house. But none of that is true anymore. “Something has happened out there,” she says. “It’s out of control.”
Some people say the schools haven’t failed. They have done exactly what they were supposed to do, and that was to keep black people out of white life. Now, after 40 years, the courts are telling us that we have to let black children out. But the schools have completed the job they started so long ago. Thanks to the schools, we don’t need the official ghettos anymore. Each black child has been provided with a convenient, portable ghetto, a prison to carry around with him wherever he goes.
We did it because we said blacks are dumb. You could call it a religious motive, and that our religion is an exaggerated worship of ourselves. But, like the Carthaginians, we have profited by our faith. We have limited the inheritors of the wealth. We maintain our proprietary wealth and power, and still receive the blessings and favors of the gods.
In two centuries, at the height of the activity, the Carthaginians sacrificed about 20,000 children to their gods. We must have the Carthaginians beat all to hell.
I like to think about that salt-strewn plain where nothing will grow. I like to think about the Romans, pulling Carthage down stone by stone, scattering salt, trying to erase the practice and event he memory of child sacrifice from the face of the earth.
We have sacrificed children, too. The schools were the instrument, and they remain the monument. Sometimes it seems tome that we should tear the goddamned schools down stone by stone and sow the ground with salt.