Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Mismeasure of Me

My report card in 1967.

In the tenth grade I got such a low mark in math that I went from being in the advanced class to the 'slow' class, whatever it was called.

This was a weird experience, because in my school, in the entire Board, students were streamed. I had spent 4 grades travelling from class to class with the same group of talented students.

So I hardly knew the kids in my 'new' grade 11 math class. But, being an insightful kind of girl, I instantly realized that these kids were treated as if they were stupid. (I remember the teacher, the oldest teacher in the school, a Mr. Monk, coming into the classroom with a styrofoam cup on his nose, oinking like a pig.) And if felt awful.

In my other classes, the teachers assumed we were very smart and treated us as such, to such an extent that we got away with a lot. I recall in one English class the one very very smart kid handing it all his assignments for the year on the last day of school. He got a big laugh from the other students, because he did so with panache, tossing this assignments one by one on the teacher's desk. He wasn't alone that day, in handing in overdue asssignments either.

The fact is, with respect to my problem, the people around me, teachers and my parents, should have questioned why I failed math, but it was kind of expected of girls in those days to 'hit the wall' so to speak. (A friend of mine also did hit the wall, but her Dad tutored her and she went on to become a top math student at university and to work in high finance. )

In my case, it had more to do with my parents getting a divorce that year - and the fact the teacher in the advanced math class did not appear to respect girls' talents. (My father had a degree in MATH from Oxford, actually!)

Anyway, that's all long evaporated water under the far away bridge. (But I might say, that when I took those student aptitude tests for university, (they were not called SATS) I got a 75 percentile in math, which was tied with a friend of mine who went on to become a top top TOP scientist and a lot lot better than my best friend, who got 99 percentile in English (I got 95 or so) and about a 4 percentile in math. She went on a to a brilliant career in the arts. (Something, sadly, I did not do.) So it goes to show you.

What has this got to do with Flo in the City? Well, 1912 was the year the Stanford-Binet test or IQ test was created (I've read) and the year Flora graduated from Macdonald Teachers' College.

I have her student portfolio and one of notebooks contains a page on teaching 'defectives' to read. That's how they referred to retarded, special or challenged children back them. (There's nothing in the portfolio about IQ tests (too soon) but there is a mention of "the new phonics system" and well as Tonic Solfa (?).

In 1912, the eugenics movement was in full swing and I suspect that the Stanford Binet test (or Binet-Simons?)was created in some way to divide defectives from normals. (I have yet to find early articles about the test.)

They needed a measure. (I must re-read the Mismeasure of Man.)

By 1921, the year my Mom was born, the test already was popular in schools. One article I found in the New York Times claims that The Stanford Binet test is used in many schools as a basis for classification.

This particular article is a 'soft science' one that says that the higher the social status the higher the IQ. It seems some pesky people were using the test to prove that grocers' sons were smarter than professors' sons and this irked the establishment.

This kind of talk was turning the purpose of the test on its head!!

Average kids, says the article, test between 95 and 105, while the children of the upper classes and higher mercantile classes test between 110 and 120.

This, they say, proves the higher social ranks contain smarter people.

(Of course, it proves the test is designed to make the people from the higher social ranks seem smarter.)

Anyway, other articles I've pulled out from the early 1930's, when the eugenics movement is still going strong, although it will suddenly drop into disfavor because of Hitler and his embrace of the doctrine, reveal that the test was used to decide if young offenders, murderers and such, were mature enough to stand trial as adults.

Now, in 1921, it appears, they came out with "The Condensed Guide for the Stanford Revision of the Binet Simon Tests."

It appears that educators were 'too dumb' or 'too lazy' or 'too busy' to fully ingest the longer guide for giving these newfangled IQ tests to their students and they needed something more condensed.

The author writes in the preface : "Since the appearance of the Stanford Revision of the Binet Simon Intelligence Scale I, I have frequently been urged to prepare a condensed guide to make the application of the tests easier and more convenient."
(SIC SIC SIC)

Well, this book is available on Archive.org and I certainly don't have the time ;) to deconstruct the questions. (I'm afraid I will not be able to do any of the puzzles and feel dumb. And, I just learned they have a test coming soon for Alzheimer's and that is giving me great anxiety, which lowers my IQ. I am wondering if this test is a good or terrible thing. I mean, how might this test be used and abused on Old Folk? Will husbands leave wives or vice versa when they discover the awful truth early? Will people be fired from their jobs or kicked off their insurance?)

I am a writer, a literate person, so I looked to the final test at the back of this condensed guide, which was a vocabulary test, just like the Word Power at the back of the Old Reader's Digests. (My mom aced these Word Powers, I recall, and took great pride in doing so as she was French Canadian. But she could not do basic fractions in the kitchen, which she needed to double the recipes for the meals and desserts she made for us. I did any and all calculations for her, while never really picking up an culinary skills as she didn't have the patience to teach me.)

There are two lists of words in this condensed guide to Binet-Simon IQ test. Here are some chosen sort of randomly: gown, juggler, mosaic, bewail, hysterics, disproportionate, milksop, ambergris, ochre, sudorific, harpy, parterre, complot, perfunctory, piscatorial; guitar, shrewd, repose, dilapidated, drabble, irony, sapient, humunculous.

Get my drift. (Quick. Define drift.)

I dare you to write a sentence containing these words.

Hmm. I have to wonder how Flora's immigrant students, 'defective' or not, most of whom had parents who spoke no English, fared on this IQ test.