Ruby, who’s 11, is taking her statutory assessments soon. Sats put pressure on everyone in the school system to perform, and they start the process of weeding and selecting kids to fit with society’s norms. They’re also a big waste of teacher’s and children’s time.
I was going to write about this, and the new proposal to test 4 year olds, but just as I was getting going, I was diverted sideways by The Guardian article: “Grammer schools make no clear difference to GCSE results, says study”. Which fitted with what I was thinking, but then, “Scientist have been looking for more than a decade for “intelligence genes” without identifying any significant gene. But by analysing data from hundreds of thousands of people, scientists have located thousands of DNA differences that each make a tiny statistical contribution to likelihood of academic success.”1
Here we go again. At this point I have to admit I have a deep problem with my nature – v – nurture; it must be in the DNA!
“The accident of birth is the greatest source of inequality” and “Scientists have long recognised the nature-v-nurture debate as fallacy.”2 But we still get the same old arguments resurfacing to fit with a right-wing agenda.
After the First World War, when the ‘old’ US families felt threatened by migration; with revolution in Europe and their own working class demanding more equality, testing and classification became the policy to weed out the ‘simple minded’. Those with the lowest IQ scores were classed as ‘Idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’, separated out and sent back. Others, with slightly higher IQs, who could be trained to do menial jobs, were classed as ‘Morons’.
Then, in the 1940s, when there was a big surge in demand for better social conditions, the ruling classes became twitchy again, and our old friend Cyril Burt came on to the scene with his invented people and his crooked statistics. (See Rob Newman review on the Nerve website) Burt was the chief psychologist of London schools at the time that 11+ was introduced. These test sorted out the ‘top’ 20%. Burt regarded the 80% who failed as unfit for higher education. This separation was for “warding off the ultimate decline and fall that has overtaken each of the great civilisations of the past”.3
In the late 60s Arthur Jensen used the same percentages; saying that 80% of intelligence was innate and only 20% was due to environmental influences. He pushed the racist idea that levels of intelligence ran in an evolutionary straight line, from the lowly amoeba up to extra-terrestrial beings! White humans were higher up this ladder than black.
The early 80s at the time when social provision was being slashed, this was justified by the argument in The Bell Curve that people could not be helped due to inborn cognitive limits expressed as low IQ.
Now we have Robert Plomin, psychologist at Kings College London, who says, “Differences in exam performance between pupils attending selective and non-selective schools mirror the genetic differences between them.” 4 And Toby Young, Plomin’s research assistant, proposing that poorer people should be offered the “progressive eugenics” of embryo screening based on intelligence.1
In 1990 the Human Genome Project was started with the claim that it would settle the nature – v – nurture argument once and for all. The project was completed in 2003, and the claim was quietly forgotten.
Theories of innate intelligence (fixed and unalterable) are part of the capitalist system. They are more prevalent at times when the establishment feels under threat, or when the cost of social welfare is being questioned. The same old theories, in slightly different form, are then re-hashed and repackaged to justify attacks on the working class.
Ritchie Hunter – April 2018
1. Selective schools make no difference to pupils’ GCSE results (Guardian 23 March 2018)
3. Burt 1950, in Steven J Gould, Mismeasure of Man
4. Editorial (Guardian 2 April 2018)
Child maze image from Guardian Design