Sunday, December 23, 2007

Acting White: Intelligence, Measurement And eBay

I run from any contest that measures the amount of hair on my head, for I will surely place near the bottom. It is human nature to avoid contest that we believe we will lose. However, if I really wanted hair I suppose I would save up my nickels and buy it, in many variations, including Rogaine, folical transplants, etc.

With this thought in mind, there is a controversy brewing around IQ tests for sale on eBay. It seems that authorities are concerned about the tests falling into the hands of people who might misuse them. Like steroids I suppose. More likely some entrepreneur, not unlike Kaplan, might get the idea to capitalize on the increasing stakes and offer an IQ ‘prep class’ for a nominal sum, and rake in millions.

I’ll get back to Ebay in a second, but this brings up the issue of measurement and our love-hate relationship with it. On one hand, it is only by measuring ourselves that we gain insights from the feedback. Quality gurus Deming and Juran jump-started a modern-day, post-war, industrial miracle called Japan, Inc. based on measurement. And failure was the daily hallmark before that country turned itself around. But then again measurement creates winners and losers, at least for the moment, and our society is increasingly desperate not to experience even a moment of failure, even on the road to success. This attitude, for those on the bottom, is very costly.

We are afraid that open pursuit of measuring intelligence locks us down, rather than providing opportunity, so we paint it as the most heinous tool of evil ever produced. The reality is that failure is the natural series of events which occurs before eventual success, in school, on the job, or playing field. Testing or not-testing does not change this. I worked harder knowing my IQ was not as high as I imagined. However, as long as educators treat measurement as something too complex for regular people to understand, and therefore buy into, they invite skepticism.

For the record, Black people do not universally mind being measured. They invite it in sports and artistic endeavors, because they think they will excel, even with racism. I also remember how some of my white classmates in high school complained that the physical education (P.E.) grades dragged down their G.P.A.’s. In the end, experience has proven that a few points in IQ or GPA simply does not make the difference for who succeeds in life. It has much more to do with attitude in the face of adversity.

So I’m all for eBay allowing the IQ tests sale. Educators are not so smart that they should stiff the scrutiny of regular folks over something that should make sense and be explainable. They contend that you cannot prep for the test, so why should it matter if the tests are available. BTW, they said the same thing about the SAT. Wrong. Granted, the administration and analysis of intelligence measurement is a professional challenge best in the hands of the qualified, but the wraps need to come off. Measurement only improves itself and its subjects when done in the light for all to see.

I will go further to predict that disparities in intelligence reach back much further than we ever imagined, including the time before there was more than one race. But it will surely take too much time to get to this truth as long as we continue to play the game of ‘hide and seek’ with one narrow swatch of smartness.

James C. Collier


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the poet Shazza said...

As a Black man that has had an IQ test and scored at a respectable 138 point, the number meant very little to me until I was asked by my associates at work if I had taken one. Since my father was tested in his college days with results being that of the gifted, it was my parent's need to know if I was birthed with either my Father's Potential or my Mother's Average Abilities. Basically there was a need to see which side of the evolutionary branch I was on.

At work, prior to the IQ conversation I was just the regular 'ol Black co-work we could lump into all the other Black people they saw on television, videos and the street. Now I am an uppity Black guy who thinks he's smart and better than "us"(even though I knew this prior to being employed there).

Although I hear what you are saying in your post, I have always felt that IQ Tests were a hidden evil dressed in "good intensions". With the selling of IQ tests and the possible creation of prep-exams, it justifies my feeling towards them all the more.

Intelligence has always meant the potential to learn for people. Since the mind functions on two spheres (logic and creative) how we balance that determines ability.

Although my father has the ability (according to his IQ) to out think my mother in math and science, he doesn’t stand a chance when it comes to home design and color matching. So who's smarter? Since my score is higher than his and I have an equal balance of Arts and Sciences am I truly greater than my parents or you?

Anonymous said...

The quality issue is a mirage. USA big cars never had quality problems. The peaceniks loved Japanese neutrality in the 1960s. When oild prices skyrocketed, US firms sold relabelled small Japanese cars, which sucked, giving the US firms a bad name. The same Japanese firms then sold their better cards direct, bait and switch. And then the declining literacy of USA repairmen made them unable to fix advanced USA cars, telling their customers to buy Japanese. And the leftist cassandras in the universities tried to get revenge on firms who didn't hire them.