For Whom The Bell Curves


6-14-96
University Park, Pa. -- The I.Q. test as a measure of White vs. minority job fitness is not only greatly overrated, but is prejudicial to minorities and the poor/working class by its very nature.

"Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, authors of `The Bell Curve,' take great stock in I.Q. tests as proof that White Americans are better equipped for schools and the work place than Hispanics or African-Americans," says Dr. Joe L. Kincheloe, associate professor of education at Penn State and co-editor of "Measured Lies: The Bell Curve Examined."

"IQ tests have relatively little to do with innate ability," Kincheloe notes. "If one lives in a middle-class environment, he or she typically has a familiarity with and ability to operate in contemporary culture with its technological innovations, bureaucratic rules, fast pace of life, and ways of by-passing institutional rules and impediments."

He adds that students raised in homes where parents are isolated from such modern realities are less likely to perform successfully on IQ tests and schools that assume familiarity with such cultural dynamics.

Kincheloe's co-editors are Dr. Aaron D. Gresson III, associate professor of education at Penn State, and Shirley Steinberg, part-time lecturer at Adelphi University and an educational consultant.

The Maier-Hiatt study conducted in 1985 showed that when hands-on work sample tests were used instead of written job knowledge tests, workers with a low IQ actually outperformed those with high IQs after four or five years, Kincheloe says.

"In short, what IQ measures may have little to do with an individual's ability to succeed vocationally or academically in different situations," says Steinberg. "This is virtually ignored in `The Bell Curve' with its culturally decontextualized, number-crunching psychology."

What is alarming about the "The Bell Curve" is that it sets out to justify existing inequality of American society. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, Herrnstein and Murray maintain that such disparity is caused by the growing gap between the intelligent and unintelligent.

In this context they simply ignore the loss of factory jobs, corporate downsizing and the consistent increase in managerial salaries, Kincheloe says.

" `The Bell Curve' justifies a discrimination in the class structure," Steinberg adds. "Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds may not ascribe importance to school work or possess a faith that academic work holds rewards for them in the same way as do upper-middle-class students."

"Poor and racially marginal children often see academic life as something removed from the real world," says Steinberg. "They view academic work (i.e. the kind of work measured by IQ tests) as a series of short-term tasks devoid of reward rather than something with long-term significance for their lives. Important work is something you get paid for after its completion."

Without such compensation or long-term justification, these students display little interest in the "academic." Their lack of motivation and its consequences reduce understanding of certain kinds of knowledge, which many educators and psychologists interpret as a lack of intelligence. Poor performance on standardized tests "scientifically" confirm the "inferiority" of such students.

"Unfortunately, the power of I.Q. and other tests to shape the lives of men and women in this society is dramatic," says Kincheloe.

"If Herrnstein and Murray are able to convince citizens that "The Bell Curve" is correct and that I.Q. fairly and accurately portrays the worth of individuals, African-Americans, Latinos and poor Whites face a psychic, economic and political disaster."

"As educators, we cannot imagine a stronger disincentive to our non-White students than to be told that they are genetically inferior to Whites and there is nothing they can do about it," Steinberg notes.

The Penn State contributors to "Measured Lies" are Dr. William E. Cross, Jr., professor of psychology and African-American studies; Dr. Henry A. Giroux, the Waterbury Chair professor of education; Dr. Robert M. Hendrickson, head of the department of educational policy studies; Dr. Catherine A. Lugg, assistant professor of education; Dr. Kyle L. Peck, associate professor of education; Susan Searls, doctoral candidate in English; and Dr. Ladislaus Semali, assistant professor of education.

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EDITORS: Dr. Kincheloe can be contacted at (814) 865-6569 (office).

Contact:
Paul Blaum 814-865-9481 (o)/814-867-1126 (h) pab15@psu.edu
Vicki Fong 814-865-9481 (o)/814-238-1221 (h) vyf1@psu.edu