Evolution of Meritocracy: American Eugenics, Intelligence Testing and The Making Of Modern Meritocracy
In the second decade of the new millennium - now - new questions about human abilities and human worth have arisen. A vast industry of computerisation and gradual rise of ‘machine intelligence’ challenged the prospect of ever-improving urban middle class life, replacing a vast number of secretarial, administrative and other ‘middle ability’ jobs with computer programmes, cheap workers overseas, and increasingly, with robots. Stagnated wages, disappearing jobs and breakdown of the ‘American Dream’ in its many global variants have led to a new ‘struggle for existence’ in the workplace.
A Darwinism Without Darwin
Charles Darwin wrote to Francis Galton, his half-cousin, on 23rd December 1869, on reading the latter’s Hereditary Genius (not fully but the first 50 pages at the time of writing the letter, by Darwin’s own admission):
Intelligence and Ordering of Society
The standard tool for measuring intellect - Intelligence as it would now be called - was pioneered by a Frenchman, Alfred Binet, Director of the Psychology laboratory at the Sorbonne. Binet’s first attempts at measuring intelligence were in the lines of the Physical Anthropology school, and after Paul Broca’s methods of measuring skull sizes and correlating it with intellectual capacity. However, Binet’s initial studies only produced small differences, and he became aware that his own suggestibility - his measurement of brain sizes reduced when he became aware that the subject is less ‘intelligent’ - while doing these experiments. In 1904, however, when Binet was commissioned by the Minister of Public Education to identify the children who needs special education in schools, Binet spurned craniometry and instead devised a set of tests designed to measure ‘mental age’ of the Children. Binet’s tests were a series of defined tasks of progressive level of difficulty, and each level was associated with a mental age. The Children were assigned a mental age based on the highest level of tasks they could perform, and subtracting their mental age from their chronological age, Binet developed his famous ‘Scale’ (the Children with higher difference between their mental and chronological age needed most support). After Binet’s death, German psychologist W Stern modified the technique - dividing the mental age by chronological age rather than subtracting the former from the latter (an important difference, as now the Children with lowest mental age had the lowest score, rather than the highest as in Binet’s Scale) - and this new score was called the Intelligence Quotient, or IQ.
- The scores are a practical device; they do not buttress any theory of intellect. They do not define anything innate or permanent. We may not designate what they measure as “intelligence” or any other reified entity.
- The scale is a rough, empirical guide for identifying mildly retarded and learning-disabled children who need special help. It is not a device for ranking normal children.
- Whatever the cause of difficulty in children identified for help, emphasis shall be placed upon improvement through special training. Low scores shall not be used to mark children as innately incapable.
‘A Natural Aristocracy Among Men’
When James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard, wanted to reform Harvard in his first academic year of 1933-34, he set out to create a new kind of scholarship. Until this time, Harvard was a bastion of rich young students from private schools in New England, who lived in private apartments, often with full retinue of servants and other attendants. The scholarships Harvard offered did not include accommodation, and were based on financial as well as academic criteria: This meant most scholarship students were day scholars from Boston, who lived with their parents, and often had to leave the college if the academic performance did not meet the criteria. Conant wished to change this, and attract best students from all over the country rather than New England. To achieve this, he wanted to design a new, full Four-Year scholarship that included Room and Board, with minimal conditions and no work requirements. Conant wanted to change the idea of scholarship from a ‘badge of poverty’ to a ‘badge of honour’: A rich student, if he won the scholarship, would be declared the winner but would be given no money.
Conclusion: “An Oligarchy of Brains’
In 2015, more than 1.7 million students took the SAT examination, with another 3.8 million taking PSAT, its practice version. However, at the same time, SAT has acquired such an aura that companies ask for SAT scores even for senior employees, sometimes in their 40s and 50s, who would have taken SAT years ago. Accepting SAT as an admission criteria is no longer a choice universities and colleges can make on their own; the US News & World Report’s Annual College Rankings, the guide Middle Class parents in America depend on for school choice, automatically downgrades an institution on student selectivity, an important criteria, if the institution does not ask for SAT Scores.
Gross Annual Family Income
Average SAT Score (Out of 2400) For 2013 College Bound Seniors
$0 - $20,000
$20,000 - $40,000
$40,000 - $60,000
$60,000 - $80,000
$80,000 - $100,000
$100,000 - $120,000
$120,000 - $140,000
$140,000 - $160,000
$160,000 - $200,000
More than $200,000
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7032,” http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-7032 Accessed on 30th April 2017
Freedman, D, The War on Stupid People, The Atlantic, July/August 2016 Accessed From : https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/the-war-on-stupid-people/485618/ Accessed on 30th April 2017