measured IQ differences between American Negroes and non-Negroes, as
statistical aggregates, has drawn some critical attention. Martin
McPhillips, than whom there is no one I admire or respect more, gigs
Derbyshire for a lack of "generosity of spirit" for that particular part
of his notional "talk." Others have commented in a fashion that suggests
that what Martin has in mind is unclear. So (of course) I'm stepping in
to clarify -- or to muddy the water further; take your pick.
IQ testing has been fraught with uncertainties for some time. One of the
central objections to using IQ test results as a gauge of overall
intellectual competence is that a testee with any sort of reading
impediment will be hobbled thereby. The ability to read is an acquired
skill. It's possible that even a very bright person might somehow have
been prevented from mastering it. Therefore, there will always be some
very bright persons who, whether because of visual problems,
second-language problems, or dyslexia, will score far lower on an IQ
test than their innate ability, unencumbered by their reading
difficulties, would allow.
The charge has some substance. One of the demonstration populations for
it, Eastern European Jews who entered the U.S. early in the Twentieth
Century, scored below the national mean on IQ tests administered by the
Army as acceptance and classification tests. This was almost entirely
due to language difficulties; as that population and its progeny
accommodated to the English language, their mean scores rose swiftly.
Today, the descendants of those Jews score well above the national mean
-- and outpace other identifiable groups in the acquisition of advanced
degrees and other sorts of intellectual honors, as well.
Test designers have learned to compensate reasonably well for most
intelligence-irrelevant discriminators, but reading impediments remain a
difficult problem. Thus, the significant deficit in American Negroes'
mastery of standard English, compared to other American sub-populations,
continues to put them at a disadvantage in IQ testing. This effect
cannot easily be measured or separated out from other causal factors
related to low IQ test scores.
All that to one side, practical considerations remain paramount. One who
finds it difficult to read / write / speak / understand standard
English, and who will therefore be disadvantaged in IQ testing, will
suffer quite similar handicaps in any other intellectual endeavor. With
the exception of pure mathematics, there is no field of intellect to
which language competence is irrelevant. Employers, however generously
inclined they might be, must take that into account in hiring, tasking,
and promotion decisions.
So while it remains admirable to take a generous attitude toward those
whose IQ scores might be depressed entirely because of their language
problems, and to offer what help is appropriate and will be graciously
accepted, the fundamentals remain as they are: We cannot blithely assume
that linguistically handicapped Smith will perform as well in an
intellectual role as linguistically competent Jones. The possible cost
of being wrong is high. Worse, a mismatch between Smith's overall
competence and the tasks to which he's assigned will have a prolonged
negative effect on him, undermining his competence for any future
It is cruel to assign a man to a role for which he's unequipped. We
don't make blind men into snipers, and we don't assign deaf men to
answer the phones. Yet the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and
the regulations it presumes to enforce are completely numb to such
considerations. They persist in suing employers for not having a
particular distribution of the races among their employees. To the best
of my knowledge, only Sears, among all the companies the EEOC has
targeted, has fought back and won.
A coda: Generosity must proceed from the recognition that someone could
use a hand -- that he's in difficulties that aren't, strictly speaking,
his fault. The recognition does not invalidate the generous gesture.
Neither does the gesture somehow negate the recognition.
Food for thought.