intelligence un-American? It didn't used to be. But the times they
are a-changin'. The American belief in the fundamental equality
of all human beings is our glory and our foundation. But American
equality has always meant equality of opportunity and equality before
the law. The problem since the Sixties has been that some now demand
equality of result and more. For many on the Left, even inequalities
of intelligence and physical difference are now forbidden. Through
gender-norming and the general degradation of standards, our armed
forces have been pretending for years that the physical differences
between men and women don't exist. The war may have changed that,
as indicated by the Bush administration's reform of DACOWITS (the
nest of feminists at the Pentagon that for a decade has undermined
standards in the name of "gender equity"). But buried
on page 10 of Saturday's New
York Times (and in the second section of last Friday's Wall
Street Journal) was news that the very existence of intelligence
differences in America is about to become a forbidden truth.
Richard Atkinson, president of the nation's largest university system,
the University of California, proposed dumping the SAT test. Atkinson
justified the projected move with the claim that the SAT, as a measure
of aptitude rather than achievement, was unfair to those who could
maximize their potential through hard work in high school and college.
But Atkinson's move was a transparent attempt to circumvent California's
Proposition 209, which outlawed race preferences in admission to
California's public colleges. (For more on this, see my "Academic
Postmodernity & the SATs.")
Now, with Atkinson's
proposal slowly but successfully working its way through the ruling
bureaucracy of the University of California system, an intimidated
College Board has announced a sweeping reform of the SAT, one that
will turn it from an aptitude test into something much closer to
an achievement test. This desperate attempt to head off a national
stampede away from the SAT is a serious mistake. The feared stampede
would probably never have materialized, and could in any case have
been very effectively battled. More important, there is nothing
wrong and everything right with colleges basing their
admissions decisions, in part, on a clear measure of student aptitude.
offices already have measures of student achievement to work with
grades, and a wide range of achievement tests. Colleges do,
and should, take these measures of achievement into account. The
point of the SAT is to add something new and important to the mix
a test of general aptitude. An aptitude test actually works
in favor of students who come from lesser high schools but have
the potential to achieve at higher levels in college. By destroying
the SAT as a measure of aptitude, all that is accomplished is the
suppression of a real and significant dimension of difference among
students. As usual, in other words, the truth is being sacrificed
to political correctness.
The SAT's famous
verbal analogies, for example, are slated to be significantly scaled
back or cut out entirely. Why? Because those who know English as
a second language are said to be disadvantaged by the analogies.
They do better with vocabulary quizzes that rely on rote memorization.
So the critical intellectual capacities revealed when someone is
asked to actually compare and relate words instead of simply spit
back memorized definitions, can no longer be measured for anyone
simply because we are afraid to disadvantage a few. The solution
here is to return to an emphasis on English immersion for immigrants,
not the destruction of a critical test for all Americans.
achievement, the math portion of the test will now be significantly
more difficult. The original SAT actually did not require a command
of advanced math. Again, it was looking to see how well people confronted
and manipulated mathematical challenges. But with the emphasis on
aptitude gone, bright kids who might be able to master higher math
if given the chance will actually be tougher to identify. Besides,
math grades and math achievement tests already show who has mastered
high level math. This is nothing but an attempt to manipulate the
SAT test until the results come out the way the testers want them
to. Since minorities tend to do less well on aptitude tests, the
test itself must go.
No doubt, individual
intelligence differences are in some measure heritable. But I do
not believe that class or race differences on aptitude tests are
genetically based. Certainly, researchers have never succeeded in
disentangling the effects of early experience from test results.
If poor or minority students test lower on the SAT's than others,
the way to solve the problem is to improve the conditions of life
for these children, not to pretend that aptitude differences among
high school students don't exist.
of the SAT as an aptitude test is an epoch-making move. Reflecting
this, the test itself will probably be renamed. (Since the "Scholastic
Aptitude Test" will no longer be a reliable measure of aptitude.)
But this epochal change is being slipped by the American public
in exactly the way that the most controversial advances in affirmative
action have been established in the past. Quiet executive orders
and behind the scenes bureaucratic decisions are the strategies
of choice for liberal elites, operating against the weight of public
opinion, in the matters of racial preferences and gender norming.
And now, a profound change in the meaning of the SAT has been buried
in the middle of the New York Times and the Wall Street
Journal. (The news pages of the Journal, by the way,
are editorially quite separate from their conservative opinion pages.)
And of course, instead of seeking out potential critics of the policy,
the Times simply went for comment to Nicholas Lemann, a prominent
advocate of affirmative action and critic of the SAT. This is a
lesson in how press bias really works. Not only does the Times
puff up stories on social changes that it likes by front-paging
them, it downplays changes likely to arouse conservative opposition.
There was a
time when Americans believed that finding and training the country's
finest minds was in the national interest. Certainly, all American
children ought to have access to quality education. But, ultimately,
it is to our collective advantage as a nation to have a way of identifying
students of high aptitude. And it is fairer to students themselves
especially those from lesser schools to have a way
of recognizing intellectual potential that has not yet come to the
The irony is
that support for destruction of the SAT test comes from a liberal
elite that is itself the product of our educational meritocracy.
Guilt about success combines here with a hidden craving for moral
superiority over the benighted middle classes. Those in the middle
and many minorities as well still believe in the principles
of liberty and equality that created the meritocracy in the first
place. But once again, the liberal elite, in a conversation amongst
itself, is managing to turn our most basic values and practices
inside out with nary a peep from a public that would fight
these changes if they were honestly told what is happening.
policy change from a powerful and extremely liberal university president
(put forward with fundamental dishonesty about its real motives)
brings pressure to bear upon the makers of the SAT test. In a panic
at the prospect of losing the California system's business, the
College Board buckles, and the only important national measure of
student aptitude is destroyed. The news is buried in the middle
of the weekend papers. In short, we have allowed a minority of Leftist
intellectuals to commandeer our culture. Will anyone fight back?
My pieces on NRO will now include an
e-mail address for comments. I can't promise to answer everyone
who writes, although I'll try to respond to as many messages as
I can. I'll do my best, however, to read all of your comments.