Are You Smarter Than An Indian?

Alfred Binet

Alfred Binet

In 1905  Alfred Binet (1857-1911) commonly known as the “father” of IQ testing, developed techniques to assess intelligence in primary grade children who were not successful in normal classrooms.

Binet chose a series of 30 short tasks with simple instructions, that related to everyday problems of life. Examples of these tasks are:

  • name parts of the body
  • compare lengths and weights
  • count coins
  • assess which of several faces is “prettier”
  • name objects in a picture
  • define words

Binet then compared the tested child’s results against a norm of “average” children and assigned a mental age to the subject.

He recognized that a test could be intimidating. Binet recommended that: “The examination should take place in a quiet room… […]It is important that when a child sees the experimenter for the first time, he should be reassured by the presence of someone he knows, a relative, an attendant, or a school superintendent.  […]If he refuses to reply to a test, pass to the next one, or perhaps offer him a piece of candy; if his silence continues, send him away until another time.”

Imagine the circumstances under which most mental tests would have been administered to Native Americans–who didn’t understand English, or had a different cultural notion of “pretty,” or perhaps had never counted coins. Confused, perhaps intimidated or frightened, many would have been found “defective” by their examiners.

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