>>> JMilton452 <[log in to unmask]> 05/26/98 06:05pm >>>
"As for Jamie's suggestion that we try "blind testing," forgive my
cynicism, but who would determine the questions? We already know
plenty about biases in tests, and the way they favour particular cultures
and particular experiences. "
Sure, developing effective and ethical assessments is tough, but we
assess anyway, we assess all the time, so let's roll up our sleeves and
get on with it. Refusing to test because testing is fraught with difficulty
is irresponsible (etymologically: it's a cop out in that it's refusing to
respond). Testing is a useful way to allocate scarce resources in
universities, colleges and technical schools. It's also a useful way to
generate data that can be used by the individual and the institution.
"When the 11 Plus exam was established in Great Britain in the 1950's
(?) (removed in the 70's) the "unbiased" intelligence test results
delivered a surprising result. The percentage of girls who passed far
outweighed the percentage boys. The possibilty of a nation of
educated females and undereducated males sent the social planners
scurrying. The results were quickly adjusted to provide for a more
balanced education of males and females. Wasn't this affirmative action?
Was it wrong?"
Used mostly in the 60s and 70s, I think (my wife wrote it about 74 or 75)
and not abandoned, but modified in the early 80s, I believe. The results
were fascinating (shocking, some thought). The response to those
results was a mix. On the down side, it *was* knee-jerk affirmative
action: "Let's bell curve the boys up and give the poor lads a chance."
On the up side, the results initiated a soul searching that led to, among
other things, a re-examination of the interface between problem solving
and knowledge, to Gardner's idea of multiple intelligences, and to better
testing. It's also led to some primary teachers re-thinking their methods
for boys (I hope they still are: I think the sit-in-rows-for-five-hours-a-day
model is excruciating for many grade 1 to 4s, but particularly for active
So, was the testing wrong? No, it its historic context it wasn't wrong.
Was the reaction wrong-headed? Most of it was not; some of it was.
To come back to my overriding point: if, like me, you believe that people
have rights because they are human, not because they are Jewish or
gay or black or white, then ability-based admission is the best system.
The difficulty and the challenge is to figure out what abilities *really*
count in a given domaine, and to construct your test or portfolio
requirements accordingly. It won't be perfect, but it will beat admitting
people on the basis of skin colour, or claimed skin colour, or "race," or
claimed race, or tribal identity card, or gender or . . .
I don't like putting people in groups (especially phoney groups) and I don't
like saying, sorry, you can't come in the door. Too many of your kind are
Of course there's a raging debate about this on the public policy front,
especially in the U.S. but it was Nabokov who, for me, pointed out the
intellectual laziness and dishonesty of "affirmative action." Nabokov was
one of the few to speak out publicly and strongly against anti-Semitism in
the America of the 1950s, and repeatedly at Cornell and Ithica he'd meet
people who would say there are simply too many Jews in academia.
Shouldn't we move to a system that emphasizes so-called ability less,
and group membership more? they'd say.
Letting someone in the door because of group membership is where the
extreme left wing meets the extreme right: it's condescending to the
individual because it says a) you don't really have the ability to get in, so
we'll let you in on compassionate grounds. Now be grateful! and b) We
have the power and are grabbing more: the power to decide who gets
in and who doesn't, what groups get preferential treatment, and which
Blind testing is not perfect, but it reduces arbitrary power.
The challenge for those who support affirmative action, I think, is to lay
out their reasoning about group membership -- what a group is (most
people I know are "racial" mongrels), and why group membership should
entail admission privileges.