CLass activity: IQ tests in the early 20th century

As we have read, IQ testing served different purposes for different groups of people. This activity will prompt us to inhabit some of their perspectives. Each group will act on the interests of a particular set of stakeholders in IQ tests. After working through the task assigned to you in your groups, you will present the results to the class. I will ask you to explain what stakeholders your group represents, what your task was, how you approached that task, and why you made the decisions you did.


Group 1 Stakeholder Profile – Test Designer
Profile: You are a psychologist who has designed an intelligence test that you think offers a useful and flexible assessment tool. Although you understand your methods to be scientific, you are concerned that psychology is not being taken seriously as a science, and you are driven to demonstrate its utility. You believe that just as biologist can classify natural differences between species, you can use scientific methods to classify natural biological differences between different types of people.

Scenario: It’s 1914 and war is looming. You perceive an opportunity to raise the profile of your test, and set out to have it adopted by the Army. You figure that the best way to do this is to raise awareness both with your Washington connections and among the public at large.

Task: Come up with a slogan and design an advertising poster that explains what you think your IQ test can measure and what it can do for the war effort.


Group 2 Stakeholder Profile – Recruiting Sargent
Profile: You are a recruiting sergeant for the US Army on the verge of its entry into the war in Europe. You’re not much for science, but you’re a slick talker with a knack for a good pitch and have a bonus incentive for every new recruit you sign.

Scenario: The Army is skeptical about the new intelligence testing program, but as it’s unsure whether its efforts to get a draft instituted will be successful, it’s willing to explore every PR option available. It is looking into how the program might be sold as a recruiting tool, and has tapped you to lead the effort.

Task: Develop a recruiting poster for the Army that takes advantage of its new intelligence testing program.


Group 3 Stakeholder Profile – Political Candidate
Profile: You are a political candidate running for office in the mid-1910s. You are a bit of a politico; you’re not one to be an ideological purist, but you have a keen sense of how to push the public’s buttons and swing them into your camp.

Scenario: Sensing that the issue of IQ testing you’ve been reading about in the news has traction with the press, you figure you have a chance to exploit it. You figure if you can craft a campaign that mobilizes the basic fears and insecurities of the voting public in your favor then you’ll had a leg up in the coming election.

Task: Design a campaign poster and slogan that uses IQ testing data to whip up votes.


Group 4 Stakeholder Profile – Immigrants’ Advocacy Group
Profile: You are a member of an organization that advocates on behalf of immigrant issues. Your clients are largely from Eastern and Southern Europe, come from impoverished backgrounds and speak little English.

Scenario: The boost intelligence testing received from the war effort is now working its way into policymaking in the United States. You have become concerned about the way the winds of political and popular opinion have been blowing. Your organization has decided that the need to raise awareness about the effects of intelligence testing on immigrant communities in the United States.

Task: Craft a leaflet that delivers a simple message to the immigrant, that communicates information visually and can be easily translated into many languages, which communicates to them what they need to know about legislation based on IQ testing


Group 5 Stakeholder Profile – School Psychologist
Profile: You are a school psychologist. Psychology is still a marginal field in the early twentieth century, but you’re committed to doing your part to make it a respectable, applied science.

Scenario: The recent furor in the press over how intelligence testing helped win the war has piqued your interest. You’d like to explore options for integrating these methods to improve instruction in your school, but to do so you need to gain the approval of the powerful parents’ association.

Task: Design a leaflet that communicates to parents the potential advantages of intelligence testing for all children.