Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Mismeasure of Minds

The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and The Bell Curve

Michael E. Staub
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Mismeasure of Minds
    Book Description:

    The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision required desegregation of America's schools, but it also set in motion an agonizing multidecade debate over race, class, and IQ. In this innovative book, Michael E. Staub investigates neuropsychological studies published betweenBrown and the controversial 1994 bookThe Bell Curve. In doing so, he illuminates how we came to view race and intelligence today. In tracing how research and experiments around such concepts as learned helplessness, deferred gratification, hyperactivity, and emotional intelligence migrated into popular culture and government policy, Staub reveals long-standing and widespread dissatisfaction-not least among middle-class whites-with the metric of IQ. He also documents the devastating consequences-above all for disadvantaged children of color-as efforts to undo discrimination and create enriched learning environments were recurrently repudiated and defunded. By connecting psychology, race, and public policy in a single narrative, Staub charts the paradoxes that have emerged and that continue to structure investigations of racism even into the era of contemporary neuroscientific research.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-4361-8
    Subjects: African American Studies, American Studies, History, Psychology

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1954, in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that de jure racial segregation in educational facilities violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. It was hailed at the time — and has continued to be acclaimed to the present day — as the historic culmination of a decades-long struggle to achieve racial justice under the law, particularly with regard to the often inadequate public schooling available to African American children. Brown thus signaled the end of a Jim Crow apartheid regime and represented real progress as it promised to...

  2. ONE Plasticity of Intelligence, Education Reform, and the Disadvantaged Child
    (pp. 17-48)

    On february 19, 1969, in his first major address to Congress, President Richard M. Nixon sought to allay fears that he intended to eradicate anti-poverty programs established by his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson. Yet Nixon also voiced profound disappointment at what he said were the “shortcomings” of federal efforts to end “the blight of poverty.” In particular Nixon took aim at Project Head Start, the federal program designed to assist impoverished preschool children, noting how “the results of a major national evaluation of the program … confirm what many have feared: the long term effect of Head Start appears to...

  3. TWO Minimal Brain Dysfunction, Ritalin, and Racial Politics
    (pp. 49-78)

    On june 29, 1970, a front-page article in the Washington Post offered the shocking statistic that between 5 and 10 percent of all schoolchildren in Omaha, Nebraska, were receiving “‘behavior modification’ drugs prescribed by local doctors to improve classroom deportment and increase learning potential.” The article went on state that stimulant drugs like methylphenidate (better known as Ritalin) were being given to “‘hyper-active students’” as part of a citywide program known as STAAR (an acronym for Skills, Technique, Academic Accomplishment, and Remediation) and that this new program had received the blessing — if not the outright endorsement — of the...

  4. THREE The Politics of Cerebral Asymmetry and Racial Difference
    (pp. 79-108)

    In the course of the 1970s and 1980s, a development within the rarefied field of neuropsychology swept unexpectedly into the popular American mainstream. This was a widespread fascination with split-brain research, sometimes known as “dichotomania,” and it extrapolated from experimental findings regarding a couple of neuroanatomical facts about the mammalian brain — namely, that it is divided into a right and a left hemisphere and that there are specialized functions in each cerebral hemisphere — only then to make a remarkable range of claims about what the two hemispheres can (or cannot) do.¹ It became customary in the course of...

  5. FOUR A Racial History of Emotional Intelligence
    (pp. 109-138)

    In 1995, when psychologist Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence, a treatise that topped best-seller lists for more than a year and went on to sell five million copies worldwide, he introduced a popular audience to a concept that had been circulating in psychology circles for some time. The idea that people possessed an “emotional intelligence” (EI) was not original with Goleman. There had already been research by several psychologists, including Howard Gardner, Peter Salovey, and John D. Mayer, who had mapped out a position that intelligences were multiple and that noncognitive skills like self-awareness, motivation, and empathy played as large...

  6. FIVE Neuroscience, Race, and Intelligence after The Bell Curve
    (pp. 139-168)

    Although it may not mainly be remembered for this reason, Hillary Clinton’s best-selling book of 1996, It Takes a Village, devoted con-siderable space to a discussion of brain science and early child de-velopment. Clinton wrote of “recent discoveries in neuroscience, molecular biology, and psychology”—discoveries that have “given researchers a whole new understanding of when and how the human brain develops.” She wrote of research on the amygdala, the region of the brain where emotions resided. She wrote of psychologist Daniel Goleman and the importance of his theories on emotional intelligence. Principally, however, Clinton focused on the new science surrounding...

    (pp. 169-172)

    In 1905 french physiological psychologist Alfred Binet pioneered a “metrical scale of intelligence,” a practical and easily administered system for establishing a child’s capacity to perform complex mental processes. Binet did not intend his intelligence test — or the score that the test yielded — to be anything more than a method to identify, and thus to assist, children who experienced difficulties with learning. He meant his test above all to serve as a diagnostic — not a prognostic — tool. Binet himself doubted whether it was possible to come up with a mental test that might predict a child’s...