Genius and Stupidity

Lewis Terman’s (1907) dissertation is now available to freely read via Google Books.  His blunt use of the word “stupid” is quite shocking; some of it is unintentionally hilarious, and some of it is just terrible.

Consider this description of A (one of the “smart” boys):

A. Age, 10 years 2 months.  Weight, 63 lbs.  Healthy and without marked physical defects.  Of American parentage, son of a carpenter.  Has attended school 5 1/2 years and is in 6th grade.  His teacher describes him as poor in drawing, but good in all his other work, being specially apt in arithmetic, and delighting in the solution of complicated problems.  At school, also, he shows unusual inquisitiveness and desire for explanations.  In the tests he takes rather low rank in invention, very high in mathematics, and extremely low in physical dexterity.  His many automatisms are noted elsewhere.  His awkwardness is  well nigh indescribable.  Several times he fell off his chair while going through his numerous contortions.  Never acquired any dexterity with the cup and ball.  In the latter exercise he was not only unable to get the cup in proper position for catching the ball, but never even learned to control the force of the swing.  For two or three trials the ball was swung over his shoulder at full length of the string.  Then would follow two or three attempts about as much too weak, the ball not rising enough to permit the cup to be placed under it.  This same lack of motor control is seen in his inability to shoot marbles, to sing a simple tune, to learn to swim (though he tried almost every day during one summer), to learn complex movements with Indian clubs, or even to perform so apparently simple a feat as walking with a book balanced on the head.  He is of lively and sunny disposition, but a little mischievous and even headstrong at times. His expression is lively, his eyes have a happy twinkle, and he often talks jocosely to himself as he works.

Don’t feel too sorry for A, however, he rocked on the mathematics!

I don’t know if this has been noticed before, but it appears that one of the “stupid” boys, N, might be dyslexic.

N‘s reading:

For two weeks I tutored N daily one hour in reading.  His reading is by small units.  Phrases are apparently not thrown together into one mental content.  I made special effort to correct this fault, thinking it possibly only a matter of habit, but with little success.  In making the effort to read by larger wholes he miscalls and transposes very many words.  I had also little success in trying to get him to tone his voice down to conversational pitch and to modulate it more naturally.  Punctuation was little heeded.  He has a very marked habit of reversing the position of words in a phrase and of separate sounds in a word.  Very often he hits correctly on part of the sound of a word and fills in the rest incorrectly.  For example, as instead of so, saw instead of was, with instead of what, wistful instead of wise, icicles instead of ice crystals. Such errors are made in almost every line.  Careful re-examination showed no defect of vision.

N‘s description (note that G is one of the “smart” boys):

N. Age, 13 years 9 months.  Weight, 81 lbs.  Hearing only 1/2 normal.  Brother of G. In sixth grade, though he has attended school since the age of 4 years.  His teacher finds him the most stupid pupil she ever had.  Uniformly poor in all his studies.  Never read a book.  Says he can’t get the meaning.  Enjoys very much having his younger brother, G, read to him. G has read several books to him and N takes great interest in them.  Normal, if not super-normal, memory for stories heard.  His mother says he remembers better than G. In more than one respect N’s ability is puzzling.  He is almost totally unable to read or spell and yet he has a fairly fluent command of spoken language.  He also ranks outside his group in the ability to interpret fables.  Greater age may contribute to this result but will not account for it in full.  H, of nearly equal age, ranks 14 in the fable test.  According to his teacher, N is stubborn, high tempered, easily offended, and childish in his play.  My own observations confirm this.  He realizes that he is duller than other children.  The father, when trying to teach him, gets impatient and calls him a blockhead.  At this the boy goes to another room and cries.  Interests extensive enough, but shallow and lacking permanence.  He stands in interesting contrast with H or M. The latter belong to Kraepelin’s dull type of sub-normal mentality, while N is a good example of the lively type.  He has good facial expression and is handsome.  In movements he is rather awkward.  He is a confirmed bed-wetter.

Needless to say, ethical standards have improved since Terman was awarded his doctorate from Stanford in 1907.


~ by secondhandparanoia on October 21, 2009.

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