Forgotten history: early 20th century black intellectual challenges to hereditarians

From Dismantling Contemporary Deficit Thinking: Educational Thought and Practice, by Richard Valencia (2010):

Another example of heterodoxy from the genetic pathology epoch was the work of a small cadre of African American scholars in the 1920s who confronted the hereditarian assertion that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites (see Thomas, 1982; Valencia 1997d). The mainstream journals were frequently controlled by editors and editorial boards who were hereditarians (for example, Lewis Terman’s editorial control over the Journal of Education Psychology and the Journal of Applied Psychology). As a result, many of these 1920s Black scholars were forced to publish their research in other outlets, such as Crisis and Opportunity, periodicals of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League, respectively. These Black intellectuals’ scholarly assault on the 1920s mental testing falls into three categories (Thomas, 1982). First, some researchers focus on an environmental critique, for example, differences in educational opportunity between Whites and Blacks best account for racial differences in intellectual performance (e.g., Bond, 1924). Second, some of these scholars focus on methodological flaws or instrumentation problems. For example, Howard H. Long (1925)–who earned his doctorate in experimental psychology from Clark University–presents a technical criticism of IQ tests, contending that they contained numerous measurement problems, such as the inadequacy of using mental age scores for comparing IQ scores across races. Long notes that the procedure is flawed because it does not account for the correlation of mental age raw scores with chronological age. Third, some of the Black researchers conducted their own original research and generated their own data, thus providing alternative explanations to hereditarian-based conclusions drawn by White scholars. For example, Herman G. Canady (1928) in his master’s thesis was one of the first scholars to investigate examiner effects on intelligence testing with white and black children (also, see Canady, 1936).

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