Herrnstein, Richard and Murray, Charles (1994). THE BELL CURVE: INTELLIGENCE AND CLASS STR

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Herrnstein, Richard and Murray, Charles (1994). THE BELL CURVE: INTELLIGENCE AND CLASS STRUCTURE IN AMERICAN LIFE. New York: The Free Press. A REVIEW OF THE BELL CURVE: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Reviewer: Ramon M. Gonzalez THE BELL CURVE: INTELLIGENCE AND CLASS STRUCTURE IN AMERICAN LIFE is a very interesting and controversial book. After three weeks of trying to retrieve the book from every public and private library (including out of state) I finally found a copy ironically in a local public library in my neighborhood. So with much anticipation, I began to read this best seller that was on the minds of most Americans. I already knew some of the work of both authors. I had previously read Murray's _Losing Ground_ and Herrnsteins' articles, "I.Q.", "I.Q. in the Meritocracy" and "I.Q. Testing in the Media", so I was a bit prepared for their analysis. I was not prepared for their often contradictory views, their constant denials of being racists, and their confusing analysis between race and intelligence. The book is set up in a very interesting way. Each chapter has a summary at the beginning of the chapter, I guess, so that you can ignore and assume the methodology of their scientific data and concentrate on what they are really trying to say, which I am still confused about. They also set up the structure of their work by using their theories of I.Q. intelligence first on Whites, then increasing their data to finally include "East Asians" with Blacks and the sometimes statistically supportive Latinos. First of all, I was confused by these ethnic/racial generalizations. They compare "East Asians" to Blacks, Latinos and Whites. OK, I'll state the obvious. Why the specific ethnic grouping (they state that "East Asians" are Chinese, Japanese and sometimes Korean), but if they are so specific then why are the authors so willing to generalize Blacks as compared to Blacks from the Northeast (since they are making a geographic reference to their Asian counterparts), Caribbean Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Caribbean Latinos. The point I'm trying to make is that Murray and Herrnstein are committing a scholastic fraud by using statistics from groupings that support their thesis. If we look at statistics from Vietnamese and Cambodians (who were not upper and middle class immigrants and often did not come to the U.S. with a stable family) we can see that they suffer in the educational arena as much if not more than other minorities. Therefore, I was curious why these groups were left out. Also, Caribbean Blacks who immigrate to the U.S. have done academically well. Actually, there is ethnic tension in NYC because many African-Americans have felt that Caribbean's have"milked" the resources fought by African- Americans without any type of contribution to the struggle for equal opportunity. Often Caribbean Blacks are compared to foreign immigrants from Asia, who are extremely supportive of societal assimilation while maintaining strong cultural maintenance at home. In terms of confusing, there are three basic assertions that Murray and Herrnstein are making: that I.Q. is in the genes (I am to assume that this means intelligence is inherent_, that as a society we are becoming more stratified socially and economically based on cognitive ability, that low I.Q. is associated with social problems and finally that cognitive ability can not be changed. Yet many of their solutions are often contrary to these assertions. They say that I.Q. is genetic. That Japanese and Chinese are the "smartest", followed by Whites and then Blacks. Yet, they previously prove that there are Whites with low cognitive skills. Then what is the need of making a racial assertion. They acknowledge that there are Blacks who have high cognitive skills. So am I to assume that what they are actually asserting is that there are lesser high intelligent Blacks as there are to low cognitive Blacks as compared to high cognitive level Whites and low cognitive Whites, or are they trying to say that a high cognitive ability White is actually higher than a high cognitive ability Black or that maybe these exceptions are due to racial interbreeding since their theory asserts that I.Q. is genetic. Successful Blacks must come from somewhere! A second assertion is that as a society we are becoming more stratified socially and economically based on cognitive ability. Therefore, I assume by this idea that all rich people are living in "genius town" while ghetto dwellers are living in "retarded ville." What I mean to say is this: we would be ignoring historic and current exclusion of minorities from housing areas due to their ethnicity and race. We would be ignoring recent studies by national agencies and currently a New York study that found that banks continue to deny loans to Blacks and Latinos at rates of three to one despite having the same class background. This assertion would also be excluding nepotism and inheritance. The third assertion is that cognitive ability is immutable. Therefore, Murray and Herrnstein call for the end of Affirmative Action, Headstart, college preferences to minorities, and other programs such as welfare. He goes on to assert that there is a place for everyone, a valued place in society, and that meritocracy needs its due to assume this valued place. I was confused because they failed to mention eliminating welfare for the rich: business tax relief, cheap public land prices sold to industries. They also fail to mention White affirmative action: legacy. They use Asians as an example of casualties of Affirmative Action, yet they failed to mention it was a push by White students that forced schools such as the "Ivies" to set quotas on Asians. There are also numerous institutional and systemic factors that are ignored. What is also ignored are the numerous Blacks and Latinos who have become successful through boarding schools, scholarships, and affirmative action programs. It would seem obvious that often I.Q. isn't a measure of cognitive ability, but of environmental factors. It is a measurement of how well systemic factors can suppress or limit cognitive ability to another group. The solutions are even more interesting. After making group generalizations, Murray and Herrnstein call for more stress on individuality. "Forget policy," Murray and Herrnstein state, "Americans can run their lives fine." These authors I think have forgotten what country they are from. One of the world's largest slave owners, apartheid systems, destroyers of its native people, and foreign colonies, sterilizers of Puerto Rican women, environmental destruction for the sake of trees -- I'll stop. Without societal policies, we would still have maintained these horrendous policies. Murray and Herrnstein call for an end to all special programs, i.e., . . . anything that helps the less cognitive because they are immutable. Despite being elitists, and racists, these authors would appear shallow and cold. It is no wonder that scholars and progressives are nervous by the great reception that this book has received. This book has already had an effect on U.S. society. It has been the topic of debate once again. Administrators and teachers are often the receptors of these public feelings. Through the popularity of this book, I'm sure issues of whether remedial programs are necessary, bilingual programs work, or are children from the urban ghettos worth teaching? What about multicultural programs or hiring more Black and Latino teachers. According to these authors, there is no need for these policies. Minority students are performing horrendously because they are mentally inferior, and it isn't due to living in a ghetto, poorly paid teachers, lack of cultural understanding, cold school environment, poor parental relations between teachers and parents, few jobs in the community. It is because they have poor cognitive abilities based on genetics and that because their parents are poor and live in this type of environment they must be "dull" and that can't change! Already, many conservative groups will use this upcoming Republican Congress with this book as scientific proof to advocate for societal changes. Its effect will go largely unmeasured but the fact that it is discussed in public forums shows the book has an impact on our society. Genetic hierarchy, U.S. superiority and a host of other theories have been used to exclude members of society. Americans have tried to hide the mentally ill in warehouses, minorities in ghettos, criminals in rural prisons. This book does more to reveal American thinking than anything else. The fact that this book is popular reveals the type of society we exist in. Latinos were considered deviants because of their rebellious and undemocratic Spanish blood mixed in with the blood of noble savages and black beasts; Asians were considered the "Yellow Peril", and Blacks were considered "The Negro Problem". Today, there are still strong residues of this thinking. THE BELL CURVE is more of a measurement of American society's belief and how far we need to improve, than a measurement of intelligence.


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