In my comments on Ruchira's post on IQ below, I noted in passing Stanley Kaplan's embodiment of the contradiction between the rewards, in aptitude test results, paid by effort and sociological factors, and the claims aptitude tests make to predictive value or to gaging innate aptitude; and the irony of that contradiction with respect to arguments about innate Jewish high I.Q. As with many of my bright ideas, the point of my comment is more articulately fleshed out by someone else. And as is also often true, the someone else who said it better is Malcolm Gladwell.
In his 2001 "Examined Life" piece in the New Yorker on "What Stanley H. Kaplan taught us about the SAT", Gladwell looks at the S.A.T.'s original design, in the mid-1940s, as a standardized test of innate aptitude, like an I.Q. test, and how Kaplan revolutionized educational testing by undermining that claim:
Unlike existing academic exams, [the S.A.T.] was intended to measure innate ability--not what a student had learned but what a student was capable of learning--and it stated clearly in the instructions that "cramming or last-minute reviewing" was pointless. Kaplan was puzzled. In Flatbush you always studied for tests. He gave [a student who had sought his tutoring help] pages of math problems and reading-comprehension drills. He grilled her over and over, doing what the S.A.T. said should not be done. And what happened? On test day, she found the S.A.T. "a piece of cake," and promptly told all her friends, and her friends told their friends, and soon word of Stanley H. Kaplan had spread throughout Brooklyn.
Gladwell also discusses the explicitly Anti-Semitic use in the early to mid-20th century of aptitude tests, which were designed to weed out the hard-working, robotic immigrants who were perceived as stealing college positions and jobs from meritorious native-born Americans (negatively employed "positive" stereotypes that should be familiar to anyone sensitive to similar claims made about Asian immigrants today):
In proving that the S.A.T. was coachable, Stanley Kaplan did something else, which was of even greater importance. He undermined the use of aptitude tests as a means of social engineering. In the years immediately before and after the First World War, for instance, the country's élite colleges faced what became known as "the Jewish problem." They were being inundated with the children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. These students came from the lower middle class and they disrupted the genteel Wasp sensibility that had been so much a part of the Ivy League tradition. They were guilty of "underliving and overworking." In the words of one writer, they "worked far into each night [and] their lessons next morning were letter perfect." They were "socially untrained," one Harvard professor wrote, "and their bodily habits are not good." But how could a college keep Jews out? Columbia University had a policy that the New York State Regents Examinations--the statewide curriculum-based high-school-graduation examination--could be used as the basis for admission, and the plain truth was that Jews did extraordinarily well on the Regents Exams. One solution was simply to put a quota on the number of Jews, which is what Harvard explored. The other idea, which Columbia followed, was to require applicants to take an aptitude test. According to Herbert Hawkes, the dean of Columbia College during this period, because the typical Jewish student was simply a "grind," who excelled on the Regents Exams because he worked so hard, a test of innate intelligence would put him back in his place. "We have not eliminated boys because they were Jews and do not propose to do so," Hawkes wrote in 1918: We have honestly attempted to eliminate the lowest grade of applicant and it turns out that a good many of the low grade men are New York City Jews. It is a fact that boys of foreign parentage who have no background in many cases attempt to educate themselves beyond their intelligence. Their accomplishment is over 100% of their ability on account of their tremendous energy and ambition. I do not believe however that a College would do well to admit too many men of low mentality who have ambition but not brains."
Gladwell describes how immigrant Jews like Kaplan overcame this barrier not by proving their innate intellectual superiority, as Murray et al. would seem to have it, but by defeating the underlying assumption of the importance and predictive value of tested innate ability:
These students faced a system designed to thwart the hard worker, and what did they do? They got together with their pushy parents and outworked it. Kaplan says that he knew a "strapping athlete who became physically ill before taking the S.A.T. because his mother was so demanding." There was the mother who called him to say, "Mr. Kaplan, I think I'm going to commit suicide. My son made only a 1000 on the S.A.T." "One mother wanted her straight-A son to have an extra edge, so she brought him to my basement for years for private tutoring in basic subjects," Kaplan recalls. "He was extremely bright and today is one of the country's s most successful ophthalmologists." Another student was "so nervous that his mother accompanied him to class armed with a supply of terry-cloth towels. She stood outside the classroom and when he emerged from our class sessions dripping in sweat, she wiped him dry and then nudged him back into the classroom." Then, of course, there was the formidable four-foot-eight figure of Ericka Kaplan, granddaughter of the chief rabbi of the synagogue of Prague. "My mother was a perfectionist whether she was keeping the company books or setting the dinner table," Kaplan writes, still in her thrall today. "She was my best cheerleader, the reason I performed so well, and I constantly strove to please her." What chance did even the most artfully constructed S.A.T. have against the mothers of Brooklyn?
I highly recommend reading Gladwell's full article, which is broader than these extracts would suggest, nuanced, and well-worth a read.