This Policy Bit Back

Edward Tenner’s “Why Things Bite Back” investigates the unintended consequences of tech revolutions. Better football helmets encourage more violent play, antibiotics breed more dangerous bacteria, imported wildlife that overwhelms native species, and so on.

I wonder if Tenner would include standardized aptitude tests in his lexicon of bite-backs. I had heard that the Educational Testing Service — one of Princeton’s largest employers — has had to defend its mission and tactics on various fronts. But I had not heard this history of why the College Board wanted to develop the SAT. As published in Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac for today, June 17.

But the biggest proponents of intelligence testing were college officials who were concerned about the rapid influx of immigrants — especially Eastern European Jews — to their student body… These college officials believed that immigrants had less innate intelligence than old-blooded Americans and hoped that they would score lower on aptitude tests, which would give the schools an excuse to admit fewer of them.

How wrong they were.

I would like to get self righteous, but before I point a finger, I need to look at my own heritage. I need to admit that I inherited a very dark pot of prejudice. I’ve scrubbed it up, but I’m not the one who should call the kettle black.

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