Monday, January 12, 2009

Theories of Mind: Assumptions about Intelligence in Others

There's an interesting video clip posted on What Sorts of People, showing part of a talk that was given at the Cognitive Disability Conference in September.

The talk was by Dr. Anna Stubblefield, an associate professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, and it was titled "The Entanglement of Race and Cognitive Disability."

Anna Stubblefield, Associate Professor of Philosophy; Affiliate, Afro-American Studies Department and American Studies, Rutgers University, Newark. The Entanglement of Race and Cognitive Disability
ABSTRACT: Americans with developmental disabilities who are not white receive significantly lower quality educational and health care service and adult living support than do white people with developmental disabilities. This "double dose" of oppression is not coincidental, however. It results from the intertwined development of the conception of race and the conception of intelligence in the United States, a legacy that we must confront in order to achieve a just society.
The whole thing is available as a podcast here, though if your computer is at all finicky, the download will probably either take forever or cause your computer to crash. (It took forever on my computer). I have transcribed the whole thing, and emailed it to the conference's organizer, so hopefully she will post that sometime soon.

The part of the lecture posted on What Sorts of People does not deal explicitly with race; it occurs early in the talk, and lays the groundwork for an exploration of racial disparities in outcomes for people with cognitive disabilities by showing some of the assumptions that underlie conceptions of intelligence that we use today.

Here's an excerpt that resonates particularly with my own experiences:
[T]he construction of intellect is bound up with the construction of what counts as communication. People who consider themselves to possess intelligence attribute intellect to others based on how they communicate. When a person cannot understand another easily or follow his thought processes, or the latter does not give the former the answers she expects to certain kinds of questions, she concludes from that that he has cognitive deficits. Yet if she recognized the ways in which she is failing to communicate with him, by not adapting herself to his mode of communication, his language use and his pace, or by failing to appreciate his behaviours, gestures and glances as communication, she might find that he is not so unable to communicate after all. She might realize that what she took as his lack of communicative skill, and hence evidence for his cognitive deficit, is really her lack of communicative skill.

I've been defined as a lot of things throughout my academic career, and those labels (or, sometimes, the lack of a label) have definitely affected the choices that were made available to me. In elementary school, when I lived in Iowa, I was designated both gifted and special-needs, and had special accommodations made for both of those: gifted classes, speech therapy, teachers who knew my particular strengths and weaknesses, and took steps to help me get better at the things I was bad at. Now, when I moved to Kansas, I was tested for giftedness and failed; my mom blames the teacher who tested me for being massively ignorant of autism. (I have no memory whatsoever of this event, though I would have been ten when it happened; as it was told to me, there was a written IQ test and an interview, and I apparently did really well on the former and bombed the latter --- by refusing to speak. I can imagine very well my state of mind at this age, being afraid of the strange adult and knowing I should not speak to strangers because they are dangerous). At this time I also took a math test that qualified me for taking math classes two grade levels above my own, though I ended up only doing them one grade level ahead, because to take pre-algebra in sixth grade I would have had to go to another school an hour before the regular day started. I have always needed a lot of sleep, so I could tell that wouldn't work. In middle school I was generally angry, defiant, paranoid and indifferent to school, so I was not put on track for hardly any honors classes in high school. By my freshman year, this meant I was in a lot of classes that were way below where I should be, difficulty-wise, so the following three years consisted of me adding more and more classes, until my senior year I was taking three AP classes (AP American Government, AP Biology II, AP Calc I & II) and two science classes (AP Biology II and Chemistry). I also had an IEP (the special-ed kind, not the gifted kind) until my senior year, when it was formally determined I didn't need it. (As recently as sophomore year, my poor organizational skills had led to me turning major assignments in late). It was this experience of being held back that led me to keep my disability (mostly) under wraps when I went to college. I sought no assistance from the Office for Students with Disabilities, because the whole time I'd been in Kansas, being a student with a disability meant I had extra trouble accessing the classes I most belonged in. In Iowa, I had been given both the more-challenging curriculum I needed to engage my mind, while simultaneously getting the special help I needed on peripheral skills, like organization, following a schedule and switching tasks. In Kansas, there was no support available that would have been useful to me. Indeed, by high school I was pretty much beyond needing help, and instead needed challenges. Being labeled disabled, and not being labeled gifted, kept me from these.


Beastinblack said...

'In middle school I was generally angry, defiant, paranoid and indifferent to school, so I was not put on track for hardly any honors classes in high school.'

I just gave up trying to keep pace with the rest of the class. I just dont respond to group learning, too much distraction.

IQ tests to measure brain power in my opinion are flawed, far too many are general knowledge biased. for example I am aware of Julius Ceaser but he does not interest me in the slightest so I havent got a clue how he died, having narrow interests, and also I have very little knowledge of famous painters apart from the obvious ones. Now if the general knowledge questions were about music or astronomy, id breeze through it. Also, I really struggle when trying to rearrange scrambled words to detect a 'plant, city, country etc'. It is these questions alone which lower my overall score. The mathematics, patterns questions are just too easy. Just a single IQ score is a fraction of the whole picture. I have done 2 large tests in the past (not including those silly online ones), one was based solely on mathematics and patterns and I scored 138 (100 being average), then the 'classic' test I scored a lowly 115! Also, anxiety regarding a time limit just dominates my thoughts and turns my brain into mush. When it comes to emotional intelligence, dont even go there!

Lindsay said...

I think I have taken an IQ test, but I was never told my score.

When I was tested for giftedness when I moved to a new school in the middle of fifth grade (age ten), I took a written test, which I assume to be an IQ test of some kind. (My mom has told me it was, but she didn't know which type. And I have no memory of this whole thing). I apparently "passed" this test, meaning I scored high enough to be classed "gifted." I was not accepted into the gifted program, though, because there was also a face-to-face interview, at which I refused to speak.

I have taken a silly online Emotional Intelligence test; I got a 37!

I am strangely proud of this fact.