Thursday, January 19, 2006

Testing 1, 2, 3...?

I recently saw Joan Holden's play, Nickel and Dimed, based on the book of the same name by Barbara Ehrenreich. Erenreich is a lefty social critic (and a biology Ph.D.) who spent three months trying to make it as a low wage worker in a chain restaurant, Walmart employee, and Merry Maid's house cleaner, not to mention a few second jobs she took to try to make the rent. I recommend book and play, but I want to focus on one ubiquitous aspect of all those jobs: testing.

For these jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder, the tests are more for drugs and personality than IQ - but also something of an unsubtle form of mind control.

"There is room for a nonconformist in the corporation." Do you A. strongly agree, B Moderately disagree, C. Not sure. D. Moderately disagree, E. Strongly disagree. If you can't figure out that "E." is the correct answer, you might not be Walmart material.

We talked earlier about the Armed Forces Qualifying Test, but of course almost everybody else uses some form of IQ test, even the NFL. You don't have to be a genius to play in the NFL but you do need to be smart enough to learn the plays. Microsoft, Google, and other corporations are famous for giving prospective employees a sort of super IQ test, and some of the questions have now become popular. An example: Why are manhole covers round?

We are already living in a society highly stratified by IQ (and related) tests. College bound students nearly all take the SAT or ACT, and you can kiss off all those top twenty schools unless you score a couple of standard deviations above the mean - (or are related to a President, super rich, or have that wicked jump shot). Entrance into those elite college prep high schools is also conditioned on similar tests, but it doesn't start there. Want to get your kid into an elite pre-school? First there will be an IQ test.

At present, there are some fudge factors in the system. Results for admissions, hiring, and everything else are adjusted for race, gender, and possibly other things via Affirmative action. California has already done away with most forms of affirmative action in admissions. With the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, it is not unlikely that virtually all forms of affirmative action might be ruled illegal.

The DNA test at birth might be something of a relief.