A chapter in the history of IQ

This is a speech prepared for my toastmaster ATM#5.

How many of you have taken a IQ test? Please raise your hands. Don’t worry, I am not asking any IQ question. Today I going to tell you a story about Lewis Terman, the father of IQ, Intelligent Quotation.

It was year 1923. Inside an office in the psychology department of Stanford University, Professor Lewis Terman was preparing his lecture tomorrow. Back then, Stanford was a still new unknown university in the West, surrounded by the farm land in Palo Alto. Look outside his office, he can see farmers busy harvesting the crops. (Side note: Lewis’s son, Fredick Terman, the chairman of Stanford physics department, was the founder of the Silicon Valley, but that would be another story.) Terman was relaxing in his arm chair, thinking over his archievments in promoting the IQ test since he joined Stanford.

Terman always has passion for intelligence. It was his life long career to establish an objective measurement of human intelligence, which is the ability of abstract reasoning. Shortly after he joined Stanford, he improved an intelligent test developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet. However Terman put a twist into the original test, which is designed to identify slow children that require special help. Instead Terman turned the test around to identify the gifted children. Since then, the Stanford-Binet test and its variation are popular among schools to identify bright student and give them challenges.

Suddenly, a knock on the door interrupts Terman’s thoughts. It was his research assistant. The assistant received a letter from a young fellow named Edward Dmytryk asking for help. Dmytryk was running away from his abusing father who force him to work in a coal mine instead of continue his education. He was in the care of social welfare department right now, but the court was about to send him back to his dad. Terman recalled the interview with Dmytryk, he was a participate in the genetic study of genius project. Terman started up this project to keep track of the life of over a thousands of children identified with IQ score over 135. In those days, people has prejudice against smart kids, they think them “early ripe, early rot”. Terman wants to prove intelligence leads to a better life quantitatively with this life long scientific research project.

Terman always has a heartfelt for the gifted children, he wanted to help them to realize their full potential. He is struggled whether or not he should help Dmytryk. On one hand, he know Dmytryk will be ruined if he was sent to work instead of school. On the other hand, as a scientist, he should not meddle with the life of his test subjects or the result will be biased. He debated the pro and con of helping Dmytryk with his assistants all day long. At the end, the human side of Terman won the argument, he felt obligated to save the child. He wrote a letter to the judge, explaining the situation with his respectable reputation in childhood education. Dmytryk was put to a good foster home. Many years later, Dmytryk became of one of the most famous director in Hollywood.

Terman’s work no only change the life of little Dmytryk, it also inspired how school around the world treated the gifted children. They have more challenging curriculum, enrolled into enriching school programs. This is all thanks to Lewis Terman, the father of IQ.

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