Controversy erupts when science fair project examines race and IQ

A high school science fair project that tried to correlate race with intelligence has been pulled from the event after complaints that it was racially insensitive.

The unamed student of an unknown race who submitted the project was enrolled in an elite magnet program is "designed to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity," according to ABC News:

The project by a Sacramento high school student enrolled in an elite magnet program, titled "Race and IQ," questioned whether certain races lack the intelligence for the program's academically challenging coursework.

The Sacramento Bee, which published the story Saturday, did not speak to the student at C.K. McClatchy High School and is not identifying the minor. The project was on view with others Monday as part of an annual science fair but was removed Wednesday after complaints.

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar on Saturday released a video statement noting his own struggles as a minority and saying racially insensitive language will not be tolerated.

"Yes, we'll respect freedom of speech. But we will also uphold our duty to limit speech that is likely to cause disruption to our students." He said. "No student should ever be made to feel that their race has anything to do with their ability to succeed."

On Thursday, school Principal Peter Lambert sent an email to parents saying that the school is taking the incident seriously and implementing appropriate measures to provide an inclusive environment.

Some people outraged by the racially charged project say it points to the larger problem: the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the school's elite Humanities and International Studies program.

The program, which was designed to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity, enrolls about 500 students. They include a dozen African American students, 80 Latino students and about 100 Asian American students, according to data provided by the district.

"I think that a lot of people, especially of color, are really hurt and upset by this," said Chrysanthe Vidal, an African-American senior who is in the program.

The student tested his race and intelligence hypothesis by having a handful of unidentified teens of various racial and ethnic backgrounds take an online intelligence test.

His report concluded that the lower average IQs "of blacks, Southeast Asians, and non-white Hispanics" means they were not as likely as "non-Hispanic whites and Northeast Asians" to get into the academically rigorous program. He said the test results justified the racial imbalance in the program.

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. This study is as bogus as it gets. You can't draw sweeping conclusions about intelligence based on a "handful" of students taking an unscientific survey. That's absurd and the project should have been pulled for that reason alone.

But the thesis of the project is rather inocuous. Proving that the racial imbalance in the elite program is "justified" is exactly what minorities want. The study itself is ridiculous, but why the outcry over its conclusions? Isn't part of the affirmative action argument that minorities have been disadvantaged by racism and poor educational opportunities and are therefore deserving of special treatment?

Well, yes, but saying that out loud is "racially insensitive." Any hint that an undeserving minority is placed in an elite program brings howls of racism and claims of opposition to diversity.

"Undeserving" is a loaded word, I admit. Experience has shown that minority applicants admitted to elite programs can succeed at rates comparable to white students. In this context, "undeserving" refers to those students who score lower on standaridized tests, like IQ tests, than whites. That's why schools have develped additional criteria for admittance to these programs. 

Inteligence tests are useful, but far too much emphasis is placed on them. The famous Bell Curve, developing in the 1990's by political scientist Charles Murray and psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein argued that "human intelligence is substantially influenced by both inherited and environmental factors and that it is a better predictor of many personal dynamics, including financial income, job performance, birth out of wedlock, and involvement in crime than are an individual's parental socioeconomic status."

The study was nitpicked to death, and several glaring errors were discovered. But the authors weren't saying that white people were smarter than black people. They were pretty much stating the obvious; bad parenting, bad schools, and a bad environment have a negative affect on an individual's development and their future prospects. That minorities fell into a lower intelligence bracket had nothing to do with their race and Murray wasn't saying that. But any criticism of minority intelligence elicited cries of "racism" no matter what the reason or the truth or falsity of the matter.

The school district was right to pull this project. But they missed a golden opportunity to discuss race in a way that is rarely approached. 


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