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The American Teachers Association is an all-inclusive national professional organization of teachers of Negro children and of educators interested in the achievement of the American goal of equality of educational opportunity for all children without respect to economic circumstances, place of residence, sex, or race. It was organized in 1994 as the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools and continued to function under that name until the 1937 meeting at Philadelphia when the present name was chosen as one step in the broadening of the scope of effort and of membership participation in the organization.

At the special national conference held at Richmond, Va., in August 1943, in lieu of a regular convention, program consideration was given to the educational and racial implications of the experiences of Selective Service and of the Army with the problem of low educational qualifications of many men who were being called for induction into the armed forces. Out of the pointed discussions of that meeting, a special research committee was designated to make a study of this question and present a report for the consideration of the annual convention being held at Nashville, Tenn., August 15–17, 1944. This publication is the report of that committee which is being submitted to the members of the American Teachers Association and which is being made available in this special publication, rather than exclusively in the Bulletin (the official quarterly of the association) for the perusal of the many students of education and the many citizens of this Nation who have genuine interest in the forwarding of our national development through a more effective program of adequately provided educational opportunities.

Additional copies of this report may be available through the executive secretary of the American Teachers Association (post office box 271, Montgomery 1, Ala.). The major portion of this report is also being published in volume XX. No. 4 (October-December 1944) of the Bulletin.


One of the most serious problems facing our Nation in these war years is that of manpower. The call for manpower has reached into every corner of our country-has taken fathers from their children, skilled workers from their tasks in essential industries, high school and college youth from their studies. And yet the call is for manpower. In the face of this situation millions of men have been rejected for military service disqualified for physical defects, disqualified for mental deficiency, disqualified for educational retardation. Although these rejections are alarmingly high throughout the Nation, they are especially heavy among the Negro population and particularly that portion of the Negro population living in the Southern States.

The American Teachers Association, whose members are engaged in the education of Negro youth, is greatly concerned about the failure of so many Negro men to meet the minimum standards of acceptance established by the armed forces. As an expression of this concern and in order to provide a basis for a program of remediation, the American Teachers Association delegated a special committee to make the study herein reported.

This study is concerned with the following questions:

1. What basic factors contribute to the high rejection rate of Negro selectees on account of educational or mental deficiency?

2. How can the rejection rate of Negroes be reduced, and what sort of program needs to be established to rehabilitate population groups now failing to meet reasonable standards of performance?


Selective Service procedure, 1940-44

The Selective Service System is charged with the responsibility of meeting the manpower needs of the armed forces in accordance with specifications established by the forces. Its policies and procedures with reference to the educational or intelligence standards set up for selectees have been modified from time to time in accordance with the needs and demands of the armed forces.

The first plan.--For the period November 1940 to May 14, 1941, there were no educational standards prescribed for service in the Army, which at that time was the only branch of the armed forces furnished men by the Selective Service System. Registrants were acceptable if they could understand simple orders given in the English language.

The second plan.-It was discovered by the spring of 1941 that such a large number of illiterates had been accepted for training that the program of the Army to develop a highly mechanized and skilled force was being jeopardized. Consequently, effective May 15, 1941, an educational requirement for induction was established. This requirement was that only selectees would be accepted for service in the armed forces who were able, "io read and write the English language as well as a student who has completed 4 years in an American grammar school.” This requirement remained in effect until July 31, 1942.

Table I shows the percentage of registrants deferred because of educational deficiency, by State and race, during the period May 15 to September 15, 1941. The percentage of Negroes rejected (12.3 percent) is about 11 times the rejection rate of whites (1.1 percent). It is to be observed, however, that this ratio is by no means uniform in the several States. In 15 States the percentage of Negroes rejected is less than the total percentage of white rejections, and in 26 States the rejection rate for Negroes is less than the rejection rate for whites in 10 southern States. It is to be observed further, that the heaviest ratios of rejection among whites are those from registrants in the Southern States.

So many men were rejected under this plan that the War Department, 'on August 1, 1942, agreed to accept for induction educationally deficient registrants up to 10 percent of the white selectees and 10 percent of the Negro selectees inducted on any given day. This procedure remained in effect until January 31, 1943.

TABLE I.—Percentage of registrants deferred because of educational deficiency,

May 15, 1941-Sept. 15, 1941

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On February 1, 1943, the Navy entered the selective service picture and it was decided by the Army and Navy jointly that men would be accepted for general service provided they had the ability to read and write the English language at the level commonly prescribed for the fourth grade. The Army, for its own purposes, went even further and ordered the acceptance for special assignment of illiterates and non-England-speaking registrants otherwise acceptable under existing regulations at a combined rate “not to exceed 5 percent of the total number of men accepted and assigned to the Army, by color, at each induction station on each day."

The third plan.-It was still obvious that a large number of men were being rejected for military service who probably had sufficient native intelligence to do a satisfactory military job provided they were given certain intensive education within the armed forces sufficient to raise them to a level of functional literacy. Special training units were authorized within the Army for the training of such men as might be determined to have sufficient mental ability, and on June 1, 1943, all limitations governing the number and percentage of illiterates acceptable were revoked. The Army and Navy began, on this date, to accept for general service those registrants otherwise qualified who passed the minimum intelligence tests.

When the new plan to determine the fitness of selectees by intelligence tests instead of on the basis of educational achievement went into effect on June 1, 1943, it was found that a larger number of men were being rejected for failure to meet what was then called minimum intelligence standards than had previously been rejected because of failure to meet the fourth grade educational requirement. The 10 principal reasons for the rejection of whites and Negroes for June July 1943 are shown in table II. Several significant conditions are revealed by these data. Educational deficiency—that is failure to meet the minimum "intelligence" standard-was the chief reason for the rejection of Negro selectees (34.5 percent) accounting for over a third of the total rejections for all purposes, whereas it was only the third most important reason for the rejection of whites (8 percent). Syphilis (9 percent) and mental deficiency (4.5 percent) ranking third and sixth, respectively, in the causes of rejections of Negroes, are not among the 10 principal reasons for the rejection of white selectees. Tuberculosis, on the other hand, accounted for the rejection of a larger percentage of white than Negro selectees.

TABLE II.The 10 principal reasons for rejections of Negro and white selectees,

June-July 1943


. During the period under consideration the order of rejection was as follows: (1) Administrative (e. g.; criminal record, dishonorable discharge); (2) educational (failure to pass intelligence test); (3) physical (failure to pass physical examination).

? Failure to meet minimum intelligence standard.

The rejection rates for June and July 1943, for failure to meet minimum Army induction standards are shown by State and race in table III.

The States shown are those having at least 0.3 percent of total Negro registrants. The situation is similar to that pointed out in connection with data of table I, namely, the larger incidence of rejections among southern whites and among Negroes. It is to be observed that 14 of the 15 States having the largest percentage of rejections among whites are Southern States. It is to be observed further that although in every State except Kentucky the percentage of Negro rejections for educational deficiency is higher than that of whites, in a number of the Northern States the percentage of Negroes rejected is appreciably less than that of whites in a number of the Southern States. For example, Alabama has a rejection rate of 8.5 percent for whites and 25.8 percent for Negroes, while the rejection rate for Negroes in Illinois is only 2.5 percent.

It is estimated that, as of September 1, 1943, 341,200 registrants had been placed in class IV-F because of educational deficiency. Negroes, with a rejection rate for this defect, about 6 to 7 times that of whites, accounted for slightly more than half of the total number of registrants rejected for educational deficiency.

TABLE III.Rejection rates of white and Negro registrants in selected States due

to failure to meet minimum "intelligence" standards, June-July 1943 13

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1 Based on a sample of 1634 percent of Forms 221 received during June and July. Preliminary data.

2 States having at least 0.3 percent of total Negro registrants in first, second, third, and fifth and sixth registrations.

Less than 200 registrants represented in June-July sample of Forms 221.
+ Less than 50 Negro registrants represented in June-July sample of Forms 221.
NOTE.--Above figures include local-board and induction-station rejections.

The parallel situation in World War I

The situation just described is strikingly similar to that which existed during World War I a quarter of a century ago. Then, as now, the Army testing procedure revealed that a large proportion of American men of draft age were at an extremely low mental and educational level. Then, as now, it was found that a disproportionate number of these submarginal men were in the Southern States. Then, as now, this retarded group was heavily weighted with Negro selectees. Then, as now, the Negroes in some Northern States were superior to the whites in some Southern States. In view of this parallel situation, we may profitably examine here the interpretations which were made of this phenomenon immediately following World War I.

In World War I mental testing gained a remarkable vogue and prestige attributable mainly to the group testing involving about 2,000,000 soldiers. Individual testing (Binet) had been known in this country since about 1909, but group mental testing was very largely the creature of World War I. The results of Army testing became a center of controversy. The naturenurture argument flared anew and raged for 2 decades. Only recently has it shown signs of abating. Mental testing began in France as a means of classifying mental subnormals. But within a year after its introduction in the United States, it was catapulted into American racialism. In Philadelphia testing was used to justify racial segregation in public schools, as early as 1910. By 1916 Terman had pronounced Negroes and Indians racially inferior stocks. A work in the early twenties by Brigham made the boldest of claims for superiority of the Nordics.

1 Brigham, Carl C., A Study of American Intelligence, Princton : Princton Press, 1923.



Brigham believed that the mental tests tested inborn power except for experimental error:

for we must assume that we are measuring native or inborn intelligence, and any increase in our test score due to any other factor may be regarded as an error.” It should be said, however, to the credit of Brigham that he later pronounced this work useless as a study in racial differentials. The collapse, he thought, came from technical defects revealed by the factor analysis movement. Its collapse could well be justified on other grounds.

The claims of test extremists met sturdy objection from a number of workers. Among the earlier of these the best known was W. C. Bagley. He attacked a fundamental assumption of the mental tester; namely, that mental test scores are almost a single-valued function of physical inheritance. He insisted that mental scores are in reality a function of an undetermined number of functions of undetermined relative potencies and presented a mass of evidence to substantiate his contention. He studied by States the relations between test scores and magazine circulation, birth States of persons listed in Who's Who in America, birth States of persons committed to the State prisons of New York and California, frequency of homicides, venereally infected recruits, per capita of income tax, ratio of per capita savings-bank deposits to per capita income, and components of Ayers Index Numbers for State School Systems. Bagley found an average correlation of 0.85 (range 0.73 to 0.91) between A and B Alpha scores and Magazines, Leaders, Income and Schools.' Between the same Alpha grades and venereal diseases, homicides, inmates in Federal prisons, he found correlations respectively of 0.74, 0.41, and 0.37. These factors also showed relatively high correlation with educational indices. The correlation between estimated percentage of Nordic blood and Alpha scores was negative, approximately 0.50. A notable result of Bagley's work is the fact that the Southern States generally fell at or toward the bottom of the lists of States when ranked with reference to functions of the factors considered by him just as they do in the school indices. An impressive exception is the estimated percentage of Nordic blood. Bagley's work sharpened the controversy whose research sequels are well represented in the Year Book of the Society for the Study of Education for 1928' and 1939 % and in the Journal of Negro Education, 1934. Though Bagley went beyond his data in some of his conclusions, his main thesis would seem markedly validated by later research.

Army testing was a release event for pro-Nordic propaganda in the United States which undoubtedly influenced the rise of Aryanism in Europe now best symbolized in nazism in Germany and in more recent fascism in Italy. Hitler is reputed to have said that the American treatment of Negroes served as a pattern for his persecution of Jews. Perhaps nothing so incensed the Anglo-Saxon peoples as Hitler's claim of native superiority of Germans and their Nordic allies including Italians and Japanese. We are now engaged in an unprecedented war presumably to liquidate a view nourished on our own soil. Bigotry got out of hand and turned upon its mentors.

We have shown here that the current situation parallels that which existed during World War I, a quarter of a century ago. Then, as now, large elements in our population were found to be unprepared for miliary service due to mental, educational, and physical disabilities. That little has been done on a national scale to alleviate this condition is nothing short of a national disgrace. Surely all thoughful persons in our society must agree that this problem shall not continue to be neglected. Rehabilitation programs

The existence of a large number of men rendered unfit for military service by their educational deficiency obviously constitutes a challenging educational program. Especially is this true when we consider the fact that selectees constitute only a part of the total population and that they are the product of a situation of long standing. Can an educational program be devised which will effectively salvage persons who are below a minimum acceptable educational level? What will be the nature of such a program?

2 Brigham, Carl C., Intelligence Tests of Immigrant Groups, Psychological Review, 37 : 158-65, 1930.

3 W. C. Bagley, Determination in Education, Baltimore: Warwick & York, 1925.
* Ibid., p. 81.
Ibid., p. 106.

Ibid., pp. 126–127.
? The Twenty-seventh Yearbook of the Society for the Study of Education.
& The Thirty-eighth Yearbook of the Society for the Study of Education.

• Physical and Mental Abilities of the American Negro, Journal of Negro Education, July 1934.

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