Jun 7, 2019

G: The Miseducation of Larry P

Are some ideas so dangerous we shouldn’t even talk about them? That question brought Radiolab’s senior editor, Pat Walters, to a subject that at first he thought was long gone: the measuring of human intelligence with IQ tests. Turns out, the tests are all around us. In the workplace. The criminal justice system. Even the NFL. And they’re massive in schools. More than a million US children are IQ tested every year.

We begin Radiolab Presents: “G” with a sentence that stopped us all in our tracks: In the state of California, it is off-limits to administer an IQ test to a child if he or she is Black. That’s because of a little-known case called Larry P v Riles that in the 1970s … put the IQ test itself on trial. With the help of reporter Lee Romney, we investigate how that lawsuit came to be, where IQ tests came from, and what happened to one little boy who got caught in the crossfire.

This episode was reported and produced by Lee Romney, Rachael Cusick and Pat Walters.

Music by Alex Overington. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly.

Special thanks to Elie Mistal, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Amanda Stern, Nora Lyons, Ki Sung, Public Advocates, Michelle Wilson, Peter Fernandez, John Schaefer. Lee Romney’s reporting was supported in part by USC’s Center for Health Journalism.

Radiolab’s “G” is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

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JAD ABUMRAD: All right.




JAD: Hey.


PAT: How are you doing?


JAD: I'm doing.


JAD: Maybe just say who you are real quick before we start?


PAT: Pat Walters. I'm a Senior Editor here.


JAD: Excellent. So where do we start? I mean, do you want to tell me how you got into all this?


PAT: Yeah, okay. So -- so the -- so we're doing this series. And this all started for me, or I got thinking about the thing we're about to talk about a lot, because of this -- this moment several months ago where I sort of got caught between two of my closest friends. I got caught just -- I get caught between them all the time.


JAD: [laughs] Is it -- is it a political caught?


PAT: It’s actually really hard.


JAD: Political caught?


PAT: Yeah. So friend number one is this guy. I'd call him a bit of a contrarian, politically. And we ended up getting in a few arguments about this guy named Jordan Peterson.


[JORDAN PETERSON CLIP: It's precisely this sort of danger that people who are really looking for trouble ...]


PAT: Who ...


JAD: Right.


PAT: ... you probably know. He’s a Canadian.


JAD: Public figure-type person.


PAT: Public figure. Canadian psychologist who is -- has gotten -- he’s said a lot of things that are very controversial about gender and race.


[JORDAN PETERSON CLIP: Now, I think the idea of white privilege is absolutely reprehensible.]


PAT: Like, he thinks white privilege is a myth, and he said we should somehow enforce monogamy.


JAD: He’s sort of like a man’s movement -- he’s big with dudes.


PAT: He’s really big with white dudes.


JAD: Yeah.


PAT: And this friend of mine is a white dude. And so we were arguing about some things Jordan Peterson had said that my friend had liked. And at one point he was just -- he said to me, he kind of called me out. He was like, "You’ve never even listened to the guy talk. Like, we’re having all these arguments about his ideas, and you’ve never even listened to him." So I was like, "Okay."


JAD: Fair point.


PAT: "That’s fair." And so I decided I would listen to him. And then, enter friend number two. We're hanging out later a couple days later, and I told her I'm having a fight with Friend Number One. Again. He wants me to listen to this guy, Jordan Peterson. I told him I’d do it, just to be fair. And she -- she just got this look on her face and was like, “Why would you do that?” And then she said this thing to me that really stuck with me afterwards. And she said, “His ideas are dangerous.” And I remember thinking like, “What makes an idea dangerous?” Even stepping beyond politics, thinking about science or thinking about the law, or all these sort of realms of ideas, what makes one so dangerous or threatening or risky that we shouldn’t even talk about it?


JAD: Hmm.


PAT: And so I decided to have a staff meeting with all of the Radiolab people, and I asked everyone to bring their most dangerous idea. Just as a thought experiment. People brought all kinds of weird stuff. And I have ...


JAD: I remember there were some fights in that meeting.


PAT: There were some fights. Yeah. Someone was like, maybe there's one species that we should, like, just agree we're gonna let go. We only have a limited amount of time, energy and money. Stop worrying about the elephants, let them all die, and we're just going to focus on other things.


JAD: Uh-huh.


PAT: A soft one. Recycling is pointless. That's probably just true.


JAD: [laughs]


PAT: Someone brought, like, the idea that boys are better at math than girls.


JAD: Right.


PAT: A female staff member brought that one in because she heard it from her daughter’s math teacher.


JAD: That’s crazy that people think that still.


PAT: There was the idea that breast cancer screening is pointless.


JAD: Uh-huh.


PAT: There was something about a law in Nebraska that allowed you to drop off a baby that you didn't want.


JAD: Right.


PAT: God is dead. Assisted suicide. Psychiatric euthanasia. One producer brought a book that some guy had written arguing that, like, mass incarceration is a tragedy and a solution would be, instead of putting people in prison, we should bring back public -- whip -- whippings. So like instead of ...


JAD: That's what it was.


PAT: ... being sent to prison.


JAD: That's when -- that’s when things devolved a tiny bit.


PAT: Yeah. But before they did, more than one person brought the same idea. And this idea really stuck in my head. Like, we -- a group of us kind of became obsessed with it. And that's the idea we decided to base this series on. And I'm not going to tell you what it is. Yet.


JAD: All right.


JAD: All right. I’m Jad Abumrad. This is Radiolab. Over the next five episodes, we're gonna turn things over to our Senior Editor Pat Walters, who's gonna explore this mysterious, dangerous idea in all kinds of weird places. We’re calling this series, and this will make sense in a little bit. We're calling it G.


RACHAEL CUSICK: There's nothing I love more than picking the lint off my myself.


PAT: Wow!


RACHAEL: It's like a little game built into my clothing.


PAT: You’re so easy to please.


PAT: Before we get started, I should say that I produced this whole series with Rachael Cusick. She's been a true partner on the whole project, so you’ll be hearing from her a bunch, too. And this first episode began with a discovery that she made one day when she was looking around on the internet.


RACHAEL: One of my favorite pages is Today I Learned.


PAT: I love -- I do love Today I Learned. I love a good ...


RACHAEL: It’s amazing.


PAT: If you don't know, this is a section of Reddit.


RACHAEL: And so I went there. I'm scrolling, like, just the general page. And then I see a “Today I Learned” headline that kind of stopped me in my tracks.


PAT: Mm-hmm.


RACHAEL: And I’m just gonna read it.


PAT: Okay.


RACHAEL: Hold on, it’s very small font.


PAT: Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay.


RACHAEL: And it says TIL -- Today I Learned -- that it is illegal in the state of California to administer an IQ test to a child if he or she is Black, even when dispensed by a school psychologist as part of a professional assessment.


PAT: Wait. It says it's illegal to give an IQ test to a Black kid in California?


RACHAEL: Yeah. That's what it said.


PAT: Do you click on it?


RACHAEL: I totally click on it.


PAT: Okay.


RACHAEL: Because I'm looking to find out that it's fake for sure.


PAT: Yeah.


RACHAEL: So I start reading the comments.


PAT: Mm-hmm.


RACHAEL: And they’re really vile. Very racist. They mostly came from a group of people who call themselves race realists. And those are people who basically say, “Let’s just all agree that white people are inherently more intelligent than Black people.”


PAT: Okay, so you see these responses, you’re like ...


RACHAEL: Yeah. I’m like, this “Black kids can’t take IQ tests” thing can’t be real.


BRANDON GAMBEL: Whoa! Like, my head was spinning for a little while. I'm like, Yo!


RACHAEL: [laughs]


PAT: But it is.


BRANDON GAMBEL: This is for real, son!


PAT: After Rachel found that website, we started calling around asking people about this. And one of the first people we talked to is this guy. His name is Brandon Gambel.


BRANDON GAMBEL: I’m banging on the table. I’m so excited about this.


PAT: He’s the Dean of Student Success at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. But back in the mid-'90s, Brandon had just gotten a job as a school psychologist in Long Beach, California.


BRANDON GAMBEL: First day on the job, I got on, like, a nice white shirt, it’s short sleeves and a tie.


PAT: And on his first day, his two supervisors, they took him aside into an office and told him about this thing called the Larry P. rule.


BRANDON GAMBEL: I was like, "Who’s Larry, and why should I be concerned about that?" And my supervisor, he was like "Well --" like, his affect changed. He was like “Oh, man, um, well it basically says that --” and he’s kind of dancing around it. But he’s like, “Oh, yeah. Because of Larry P., we can’t give IQ tests with African American students.”


RACHAEL: And are these two white men that are telling you this?


BRANDON GAMBEL: Yes they are. [laughs] Yeah, they are. And then they kind of look to me like, “Well, what do you think?” It, like, put us in an awkward -- like up until that moment they’re my supervisor. Now they’re at a loss as to what to do and to talk about.


PAT: Eventually he says, they pulled out a big three-ring binder, opened it to a section in the middle.


BRANDON GAMBEL: You know, Roman numeral 4 page 2.


PAT: And they show him a list of about 20 different IQ tests that he was not allowed to give to Black kids.


BRANDON GAMBEL: And I’m reading this stuff and I’m freaked out.


JAD: Can I just ask a basic question? IQ tests. People still use IQ tests?


PAT: Well, like you, you know, I thought they were something that had been tossed out years ago.


[CLIP: Donald Trump: "She’s a real beauty."]


PAT: I mean, of course you still hear IQ tests talked about by ...


[CLIP: Donald Trump: ”A seriously low-IQ person.”]


PAT: President Trump.


[CLIP: Jordan Peterson: “You’re going to have a child.”]


PAT: Jordan Peterson.


[CLIP: Jordan Peterson: “You want the child to have an IQ of 65 or 145, decide!”]


PAT: But when we started looking into it, it quickly became clear that IQ tests are kind of all over the place.


[CLIP: That aptitude tests are the single best predictor of job performance.]


PAT: Thousands of companies use them to pick employees.


[CLIP: Every applicant entering the military has to take an ASVAB test.]


PAT: Every branch of the military uses them. They’re used in the justice system.


[CLIP: If you are past the 70 mark, you are considered smart enough to face the Death Penalty]


[CLIP: Test takers have 12 minutes to answer 50 questions]


PAT: Even in football.


[CLIP: At the NFL combine.]


PAT: And they’re kind of massive in schools. More than a million kids get IQ tested every year. They're used mainly to figure out which kids will get into gifted programs and which kids will get special-ed services. But in California, if your kid is Black, they almost definitely won’t get one.


JAD: And it’s all because of this Larry P. thing?


PAT: Yeah.


JAD: So then ...


LEE ROMNEY: Who’s Larry P?


JAD: Yeah, who’s Larry P?


PAT: Okay, so let me bring in Lee Romney.


LEE: I'm an education reporter for KALW Radio.


PAT: And last year she got kind of obsessed with that question.


LEE: Of course, Larry P. is a case.


PAT: A lawsuit. But the problem was, the guy at the center of that case, Larry P., that was a pseudonym. And the actual guy, whoever he was, had basically vanished. No one had heard from him in about 40 years. But, Lee was able to track him down in a small neighborhood just outside Seattle.


LEE: Yeah, I knocked on the door, and he came and I said ...


LEE: Hi. I’m Lee.




LEE: Nice to meet you.


DARRYL LESTER: Nice to meet you too.


PAT: Turns out his name is Darryl Lester.




LEE: I warned ya. I warned you guys that I’d have these little things on. But ...




LEE: Yeah. Thanks so much.


PAT: He’s about 60 years old now. The lawsuit happened back in the 1970s. And he was very surprised that this reporter had showed up wanting to talk to him about something that had happened back when he was, like, 10.


DARRYL LESTER: Threw me -- threw me a loop. But it happened so many years ago. You want to sit down over here?


LEE: We can. Can we turn off the ...




LEE: Yeah, the sound. Because it makes it hard to ...




LEE: Whenever there's a song, because sometimes I think, "Oh, it’s so nice ..."


PAT: So Lee and Darryl sat down in the living room, and Lee asked him to tell his story. From the beginning. It starts back in the 1960s.


LEE: Okay, so maybe go back a little. So you're from -- you guys are from Georgia?




LEE: Where in Georgia did you grow up?




LEE: With how many brothers and sisters?


DARRYL LESTER: Four brothers, and we -- my mom lost her only daughter. So she ended up with five boys. I am the youngest.


PAT: The story begins in 1965. And that year, Darryl's mom ...


LEE: And your mom was -- was she working?


DARRYL LESTER: She's a nurse.


PAT: She decided to take the whole family -- she and her five boys -- and move them to San Francisco because she wanted to get away from segregation. And this was at a time when the Civil Rights Movement is like ...


DARRYL LESTER: We was there during the '60s.


PAT: At its peak.


DARRYL LESTER: And man, it was so gorgeous there during the '60s. That was a gorgeous city.


PAT: And little Darryl is suddenly in this, like, radically different world.


LEE: Yeah, he was in a much more diverse place.


DARRYL LESTER: I had some nice good white buddies. My white buddy, his name was Tom. [laughs]. Me and him played on the 49ers. That was our football team.


PAT: And every day ...


DARRYL LESTER: We’d do our work, and then he’d ride his bike over to my house, and I’d get on the back of his bike and we’d ride to football practice.


LEE: So they were -- you know, they were tight.


DARRYL LESTER: It was just a whole change of atmosphere.


PAT: Darryl even remembers this one time where he and his brother went to this festival.


DARRYL LESTER: It was in the Golden Gate Park.


[ARCHIVAL CLIP: On Saturday January 14th, on the Polo Grounds in Golden Gate Park ...]


DARRYL LESTER: Me and my brother went to it. We were kids.


[ARCHIVAL CLIP: A human be-in took place. It was a gathering of the prides ...]


[ARCHIVAL CLIP: You are your own salvation, man!]


[ARCHIVAL CLIP: A gathering of people.]


DARRYL LESTER: And I remember the police picking us up, putting us on the horse.


PAT: And he got to ride this horse all around the park.


DARRYL LESTER: I remember all of that.


PAT: So everything was going pretty well for Darryl. Except for school.


DARRYL LESTER: We lived on that little slanted street, like, hill, like. And then if you walked down the block and turned right, it’s a steep hill. A real steep hill. You go up that hill, and the school was on top of the hill there. That was the first school I went to when we first got there. And I stayed in trouble. And it was terrible. The kids was just way too fast. Coming from the country, coming from Georgia.


LEE: He said he got teased, and he said he would just have these outbursts.


DARRYL LESTER: And then I would come home and I'd tell my mom, "I don't wanna go to school." You know, I'd just had enough. She said, "No, you're going to school. You're -- you're gonna go and you're gonna learn."


PAT: So he's having a little bit of trouble.


LEE: What grade were you in then?


DARRYL LESTER: Uh, first grade.


PAT: And then one day in the first grade, a teacher grabs Darryl and a couple other kids, pulls them out of class, and walks them down the hallway to this room.


LEE: Do you remember what kinds of questions they maybe were asking you?




LEE: For the test.


DARRYL LESTER: They did it all -- they did it -- they did all of us.


PAT: Darryl's a little fuzzy on this part, but apparently when he and the other kids walked in, there was a man standing in the front of the room, and the man pulled out this maroon briefcase.


PAT: Wow, this has never been used!


PAT: We found one on eBay.


RACHAEL: [Inhales] Ooh, it smells like my basement.


PAT: Wow, okay. So it says the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. Copyright, the Psychological Corporation, New York City. This is the thing that, like, in some ways, like, yeah, changed his life.


PAT: Even though Darryl doesn’t remember all the details from that day, here's how we think it would have gone down.


PAT: Alright. I’m going to open it up.


PAT: The man at the front would have taken out a bunch of little green booklets.


[TESTER: Okay everybody, today we’re going to take a few tests.]


PAT: And the tests are general information, general comprehension, arithmetic, vocabulary ...


[TESTER: I’m going to ask you a series of questions. And I want you to answer them to the best of your ability.]


PAT: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve tests.


[TESTER: Let's begin. I’m going to say a phrase that is missing a word. I want you to finish what I want to say. Can you do that? Okay. Lemons are sour, sugar is, what? Can you tell me what word is missing? No. Think of sugar. Sour is a taste. How does sugar taste? Yes, good. Sweet. Okay. Now, you walk with your leg, you throw with your? Think about throwing. What part of your body would you throw with? No. Let’s try again. You walk with your leg, you throw with your? All right, another one. If three pencils cost five cents, what will be the cost of 24? And next one. How many ears have you? How far is it from New York to Chicago? Why is cotton fiber used in making cloth? I want to see how many words you know. Listen carefully, and tell me what these words mean: nuisance. What’s a nuisance? Nonsense. What is nonsense?]


LEE: Darryl said -- he said, really from the very -- from the very beginning, he said he did fine in math.


DARRYL LESTER: I'm good when it come to numbers.


LEE: But he could not keep up with the reading.


DARRYL LESTER: When I look at something and I’m trying to read it and if I can’t pronounce it, I’m looking at it backwards.


LEE: The reality was that he had a reading issue -- I’m sure it’s fair to call it like, a reading disability.


[TESTER: Nitroglycerin, what is nitroglycerin? Are you okay? Would you like some water?]


LEE: It’s hard, I think.


DARRYL LESTER: It -- it was just, like, very hard.


[TESTER: Look at this picture. What important part is missing? Yes, but what is the most important part that’s missing?]


DARRYL LESTER: Like, "Oh, you gotta be kidding me!"


PAT: So Darryl goes home. He’s not really sure what happened, but he feels like he didn’t do well at it, whatever it was. And eventually, someone from the school approaches Darryl's mom and says, “We need to put your son in a different class.”


LEE: So the way she describes it in her testimony, it says, "Well, I was told that Larry was a slow learner and he needed the help, you know, in his schoolwork. And by putting him in this class, I was under the impression he was put there so he could get more attention."


DARRYL LESTER: That’s when stuff started going downhill.


PAT: In Darryl’s new class, there were 10 students.


DARRYL LESTER: It was mostly Black.


PAT: Four boys, six girls.


LEE: And what -- what was, like, a normal day like in there?


DARRYL LESTER: A normal day? A headache. A straight up headache, because some kids was loud, some kids was obnoxious. Some kids just didn’t care.


PAT: Darryl says they spent about ten minutes a day on reading, ten minutes a day on math, and about five-and-a-half hours outside.


DARRYL LESTER: And they thought that would calm us down.


PAT: So they went on a lot of field trips.


DARRYL LESTER: Going to the zoo, Golden Gate Park. What is this, you know? They wasn’t teaching us nothing. You know, I walked to school and cried all the way. And by the time I got close to the school, I’d straighten up and got myself together, went on into the building, and that was it. It was that bad.


PAT: Darryl was in that class for more than a year. And then fast forward, and one day Darryl’s mom is at home and she gets a phone call.


LEE: Well, she gets a phone call apparently from one of the NAACP attorneys.


PAT: And the lawyer tells her that a man named Gerald West is gonna pay her a visit. He says West is a member of the Association of Black Psychologists.


LEE: And so the way she describes it in her testimony, she -- she said, "Okay." And then Gerald West came over.


PAT: Met with Darryl. Gave him a few tests.


LEE: And that when he was done, she says -- you know, she says, "Then he turned to me and he says, 'Well, there is nothing wrong with this child.' And I said, 'What do you mean, nothing wrong with him? I'm his mother. I should know. You know, I'm his mom I know there's -- you know, there's nothing wrong with him.'" Even though she did know that he needed reading help. But she says, "Naturally, I didn't feel good about it, and I got angry about it. This is when I really found out what was really going on, you know?" And then she's asked, "What did you find out?" And -- and the mom says, "That he's been designated mentally retarded." That's how she learned that he was in a class for educable mentally retarded kids. She'd never known that.


PAT: What had happened to Darryl when he got brought into that room with the man with the briefcase is they’d given him an IQ test. That’s what had gotten him designated -- and this is the term that was used at the time, and so we’re gonna use in it this story -- "educably mentally retarded." And his mom said he wasn’t, that the test was wrong, and that it had been wrong about a lot of Black kids. And so Darryl's mom and the parents of five other little kids got together and filed a class-action lawsuit against the school district, arguing that their kids had been essentially denied their education by being put in these classes inappropriately because of an IQ test that deemed them mentally retarded. And that's, yeah, that's sort of the beginning of -- of this whole thing. And -- so what ends up happening is, like, in the mid-1970s, these parents essentially put the IQ tests on trial. That's after the break.


[ANGIE: This is Angie Kromlich from Fishers, Indiana. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.]




PAT: Hey, welcome back! This is G, a Radiolab mini-series. This is episode one. I'm Pat Walters.


JAD: Jad Abumrad. You were saying that the IQ test was put on trial. That sort of seems to be where we’re driving to.


PAT: Mm-hmm.


JAD: I want to know about that trial. What happened at the trial?


PAT: Yeah, it's super interesting. But before we jump into that, I think it would be helpful to put the trial and the tests in a slightly larger context.


JAD: Okay.


PAT: And so to do that, I want to tell you where the IQ tests came from in the first place.


JAD: You mean like, who invented it?


PAT: Yeah, all the way back to the beginning of these tests.


JAD: Well, alright.


PAT: And to do that, we have to go back to France.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: In the early 1900s.


PAT: 1904.




PAT: This is Siddhartha Mukherjee.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: I'm an oncologist, and I'm also a writer.


PAT: And the beginnings of all this, he says ...


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: Arose out of, one might describe them as benign intentions.


PAT: At the turn of the century in France, there was a lot going on.


[ARCHIVAL CLIP: That was a time of expansive social change.]


PAT: The church and the state were separating.


DAVID ROBSON: Trying to create this equal society.


PAT: This, by the way, is David Robson.


DAVID ROBSON: Senior journalist at BBC Future, and I'm the author of The Intelligence Trap.


PAT: And David says one of the things that happened at this time is the government took over the schools.


[ARCHIVAL CLIP: Public education was growing.]


DAVID ROBSON: Universal education was part of that, and then ...


PAT: Suddenly, all kids were required to go to school. And within the first few years of this, the government noticed that some kids were falling behind. And so to figure out what to do, they called this psychologist.


DAVID ROBSON: Alfred Binet, in Paris at the time.


PAT: Who was actually the Director of Experimental Psychology at the University of Paris. He had studied all kinds of things, but he’d spent the past 20 years or so studying children. And so the French government gave him an assignment. They said, "We want you to come up with a test to sort of predict which kids are gonna struggle in school."


DAVID ROBSON: Just to identify whether children were more vulnerable, I guess, in the schoolroom.


JAD: So that we can give them extra ...


PAT: Give them extra help, yeah. And so it doesn't, like, go on through years. And then we're like, "Oh, crap! Jad is, like, three years behind now. We didn't notice that he's having a really hard time learning to read or do math."


[ARCHIVAL CLIP: Alfred Binet saw it as a chance to benefit the individual pupil. To diagnose problems so the child can get special help.]


DAVID ROBSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. So he worked with Theodore Simone ...


PAT: His assistant at the time.


DAVID ROBSON: And together they came up with this test to look for ...


PAT: A whole bunch of different cognitive abilities. Starting with simple ones like, can the child hold a conversation with the teacher, moving on to slightly more complex ones.


DAVID ROBSON: Such as, he would give the children a list of words ...


PAT: Like "house," "fork," "mother."


DAVID ROBSON: And ask them to kind of recite them back to him from memory.


PAT: He made the children draw pictures. And then he had a few harder ones. Like, name three rhymes for the French word reverence, which is like a bow or curtsy. Anyway, he had all these questions. Some were easy, some were hard. And the next thing he did is he gave these tests to a whole bunch of kids. Grouped them all by age, and then he compared how they did. Like, for all the six-year-olds, how many questions did they get right and wrong on average? For the seven-year-olds, same thing. Eight-year-olds, on and on. For each age, he calculated the average score.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: Basically, a norm -- a normalization, as it were.


PAT: What they ended up calling the normal score. And then he would compare each kid to that norm. So if you’re a six-year-old and you got the average number right and wrong for a six-year-old, he would say that’s your ...




PAT: Six. If you scored higher than the average for a six-year-old, your mental age might be seven or eight. And if you scored lower, it might be lower.


DAVID ROBSON: And then …


PAT: Ultimately, that would lead to a simple math equation.


DAVID ROBSON: The mental age divided by the chronological age times by a hundred gave you the IQ, or intelligence quotient.


JAD: Oh, so that’s how they do it?


PAT: Yeah. It’s a little different now, but generally how it works is, like, if you’re a six-year-old and you get the number of questions right and wrong that the average six-year-old got right and wrong, your IQ score is 100.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: And if your mental age exceeds your physical age, you get higher than a hundred. If your mental age is less than your physical age, you get lower than a hundred.


PAT: So that’s the basic idea. Now before Binet, teachers and parents and lots of other kinds of people had been trying all different things to figure out how kids learn, and to compare them to their peers. But this is the first time someone tried to measure it, and put a number on it. Now Binet, he was very clear that he didn't think he was measuring everything about intelligence. You know, this is not the whole picture. I’m just measuring something about these kids that helps me figure out how they’re gonna do in school.


DAVID ROBSON: Binet was very explicit about the fact that he didn't think the mark in his tests should be considered a permanent thing about someone.


PAT: Hmm.


DAVID ROBSON: He called it brutal pessimism if you take that one score and you think of it as defining someone.


PAT: He said brutal pessimism.


DAVID ROBSON: Yeah. He believed that intelligence was malleable, and that the human mind had, you know, so many different facets that had to be considered.


PAT: He was apparently adamant about this. But as we know, good intentions are the devil’s toilet paper. Because right around the time Binet was doing his thing ...


STUART RITCHIE: Charles Spearman who was a statistician ...


PAT: Where was he and what was he doing?


STUART RITCHIE: He was in England.


PAT: It was another psychologist.


STUART RITCHIE: You know, a psychologist/statistician doing research on this topic.


PAT: A guy named Charles Spearman, who came up with the theory of intelligence that Binet would not have liked. This guy that you’re hearing by the way ...


STUART RITCHIE: My name is Stuart Ritchie. I'm a psychology lecturer at King's College, London.


PAT: He’s the guy who kind of told me all about this. And according to him, Charles Spearman, like Binet, also worked with kids. Gave them lots of tests. And he noticed this sort of counter-intuitive thing that Bidet hadn't. You know how I mentioned that IQ tests are actually many, many little tests all lumped together? Like, you got vocabulary, math all these different sub-tests?


JAD: Mm-hmm.


STUART RITCHIE: Well, what Spearman showed in his analyses of the tests were that they all seemed to correlate positively together. People who are good at one type of test, tend to be good at them all.


[CLIP: Say I want to see how many words you know. Listen carefully and tell me what these words mean.]


PAT: What Spearman noticed is the kids who were good at ...


STUART RITCHIE: Vocabulary tests.


[CLIP: Bicycle. What is a bicycle?]


PAT: Those kids were also likely to be good at ...


STUART RITCHIE: Reasoning tests.


[CLIP: I'm going to show you some pictures in which there is a part missing. Tell me what is missing.]


STUART RITCHIE: And pattern recognition.


[CLIP: Look here and you will see a star, a ball, a triangle, and other things.]


STUART RITCHIE: They tend to be good at speed tests, memory tests.


[CLIP: I'm going to say some numbers. Listen carefully ...]


PAT: Across all the different kinds of tests ...


STUART RITCHIE: People who are good at one are good at them all.


PAT: And he saw this as evidence of some sort of underlying ...


STUART RITCHIE: Mental energy that underlies their cognitive abilities.


PAT: And Spearman called this ...


STUART RITCHIE: General intelligence.




PAT: And this idea that this sort of general intelligence that Spearman noticed, did other scientists notice it, too?


STUART RITCHIE: Oh, yeah. Yes. Yeah.


PAT: Stuart says in the decades since Spearman first noticed this phenomenon ...




PAT: ... it has been proven again and again and again to be true.


STUART RITCHIE: It’s essentially one of the best replicated findings in the psychological literature.


PAT: And the moment this G idea got walked out into the room by Charles Spearman, this is the moment that Pandora's Box sort of got ripped wide open. Because now there weren't lots of different kinds of intelligences. Intelligence wasn't complicated. There was just this one kind. And Spearman believed we each had a certain amount of it from the time we were born. And that that could somehow be measured with a test.


[CLIP: The tests were now being used as a social instrument, a way to classify people rather than help individuals.]


PAT: And this is exactly the thing Binet warned against. This is that brutal pessimism. He never got a chance to speak out against the test being used this way. He died in 1911. And in the years after his death, throughout the teens and twenties and thirties, IQ tests were given to millions of people, used to decide who should get which job ...


[CLIP: A fast way of deciding who should be an officer and who shouldn’t.]


PAT: Who should get into which school ...


[CLIP: Who should work at a desk and who should be cannon fodder.]


PAT: Who should be allowed to immigrate to one country or another. And eventually, who should be institutionalized and forcibly sterilized. Because the thing we haven't mentioned about Charles Spearman and a lot of these early intelligence scientists is they were eugenicists. And so the whole early history of IQ testing is wrapped up in this ideology, you know, that these guys thought they could selectively breed people to create some kind of master race. And we're gonna go deep into that part of the history in a future episode with the help of Lulu Miller, one of the creators of Invisibilia. But suffice to say, once IQ tests were being used to pick people to be sterilized, it just kept getting worse.




SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: This was not a peripheral idea to Nazism. The measurement was central to the Nazi doctrine of improving the human race. And in their case, it marched onto exterminations.


PAT: The Nazi version of eugenics started in the mid-1930s, when they began forcibly sterilizing and then executing thousands of people that they'd classified as mentally ill, disabled, or what they called feeble-minded. Meaning that they'd scored low on an IQ test. This program was called T4, and it was a precursor to, and essentially a training ground for the mass executions of Jewish people that over the next several years would become the Holocaust.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: So in the span of just about 30-35 years, you go from something called G to selective sterilization mandated by a court, to selective extermination mandated by a state. And that happens in the span of 30 years.


PAT: Now, given that history, I kind of expected that after World War II, IQ tests would have gone away. But no. Here in America ...


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: America, particularly around that time in the post-war period, was a very quantitative society.


PAT: The economy was booming, and we were obsessed with measuring things.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: Your height, your weight. You know, your biometrics.


PAT: So in America, we doubled down on the use of IQ tests. Started using them for everything.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: To track people. Earmarking people for the right jobs. Making sure they get to the right schools, etcetera, etcetera. There is a kind of efficiency clause in this which is, you know, let's make the society more efficient by allocating the right resources to the right people.


PAT: And so by the '60s and '70s Mukherjee says, that was the situation.


SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE: It had really seeped into the center of American culture.


JAD: Are we at the trial now?


PAT: Just about.


[NEWS CLIP: IQ in the school systems of every state of the union. One form of intelligence test or another are given each year to at least 10 million children of all ages. The impact on their lives can be enormous.]


PAT: What gets us to the trial is, right around the time Larry P. bumped into the test, people had finally started to push back against it. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and this group of young Black psychologists had stepped up and said, "Hey, this test is a problem. Not only because of its history, but also because of the way it’s made now."


HAROLD DENT: The tests did not consider the experiences and the backgrounds of minorities or Black children, or children who did not have a white middle-class background.


BRANDON GAMBEL: They were culturally specific to European Americans.


PAT: That’s psychologist Brandon Gamble again. Before him, Harold Dent who was one of those young, Black psychologists who started pushing back in the 1960s. And Dent says the problem was, like, remember how I told you the IQ test is normed? Where they give the test to a whole bunch of kids and clump their scores together to sort of figure out the average score for each age?


JAD: Mm-hmm.


PAT: Well, the test-makers only used white kids.


HAROLD DENT: If you set up one standard, everybody doesn’t meet that standard.


PAT: And so these Black psychologists were like, "What about non-white kids?"


BRANDON GAMBEL: If that child is not from that cultural frame and that cultural experience, they may give different answers.


HAROLD DENT: The IQ test scores did not deal with the background and experiences of Black children.


PAT: Which is what this lawsuit ended up being about.


[NEWS CLIP: A dispute in California today about intelligence quotient tests. A lawsuit has been filed which says that IQ tests discriminate against Black children because these tests ...]


JAD: Okay!


PAT: Like, if we were to try to imagine ourselves into day one of this trial, like, what do we know?


LEE: We know it was a federal case, so it was in US District Court.


PAT: This is Lee Romney again.


LEE: Downtown San Francisco. You know, just a couple of blocks from City Hall.


PAT: Do you know what the room would have looked like?


LEE: We know from the court sketch that right behind the witness stand was a giant American flag. You know the judge seated there next to the witness box.


PAT: The judge was named Robert Peckham.


ARMANDO MENECAL: He was a mostly bald gentleman.


PAT: Wire-rimmed glasses.


ARMANDO MENECAL: Spoke somewhat quietly.


PAT: So you've got Peckham up in the front, and then the lawyers for the families.


LEE: A number of attorneys.


PAT: One of whom you just heard.


ARMANDO MENECAL: Armando Menecal.


PAT: At the time of the trial, Armando had only been a lawyer for about four years.


ARMANDO MENECAL: I was the only lawyer that was in court every day. Myself and the chief lawyer for the state.


HAROLD DENT: Well, this trial started in October of 1977.


PAT: It would go on for seven months.


HAROLD DENT: 10,000 pages of witness testimony.


LEE: 10,114 pages.


HAROLD DENT: [laughs]


PAT: Oh, my God!


LEE: Yeah.


PAT: Did you go through all of it?


LEE: I did. But, like, I whipped through some of it, because ...


PAT: One of the first big things that happens is the plaintiffs called this guy named Asa Hilliard to the stand.


HAROLD DENT: The late Dr. Asa Hilliard.


LEE: He had been the dean of the School of Education at San Francisco State University.


HAROLD DENT: Black psychologist.


PAT: He was a big expert on racial bias in education and testing.


LEE: Yep. Yep.


PAT: So Hilliard goes up to the stand, gets sworn in.


LEE: And if you -- if you have a second, I'll try to find ...


PAT: And one of the family's lawyers stands up, and picks up this box.


LEE: Exhibit P-66a.


PAT: And walks over to the stand.


LEE: And then he says, "Let me hand you this black box and ask you if you can identify this for the court." He says, "This is what the actual beast looks like."


PAT: He calls it the beast?


LEE: Yeah. And so Hilliard says, "Right. This is a kit for the WISC."


BRANDON GAMBEL: The Wechsler Intelligence Skills for Children.


PAT: A.K.A. ...




LEE: Which was the main test that was being used in schools. Okay, so this is -- this is Madden again.


PAT: And the first thing they do is ask Hilliard just to, like, explain what this test is. Like, what exactly is it asking these kids?


LEE: So Hilliard says, "Right. Let me try one." There's gonna be an actor, right? So do you want me to read sort of around what -- what the actor is going to be doing?


PAT: I might just have you read a bunch of stuff.


LEE: Okay. Maybe I shouldn't pick number nine ...


[ACTOR: ... pick number nine, since we're so close to Columbus Day.]


PAT: He picked this question from a section called General Information.


[ACTOR: One of the items about General Information is, who discovered America? And the only two possible answers here are Columbus and Leif Erikson. And of course, there are some people who would have a little disagreement with that.]


PAT: And in addition to those answers just being, like, wrong, Hilliard brought this one up to point out that this isn't a test of, like, thinking ability.


LEE: This is acquired knowledge.


PAT: Lee gave us another example.


LEE: Who wrote Romeo and Juliet?


PAT: Uh, Shakespeare.


LEE: Yeah, good job. Ding ding ding!


PAT: Thank you.


LEE: And then they say Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky is also acceptable.


PAT: Tchaikovsky wrote a Romeo and Juliet?


LEE: I -- see, I didn't know that. I didn't know that.


PAT: Now, the people who make these tests would explain to you that the point of a question like that is that a lot of kids won't know the answer. That's question number 16, so it's supposed to be hard. The point of it being on there isn't that, like, knowing that information in particular is especially important, but the test-makers have figured out that the kids who get that question right are more likely to do well on all the other parts of the IQ test, because of that G thing we talked about before. The problem is, there are all kinds of other variables at play here. Like, whether you know who wrote Romeo and Juliet might say something about your intelligence, but it might also just be an indication of whether your parents told you about Shakespeare, or whether you learned about him in school.


[ACTOR: What right do we have to expect children from some areas of the country or some areas of cities to have spent time studying about Romeo and Juliet?]


PAT: And Hiliard argued this acquired knowledge problem affected a whole bunch of different parts of the test.


LEE: That would be the same thing here on math. If children ...


[ACTOR: If children had not had the opportunity to have good math instruction and they are going to be compared with children who have had good math instruction, then to me you have an economic-cultural bias that’s represented in there. The same thing would be true with similarities and vocabulary. For example ...]


LEE: For example, you're supposed to be able to answer the question: in what way are salt and water alike?


PAT: In what way are salt and water alike? Okay. In what way are salt and water ...


RACHAEL: Do they have two compounds. Does that make them a thing?


PAT: H2O and NaCl? No.


RACHAEL: That seems ridiculously complicated.


PAT: I mean, I would say -- I mean, the first thing that comes to mind for me is, like ...


RACHAEL: Oceans.


PAT: Oh, ocean. Like, they get mixed together.


LEE: Rachael. You actually -- you -- you got the high score right out of the gate.




LEE: So -- okay. So here it is. You get two points if you give this answer: A response that indicates that they are both necessary for life, or that they are both chemical compounds. Ding ding ding!




LEE: So those are the only two answers that you get two points for. If you say that they are both in the ocean, you get no points.


RACHAEL: What? That's just a truth. Why does that ...


LEE: I know!


RACHAEL: Oh, I'm angry!


LEE: If you say that you can drink both of them, you get no points. If you say salt comes out of the water ...


PAT: Again, there isn't really a single right answer. I’d argue that my answer was just fine. But Hilliard explained that the WISC favors a certain kind of answer.


LEE: There's an arbitrary decision about the nature ...


[ACTOR: ... about the nature of the response that will give you two points in terms of its abstraction.]


PAT: He said the WISC arbitrarily favors abstract-sounding answers, like salt is a compound. And he is asked why is that any more intelligent than saying salt is from the ocean?


[ACTOR: This is where the cultural bias comes in again.]


PAT: And his point was, thinking abstractly in this way is as acquired as knowing who wrote Shakespeare. Now, the state argued there are big parts of the test that do measure things that feel way more like pure thinking abilities. There's a memory test where a kid just has to read back a string of numbers. There are a couple of pattern recognition tests that just involve looking at shapes. There’s a picture completion test where a kid just has to point out what’s missing from a drawing. But for every part of the test like that, there’s another part that feels way squishier. And the part of the test where you see racial bias most blatantly is this one called ...


BRANDON GAMBEL: Comprehension.


PAT: This is Brandon Gamble again.


BRANDON GAMBEL: And with comprehension, they may ask somebody kind of a moral question, even.


PAT: The kid is given a hypothetical social situation and asked how they should respond. Like, what should you do if you cut your finger? Or why are criminals locked up? Or why is it generally better to give money to a charity than someone begging on the street? Or why should a promise be kept? And Brandon says like a lot of parts of this test, these questions don’t have a single right answer, which means they can be biased towards people who answer the question in the way the people who made the test think it should be answered. Which is a big problem if you don’t think the way the people who made the tests think. Brandon told us about one of these questions that he ran into when he started working as a school psychologist.


BRANDON GAMBEL: If you found somebody's wallet ...


PAT: Like, sitting on a shelf in a store.


BRANDON GAMBEL: What would you do with it? Would you give it back to them? You know, try to search them out and find out how to give it back to them? Or would you leave it alone? Or keep that money?


PAT: The correct answer is find the store manager and give them the wallet. But Brandon told me he would not have answered it that way.


BRANDON GAMBEL: I would have said, you know, I’m not touching it because they’d probably accuse me of something.


PAT: Because you’re Black?


BRANDON GAMBEL: Yeah. And you know what? I’ve been in that situation. I went with a scouting group and my mother was the director of the scouting group and we were at a science museum. I’m a nerd. I didn’t realize it back then how much of one I was, but I was wearing my scouting uniform which had this shiny belt buckle. So I keep shining it but I get smudges on it. So I'm looking at my belt buckle, and they’re thinking I’m stuffing my pants with things. So -- and so security gets called.


PAT: Oh, jeez!


BRANDON GAMBEL: And I have no idea what's going on, but my mother does. My mother is like, you’re not strip-searching my child.


PAT: Point is, Brandon says, if you’re a black kid and you see that question, you might think clearly the correct answer is leave the wallet where it is.


BRANDON GAMBEL: So really what the WISC is measuring is assimilation into American culture, and how well you assimilate as a predictor. Not so much your actual intelligence and what you know.


PAT: So the families put forward a bunch of arguments saying the test is racially-biased. And then the state gets up and has to defend the test. And their argument basically goes like …


CRAIG FRISBY: There's nothing wrong with tests. That they are just as valid, you know, to use for all, you know, American-born English-speaking kids.


PAT: This is Craig Frisby. He's a school psychology professor at the University of Missouri, and has done a bunch of research on the Larry P. case and bias in testing. And he says it's not enough for a test question just to feel like it’s biased.


CRAIG FRISBY: You always have to go back to the data and say, what does the data say, and does the data bear this out?


PAT: You have to prove statistically that it is.


CRAIG FRISBY: And in a lot of these arguments, the data just doesn’t bear it out.


PAT: So, like, take that question, who discovered America? According to Craig, to prove that that question is biased against, let's say, Black children, you'd have to give that question to a group of white children and give the same question to a group of Black children, and show that the Black children are more likely to get it wrong than the white children. And Craig says the families in the lawsuit didn't do that.


CRAIG FRISBY: You know, you're kind of -- kind of shooting in the dark a little bit. "Well, this could be, this could be." So whenever you try to kind of give an ad hoc explanation for what you see, it's not a scientific enterprise.


PAT: But the reason, ironically, that data didn't exist, is because, like we said before, the IQ test that was given to the kids like Darryl was only normed, was only standardized on white kids.


ARMANDO MENECAL: And everyone admitted that no one had attempted, in the testing companies -- had attempted to validate the test for Blacks and whites.


PAT: Still, Craig says the state argued that the families didn't have the data they'd need to prove their case statistically. But the data the state did have, Craig says, showed that when you do give IQ tests to Black kids, you find the entire range of scores that you’d see in white kids.


CRAIG FRISBY: So if tests were truly biased against kids because of their skin color or their race, then you would never have examples of African Americans who get high scores on IQ tests, and you would never have examples of white kids who get low scores on IQ tests.


PAT: And so the state said, like, if Black children can score very high on IQ tests, how could they be biased?


CRAIG FRISBY: You have the full range.


PAT: But even though you see that entire range, you see something else, too.


CRAIG FRISBY: The means, the averages, differ from group to group.


PAT: The average shifts down. The average score of Black kids was lower than the average score of white kids.


[NEWSCLIP: What the results seem to say about Americans was startling and puzzling. Blacks as a group scored 15 points lower than whites.]


PAT: So if the state was saying there was no bias, what explains that discrepancy then?


CRAIG FRISBY: One of the first things that people will say that -- to pour gasoline on the issue is to say, "Oh, if you’re saying the tests are not biased, then that means that this group is genetically inferior to this other group."


PAT: And there was a huge controversy happening in America at this time over that very idea.


[NEWSCLIP: An old theory, originally revived by psychologist Arthur Jensen of the University of California. Is it fair to say that your position has been that Black Americans, as a race, are not as intelligent as whites?]


[CLIP, JENSEN: By my definition of intelligence, yes, I would say that’s a fair statement.]


PAT: And the defense, the state, actually tried bringing this argument into the lawsuit.


LEE: They had introduced it in some of the pre-trial paperwork as a possible defense.


PAT: But when they were getting ready to go to trial ...




PAT: The State Superintendent of Education, who was the named defendant in the case, and happened to be a Black man himself ...


BRANDON GAMBEL: Says this stuff is racist and disgusting and vile. And I can't be a part of that, and I especially can't have the state be a part of that.


PAT: And so the defense never directly brought that argument up in trial.


LEE: They sort of took it back.


CRAIG FRISBY: And that was kind of the ghost in the room.


PAT: And even though the state kind of tried to shuffle that argument back under the rug, the families’ lawyers wanted to disprove out in the open.


ARMANDO MENECAL: What we were attempting to prove is that that test mislabeled blacks as being intellectually inferior.


PAT: That’s Armando Menecal again and he says they called bunch of different witnesses.


LEE: A whole parade of experts.


ARMANDO MENECAL: Medical background, historians, many psychologists, many education experts.


PAT: To show in court, there's no evidence to support that theory. It's just not true.


ARMANDO MENECAL: And then eventually he'd say, "And there’s three times more Blacks in classes for the retarded. It either means that blacks are genetically inferior to whites ..."


PAT: Which they’d just spent weeks disproving.


ARMANDO MENECAL: Or the tests are discriminatory. Eventually you get down to the either/or. And that was our goal in cross-examination. And we called every one of the state employees as adverse witnesses and cross-examined them ...


PAT: And there was one encounter with a Department of Education employee.


ARMANDO MENECAL: The main guy within the department in charge of the classes for the mentally retarded and the IQ test.


PAT: That Armando says pretty much stops everyone in their tracks.


ARMANDO MENECAL: I'd pretty much gotten him into a corner where he basically admitted that yes, he believed that there were more mentally retarded Black people than white people. And Peckham goes, "Wait, wait, wait, wait. Are you saying you really believe that there are more Blacks who are mentally retarded?" And the guy said, "Yes!"


LEE: October 16th, 1979.


PAT: Judge Peckham issues his ruling.


LEE: He just comes right out and says, "This court finds in favor of plaintiffs.”


PAT: Darryl, his mom, and the five other families won the case.


LEE: "Defendants have utilized standardized intelligence tests that are racially- and culturally-biased, have a discriminatory impact against Black children, and have not been validated for the purpose of essentially permanent placements of Black children into educationally dead-end, isolated, and stigmatizing classes for the so-called educable mentally retarded." He says, "We must recognize at the outset that the history of the IQ test and of special education classes built on IQ testing is not the history of neutral scientific discoveries translated into educational reform. It is a history of racial prejudice, of social Darwinism, and of the use of the scientific quote 'mystique' to legitimate such prejudices. Defendants' conduct in connection with the history of IQ testing and special education in California reveals an unlawful segregative intent." To dumb it down, he's basically saying they proved everything that they set out to prove. That this was just a disguised form of segregation, you know, under the guise of science.


BRANDON GAMBEL: A group of Black folk sued the state and won. How often does that happen? [laughs]


LEE: "Question: Mrs. Lester, how old is Darryl? Answer: Darryl is 18. Question: Mrs. Lester, I know that you have a plane to catch, but is there anything else you might want to say just to sum up your feelings about this case?"


[ACTOR: Well ...]


LEE: Lucille.


[ACTOR: I will tell you, just sum it up, I feel like it was a rotten deal. I really do. Because if I had an understanding in the beginning that Darryl was put in a class for the mentally retarded children, he wouldn't have been there in the first place. Because I would have went further and taken him to the doctors to find out whether or not anything was wrong with him. And I feel like it's stunted him to a certain extent. And even in his attitude toward people, certain people, have changed, because he feels like he has been pushed aside. Feels like he has been discriminated and things like that. He come and told me. And I have to try and straighten it out and tell him what I feel is right about it.]


PAT: At the end of Judge Peckham's decision, Brandon Gamble says ...


BRANDON GAMBEL: He put a ban in place.


PAT: No IQ tests are to be given to Black children to make decisions about special education in the state of California. By the time this case ended and Judge Peckham had issued that ban, years had gone by. Darryl, the kid who set this whole thing in motion when he was in elementary school, was 20 years old now. Wasn't even living in the state anymore. His mom, Lucille, had moved the family away after things had gone so badly for him at school. And that's really the last that anyone had heard from Darryl for decades. Until Lee Romney came along. She's the reporter we spoke with from KALW. Because as she started reporting on all of this, she kept wondering, "What happened to him?"


LEE: Everyone was saying, you know, I have no idea. And to be honest, nobody seemed terribly interested, you know? And -- because everyone talks about it, Larry P. is a case.


PAT: And she was like, "What about Larry P. the person?" Which is how she ended up in that little house outside Seattle hanging out with Darryl Lester.


LEE: Everyone who works in Special-Ed in California, they all talk about the Larry P. case.


DARRYL LESTER: Which is me.


LEE: Yeah.


DARRYL LESTER: So do they know me?


LEE: They don't. So -- and I don't know ...


LEE: Nobody had ever asked him -- not only not asked him about this, nobody had ever really told him about it. And when I came up there and I had the ruling in my hand ...


LEE: This was the -- just the judge's ruling. It's, like, 130 pages long.




LEE: But it goes ...


DARRYL LESTER: Wow! That was my case?


LEE: Yup!




LEE: And he goes, you know, "That's my case?" It was just sort of like ...


PAT: Wow!


LEE: Like, I didn't really expect this. He and his wife were both happy to have me come up, happy to hear about it.


DARRYL LESTER: Really? That you're here? I feel kind of honored, you know?


JAD: And what actually did happen to him after the ruling?


PAT: So right after the lawsuit was filed actually, his mom moved him and his family up to Tacoma, Washington.


DARRYL LESTER: I moved here in '71.


LEE: Okay, so right as soon as they file the lawsuit, mom was like, "We're out of here."




LEE: They had an older brother who had been in the military and he was up near Tacoma.


DARRYL LESTER: So when we moved here I had like a third grade reading level and I was in the eighth grade.


LEE: And then it was time for high school and ...


PAT: Pretty soon...


DARRYL LESTER: They said, "Well, okay. We're gonna put you in special-ed and half-a-day program. Well, what's that?


PAT: He was back in a special-ed program.


DARRYL LESTER: Well, you get up in the morning, and you're gonna go over to Safeway. Safeway, the grocery store? And they say, "Yeah." I went to Safeway, I had to be there at 7:30 and start work at 8. And I worked from 8 'til lunchtime.


LEE: Were they paying you?


DARRYL LESTER: No, it was for credits!


RACHAEL: Oh, my God!


PAT: Wait, that's a thing?


DARRYL LESTER: You never heard of that?


PAT: Eventually his stepfather complained and got him out of that program.


LEE: Even though Darryl was, like, terrified to just be dumped into the general population, because he didn't have any foundation.


LEE: They hadn't prepared you.


DARRYL LESTER: Not for them type of classes. No. Uh-huh.


PAT: But he was thrown back into general ed without any help.


DARRYL LESTER: None whatsoever.


PAT: And he squeaked by for a few years.


LEE: They kept moving you from grade to grade.




PAT: Eventually graduation rolls around.


DARRYL LESTER: I missed my high school diploma by two credits, and thought, "I'm not gonna make it out in the real world."


PAT: After that ...


LEE: You know, he moved back to Georgia for a bit, and then he started partying a lot.


DARRYL LESTER: Oh, my God. Drinking, smoking, just all kind of stuff.


LEE: He definitely had some substance abuse issues for years. So then it was just sort of low -- you know, it was a lot of really hard physical work.


DARRYL LESTER: The best job I had is when I was working at Kaiser Aluminum before I got hurt.


LEE: On the job?




PAT: Then Darryl told Lee this story that just sort of showed how this thing that happened to him when he was a kid, never really let him go.


DARRYL LESTER: I got hurt on the job.


LEE: What happened?


DARRYL LESTER: I got slung into a wall. And threw my back all out of whack and everything.


LEE: And apparently he had received ...


DARRYL LESTER: They sent me a letter.


LEE: Like a worker's comp decision letter saying that he would be awarded benefits.


PAT: But he says he took that letter.


DARRYL LESTER: And I threw it in the trash. I didn't know.[/i]


LEE: Because he couldn't read it.


DARRYL LESTER: You know, it's kind of hard to put it into words. I've lived this long, these many years, lack of reading, you know? There was things I needed to learn that I didn't learn.


LEE: And he still struggles with this.


DARRYL LESTER: Sometimes I'd be down here by myself.


LEE: Sometimes his wife comes downstairs and he's ...


DARRYL LESTER: "Darryl, what you crying for?"


LEE: Crying.


DARRYL LESTER: And they say grown men don't cry. That's a lie.


PAT: And I should say, Darryl’s life is tough, but it's not all bleak. He has a daughter, he's happily married.


DARRYL LESTER: How me and Cecilia met, we grew up together. Yeah, we grew up in church together.




DARRYL LESTER: That's how we know each other.


CECILIA: In a choir.


DARRYL LESTER: Our families. 25 years.


CECILIA: Oh, yeah.


DARRYL LESTER: We've been together 25 years.


CECILIA: Long time. [laughs]


LEE: You know, so they both sang in this church choir, and that since he -- he said he's been clean and sober about 18 years.


DARRYL LESTER: [laughs] So I left that alone.


LEE: And so people talk about that case, and here, like, there's this fully-dimensional human being that seems like the case doesn't really even get to.


DARRYL LESTER: My life might not be like my friends' that, you know, got better jobs, nice homes. Not to say I don't want that, you know, because I do. But it just didn't come my way. But I'm content right now with what I have. So here today, you sitting here talking to me, I'm happy. I'll tell you over and over again, I'm not ashamed of who I am. I am Darryl Eugene Lester. Born 1958, December the 29th. From Marietta, Georgia. And I am here still living at 59 years of age.


JAD: And the ban? The ban that the Larry P. case led to, what happened to it?


PAT: It's still in place.


JAD: It's still in place?


PAT: Yeah. Yeah, so this whole situation that Darryl got caught up in as a kid has completely changed. The class that he got stuck in, those classes are gone. They’re not a thing anymore. And this test that sort of shuttled him into that class is banned for Black kids.


JAD: And the judge didn’t say ban it for everyone, or revise the test, or de-bias the test or whatever. He said just don’t give it to Black kids.


PAT: Yeah, exactly.


JAD: But if you’re a white kid or if you’re a Spanish-speaking kid or a Hispanic kid or a ESL kid, you can take it?


PAT: Yeah.


JAD: That’s still in place?


PAT: Yeah. Still today.


JAD: It’s like -- I hate this word, because I always feel like this word just, like, hides all kinds of things, but I’m gonna say it anyways. I just kind of find that kind of problematic.


PAT: You are not the only one who feels this way.


CECILIA: It is racism in the school district.


DARRYL LESTER: It’s not right. It’s not right.


PAT: In the next episode of this series, we're gonna return to this case and look at all the weird ways it plays out now. And we’ll also keep wrestling with this idea of G, the measuring of human intelligence with IQ tests, trying to figure out what it really captures. And learn that, despite all of its horrible history, it was behind solving one of the biggest public health problems of the 20th century. That’s coming up in episode two.


PAT: This episode was reported and produced by Lee Romney, Rachael Cusick, and me, Pat Walters. Our music was by Alex Overington. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly. Special thanks to Elie Mistal, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Amanda Stern, whose book Little Panic is great, Nora Lyons, Ki Sung from KQED, Public Advocates in San Francisco, our actors Michelle Wilson, Peter Fernandez and John Schaefer. And of course to Darryl Lester.


PAT: Radiolab's G is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science. Oh, and one last thing. At the end of every show we have a listener read the credits. Radiolab is really proud to have listeners all over the world, and we would love to hear you on the show. If you’re interested in recording the credits go to radiolab.org/credits. It’s super simple. Again that’s radiolab.org/credits. Thanks for listening. See you in a week.


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[BRANDON GAMBEL: This is Brandon Gamble. The Dean of Student Success at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our Director of Sound Design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our Executive Producer. Our staff include Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Malissa O’Donnell, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, Audrey Quinn, W. Harry Fortuna, Ruth Samuel, Imani Leonard, and Neel Dhanesha. Our fact checker is Michelle Harris.]


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