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About Lewis Madison Terman
Lewis Madison Terman (January 15, 1877 – December 21, 1956) was an American psychologist, noted as a pioneer in educational psychology in the early 20th century at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He is best known for his revision of the Stanford-Binet IQ test and for initiating the longitudinal study of children with high IQs called the Genetic Studies of Genius. He was a prominent eugenicist and was a member of the Human Betterment Foundation. He also served as president of the American Psychological Association.
Terman received a B.S., B.Pd. (Bachelor of Pedagogy), and B.A. from Central Normal College in 1894 and 1898, and a B.A. and M.A. from the Indiana University Bloomington in 1903. He received his Ph.D. from Clark University in 1905.
He worked as a school principal in San Bernardino, California in 1905, and as a professor at Los Angeles Normal School in 1907. In 1910 he joined the faculty of Stanford University as a professor of educational psychology at the invitation of Ellwood Patterson Cubberley and remained associated with the university until his death. He served as chairman of the psychology department from 1922 to 1945.
Terman published the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale in 1916 and revisions were released in 1937 and 1960. Original work on the test had been completed by Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon of France. Terman promoted his test, known colloquially as the "Stanford-Binet" test, as an aid for the classification of developmentally disabled children. Revisions of the Stanford-Binet are still used today as a general intelligence test for adults and children. The fifth revision of the test is currently in use.
The first mass administration of IQ testing was done with 1.7 million soldiers during World War I, when Terman served in a psychological testing role with the United States military. Terman was able to work with other applied psychologists to categorize army recruits. The recruits were given group intelligence tests which took about an hour to administer. Testing options included Army alpha, a text-based test, and Army beta, a picture-based test for nonreaders. 25% could not complete the Alpha test. The examiners scored the tests on a scale ranging from "A" through "E".
Recruits who earned scores of "A" would be trained as officers while those who earned scores of "D" and "E" would never receive officer training. The work of psychologists during the war proved to Americans that intelligence tests could have broader utility. After the war Terman and his colleagues pressed for intelligence tests to be used in schools to improve the efficiency of growing American schools.
He also administered English tests to Spanish-speakers and unschooled African-Americans, concluding:
“High-grade or border-line deficiency... is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come... Children of this group should be segregated into separate classes... They cannot master abstractions but they can often be made into efficient workers... from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding” (The Measurement of Intelligence, 1916, p. 91-92).
Unlike Binet and Simon, whose goal was to identify less able school children in order to aid them with the needed care required, Terman proposed using IQ tests to classify children and put them on the appropriate job-track. He believed IQ was inherited and was the strongest predictor of one's ultimate success in life. Terman adopted William Stern's suggestion that mental age/chronological age times 100 be made the intelligence quotient or IQ. (NB: Most modern IQ tests calculate the intelligence quotient differently.)
In 1921, Terman initiated the Genetic Studies of Genius, a long-term study of gifted children. He found that gifted children did not fit the existing stereotypes often associated with them: they were not weak and sickly social misfits, but in fact were generally taller, in better health, better developed physically, and better adapted socially than other children. The children included in his studies were colloquially referred to as "Termites".
Terman later joined the Human Betterment Foundation, a Pasadena-based eugenics group founded by E.S. Gosney in 1928 which had as part of its agenda the promotion and enforcement of compulsory sterilization laws in California. Terman Middle School in Palo Alto, California is named after himself and his son. His son Frederick Terman, as provost of Stanford University, greatly expanded the science, statistics and engineering departments that helped catapult Stanford into the ranks of the world's first class educational institutions, as well as spurring the growth of Silicon Valley.
Thoughts and research on gifted children
Terman’s study of genius and gifted children was a lifelong interest. His fascination with the intelligence of children began early in his career since he was familiar with Alfred Binet’s research in this area. Terman followed J. McKeen Cattell’s work which combined the ideas of Wilhelm Wundt and Francis Galton saying that those who are intellectually superior will have better “sensory acuity, strength of grip, sensitivity to pain, and memory for dictated consonants”. At Clark University, Terman wrote his doctoral dissertation entitled Genius and stupidity: a study of some of the intellectual processes of seven “bright” and seven “stupid” boys. He administered Cattell’s tests on boys who were considered intelligent versus boys who were considered unintelligent.
In 1915, he wrote a paper called The mental hygiene of exceptional children. He pointed out that though he believed the capacity for intelligence is inherited, those with exceptional intelligence also need exceptional schooling. Terman wrote that, “[Bright children] are rarely given tasks which call forth their best ability, and as a result they run the risk of falling into lifelong habits of submaximum efficiency”. In other words, nature (heredity) plays a large role in determining intelligence, but nurture (the environment) is also important in fostering the innate intellectual ability. By his own admission there was nothing in his own ancestry that would have led anyone to predict him to have an intellectual career.
With Binet’s development of IQ tests, it became possible to quickly identify gifted children and study them from their early childhood into adulthood. In his 1922 paper called A New Approach to the Study of Genius, Terman noted that this advancement in testing marked a change in research on geniuses and giftedness. Previously, the research had looked at genius adults and tried to look in retrospect into their early years of childhood. Through these studies on gifted children, Terman hoped to find how to properly educate a gifted child as well as dispel the negative stereotypes that gifted children were “conceited, freakish, socially eccentric, and [insane]”.
Terman found his answers in his longitudinal study on gifted children called Genetic Studies of Genius which had five volumes. The children in this study were called “Termites”. The volumes reviewed the follow-ups that Terman conducted throughout their lives. The fifth volume was a 35 year follow-up, and looked at the gifted group during mid-life. The results from this study showed that gifted and genius children were actually in good health and had normal personalities. Few of them demonstrated the previously-held negative stereotype of gifted children. Most of those in the study did well socially and academically and had lower divorce rates later in life. Additionally, those in the gifted group were generally successful in their careers and had received awards recognizing their achievements. Though many of the “Termites” reached their potential in adulthood, some of the children did not, perhaps because of personal obstacles, insufficient education, or lack of opportunity.
Terman died before he completed the fifth volume of Genetic Studies of Genius, but Melita Oden, a colleague, completed the volume and published it. Terman wished for the study to continue on after his death, so he selected Robert Richardson Sears, one of the many successful participants in the study as well as a colleague of his, to continue with the work. The study is still supported by Stanford University and will continue until the last of the “Termites” withdraws from the study or dies. A contemporary assessment of Terman's contributions:
Lewis Terman was a man of his less-than-enlightened time. He believed in eugenics, and his research project was called “Genetic Studies of Genius.” He naively assumed that his high IQ kids (nearly all white) would become the future leaders of science, industry, and politics. His inclusion of girls was an important exception to the biases of the era, since women had only just gotten the right to vote, and had few career options.
However, Terman was above all a scientist; and he was dedicated to collecting meaningful data, and to accepting what the data showed even when it contradicted his beliefs. Thus, he acknowledged the finding that many of the “genius” children wound up in menial jobs; and it appears that the participants as a whole did no better than others from similar social class backgrounds. In other words, there is a lot more to making it—including hard work, luck, social contacts, good health, and social skills—than being academically gifted.
The Measurement of Intelligence (1916)
The Use of Intelligence Tests (1916)
The Stanford Achievement Test (1923)
Genetic Studies of Genius (1925, 1947, 1959)
Autobiography of Lewis Terman (1930)
Stanford University has an endowed professorship in his honor.