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Border-line Cases (usually Between 70 And 80 I Q)

The border-line cases are those which fall near the boundary generally recognized
as such and the higher group usually classed as normal but dull. They are the
doubtful cases, the ones we are always trying (rarely with success) to
restore to normality.

It must be emphasized, however, that this doubtful group is not marked
off by definite I Q limits. Some children with I Q as high as 75 or even
80 will have to be classified as feeble-minded; some as low as 70 I Q
may be so well endowed in other mental traits that they may manage as
adults to get along fairly well in a simple environment. The ability to
compete with one's fellows in the social and industrial world does not
depend upon intelligence alone. Such factors as moral traits, industry,
environment to be encountered, personal appearance, and influential
relatives are also involved. Two children classified above as
feeble-minded had an I Q as high as 75. In these cases the emotional,
moral, or physical qualities were so defective as to render a normal
social life out of the question. This is occasionally true even with an
I Q as high as 80. Some of the border-line cases, with even less
intelligence, may be so well endowed in other mental traits that they
are capable of becoming dependable unskilled laborers, and of supporting
a family after a fashion.

_Examples of border-line deficiency_

_S. F. Girl, age 17; mental age 11-6; I Q approximately 72
(disregarding age above 16 years)._ Father intelligent; mother
probably high-grade defective. Lives in a good home with aunt,
who is a woman of good sense and skillful in her management of
the girl. S. F. has attended excellent schools for eleven years
and has recently been promoted to the seventh grade. The teacher
admits, however, that she cannot do the work of that grade, but
says, "I haven't the heart to let her fail in the sixth grade
for the third time." She studies very hard and says she wants to
become a teacher! At the time the test was made she was actually
studying her books from two to three hours daily at home. The
aunt, who is very intelligent, had never thought of this girl as
feeble-minded, and had suffered much concern and humiliation
because of her inability to teach her to conduct herself
properly toward men and not to appropriate other people's

S. F. is ordinarily docile, but is subject to fits of anger and
obstinacy. She finally determined to leave her home, threatening
to take up with a man unless allowed to work elsewhere. Since
then she has been tried out in several families, but after a
little while in a place she flies into a rage and leaves. She is
a fairly capable houseworker when she tries.

This young woman is feeble-minded and should be classed as such.
She is listed here with the border-line cases simply for the
reason that she belongs to a group whose mental deficiency is
almost never recognized without the aid of a psychological test.
Probably no physician could be found who would diagnose the
case, on the basis of a medical examination alone, as one of

_F. H. Boy, age 16-6; mental age 11-5; I Q approximately 72
(disregarding age above 16 years)._ Tested for three successive
years without change of more than four points in I Q. Father a
laborer, dull, subject to fits of rage, and beats the boy.
Mother not far from border-line. F. H. has always had the best
of school advantages and has been promoted to the seventh grade.
Is really about equal to fifth-grade work. Fairly rapid and
accurate in number combinations, but cannot solve arithmetical
problems which require any reasoning. Reads with reasonable
fluency, but with little understanding. Appears exceedingly
good-natured, but was once suspended from school for hurling
bricks at a fellow pupil. Played a "joke" on another pupil by
fastening a dangerous, sharp-pointed, steel paper-file in the
pupil's seat for him to sit down on. He is cruel, stubborn, and
plays truant, but is fairly industrious when he gets a job as
errand or delivery boy. Discharged once for taking money.

F. H. is generally called "queer," but is not ordinarily thought
of as feeble-minded. His deficiency is real, however, and it is
altogether doubtful whether he will be able to make a living and
to keep out of trouble, though he is now (at age 20) employed as
messenger boy for the Western Union at $30 per month. This is
considerably less than pick-and-shovel men get in the community
where he lives. Delinquents and criminals often belong to this
level of intelligence.

_W. C. Boy, age 16-8; mental age 12; I Q 75 (disregarding age
above 16 years)._ Father a college professor. All the other
children in the family of unusually superior intelligence. When
tested (four years ago) was trying to do seventh-grade work, but
with little success. Wanted to leave school and learn farming,
but father insisted on his getting the usual grammar-school and
high-school education. Made $25 one summer by raising vegetables
on a vacant lot. In the four years since the test was made he
has managed to get into high school. Teachers say that in spite
of his best efforts he learns next to nothing, and they regard
him as hopelessly dull. Is docile, lacks all aggressiveness,
looks stupid, and has head circumference an inch below normal.

Here is a most pitiful case of the overstimulated backward child
in a superior family. Instead of nagging at the boy and urging
him on to attempt things which are impossible to his inferior
intelligence, his parents should take him out of school and put
him at some kind of work which he could do. If the boy had been
the son of a common laborer he would probably have left school
early and have become a dependable and contented laborer. In a
very simple environment he would probably not be considered

_C. P. Boy, age 10-2; mental age 7-11; I Q 78._ Portuguese boy,
son of a skilled laborer. One of eleven children, most of whom
have about this same grade of intelligence. Has attended school
regularly for four years. Is in the third grade, but cannot do
the work. Except for extreme stubbornness his social development
is fairly normal. Capable in plays and games, but is regarded as
impossible in his school work. Like his brother, M. P., the next
case to be described, he will doubtless become a fairly reliable
laborer at unskilled work and will not be regarded, in his
rather simple environment, as a defective. From the
psychological point of view, however, his deficiency is real. He
will probably never develop beyond the 11- or 12-year level or
be able to do satisfactory school work beyond the fifth or sixth

_M. P. Boy, age 14; mental age 10-8; I Q 77._ Has been tested
four successive years, I Q being always between 75 and 80.
Brother to C. P. above. In school nearly eight years and has
been promoted to the fifth grade. At 16 was doing poor work in
the sixth grade. Good school advantages, as the father has tried
conscientiously to give his children "a good education."
Perfectly normal in appearance and in play activities and is
liked by other children. Seems to be thoroughly dependable both
in school and in his outside work. Will probably become an
excellent laborer and will pass as perfectly normal,
notwithstanding a grade of intelligence which will not develop
above 11 or 12 years.

What shall we say of cases like the last two which test at high-grade
moronity or at border-line, but are well enough endowed in moral
and personal traits to pass as normal in an uncomplicated social
environment? According to the classical definition of feeble-mindedness
such individuals cannot be considered defectives. Hardly any one would
think of them as institutional cases. Among laboring men and servant
girls there are thousands like them. They are the world's "hewers of
wood and drawers of water." And yet, as far as intelligence is
concerned, the tests have told the truth. These boys are uneducable
beyond the merest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction
will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens in the true
sense of the word. Judged psychologically they cannot be considered

It is interesting to note that M. P. and C. P. represent the level of
intelligence which 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. The fact that one meets this type with such extraordinary
frequency among Indians, Mexicans, and negroes suggests quite forcibly
that the whole question of racial differences in mental traits will have
to be taken up anew and by experimental methods. The writer predicts
that when this is done there will be discovered enormously significant
racial differences in general intelligence, differences which cannot be
wiped out by any scheme of mental culture.

Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be
given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master
abstractions, but they can often be made efficient workers, able to look
out for themselves. There is no possibility at present of convincing
society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a
eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their
unusually prolific breeding.

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Previous: Feeble-mindedness (rarely Above 75 I Q)

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