Binet's Questionnaire On Teachers' Methods Of Judging Intelligence

Aroused by the skepticism so often shown toward his test method, Binet

decided to make a little study of the methods by which teachers are

accustomed to arrive at a judgment as to a child's intelligence.

Accordingly, through the cooeperation of the director of elementary

education in Paris, he secured answers from a number of teachers to the

following questions:--

1. _By what means do you
udge the intelligence of your pupils?_

2. _How often have you been deceived in your judgments?_

About 40 replies were received. Most of the answers to the first

question were vague, one-sided, "verbal," or bookish. Only a few showed

much psychological discrimination as to what intelligence is and

what its symptoms are. There was a very general tendency to judge

intelligence by success in one or more of the school studies. Some

thought that ability to master arithmetic was a sure criterion. Others

were influenced almost entirely by the pupil's ability to read. One

teacher said that the child who can "read so expressively as to make you

feel the punctuation" is certainly intelligent, an observation which is

rather good, as far as it goes. A few judged intelligence by the pupil's

knowledge of such subjects as history and geography, which, as Binet

points out, is to confound intelligence with the ability to memorize.

"Memory," says Binet, is a "great simulator of intelligence." It is a

wise teacher who is not deceived by it. Only a small minority mentioned

resourcefulness in play, capacity to adjust to practical situations, or

any other out-of-school criteria.

Some suggested asking the pupil such questions as the following:--

"Why do you love your parents?" "If it takes three persons seven

hours to do a piece of work, would it take seven persons any

longer?" "Which would you rather have, a fourth of a pie, or a

half of a half?" "Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a

pound of lead?" "If you had twenty cents what would you do with


A great many based their judgment mainly on the general appearance of

the face and eyes. An "active" or "passive" expression of the eyes was

looked upon as especially significant. One teacher thought that a mere

"glance of the eye" was sufficient to display the grade of intelligence.

If the eyes are penetrating, reflective, or show curiosity, the child

must be intelligent; if they are heavy and expressionless, he must be

dull. The mobility of countenance came in for frequent mention, also the

shape of the head.

No one will deny that intelligence displays itself to a greater or

less extent in the features; but how, asks Binet, are we going to

_standardize_ a "glance of the eye" or an "expression of curiosity" so

that it will serve as an exact measure of intelligence?

The fact is, the more one sees of feeble-minded children, the less

reliance one comes to place upon facial expression as a sign of

intelligence. Some children who are only slightly backward have the

general appearance of low-grade imbeciles. On the other hand, not a few

who are distinctly feeble-minded are pretty and attractive. With many

such children a ready smile takes the place of comprehension. If the

smile is rather sweet and sympathetic, as is often the case, the

observer is almost sure to be deceived.

As regards the shape of the head, peculiar conformation of the ears, and

other "stigmata," science long ago demonstrated that these are

ordinarily of little or no significance.

In reply to the second question, some teachers stated that they never

made a mistake, while others admitted failure in one case out of three.

Still others said, "Once in ten years," "once in twenty years," "once in

a thousand times," etc.

As Binet remarks, the answers to this question are not very enlightening.

In the first place, the teacher as a rule loses sight of the pupil when

he has passed from her care, and seldom has opportunity of finding out

whether his later success belies her judgment or confirms it. Errors go

undiscovered for the simple reason that there is no opportunity to check

them up. In the second place, her estimate is so rough that an error

must be very great in order to have any meaning. If I say that a man is

six feet and two inches tall, it is easy enough to apply a measuring

stick and prove the correctness or incorrectness of my assertion. But if

I say simply that the man is "rather tall," or "very tall," the error

must be very extreme before we can expose it, particularly since the

estimate can itself be checked up only by observation and not by

controlled experiment.

The teachers' answers seem to justify three conclusions:--

1. Teachers do not have a very definite idea of what constitutes

intelligence. They tend to confuse it variously with capacity for

memorizing, facility in reading, ability to master arithmetic, etc. On

the whole, their standard is too academic. They fail to appreciate the

one-sidedness of the school's demands upon intelligence.

In a quaintly humorous passage discussing this tendency, Binet

characterizes the child in a class as _denature_, a French word which we

may translate (though rather too literally) as "denatured." Too often

this "denatured" child of the classroom is the only child the teacher


2. In judging intelligence teachers are too easily deceived by a

sprightly attitude, a sympathetic expression, a glance of the eye, or a

chance "bump" on the head.

3. Although a few teachers seem to realize the many possibilities of

error, the majority show rather undue confidence in the accuracy of

their judgment.