New book recounts story of landmark win for farmworker children
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“The Soledad Children” written by attorneys who fought against IQ test injustice
SOLEDAD, California – Ten-year-old Arturo Velázquez was born and raised in a farm labor camp in the small Salinas Valley town of Soledad. He was bright and gregarious, but he was still learning English when he entered third grade in 1968. A psychologist at Soledad Elementary School gave him a culturally biased IQ test in English only and without translation. Based on the results, he was labeled “retarded” and placed in a class for the “Educable Mentally Retarded.” Arturo joined 12 other children, varying in age from 6-13, in that one classroom. All but one were from farmworker families. All were devastated by the stigma and name calling by other children and by their lack of opportunity to learn.
Brand new at the time was the Lyndon Johnson and Sargent Shriver inspired national legal services program and one of its grantees, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), had evening office hours at the Catholic church in Soledad. In 1969, two Soledad parents had the courage to complain to CRLA staff. The CRLA attorneys knew that the problem was statewide with at least 13,000 farmworker and other second language students sent to dead end classes where they were given coloring books and magazines to cut pictures out of and, if old enough, made to wash school buses. Another generation of over 100,000 was in line to get the same mistreatment. The legal battle to stop the practice and rescue the mostly Mexican-American children ensued. That case was followed closely by a fight to end the use of the same biased IQ tests with African-American students. While African-American and Mexican-American students made up 21.5% of the state population, they were 48% of special education programs.
Written by Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane, the two attorneys who led the charge “The Soledad Children” (Arte Público Press, Sept. 30, 2019) recounts the history of the advent of rural justice through CRLA and the two class-action suit filed in 1970 and 1972, Diana v. the State Board of Education and Larry P v Riles.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“The Soledad Children”
Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane | Sept. 30, 2019 | Arte Publico
Paperback ISBN:978-1-55885-888-6 | Price: $19.95
Non-fiction | Education | Law
“Soledad Children’ is an extremely vital piece of California history, relating the exciting birth of CRLA in 1967 while elaborating the early struggles that gave it purpose and definition. I particularly enjoyed the riveting account of the court battles to rescue thousands of normal Mexican- and African-American kids prejudicially assigned to EMR classers for the retarded. The specter of eugenics still looms.”
~ Famed Mexican-American playwright Luis Valdez (author of “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba”)
“Soledad Children’ is a primer for taking legal action on the socially significant issues that plague our society. It is a great read and highly recommended.”
~ Retired Federal judge and civil rights pioneer, Thelton Henderson
“The story demonstrates the power of our legal system when attorneys are relentless. It was a fight to the finish.”
~ San Jose State professor and educator Maria Luisa Alaniz
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
MARTY GLICK is a litigator with the international firm, Arnold & Porter, and is listed in Best Lawyers in America in Intellectual Property and Patent Law. He worked in Mississippi for the Justice Department in the 1960s and for the California Rural Legal Assistance for eight years. He has been CRLA’s outside counsel for four decades and has been lead counsel on countless pro bono cases. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
MAURICE “MO” JOURDANE is the author of “The Struggle for the Health and Legal Protection of Farm Workers: El Cortito” (Arte Público Press, 2005). His work at California Rural Legal Assistance helped secure farmworkers’ rights during the nation’s civil rights gains of the 1960s and 1970s. He lives and works in San Diego, California.
In an interview, MARTY GLICK can discuss:
* The impact of giving culturally biased IQ tests to tens of thousands of young, enthusiastic and often bright farmworker and other Mexican-American children
* The decade-long fight to change the education system’s approach to educating immigrants and the parallels to the treatment of those of Mexican descent today
* The history and misuse of IQ testing and the nature versus nurture debate
* The importance of lawyers collaborating with community groups to bring lasting change
An Interview with MARTY GLICK
In the late ‘60s, public schools in California were measuring the IQs of children using tests with culturally biased content, which led to students, many of whom were minorities, being placed in special education classes. Why were schools doing this?
Farmworker children and children from low income homes where Spanish was the primary home language as well as intercity minority children lacked pre-school education and came to public schools well behind their peers. This presented problems for resource scarce school districts. Schools should have created individualized programs to help these children but instead, referring these children to special education got them out of the way and earned the districts more money.
The court specifically found in Larry P v Riles that the practice of segregating minority children into classes for “the mentally retarded” was purposeful discrimination against African-American and Mexican-American children.
Furthermore, why did professionals who knew better, like school psychologists, facilitate this practice?
There is no excuse for the failure of school psychologists to halt this practice instead of facilitating it. Too many considered IQ tests holy and believed that minority children were genetically inferior or didn’t want to rock the boat.
What are some of the questions they were asking in those IQ tests, and why were they so problematic?
Why is it better to pay bills with a check instead of by cash? Farmworker families and intercity families often lacked bank accounts. Their children would not have the background to answer a question that would be a piece of cake for those from homes with more income.
What color are rubies? It is self-evident why this question is problematic
Who was Genghis Khan? Children whose parents are high school and college graduates might well know the answer and have over time educated their children. Such a question is hopeless for a Mexican-American farmworker child. A wrong answer tells us nothing whatever about the capacity of that child to learn.
Who wrote “Romeo and Juliet?” Same answer as Genghis Khan
Tell us about your involvement with the California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), and how these issues came to your attention.
I joined CRLA when it began, after working the two previous years in Mississippi on civil rights issues for the United States Department of Justice. Education was a key priority issue identified by legal services client advisory groups nationwide.
The CRLA Education Task Force studied statewide statistics of all kinds and immediately saw the vast overrepresentation of minority children in classes for the “Educable Mentally Retarded.” I checked the literature and found that a Chicano psychologist had written specifically about the practice in Imperial County California schools where we had worked.
Did state officials really argue that Mexican- and African-American students were less intelligent than “white” children?
Yes. Initially the state did not make this argument but later lead state officials, infatuated with pronouncements that IQ test results were infallible, cited IQ test results as proof of inferiority. They did so in written communications and in court testimony.
Does the attack in the ‘20s on immigrants, sterilization of women by the eugenics movement then, the misuse of tests on Mexican-American and African-American children echo in the current anti-immigrant attacks from the administration?
IQ tests in America, developed by Louis Terman at Stanford, were purposefully rooted in anti-immigrant, anti-minority and “anti-foreigner” bias. In the 1920s, Eugenics (the doctrine that certain white groups are genetically superior and breeding should be controlled consequently) was taught in major universities and espoused by prominent Americans as gospel. Animosity at that time was directed against Eastern Europeans, Italians and Jews, all labeled as mentally deficient and undesirable. Culturally biased tests given to these groups at Ellis Island and elsewhere produced low scores and were then used as a basis for severe immigration restrictions except for those from England and Germany.
The same rhetoric today, directed toward Hispanics (“criminals,” “rapists”) and Muslims (“ban all from those countries”) echoes this past. Nothing demonstrates this more than an administration that deliberately – as a lesson to other would be immigrants – separated young children from their parents, lost track of them, put them in holding camps without providing them the basics, and attempts to blame others for the consequences of their own deliberate and calculated acts. It is in part the ingrained attitude that Hispanic children and their parents fleeing from conditions in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are somewhat (or substantially) inferior that allows such misconduct to be conceived and implemented.
Do these issues still arise in classrooms today? What can be done to improve it?
The issues of the best way to provide a public education to low income and second language students is a constant debate and battle. The relatively new California system of funding schools called LCFF requires local parent involvement and devotes special funds based on need and it is an improvement if enforced. The names of separate classes change, but unless practices are monitored, segregation to an inferior education will continue.
Are there valuable and fair IQ and achievement tests that don’t exhibit bias?
Achievement tests, properly designed are very valuable tools as they measure the level a child is in math, English, the sciences, or history, not when purporting to measure what their learning capacity may be. Knowing the level of a child in these subjects is critical to designing a proper program for them. IQ test norming has been much improved and thus bias reduced. But as both Binet and Weschler, the fathers of IQ testing, warned, the notion that they measure some fixed capacity to learn is nonsense, particularly at the low functioning end is nonsense. Modern IQ tests do have a measure of reliability in qualifying students for gifted classes.
How much is intelligence a product of inherited traits as opposed to environmental factors?
No one really knows how to assign an accurate percentage. Studies by Princeton psychologist and educator Professor Leon Kamin suggest that very little is inherited. Philosopher Rene Descartes said it is all inherited. The key point here is that one cannot learn what he or she has not been exposed to and children learn exponentially when given the opportunity. To label a child early based on a test school is criminal.
Why should the government fund lawyers for the poor who then use the money attack elected state officials, state and federal agencies and big companies like major farms and other established companies?
Justice in America depends directly on the ability to defend abuses in court whether those abuses are inflicted by a violent spouse, a big employer who threatens an ICE referral to workers who ask for their pay, or by a Veteran’s Affairs agency that inflicts interminable delays and denials on those who fought for our country. All of these individuals and many like them have no chance for a fair outcome without representation and they all are frequent clients of lawyers for the poor.
How can people get involved to help prevent this from happening again, especially given modern anti-immigrant tensions?
The grassroots remains most important. Parents of children of all ethnicities and background can be involved in their children’s schools. Community based organizations can achieve the power to be heard, to lobby before government agencies, and to demand fair treatment and, although it is hard work that requires consistency, it pays off.