Intelligence: A history

Hutts Strange World

Intelligent assumptions? At the Oxford Union, 1950. From the Picture Post feature, Eternal Oxford. Photo by John Chillingworth/Getty

As I was growing up in England in the latter half of the 20th century, the concept of intelligence loomed large. It was aspired to, debated and – most important of all – measured. At the age of 11, tens of thousands of us all around the country were ushered into desk-lined halls to take an IQ test known as the 11-Plus. The results of those few short hours would determine who would go to grammar school, to be prepared for university and the professions; who was destined for technical school and thence skilled work; and who would head to secondary modern school, to be drilled in the basics then sent out to a life of low-status manual labour.

The idea that intelligence could be quantified, like blood pressure or shoe size…

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