Social critiques have linked educational psychology theories and techniques to the political interests of economic groupings such as the middle classes. From this perspective, educational psychology became the ideology of the capitalist status quo. Before discussing this view it is interesting to consider a historical analysis of this socially interested approach. Wooldridge reminds us that psychometrics was opposed from two distinct and opposing social directions. First, from a communitarian and egalitarian standpoint which questioned the very basis of a meritocracy on the grounds that it undermined communities by identifying and promoting individual social mobility so as to form elite groups.
Secondly, from a socially conservative standpoint which favoured the values of social order and the hereditary classes. For the second group, psychometrics was a threat because it supported individual social mobility and the allocation of social positions through a detached technical system.
Once IQ tests became an established part of the process of selection for secondary schools, they are also distrusted by many in the middle classes. When some children from the middle classes failed to get into grammar schools, this engendered doubts amongst parts of the middle classes about the selective system. Yet up to the 1950 the Labour party had a meritocratic wing which considered mental testing as supportive of justice and political change.
For example, during the inter-war period even a socialist political thinker like Twaney could favour the measurement of as a fairier way of allocating educational places than the operation of the class system (Twaney 1922). Twaney was later to revise this views on education, but it will surprise many to learn that someone with this socialist background was for a considerable period supporter of Burt and the psychometric ideal.
Wooldridge uses historical sources to argue that the psychometric movement did not express the interests of a social class (the simple Marxist arguement) as much as the interests of various status groups. He identified these as a scholarship winners from working-class backgrounds, middle -class professionals and the intellectual aristocracy. These groups had their own social interests in the benefits of mental measurment, but the point is that this was not ,in Marxist terms, a simple social class matter. However, there has been another social critique of educational psychologists and their use of psychometrics, already mentioned on chapter 3, which focuses on thier professional interests (for instance, Rose, 1985). It is that psychologists' theories and methods were designed to advance professional interests and enhance control over clients. However, there difficulties with this interpretation. Though professional groups no doubt act in part from professional self-interests the historical evidence, as Wooldridge shows, does not fit this account.
For example, psychometrists, acted against their own material interests by designing and disseminating standardised tests which could be used by non-psychologists. Though some tests are restricted to professional psychologists, even today this does not apply to many tests which are for use by teachers and others. Secondly, the interest in and connections with eugenics at the origins of educational psychology, unacceptable as they are, relate to the community and not to simple professional interests. Thirdly, educational psychologists have had a long-standing interest in identifying children with difficulties and disabilities with a view to providing appropriate education and training. Though some psychologists in both Europe and the USA were hard-lined supporters of eugenic sterilisation programmes, this attitude was not shared by all psychologists.
As I argued in chapter 3, there was a strong tradition of scientific psychology which underpinned progressive social policies. Even Cyril Burt was a keen supporter of social policies to eradicate the effects of social and economic disadvantage on the development of children from working class backgrounds. (Burt, 1937)
Wooldridge also identifies the sources of the more recent trends away from psychometrics and the meritocratic ideal. There were growing technical critisisms of the tests, doubts about their underlying theoritical basis and acounts of their abuses, even amongst psychologists. The very ideal of meritocracy also came under attack. Sociologists, after the second world war, showed how the environment affects ability and achievement. This led to resurgence of interest in enironmentalism, which favoured the forces of social circumstances rather than inherited biological factors. Tests came to be seen as measuring social constructs which reflected the social values of dominant social groups. Poor perfomance in this tests came to be attributed to biasing factors in the social system and not to individual potential. As environmentalism rose with the growth of sociological accounts, so individualist and biologically based thoeries associated with psychology fell.
This spells out more fully the background to the identity crisis in educational psychology described by Sutherland (1988), and with wich we are still dealing. Part of this crisis was evident when practitioner psychologists themselves became critical of psychometrics and the individual focus of psychology, a topic which will be discussed more fully later in this chapter.
The post-Second World war critique of psychometrics and its ideals was also extended by political thinkers from a socialist position to raise doubts about the values of individualist social mobility and the kind of mechanistic and planned society dedicated to production and efficiency.