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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Eleven Plus Variability

Something that has perplexed men and women from time immemorial has to do whether there a sex difference in variability of mental traits between men and women. What we are looking at here is whether a group of eleven plus boys will behave differently to a group of eleven plus girls. In other words are all the members of one sex alike in tastes, interests and abilities?

The two groups may end up with a very similar eleven plus scores. Would one group have a wider range of scores than another? I cannot remember which anatomist from the Meckel family first postulated the theory because the grandfather, the son and the grandsons all followed similar careers and interests. I do recall, however, that Meckel, probably around 1800, thought that the human female was more variable than the human male. His thesis was that `since women is the inferior animal and variability is a sign of inferiority’ his conclusion was justified.

If this was the theory of the grandfather it is a wonder than he went on to have a son – and if it was the son’s idea – how did he, in turn, have sons? The women of the family must have looked with great interest at the men they married – possibly even commented to each other on the variability and inconsequence of their spouses!

The family was, however, looking at the anatomy of adult men and women rather than at ability, common sense and the potential to do well in examinations. The Meckel theories were challenged frequently – but it was not until Pearson came along in 1912 with his account of the measurements of two thousand new born babies that he was able to prove that there was very little variability between the sexes.

It may seem strange to dwell on anatomical data when we are dealing with eleven plus children in examinations. There are vague theories, which surface every now and then, that girls have the potential to do better in some eleven plus examinations than boys. This argument must be rehearsed and expounded in a variety of discussions on the eleven plus – but the premise must remain controversial.

Perhaps we can all call for a longitudinal study of eleven plus children. We need an initial group of around five thousand families. The offspring could all be measured at birth. In time their eleven plus scores could be compared. The final length of the ulna of every participant could be measured at the age of twenty. It would help if the experiment was conducted in an eleven plus area. It would not help much if there was no eleven plus for the children to write! The findings could be published under the title: “A comparison of anatomical and intellectual characteristics in Eleven Plus children”.

It would be a bit sad if, after all this work, there was not much difference between boys and girls in their ability to pass the eleven plus!

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