In May 2002 an article titled ‘My child’s IQ is bigger than yours’, written by Carol Sarler, was published in the newspaper ‘The Observer’. The article expresses a harsh critique of the IQ measurement in general, especially the problems concerning measuring children’s IQ, and the newly snobbery behind this tendency. ‘The Observer’ is a major British newspaper, published on Sundays. As its sister newspaper ‘The Guardian’ it is known for its left-of-centre political stance. The newspaper’s readership is generally on the mainstream left of British political opinion, which is represented by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.
The article is a reaction to the BBC television programme called ‘Test the Nation’, which appeared on television the night before the article was published. The author of the article, Carol Sarler’s, opinion on the idea of testing our IQ is unequivocally presented in the subtitle of the article: “The parents who see their bright offspring as status symbols really do need their heads examined.” She thinks that it is absolutely wrong to measure intelligence – especially children’s intelligence. Because of the article’s subjective point of view, it is a feature article. In this article Carol Sarler shares her opinion on the topic by using a sarcastic, and slightly sophisticated, language. The purpose is to make the reader laugh and at the same time get disgusted by the image she gives of parents being pathetic. Throughout the article Carol Sarler balances between the laughable and the serious aspect of the topic, she addresses in the article.
While the title and subtitle of the article is rather humoristic, the article’s opening story about a highly intelligent young man, who committed suicide, is deeply tragic. In this connexion it is important to note that this article is written in extension of the author’s earlier article about this specifically intelligent young man, who committed suicide only two days after she published her interview with him. Carol Sarler obviously felt sorry for the young man and somewhat guilty about the suicide and therefore wishes to make her opinion on IQ-measuring clear. This story makes the reader interested in reading the full article, to find out how an IQ rating scale can cause so much damage. By using this kind of story, Carol Sarler uses the mode of persuasion called pathos, as she appeals to the reader’s emotions.
The article is, as mentioned, a response to the nationally broadcasted BCC programme ‘Test the Nation’. Carol Sarler compares the purpose of the national published programme with grotesque experiments in the 1950s and 1960s. Though the actual purpose between the two is not same, she nevertheless compares them, because she basically think it is wrong to measure intelligence in any way. The article shortly implicates one of the specialists involved in ‘Test the Nation’, Dr Colin Cooper, in the discussion. But Carol Sarler’s sarcastic language tears his defence of the ‘Test the Nation’ to pieces. At the same occasion she claims that IQ is becoming the new snobbery, a tendency she has lately observed in the United States. She hereby directs the reader’s attention towards her main focus in the debate about testing intelligence – parents testing their children’s intelligence. Her argument is that middle-class parents are encouraged to measure the intelligence of their children because it is becoming a social status symbol similar to a classy zip code.
The article’s title clearly makes fun of the type of parents, she describes. The illustration, which is also a part of the article, really gives the reader a picture of what Carol Sarler thinks of the parents, who exposes their clever children as if they were something material. Her concern is that this new tendency harms the children, who are tested and labelled abnormally bright at a very young age. The children with high IQ’s are pressured with high expectations and pushed into private schools, which according to Carol Sarler is harmful for their social and personal abilities. As backing for her argumentation, Carol Sarler refers to the story about another young boy aged 14 with an incredibly high IQ, who according to her has very little success with his personal relationships because he is, frankly, odd. She ties this story together with the story about the young man, who committed suicide by using the same phrases, and suggesting that he too could end up with a lousy job in a bingo hall.
By using these two stories Carol Sarler also uses the mode of persuasion called ethos. She establishes an image of herself as being experienced and reliable by using experiences from her own personal and professional life an author. Furthermore she implicates historic events and names, such as old experiments and Archimedes, to demonstrate her general knowledge and her knowledge in proportion to the topic. Her language is also sophisticated, and the vocabulary is slightly difficult, which also gains ethos as an author, since it makes her appear more intelligent and reliable.
This is especially evident in the passage where she comments on the methods used in the BBC television programme ‘Test the Nation’: “The objections were two-fold, the lesser of them being a disbelief that intelligence actually can be measured: in spite of the programme makers’ hefty reference in advance publicity to the scientific validation of their methodology, their claim that the questions were nothing to do with general knowledge was simply untrue.” The language in the article contains many British idioms, e.g. “premier cheese” and “wheeled out”.
The main function of this rhetorical feature is to gain both pathos and ethos as an author, and give this a humoristic twist by mixing it with typical British sarcastic humour. Carol Sarler uses the humoristic content in the article as a part of her rhetorical appeal. The purpose is to entertain the reader, make the article more readable, and demean her opponent’s opinions, as she does when she implicates Dr Colin Cooper in the debate.
To sum up Carol Sarler uses a number of rhetorical features in order to support her argumentation, and thereby convince the reader that measuring and testing children’s IQ is not right, and that parents’ motive for measuring children’s IQ is pathetic and damaging to the children’s personal life and social abilities. In order to do this, Carol Sarler’s article is both effective and successful. In spite of this, the readers must be likely to ask the question: isn’t there anything positive about IQ-measuring? What about children, whose highly intelligent brain is not stimulated in school? Is it wrong to prescribe extra lessons for these children, who are bored in school? It is wrong to use your child’s IQ as a social status symbol, but it must be possible to make certain reservations when you raise a child with an exceptional high IQ, without harming the child’s personal life and social abilities.