"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bringing Your No. 2 into the Pew

Nick Lemann documents in the The Big Test Lewis Terman's crackpot notion to retrospectively derive the IQs of famous men, from Leonardo to Lincoln. Never mind that it was, as Lemann kindly puts it, a complete crock: it worked in the media to publicize Terman's new crude instrument for sorting people, the IQ Test.

In a development that makes Santayana's dictum about conditions for repeating the past ever the more prescient, the present-day orgy of tabulation has moved even into religious sanctuaries once more, and test enthusiasts such as Reverend Simms are eagerly measuring their flocks' profiles with assessments sold by religious publishers who are hitching a ride on the testing gravy train:

Greeting churchgoers as an usher or playing hostess at church socials never came easy to Vera Finney.

And after her pastor asked her to sit down with a No. 2 pencil and a multiple-choice questionnaire, the lifelong churchgoer finally figured out why.

"Hospitality" doesn't rank high among Finney's God-given gifts, the 110-question "spiritual gift assessment" revealed. Instead, Finney's responses suggested that God has bestowed on her the gifts of teaching, administration and exhortation.

The test Finney took is just one of a growing variety of assessments, or "spiritual inventories," offered by Christian publishing companies and denominations. Some types of assessments have been available for decades. But local pastors say their widespread availability for free on the Internet and a renewed interest in defining spiritual gifts have prompted them to begin offering the assessments in recent years.

"I believe that your gifts come from God, that he has gifted each and every one of us with something, and this helped me be confident in what my gifts are," said Finney, 54, who now focuses on the choir, teaching Sunday school and administrative work at Nashville's Mount Hopewell Baptist Church, which has been offering the tests for three years.

The tests are similar to personality profiling and assessment tools with roots in modern psychology.

But instead of revealing whether you're a Type A or B personality, the spiritual assessments are intended to reveal specific spiritual gifts described in certain passages of the New Testament, such as "mercy," "apostleship," "prophecy" or "shepherding." . . .

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