The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

Elizabeth Baldridge

Name: Elizabeth Baldridge, English Department

Presentation Title: "The Socially Incompetent: Learning Disabilities Defined in Relation to Work"

Date: Feburary 3, 2005


In the early part of the 20th century, a new disability category emerged in connection with the standardization of literate performance and the quantification of intelligence. Later to be labeled learning disability, this category was used to describe those whose `lack' of literate ability and/or intelligence established them as unproductive, a socially incompetent citizenry. One tool used to define this population's relation to work was the Binet-Simon scale. My presentation examines how looking at this moment in learning disability history foregrounds a particular instance of the unquestioned relationship of literate performance to intelligence and, finally, to productive citizenship via work-a relationship that has come to shape the rhetoric of rehabilitation and that has serious implications for Composition, especially its role in maintaining the equation of standardized literate performance with intelligence.