The Soledad Children: The Fight to End Discriminatory IQ Tests
New book recounts story of landmark win for farmworker children
“The Soledad Children” written by attorneys who fought against IQ test injustice.
SOLEDAD, California – Ten-year-old Arturo Velázquez was born and raised in a farm labor camp in the small Salinas Valley town of Soledad.
He was bright and gregarious, but he was still learning English when he entered third grade in 1968. A psychologist at Soledad Elementary School gave him a culturally biased IQ test in English only and without translation. Based on the results, he was labeled “retarded” and placed in a class for the “Educable Mentally Retarded.” Arturo joined 12 other children, varying in age from 6-13, in that one classroom. All but one were from farmworker families. All were devastated by the stigma and name calling by other children and by their lack of opportunity to learn.
Brand new at the time was the Lyndon Johnson and Sargent Shriver inspired national legal services program and one of its grantees, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), had evening office hours at the Catholic church in Soledad. In 1969, two Soledad parents had the courage to complain to CRLA staff. The CRLA attorneys knew that the problem was statewide with at least 13,000 farmworker and other second language students sent to dead end classes where they were given coloring books and magazines to cut pictures out of and, if old enough, made to wash school buses. Another generation of over 100,000 was in line to get the same mistreatment. The legal battle to stop the practice and rescue the mostly Mexican-American children ensued. That case was followed closely by a fight to end the use of the same biased IQ tests with African-American students. While African-American and Mexican-American students made up 21.5% of the state population, they were 48% of special education programs.
Written by Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane, the two attorneys who led the charge, “The Soledad Children” (Arte Público Press, Sept. 30, 2019) recounts the history of the advent of rural justice through CRLA and the two class-action suits filed in 1970 and 1972, Diana v. the State Board of Education and Larry P v. Riles.
Publication Date 11/30/2019 by Arte Publico Press.
“Soledad Children is an extremely vital piece of California history, relating the exciting birth of CRLA in 1967 while elaborating the early struggles that gave it purpose and definition. I particularly enjoyed the riveting account of the court battles to rescue thousands of normal Mexican and African-American kids prejudicially assigned to EMR classers for the retarded. The specter of eugenics still looms.” Famed Mexican-American playwright Luis Valdez (author of Zoot Suit and La Bamba).
“The Soledad Children” is a primer for taking legal action on the socially significant issues that plague our society. It is a great read and highly recommended. Retired Federal judge and civil rights pioneer, Thelton Henderson.
“The story demonstrates the power of our legal system when attorneys are relentless. It was a fight to the finish.” San Jose State professor and educator Maria Luisa Alaniz.
About the Authors
MARTY GLICK is a litigator with the international firm, Arnold & Porter, and is listed in Best Lawyers in America in Intellectual Property and Patent Law. He worked in Mississippi for the Justice Department in the 1960s and for the California Rural Legal Assistance for eight years. He has been CRLA’s outside counsel for four decades and has been lead counsel on countless pro bono cases and has served on the board of Public Advocates since 1993. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
MAURICE “MO” JOURDANE is the author of “The Struggle for the Health and Legal Protection of Farm Workers: El Cortito” (Arte Público Press, 2005). His work at California Rural Legal Assistance helped secure farmworkers’ rights during the nation’s civil rights gains of the 1960s and 1970s. He lives and works in San Diego, California.
Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite
The Soledad Children: The Fight to End Discriminatory IQ Tests by Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane is a well-researched, historical non-fiction book that serves as a powerful indictment of a form of racial discrimination suffered by Mexican immigrants. Born and raised in a labor camp farm in Soledad, California, ten-year-old Arturo Velazquez is in third grade when he is given an English-based IQ test and placed in a class for Educable Mentally Retarded (EMR). It is 1968 and Arturo's is just one of many cases; most of the children in the room are Spanish-speaking. The Soledad Children tells the story of the class-action suit filed in 1970, Diana v. the State Board of Education, a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of Hispanic kids already placed in EMR.
This book records a history of discrimination and racism in a way that is poignant and compelling. The authors take readers through the legal action and provide insights and factual events that are psychologically disturbing. From the very beginning, the reader gets a small glimpse of the anguish of children placed in EMR when Arturo asks Maria why they are in a special class. The answer is a painful one. While this is a non-fiction book, it is well crafted and I enjoyed how the authors explored the psychological and emotional part of the characters. The writing is bold and confident, punctuated by relevant themes such as family, educational discrimination, the quest for justice and others. This book contains a message that contemporary American citizens should read. A deftly written story that will, most certainly, instruct our contemporaries.
THE SOLEDAD CHILDREN
The Fight to End Discriminatory IQ Tests
Maurice Jourdane and Marty Glick
Arte Publico Pr (232 pp.)
ISBN: 978-1-55885-888-6; September 30, 2019
Debut author Glick and Jourdane (The Struggle for the Health and Legal Protection of Farm Workers, 2015, etc.) recount their crusade to prevent language-based discrimination in California's public schools.
In a prologue, the authors introduce readers to Arturo Velazquez, a boy from Soledad, California, who first entered school at age 10 in 1968. As the child of migrant farmworkers from Mexico, Arturo spoke no English, and his teachers spoke no Spanish: "Arturo had never learned grammar or spelling, not even in Spanish....He never raised his hand nor spoke up, even when he thought he knew the answer to a question. His teacher simply ignored him, as well as the other children of Mexican American farmworkers." Due to the use of English-language IQ tests, Arturo and many other children in similar situations were classified as "Educable Mentally Retarded" and placed in special classes where they were denied learning opportunities that the rest of the student body received. The policy disproportionately affected black and brown students and created a permanent underclass in the California school system that activists like Glick and Jourdane worked hard to help. This book is an account of that struggle, profiling the students, parents, teachers, and lawyers who challenged the unjust status quo. The narrative culminates in two landmark cases—Diana v. State Board of Education and Larry P. v. Riles—that changed education in America forever. Glick and Jourdane write in a clear, measured prose style, enlivening scenes with dialogue, as when psychologist Victor Ramirez of California's Grossmont Union High School District says, "If you tell a little girl she's mentally retarded...and treat her as retarded, the young lady will view herself and present as one of lower than normal capacity." The issues at stake are so fundamental and affecting that the authors easily maintain a sense of narrative momentum, and some of the specifics will have readers seething. Overall, this book is an engaging account of a watershed moment in Chicano—and
A well-told and little-known story of education reform.
Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC, 2600 Via Fortuna Suite 130 Austin, TX 78746
Issue: September 1, 2019
The Soledad Children: The Fight to End Discriminatory IQ Tests.
By Marty Glick and Maurice Jourdane
Sept. 2019.211p. Arte Publico, paper, $19.95 (9781558858886). 305.8
During the 1960s, California public schools used English-language, culturally biased IQ tests to determine placements for students. This resulted in over 100,000 non-native English speakers and other minority students being routed into special education tracks. These students represented less than 22% of the total student population, but made up 48% of the special education program. This engaging account by two lawyers who championed equal educational rights talks of ingrained prejudices throughout the California educational system, the decade-long political and legislative wrangling waged by California Rural Legal Assistance, and multiple court cases that led to lasting positive change (the Soledad children were the plaintiffs in a ground-breaking class-action suit). The accessible text relates conversations with principal players, including students who were erroneously labeled "EMR" (Educable Mentally Retarded). Concluding chapters revisit these kids to see how they've fared as adults—with mixed results. The authors' final message warns that protecting equitable education remains a challenge, and that there needs to be ongoing vigilance to ensure this basic right for all children.
January 16, 2020
The Soledad Children
How a group of families in the Salinas Valley improved the educational system for all Mexican Americans in California and beyond
By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
The road to quality public education for all children is paved with lawsuits.
Beginning with the famed Brown v. Board of Education (which decreed in 1954 that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal) until the recently filed Ella T. v. State of California (in which plaintiffs argue California is violating children’s constitutional right to literacy by failing to provide adequate instruction to all students), most educational gains for low-income, handicapped and minority students have been achieved through the courts.
One of said cases, the landmark Diana v. California Board of Education, was fought in our own backyard. While the Diana case is well known in special education circles throughout the country, what’s not as well known is that Diana and the other eight children who signed on for the fight were from Soledad. Their case, among many other Mexican-American landmark battles of the 1970s, was fought on their behalf by the fledgling California Rural Legal Assistance, just as the organization itself battled for its existence.
These intertwined stories are chronicled in “The Soledad Children: The Fight to End Discriminatory IQ Tests” (Arte Publico Press, 2019), a new book by Marty Glick and Maurice “Mo” Jourdane, two attorneys who worked for CRLA in the early days of the organization and led the Diana fight.
n 1969, Glick and Jourdane took on the case on behalf of Arturo Velásquez, Diana, María, Manuel, Rachel, Ramón, Armando, Margarita and Ernesto, migrant children of diverse ages kept in the same classroom all day long, coloring, cutting out pictures and occupying themselves with other activities the children described as “baby stuff.” The children had complained to each other: “Why are we in this place instead of a real school?” Arturo asked Maria. “This is the room for kids they think are dummies. They never give us anything to do but baby stuff. I hate it,” she responded.
The children complained to their parents but their parents, Spanish-speaking migrant workers, didn’t know what to do. And none of them realized the children were among 13,000 Mexican American students wrongfully placed in California’s “Educable Mentally Retarded” classes after given an IQ test in English — a language they barely understood, not just linguistically, but culturally.
The book begins with the birth of California Rural Legal Assistance — a product of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — and some of its major battles, most of them against major growers who opposed the unionization of the agricultural labor force. Glick and Jourdane also describe the history of IQ tests, a product of animated debates over whether intelligence is inherited or can be acquired. The description is brief, barely over four pages long, but it serves as a building block, a step in a staircase of well-documented steps and landings.
And then the book dives headlong into the Diana case, a tortuous, years-long process that was resisted by school districts throughout California and the state Department of Education itself. It was a battle that enlisted the help of the California Association of Chicano Psychologists, which was also challenging the indiscriminate misuse of IQ tests to place Mexican American students in special education classes.
It’s a quick, straightforward read of very important historic events that continue to resonate these days, particularly in the current environment. It’s a reminder that the social, economic and political gains of Mexican Americans, African Americans and every other hyphenated group in this country had to be wrested away from the claws of an established system unwilling to concede an inch of power.
The story will be particularly inspiring for Central Coast readers, as it’s always uplifting to get to know your own history. In the grand scheme of things, this is a recent, local triumph of far-reaching national implications in the educational arena. And there are many, many more like this that need to be documented, publicized and celebrated to remind us of how far we’ve come and inspire us for the road ahead.