Pseudo-scientific intellectual theories of the African child during the 20th century

  • Andrew Lewis University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Keywords: Intellectual theories, Mental testing, Pseudo-science, Racism, African child


With the ascent of the National Party to power in South Africa in 1948, education reflected apartheid thinking and practices and implemented the ideology of separate development in educational institutions. Pronouncements of the African child’s inferiority were reflected in government policy and legislation. The origins of this thinking and practice however can be traced to prevalent and pervasive existing racist pseudo-scientific theories where the African child was categorised and seen as intellectually inferior. Pseudo-scientific theories on the human intellect had become part of the thinking and practice of racial superiority thinking and practices propagated especially during the first part of the 20th century. These assertions rationalised social, political and ideological arrangements of segregation at the time and formed part of the contextual mind-set in South Africa. Yet even today where a democratic and inclusive society, in which the development and recognition of the whole child is advocated, racist thinking and practices still emerge, especially in education. The aim of this paper is to examine some of these pseudo-scientific theories on the intellect of the African child from a historical-educational perspective, their reflection in educational policy documents and practices and diverse perceptions thereof. Some thoughts on the way forward for education practice, based on this discussion are also presented.


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