Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I have a pet peeve, which came up again recently, and I feel the need to do a little venting. I hope you will bear with me.

I am sick and tired of having people describe someone as brilliant, just because they made straight A's in school. There is school smarts, and there is intelligence, but the gulf between them is as wide as an ocean. Some people just have a knack for memorizing facts, figures and formulas. They are also good at vomiting it all back up on a test. As long as they are well-behaved, they will always do well in school. That's how the system works. Does that make them geniuses? I think not. My daughter has always had to struggle with spelling. She can spell anything that is phonetically sound, but has trouble memorizing the millions of oddballs that break the rules. Her brain just isn't wired that way. My son made it to the district spelling bee without ever cracking open the book they gave him to study. If he has ever seen a word in print, he can usually remember how to spell it. Did we tell him he was a genius for having this "knack"? No, we told him he was lucky. But luck will only take you so far, unless it is combined with hard work.

There are plenty of people who make straight A's, but who never read anything more taxing than a romance novel, never question anything fed to them by authority figures, never do anything to stretch or improve their minds, and never do anything to help others or to make the world a better place. On the other hand, I know people who struggled in school for one reason or another, but who amaze me constantly with their thoughtful insights, ideas, and solutions - people who overcame learning disablities by developing creative ways to compensate for them. As I understand it, Albert Einstein did very poorly in school, because he questioned everything, making his teachers very uncomfortable and disrupting class. Was that very smart on his part? Probably not. Was it intelligent? Without a doubt.

So, in my humble opinion, being "brilliant' is a lot like playing a game of poker. You look at the cards life has dealt you, you figure out how to make the most of your assets, and to work around your deficits, then you play your hand to the best of your ability.


Christopher said...

I couldn't agree more. At Villanova, I saw countless smart kids (stupid kids don't go to university, you know) piss away their futures because they were more interested in getting blitzed on weekends than they were in applying their considerable intellect towards something worthwhile. Many of these kids, no doubt, were straight-A students at private schools, come from good families and good homes, destined for greatness.

And you know what that amounts to? A hill of beans, that's what. Hard work trumps smarts every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Smart, hard workers, though? They make some of the best role models.

That's what keeps me in manufacturing. I get to work with some of the smartest people on the planet who never went to college. And it's not because they aren't smart enough, dammit (and I want to sock every young engineer who even so much as suggests as much). There's a lot of genius out there, far from anything that could even remotely be considered academia. All it takes is a little respect to find it.

The ramifications of the "straight-A"/white collar society are just now being felt. Looking back, I was always told to get good grades and go to college. Then some day I could be a banker, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or an engineer. My upbringing is not unique in that regard; countless millions were told the same thing! (To be clear: I do not regret my upbringing in the least.) That worked out fine for me, but it's not for everyone. We've eroded our hands-on workforce, proudly sloughed off the blue collar, because we've raised entire generations to think that white collar work is where it's at. Lot of good that did us. Good thing we made it attractive for companies to take their manufacturing to China and developing countries. How's that whole Wall St. thing working out, anyway?

That's what I thought.

Sorry for the rant. I think we share this peeve. =)

Linda said...

I certainly agree with what you've written in this post. It's always hard for me to explain intelligence, intellect, and curosity to people.

I'm a native Texan. The Texas Hill County is my dear love. I always thought I'd like to live there.

We left Texas five years ago when I retired. I could no longer take the heat, politics and religion.

I would like to know more about your life in the Hill Country. What town is nearest to you? I'd love to find some Hill Country blogs to read.

Joanna Jenkins said...

I am so with you on this one! Grades in school drive me nuts. The "academic achievement testing" really pushes me over the edge. Kids are expected to all learn the same and get good grades in every subject. When does that ever happen in life-- at any age! Yes, "book smarts" are important to a certain level, but "life smarts" are what help you make it in the real world.