Wednesday, December 2, 2015

On Being School-Smart

When I was in school I remember it being very much understood -- I can't remember if it was even stated outright, or just implied so strongly that there was no need -- that doing well in school meant that you were smart, and doing less well in school meant that you were... less smart. It was a given.

I did well enough in school, even took a honors class or two, and got decent grades. But many of my friends were better at school than I was-- they had higher GPAs, they got near-perfect scores on their SATs. They were clearly Smarter Than Me. Which didn't bother me much, I just kind of accepted it... and part of that acceptance was trusting my own thoughts and opinions less, and assuming that these other, smarter people knew better than me and thus I should trust their assessments of things more than my own. This is something I'm still working on reversing now, decades later.

And I don't know if it's come up more lately or I'm just noticing it, but in the past few weeks I've been met with several reminders of how there really are very different ways to be smart or intelligent, and possessing one does not mean you possess them all. Moments where I realized I grasped a concept more thoroughly, or noticed something that another missed, or helping a friend who is by all means incredibly intelligent and capable but needs assistance in particular matters. I'm being extremely vague kind of on purpose, as I don't want this to be about putting anyone else down, just a reminder that there are many ways to be intelligent. Which seems like an obvious thing to say, but I feel like this is one of those things that collectively we "know" it in an abstract way, but don't REALLY believe it most of the time, or in most instances anyway.

I mean, if we really believed it, we wouldn't equate doing well in school with the One True Path to becoming successful.

I want to read more on Howard Gardner's theories of multiple intelligences, as that's part of what I'm touching on here. But I suppose the other part of this that's also on my mind is thinking about how easily and thoroughly I accepted this idea that I wasn't as intelligent (and thus my opinions and thoughts as valid or sophisticated) as other people simply because they were better at Doing School or Taking Tests than I was. How that has stayed with me, long past the time when we were in school. How hard it can be, even now, to break away from those imaginary constraints. And, looking forward, how I don't want my children to fall prey to the same sort of thinking, to evaluate their whole worth based on this one metric that we have somehow as a society decided matters more than almost all others.