The value of intelligence?

So about 10 seconds ago I said I wasn't going to post anything thoughtful, but it turns out I forgot all about the bread I was making (was I always this way or did giving birth make me more forgetful?) so now I have to stay up another 20 minutes until it's done baking. I'd rather go to bed, but you can't just save bread until the next day. Not when it's already shaped into its attractive baguette-shape with cunning slashes on the top, begging to be put in the oven.

Anyway, Ann Aluru got me thinking about the way we value intelligence in this society. (To see her post about it, click here.) She points out that parents are quick to brag that their kids are smart, but not mention other qualities that might be more important, like generosity, kindness and wisdom. After all, you're stuck with whatever IQ you were born with, so intelligence is more of a gift than a virtue. I've been a graduate student for a long time (please, please don't ask how long), so I am immersed in a culture obsessed with academic achievements. At school, I'm surrounded by people who measure their success with how many conferences they've made presentations at and how many articles they've had published. Performance majors actually have a reputation for not being able to cut it academically like the "real" scholars (musicologists and theorists), so I've worked extra hard to prove myself in that respect. (Not that I've ever been published, but I've turned out some damn good seminar papers.)

Our culture values intelligence in an abstract way, possibly at the expense of other equally important qualities. It's getting harder to get into college, for example. (Hell, pre-school admissions are downright cut-throat these days.) The public school system isn't set up to deal very well with kids who aren't college-bound. It's also a system in which kids who aren't good test-takers are at a huge disadvantage, no matter how smart they actually are. (For more on this, see Jenn's post.) And every time the federal government feels the pressure to stay ahead of China or Russia in the technology industry, they make noise about improving math and science education for young people. (As if those were the only subjects that matter, as if smart people only choose those fields...but I digress.)

And yet, at the same time, our culture celebrates mediocrity. Look at our so-called president. He routinely uses poor grammer ("Is our children learning?"), mispronounces words ("nucular"), explains statements that don't need explaining ("We solve problems-because we're problem-solvers!"), and states the painfully obvious ("The United States and China are separated by a vast ocean.") I believe much of this, at least the "nucular" thing, is intentional. It is done in order to appeal to "regular" people, to make his personality more like the unthreatening good old boy, less like a stodgy, intellectual elitist (you know, like Al Gore or John Kerry).

It's not just the president. Mainstream entertainment is careful not to venerate the overly-educated. Have you seen Mean Girls? The main character in that one sabotages her own math grades to look more attractive to a guy she has a crush on. My only beef with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I'm a big fan otherwise) is how Joss Whedon insisted upon portraying all college professors as stuffy, condescending and out of touch. (But then, he's a college dropout himself, so maybe he's a little bitter...)

How many of us were labelled as nerds? I skipped a grade, still made straight A's AND had a bad perm, so you can guess that my social life was, well, limited. Most smart girls I knew acted dumb to make friends. I didn't act dumb, so I stuck out a little. (I really do think it's harder for girls to be smart. At least, it was in my town in the early 1990s. Maybe things have improved. Maybe that's being way too optimistic.) Did I act like a know-it-all sometimes? Probably. Did I feel like my intelligence was valued? I remember being in 6th or 7th grade and feeling like no one liked me because I was so shy and introverted and didn't wear expensive clothes and my mom tried reassuring me that people appreciated intelligence and that they would come around eventually. I remember wondering how long that would take. I think things eased up in high school somewhat.

You know what, though? Tough cookies. I got picked on for being smart, and it sucked, but it's not like I was the only one who got teased for something. Most kids get picked on for something: smart kids, dumb kids, poor kids, fat kids, short kids, smelly kids, kids who spend all their time playing D&D and watching Star Trek...

I really need to wrap this up. I was hoping this would be a brilliant essay, but it's just turning into me rambling and I've spent too much time on it already. My bread has long since finished baking; actually, it's the next morning and I'm spending valuable baby nap time blogging instead of baking those scones for my friend.

One final comment, though. For all this talk about the value (??) of intelligence and how intelligence is unfairly measured, it's not always the most important thing on a personal level. Think of what we appreciate about our friends. Sure, they might be smart; I certainly consider my friends to be quite intelligent. But that's not what I appreciate most about them. What I value in my friends are the same qualities I want to raise my children to have: generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness, resourcefulness, a sense of humour, and passion for life.

Comments

annalu alulu said…
yay. i know one kid in sixth grade who thought you were the stuff.

i'll post again instead of making a super long comment.

i liked your rambling essay and your happy baby pictures. and i'm sure i'd like your bread.
Jenn Hacker said…
I liked your rambling essay too!
annalu alulu said…
(i'll post anothere comment here, cause you don't have another entry to comment on yet, and i thought of something else i wanted to say)

I wanted to say, thanks for always playing with the stinky girl who wore holey sweatpants (same ones every day) and had knots in her hair (and not in a cool surfer way) and gave you head lice. You got me through middle school. And I still remember how kind your family always was to me, especially your mom letting me stay to eat vegetables i'd never heard of (like asparagus) for supper. I regret taking advantage of her kindness, but i didn't know i was doing it at the time. i'm not so much a leech as i used to be, except that i'm living of daniel's income for now! ha! but ANYWAY, i did always admire how intelligent you were, but mostly i just thought you were a really fun friend!

those are sweet memories for me, the bus stop days, and walking to middle school sometimes.

and i remembered something funny yesterday (i think it was yesterday). do you remember the time you were in the van with me and my mom, and we were driving past garth, and she was reading a marquee or something and drove up on the curb, and that really old man was singing the original "song that never ends" on the radio, "Jesus' love never failed me yet, never failed me yet. One thing I know, Jesus' love, never failed me yet, never failed me yet. ONe thing I know...." (can't you just see him starting to doze off on the 'failed me yet,' then pop back awake wtih a finger in the air, saying, "one thing I know..."! i had a clown character in college who was an old man who sang that song.)

and i remember joe philosophizing about how much better it was to pee than to poop.

poop poop poop! that's a pg 13 word, right?
Jenn Hacker said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Suze said…
oh, the warm fuzzies abound. it's just too much!

ann, first of all, YOU gave me head lice? i thought it was some other anonymous 4-H camper. i HATED 4-H camp, by the way. i will NEVER forget the old man singing "jesus never failed me yet."

jenn, i remember that you played the flute and i idolized you because you were really good. remember how TERRIBLE the band was when we were in high school?

oh, and by the way, let's try and keep my last name out of here. stu advised it in case i get googled by a potential employer someday. i'm not really sure what harm this blog could cause, but he's usually wise about these things, so i'll keep his advice.
Suze said…
this is jenn's comment, sans my last name. maybe i'm just being paranoid. but this is otherwise unedited.

"I didn't really get to know Suze until, like, I was a sophomore and you was a freshman. Yes, we both went to GMS when I was in 8th and you were in 7th, but that was a very VERY bad year for me, so I don't remember much of it. Only person I really remember from then is Ms. Hatton. Anywhoo, you were always lots of fun to me (you too, Ann & Lydia!) I couldn't believe such sweet, fun, "good" girls would have anything to do with me. (Okay, so I was still a little messed up in the head then, too). Anyway, I just want you all to know you had more of an impact on me than I may have let on. So, thanks for not ever giving up on a weirdo like me! And I always thought of you guys as having good brains, but that wasn't the main reason why I hung out with you. The main reason, at first, was because you were there. No, seriously, just kidding. I hung out with you guys because you were fun, and no matter how strange I was sometimes, you still accepted me. You may not have understood me, but you accepted me. And your mommies were very accepting of me, too. I still remember when Joel and I both were in Mrs. G's German I. YOur poor mom, Suze! She had to deal with both of us at once! But then I went to another class, because I was stupid. Anyhoo, love you girls!"
Suze said…
wheee! lots of comments on my blog make me look popular!! oh, except if they're from me. daniel's napping a lot this morning so again i'm wasting this precious time on the 'puter.

anyhoo, i wanted to add that i loved ms. hatton. i actually sent her a copy of my masters recital on CD, though i never heard back from her, so i don't know if she got it. maybe she thought i was being weird and stalker-like. anyway, she was the greatest. i liked how she challenged our class because she knew we could take it. come to think of it, maybe i'll just do a post about teachers when i'm no longer cross-eyed from sitting in front of the computer.
annalu alulu said…
I liked her, too, even though I thought she was mean! She pushed me a lot, and I really appreciate that. And, she let me pass without doing a portfolio. But i know i did write a few pieces. I remember suze won an award for writing that year (with alan r.) mom told me she saw ms. Hatton at some conferences, and that at one conference, she read something i wrote as an example of something. that made me really happy, because i was a terrible student, but she saw some potential in me. i remember at the time she told my mom i was apathetic at a parent/teacher conference. then mom told me what that word meant. i remember thinking, "no i'm not. i just don't know what to do." and then later was diagnosed with add, without the h. but she really challenged me, and usually wouldn't let me get away with half-anything. (except the portfolio thing). I think i had a d-. but i learned so much. i think i had never, ever worked on ANYTHING before that class, and didn't work on anything for years again until college (except for reading to get into ms. moore's class, cause i hadn't been in ap as a freshman, so they made me finish a reading list to show i'd do the work...i did the reading list but didn't do the work in the class, but of course i liked her too...who wouldn't?), and then maybe i worked a little for mrs. what's-her-name who was our senior english teacher. i loved her. she was beautiful. and remember when her husband came and told stories about getting peas stuck in his nose, or something, and she brought lemon poppyseed muffins and hot chocolate? i did do a portfolio that year, the night before it was due (mostly). good teachers. (i had another good teacher who challenged me in elementary school at second street, mrs. davidson, and then she was the art teacher at the school where i did my student teaching! how ironic is that?)
annalu alulu said…
ps--get my own blog, right?

and, i'm pretty sure i gave you the head lice. i had it at hte same time, before you did, and i remember your mom asking me about it, and describing the bugs, and i said, "no, i only have little white things, no bugs" cause i'd never seen the little bugs, just their eggs (isn't this gross?), but i think i knew i had it. then for years i had nightmares about it every time my head itched. by the grace of God, no one ever teased me for having head lice.
Jenn Hacker said…
I didn't know you idolized me, Suze! I just thought everyone thought I was strange and stuck-up. And yes, the band was terrible. I still play the flute, and still enjoy it. I didn't get to play at all when Jamie was a baby, though. He's such a music critic! Everytime I would start to play, he would scream bloody-murder. I'm thinking of joining the orchestra at my church, though.
Jenn Hacker said…
Oh, and Suze. It's been two days! Time to blog, girlie!
Suze said…
yeah, yeah, jenn. :) gotta teach soon, but will try to post later tonight or tomorrow a.m.
Jenn Hacker said…
Okay, you better! Otherwise I'm going to have to leave corny knock knock jokes on here - either that, or I'll leave silly songs!
Jenn Hacker said…
Okay, Suze! It's been THREE DAYS!!!!!!

TIME TO UPDATE!

(yjoveyi)
Becca said…
I adored my LEAP teacher when I was in the third grade. She was Indian (Ghandi, not Sitting Bull) and I wanted to be just like her. I can't tell you how many Wednesday mornings my mom had to explain to me that no, I could not leave the house dressed in a t-shirt, wrapped in a bedsheet, with a lipstick dot on my forehead.
Becca said…
Oh, I forgot--I wanted to say that I'm keeping my last name out of my blog, too. One reason is I took Tom's name, and it's rare. It stems from his grandfather and great-uncle, so if you see someone with the last name, they are related to Tom directly or indirectly. I'm making that choice to keep CJ safe, too--there are so few of us that I don't think there's any overlap of first names.

The second reason is based on what Stu said--I read an article last week that several Fortune 500 companies are employing web researchers to Google prospective hires, and are basing some decisions on blog content. For example, one college graduate wasn't getting any response on his contacts for employment until he removed a satiric essay from his blog on how to lie one's way to the top of the corporate ladder.

Also, my new last name makes it very easy for my employer to track me if they wished, and I'm happy with my job. I make sure not to post anything that could jeopardize that.
Suze said…
becca, we must have had the same LEAP teacher. i loved loved loved her. she works at the public library now and still recognizes me when i come home to see my family!
Becca said…
I'll have to go to the library next time I'm in town! I'm sure it was the same teacher; I wanna say her family was the only Indian family in town at the time.

I was unabashedly in love with her! She was the first teacher I had who let me explore what I wanted to explore, and I remember she dug out an old microscope kit so I could collect puddle water and mount slides and look at it. I think I puzzled her sometimes when I got really excited--remember, I was in school with ADD before anyone had heard of it, and I exasperated a lot of teachers--but I would come up with some off the wall conclusion and she would say, "Rebecca, I do not tink you are tinking dis all the way trough!"

I loved her accent. I can still imitate it perfectly! She was just awesome.

I was telling Jenn the other night, the last time I saw Susan was before she found out she was sick; she was tickled she had lost weight. We saw Galaxy Quest, and I'll never forget her laughter--it was so beautiful when she got really tickled and her eyes would tear up and she would get red-faced and gasp and start all over again! I keep meaning to buy the movie on DVD, but I haven't been able to watch it since seeing it with her. It's a shame since Tom really wants to see it. We tried one night, when it was on cable, but I started crying and he turned it off. He said we'll watch it another time and he'll wait till I'm ready.

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