American kids are not stupid

It is often said that for example Americans are dumb, stupid , and superficial.  Schools here get criticized for the wrong reasons in my opinion—kids failing tests or not getting into colleges, or you’ll hear someone lamenting how, “our kids don’t do Algebra like the Japanese do”.   This is wrong thinking for two reasons.

First , figuring things out, and creative thinking are very much part of intelligence.  America is one of the few countries in which there is some appreciation in middle class society for the arts as a profession. As far as figuring shit out, America by far has more self-made millionaires than anywhere else—some of this is cultural, but nonetheless you can’t be “dumb” and create wealth and success. There’s more to enabling a kid to be smart than memorizing formulas or being able to name random capital cities.

The second way that this is wrong thinking is that it causes kids to be labeled as dumb, stupid, or lacking because of SAT tests, or what college they’re getting into.  This is an area in which I hope that the United States doesn’t become like the rest of the world.  In some countries if you tell your parents that you want to be anything other than a doctor, accountant/corporate manager or something related to computer engineering, it will be a family crisis.  Many African men consider anything that is not a hard science “foo foo” (direct quote).

This is unfortunate, and I hope that the USA doesn’t follow in that direction.  It would be the wrong model. Sir Ken Robinson put it best, and I hope you can spare 20 minutes to listen to him:

Stupidity and Intelligence

No high-profile politician is ‘dumb’, even if often they can say dumb things.

Sarah Palin is not ‘dumb’, nor is GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R).

Former President George Bush wasn’t stupid despite all the ‘dubya’ stuff.  We have to remember being smart is not the same thing as being intellectual i.e. academic intelligence .  While we’re on academic intelligence, I feel it is vastly overrated.  Unless one is a high-level policymaker, or they are in the academia, academic intelligence is not really a requirement.  Note that I said policymaker, not manager.   CEOs, Directors, managers, Presidents, Kings, Ministers, etc do not need AI, they need to know how the world works and how to get things done.

There are other facets to being intelligent—emotional intelligence, social intelligence, financial intelligence, technology intelligence, artistic intelligence, and leadership.

Emotional intelligence is how mature you are, your temperament, and how you handle unexpected situations.  Social intelligence is how effectively you relate with others and the connections you’re able to make.

  • Financial intelligence has two parts to it—first an ability generate and manage money, but also the ability use the finances you already have at this time in a way that removes stress from your life.
  • Technological intelligence is something I don’t’ see talked about often.  It doesn’t mean being a techie or a geek, but basically how comfortable you’re able to familiarize yourself with basics of 21st century realities like touch screens, electronic forms, social media, etc.
  • Artistic intelligence is the ability to create something tangible that evokes a positive emotional reaction in others.
  • Last is leadership, which is somewhat a combination of emotional and social intelligence, but I think it’s a little different in that this involves other skills such as conflict resolution, and being able to sell a vision.  This type of intelligence is a little unique in that you can’t have leadership intelligence if you don’t have emotional and social intelligence. Anybody who will ever be a coach, parent, leader, etc needs some sort of leadership intelligence to be effective.  For me people who have a following by default have some basic, adequate level of leadership intelligence.

In society there is a bias towards academic intelligence, and to devastating effect, peers, and schools fail to cultivate, encourage or recognize the other forms of intelligence—consider the infamous ‘easy’ Communications or History degrees, that are viewed with contempt by many studying Economics or Engineering.  In our society it’s all about where you ranked in your law class, whether you have a Ph. D., what you got on your SAT, your GPA, etc. All that is impressive indeed, nothing wrong with them, but it’s not the only measure of one’s intelligence.

Kim Kardsashian is....brilliant??!?

Nobody who has a large following, who has and keeps a lot of money, or who has considerable influence and credibility in some area can possibly be dumb.  It is not possible. Along with the politicians, I am including entertainers—even rappers like Lil’ Wayne, or pop stars like Lady Gaga, or “socialites” (can we bury that word?) like Kim Kardashian.  All of these three examples are brilliant people IMO. 

Going to school at Harvard means you’re very academic and intellectual, but conventional wisdom wrongly assumes that it also it means that you are automatically smarter than someone else who didn’t go to an elite school—or who didn’t even go to school at all.

Not so.