I’m With Stupid

Recently, I made mention that I find it upsetting when I see someone of what I consider to be high intelligence dating someone who is very obviously their intellectual inferior.

Actually, what I said was more along the lines of “why would a perfectly smart person date someone who is a complete fucking idiot?” But whatever, same thing.

A friend of mine observed, correctly, that our own personal standards of intelligence vary greatly across the spectrum; in other words, my assessment of who can be deemed intelligent versus his are probably not the same. For example, my guess is that as far as smarts go, he places more emphasis on knowledge of technology and science whereas I am more concerned with a knowledge of history and literature. That isn’t to say he hasn’t read any classic literature or that I don’t understand fundamental physics, only that when we identify intelligence in other people we are looking, primarily, for different things.

He continued to say that, more so than intelligence, he values common interests when getting to know a prospective mate. Who can disagree there? What’s the point of dating a brilliant mind if you find them to be dull in all other areas of life? If the things that you know, the knowledge you’ve gained on whatever array of topics, are of no interest to the other person does that make either of you stupid? No, probably not. Just incompatible.

But.

Are our interests are dictated by our intelligence? Do we feel drawn toward things based on the way our brains work? Are we hard-wired, as a result of our upbringing and cognitive development, to want to learn more about one thing more than another?

Or is our intelligence dictated by our interests? Will our personalities, not our smarts, compel us toward certain activities and subjects and then, as a result, we choose to learn more about them?

And really, is there actually any such thing as a stupid person? Especially when it seems that, in either of the above scenarios, we are largely influenced as children what to be curious or interested in, by our environment and familial structure. Would we care about sports if our fathers didn’t? Would we be avid readers if our mothers weren’t? Would we have chosen for ourselves to begin piano lessons at seven?

I’ve given it thought and have concluded that yes, there are absofuckinglutely still stupid people in the world. And here’s why.

Regardless of whether intelligence influences interests or the other way around, regardless of whether your dad bought you a baseball glove or your mother read you “The Hobbit” as a child, you are ultimately a free-thinking, free-willed individual, capable of exploring and questioning and challenging the world around you. You may do so in any way you see fit, should you have the mind and the willpower. Everyone, every last one of us has the potential to be a goddamned genius. I mean, like, a real brilliant motherfucker.

So why aren’t we?

Because the thing that defines an intelligent person is not how much they know or what they know it about. It is not their college degrees or their large vocabulary. It does not mean they make six figures a year and read the Wall Street Journal, and it is not measured by honors and awards.

Intelligent people are the people who have an insatiable desire to know all the things. They never will, and they know that too, but they’ll be damned if they’re going to stop trying.

Intelligent people want to keep learning. They don’t just stop when they’re satisfied because they are never satisfied. They don’t stop because they found something did not interest them when they went to learn more about it – they just move on to the next thing.

Intelligent people Google “where does the word flapjack come from?”. They stay up an hour longer to watch a documentary on Alfred Hitchcock, because why the fuck not? When they have a question they ask it, and when they disagree they say so. When they are proven wrong, they admit it.

Stupid people do not care to know things outside of their comfort zone. They will not venture outside of their genre, and they will listen half-heartedly, almost dismissively, when people mention things that bore them.

Stupid people Google things like “who is Justin Bieber dating?” They have read Stephanie Meyers but do not know who Anne Rice is, because who the fuck cares? They do not ask questions other than the obligatory polite ones, and when they disagree they are often stubborn and caustic. When they are proven wrong, they become more angry.

Well then! That solves that, yes?

 

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Watch the World Learn

I’ve had this discussion with fellow parents before but have never actually put it in to writing. I was inspired to do so by a comment on my blog by ceruleanstarshine, who it seems has the same views as I do when it comes to children, vocabulary, and education.

To begin, let me just say that I hate baby talk. I have never used it with my girls, I have never used it with other children. Any time someone has used it with my children, or has spoken to them with that sort of dumb-downed language that one might use with a puppy, I have politely requested that they stop it and that they speak to them as they would any adult. Clearly, some topics are off-limits – we don’t discuss sex, or politics, and because I am an atheist, I try to avoid religion entirely. I have no interest in shattering their belief in fairy tales or wrecking their innocence by telling them there’s no Santa Claus. But, in most regards, the verbal exchanges with my 4-year-olds differ little from those I have with a 40-year-old.

It irks me to no end when someone points out that my child “doesn’t know what a word means.” Of course a preschooler doesn’t know the meaning of the word monotonous, or audacity, or pragmatic? Any guesses as to how they’d find out?

That’s right – you tell them. The four-year-old is an inquisitive creature; the strongest word in their arsenal is why, followed closely by what. As in, “What is monotonous?”; “What is audacity?”; “What is pragmatic?”. How difficult is it to give them a simple, articulate definition and then solidify the meaning by using the word in a proper context:

“Asking me if you can have a piece of candy ten times a day gets very monotonous.”

“You have a great deal of audacity, suggesting that I go to the bank and tell them to give me money to buy you candy.”

“It would not be very pragmatic for the bank to give out loans solely so that I can stock up on candy.”

The biggest mistake a parent can make is to speak to their child with the same vocabulary that the child uses. It limits them. Is your kid stupid? Of course not. There is no such thing as a stupid child; every child has the capacity to be a goddamned genius. So why would you talk to them as if they are anything less than brilliant? I’m not claiming to raise tiny little prodigies, but I’ve got a better shot at raising future Harvard grads simply because I do not assume that my girls are not smart enough to understand or curious enough to ask about that which they do not understand.

If your first grader is reading at a first grade reading level that is not, as far as I’m concerned, something to be proud of. You should want them to be ahead of the curve rather than fall in line with it, to exceed expectations instead of just meeting them.

Before my children turned four, they knew what gravity was. They can name the closest star to Earth, and they know that the sun is actually a star. They know the nearest galaxy is Andromeda and that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy. They know what a black hole does, that there is one in the center of the Milky Way, and that they are formed when a star goes supernova. They know all this because Kyle and I were watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” and they happened to walk in the room. They asked us questions. And, rather than assume that physics was too far beyond the scope of their intellect, we answered them in a way that was both easy to comprehend and inspired them to ask us more.

So if you are the type of person who looks at people like me weird when I use polysyllabic words around my children, when I correct their grammar, or when I explain abstract concepts to them, I feel bad for you. But mostly, I feel bad that you don’t have the faith or confidence in your own offspring’s ability to learn. After all, school can only teach them so much – it’s up to you to fill in the gaps.