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.

You CAN Fix Stupid

For the most part, my rather scathing review of “Twilight” received some pretty positive feedback but, as I expected, there were some people who voiced their dissent (and with only one or two exceptions, they did so respectfully and without resorting to name-calling and pettiness).

What concerns me is that many of the people who disagreed with me didn’t seem to disagree because they enjoyed the series – in fact, I actually got some “good job!” comments from people who did like “Twilight” but still found the review funny and, in some regards, accurate. Instead, the basis of their argument was that the novels were just “silly teen fluff” and that they were not supposed to be “intellectually stimulating” (mission accomplished). In one particular comment, the reader stated that some teenagers can’t read well, which somehow explains and excuses the sophomoric vocabulary.

I know it probably sounds like I’m about to launch in to another rant about Meyer’s sub-par work, but actually my focus for this post is the dangerously low expectations we have for the average American teenager.

Yes, I do concede that Meyer’s work was not written for people like you and me, who enjoy a more meaningful, challenging read. Yet the fact that it was written with the typical teenage girl in mind and that it wound up being so appealing to that age group (not to mention older women, many of which also have bookshelves full of Harlequin novels) makes me question just what in the hell we’re teaching these kids.

Of course it’s a good thing that a number of teenagers who previously had no interest in reading were compelled to start adding books to their library, even to start writing stories of their own. And perhaps there’s a good chance that as they grow older, they’ll branch out to different genres and expose themselves to works of a greater quality. After all, I read almost every single one of “The Babysitters Club” books by the time I was ten – but at 28-years-old, I’ve moved on to novels bigger and better than, say, “Sweet Valley High”. (Don’t act like you don’t remember “Sweet Valley High”, bitches. That was some racy shit for a 5th grader. You were titillated, and you know it.)

Reading is wonderful. I encourage reading. I am baffled by people who don’t enjoy reading, but I accept the fact that it’s not for everyone. I fucking despise algebra, and I bet that confuses the hell out of a mathematician. But goddamnit, if you’re going to read then read something worthwhile.

Being 16 is no excuse for being vapid. How many of you were 16 and reading things like Salinger, Fitzgerald, Dickens, O’Henry, Shakespeare, Poe? How many of you didn’t necessarily enjoy the classics but couldn’t seem to get enough Vonnegut, King, Sedaris, or Palahniuk?

Or, if reading wasn’t your thing, how many of you had a passion for physics or chemistry or calculus? How many of you were thrilled by discovering new things, learning new facts, exploring new subjects? How many of you took pride in being smart?

I did. I still do. Yet somewhere down the line, this fucked up society we live in has made us the freaks. We’re the weird ones, the exceptions, the ones destined to be outside of the box looking in. And we’re expected to applaud the majority for doing things that vaguely resemble academic pursuits.

When I was in elementary school, they gave out small trophies to the kids that had straight As in a little end-of-the-year ceremony. By third grade they stopped because they didn’t want to “discourage” the kids who hadn’t earned the trophy. Discourage?! If you want it, then earn it! Don’t punish the kids who do work hard to spare the feelings of those who don’t. And I’m not talking about the kids with learning disabilities, I’m talking about the ones who half-ass their way through all 12 years of school. You’re not encouraging them by refusing to set a bar – you’re reinforcing the idea that no matter how much or how little you work, you’ll get the same recognition.

It’s the same reason I take issue with giving kids money for getting good grades. You’re in school. You’re should be shooting for As and Bs. Now if your kid gets a D in English one semester and hikes it up to a B by the next, then sure – reward him. That’s impressive. But if you’re giving a child five bucks for every C, do you know what you’re really saying?

You’re saying average is okay. I don’t know about you, but every day I wake up with my children knowing god damn good and well they are strides ahead of average. And they’re better than average because I’ve spent the last four years explaining how gravity works, why the moon glows, what words mean, what makes it rain, how plants grow, and answering any question they throw at me. And you can bet your ass I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing the same damn thing because not a day has passed where I’ve ever said to them, “Eh, good enough.” If it’s not your best, it’s not good enough.

Unless we want to doom ourselves to putting up with a generation of self-entitled idiots, we need to stop thinking teenagers are stupid. Do you think books like “Twilight” were around in 1880? Hell no. Do you think your “average” 16-year-old today could read  and comprehend what a 16-year-old then could? Hell no.

The line “they’re just teenagers” needs to be wiped out. They’re not teenagers. They’re future adults. Demand more of them, encourage curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Because if we don’t, it’s only going to get worse.

And if we let that happen, then we’re the stupid ones.