Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thoughts on a Blustery Night

What makes you think people are smart? Adults, I mean – not kids, who are still in process, as it were. I’ve been trying to work this out, and I think the most important characteristic you can have that shouts out “smart” far and wide is intellectual curiosity. It’s not if you were a National Merit Finalist back in high school, it’s not that you went to Harvard for undergrad, or that you had a 4.0 coming out of law school. All in all, “smart” means that you are terminally curious about how things work and how to make things happen. Mind you, the 4.0 GPA, etc, can indicate that you were and are intellectually interested in life, or it can indicate that you were capable of absorbing exactly as much knowledge as was needed and then regurgitating it on test day for an A. We all know people who had great grades and were brilliant, and we all know the other kind of character as well. But that tells the whole story: credentials can’t tell you if someone if truly smart or not.

What does all of this say about our goals as parents? How do we educate our children to keep them as curious as they are at six, while also helping them gain the ability to check the boxes the world will want them to check to get ahead? How can we impress on them that the former and not the latter is what makes them who they truly are and what will always define true intelligence?

A few nights ago Husband showed the boys a fantastic video on the educational system. One and Husband watched it through several times and then began to discuss what was right and what was wrong in its assumptions. Two? There were no discussions for Two. He’d watched the real time, super-fast animation in the video and was captivated. Without saying a word he ran for the playroom, where I found him 45 minutes later, writing out his own real-time cartoon scripts and telling a story as he went along. The point? Each of them has a unique way of seeing the world and a unique way of engaging with it. As parents we need to strive above all else to keep that intact: upon being presented with an interesting hypothesis at forty years old, One needs to still want to engage in debate and discussion, and at the sight of an interesting and new style of art, forty year old Two needs to want to run off and try it out for himself. At the same time the two of them need to – sooner rather than later, I hope – master test-taking, following directions, collaborating with classmates (and later colleagues), working long after they’d like to be in bed, and all the other skills it takes to be successful in life. But we can’t let the creativity, curiosity and individuality be snuffed out in the rush to gain those skills. Because in the end, wanting to know how things work and how to make things happen – the critical skills for solving problems – are what will matter most of all.

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