Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's Okay To Be Smart!

On long journeys, my kids like to play something they call "The History Game", where we ask each other questions from history - could be dinosaurs or the Civil War - and it's always a fun conversation. So at a museum gift shop last week I bought a box of History Quiz cards for each of the fifty U.S. states. I thought it would be fun to introduce some facts that maybe none of us know. It probably speaks to the fact that I came out of a schooled environment that I didn't even notice the slogan across the top of the box said in bold letters "It's Okay to Be Smart!" It was my kids who asked me what the heck that was supposed to mean. They were baffled. Of course it's okay to be smart, isn't it? Why would someone state that?

It's sometimes difficult to explain to them the mindset that comes out of schooling. The competitiveness, set up by grading and calling on students for answers that pervades everything. By the end of the first week of any class, everyone knows who the "smart kids" are. It's even harder to explain the need for those kids to not want to stand out from the crowd, to try and dumb themselves down a bit just to fit in better and not get picked on as much. Who wants to be the "know-it-all", "nerd", or "geek" when you could be "cool" or "popular" instead? This also comes up when we watch mainstream movies. If the movie has kids in it, there's almost always a scene of some sort of teasing or bullying at school. We just watched the wonderful "Bridge to Terabithia" which we all loved. But when I was a kid reading the book I don't even remember the scenes of the bully at school, yet to my kids they really stand out, and seem strange. It's not a part of their universe and never has been, so they don't understand why people always act that way in movies and books. Yet it's so endemic in our culture that I don't think most people even notice how pervasive it is. Like the slogan on the box of history cards, which didn't even register with me. I've ceased to notice how absurd such statements really are. Thank heavens my kids haven't!

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