The Faithful Scribbler

A Catholic Mother In A Secular World

Why Do We Value “Smart” So Much?!

on June 8, 2010

I am a college graduate.  I hold a Bachelor’s of Arts from Binghamton University in History.  My husband is a graduate of the same university.  My dad and mom both hold degrees in ceramic engineering from Alfred University and Rutger’s respectively.  I believe in the value of education.  I really, REALLY do.

That being said, why in the world do we as a society put so much emphasis on children being “smart”?

Little Scribbler attends a language immersion ‘school’ on Tuesday mornings.  Her class is comprised of 7 children who all have speech and language problems.   Some of these children are autistic.  One of them was a shaken baby.  Some of them have undiagnosed special education needs.  While the children are in the ‘classroom’, the parents have a group discussion, which is facilitated by a social worker.  Sometimes this functions as a support group, sometimes it functions as a discussion forum, and occasionally, like today, the group falls victim to comparing and contrasting each others values and ways of life.

Today’s conversation about preschool and the CPSE process quickly degenerated into why choosing the best, academically based, preschool curriculum was PARAMOUNT to ensuring academic success in middle and high school.  (If you know me at all, you will realize that last sentence was positively OOZING with sarcasm).


Yup.  Seriously.  These parents honestly believe that an academic preschool program will, and this is a quote here, “make their kids smarter when they reach middle school”.

I have never heard anything so positively preposterous in my entire life!  Make your kid smarter?  Smarter than WHAT exactly?  Smarter than he was when he was born?  Smarter than the kid next door?  Smarter than his cousin Jimmy who lacked such a preschool education and is thus doomed to work an HOURLY pay job for the rest of his life?

And while we’re on the subject of, again a direct quote, “menial labor jobs”, what is so WRONG with these jobs anyway?  Are not blue collar workers the backbone of the American economy?  Is not an honest days work productive, no matter WHAT the paygrade?!

Why in the world would you put so much emphasis on “smart”?!  One parent actually asserted that a child who is not “smart in school” is doomed to fail in all areas of life.  Another parent suggested that t his “unsmart” child is the result of one of three things– uninvolved parents, a substandard preschool education, or a family that doesnt value hard work.  It couldn’t POSSIBLY have anything to do with natural aptitude!

There is a difference between valuing education, and valuing “smart”.  I believe it is important to educate the Little Scribbler the very best way I can.  She needs to have a basic academic education in order to hold down a job succesfully, support herself should she ever have to do so, and have opportunities opened to her that she would otherwise miss.  I will personally ensure that she graduates high school, if I have to homeschool her around the clock to achieve it!

What I do not value or give any credence to is “smart”.  “Making kids smarter” is an industry, people.  Private preschools are OWNED by someone– I ought to know, I used to be an administrator at one.  Private preschool, like “educational” toys and videos, is a business.  It’s a product, packaged and sold to those who can afford to purchase it.    Preschool, toys, videos, etc are NOT going to make your child “smarter”.  And why would you want them to!?

Is not the child God gave you good enough for you?  God gave my daughter her academic aptitude.  I can help her maximize her potential, but I assure you, nothing I do is going to alter her natural aptitude.  And you know what else? I would so much rather spend my time and energy on helping her learn to grow up into a kind, generous, faithful, productive adult, than on drilling her with flashcards because if she can’t add by the time she’s four, she’s doomed!

When did American society shift this way?  When did we decide that if something said ‘educational’ on the side of the box we would buy it?  When did we start paying $5K a year for our children to eat goldfish crackers and learn to share!?  Who decided a three year old needs to know how to read or she’ll never get into a decent college?  Who decided college was the best option for every person no matter what?!

So what if my kid grows up and decides to become a hairdresser, or a grocery store employee, or, *gasp* NOTHING AT ALL!?  Maybe she decides to get married at 18 and be a stay at home mom– who says that’s the wrong decision?  What’s so “bad” about it?!

What if my sweet, kind, generous, faithful, God-loving and God-fearing daughter isn’t “smart”?  What if she struggles in school?  What if she repeats a grade, or needs to use the resource room?  What if she stays in Special Ed and is never mainstreamed at all?  Does that make her a less valuable member of American society?  Does it make her less valuable to God?

When did “smart” become penultimate in American parenting?!  In the list of things I want my daughter to grow up to be, “smart” doesn’t even break into the top ten!

I found myself this morning sitting silently while a group of average parents– parents of special needs kids no less!– revealed their inner most secret fears that their children wouldn’t be “smart”.   They argued about how best to increase their children’s “smartness” (note– not academic success, but SMARTNESS!), before it was “too late!”  TOO LATE FOR WHAT!?  They worried over their children’s future employability, which is at least 15 years away for most of them!  I couldn’t help but observe the misguided nature of this worry!

Love your children for who they are.  Help them reach their potential.  By all means encourage them to succeed!  But please make sure you don’t lose sight of what really matters the MOST– ensuring your child grows up to know and love and please the Lord!  “Smart” is a gift from God– we’re not all going to get it, and we shouldn’t waste precious time trying to force our triangular children into square boxes because we’ve been led to believe that only square boxes have any value!


One response to “Why Do We Value “Smart” So Much?!

  1. Pat says:

    A one who had a daughter in special Ed all through school and a grand dauhter folowing hr footsteps; I couldn’t agree more.

    I have no formal higher education; yet throughout most of my career in Retail management, I had many colledg grads reporting to me.

    It is not what you have; rather how one applies it and uses it that makes the difference.

    RIGHT On Scribbler!

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